I Lent, Year A
I Lent, Year A
Sermon by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Confession and forgiveness. We’ve all heard the old adage: “Confession is good for the soul.” And a lot of us would likely agree with the statement: “We cannot live without forgiveness.” For people of faith in both the Jewish and Christian traditions; confession, repentance, reconciliation, and forgiveness are an integral part of our beliefs and practices. Today’s psalm underscores how important confession and forgiveness are to our health and well-being; to our life and faith.
Psalm 32 is one of seven so-called “repentance Psalms” (along with Psalms 6, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143). The psalmist begins with two beatitudes stating: how happy are those who receive God’s grace; God’s forgiveness for their transgression, sin and iniquity. The psalmist was well schooled in the nature of his own condition and that of all human beings. The psalmist knew that we as sinners are inclined to commit deliberate acts of rebellion against God. In our sinful condition, we desire to be our own god rather than letting God be God. The psalmist also knew that because of our twisted, out of whack perspective, we can and often do miss our mark; fail to reach our goal and do what is wrong rather than what is right. The psalmist knew that his guilt had the potential to grow like a cancer within him and destroy himself. The psalmist also knew that this guilt needed to be atoned for; restitution needed to be made; this would bring peace and well-being for the psalmist and prevent the guilt from spreading to others.
After these two beatitudes, the psalmist goes on to describe his physical and spiritual state before he confessed and repented of his sin. He tells us that he kept silence and tried to hold inside his soul the secret of his sin. However, this tactic was not working—because he admits that his “body wasted away through my groaning all day long,” and “my strength was dried up as the heat of summer.” It was indeed quite a common belief among the ancient Israelites to associate physical illness with a person’s sin. Even to this day, there is a lot of truth in what the psalmist has to say about the relationship between illness, sin and guilt. The body, mind and soul/spirit are inseparable.
Every thoughtful person who has ever considered the matter realizes that the doctors are right when they tell us that resentment, hate, grudge, ill will, jealousy, vindictiveness, are attitudes which produce ill-health. Have a fit of anger and experience for yourself that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, that sense of stomach sickness. Chemical reactions in the body are set up by emotional outbursts that result in feelings of ill-health. Should these be continued either violently or in a simmering state over a period of time, the general condition of the body will deteriorate.
In speaking of a certain man whom (Dr. Norman Vincent Peale) knew a physician told (him) that the patient died of “grudgitis.” The physician actually felt that the deceased passed away because of a long-held hatred. “He did his body such damage that his resistance was lowered,” the doctor explained, “so that when a physical malady attacked him he did not possess the stamina or renewing force to overcome it. He had undermined himself physically by the malignancy of his ill-will.”
Honestly ask yourself if you are harbouring any ill will or resentment or grudges, and if so cast them out. Get rid of them without delay. We realize that a person can make (herself or) himself ill by resentment. We know (she or) he can develop various kinds of physiological symptoms because of a sense of guilt. 1
The psalmist, after reaching the end of his rope, and realising that he could no longer keep his sin and guilt within himself; if he were to become healthy again it was vital for him to confess and repent of his sin and guilt. Opening the floodgates of his soul the psalmist tells us: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
Rabbi Reuven Bulka, of Ottawa’s Machzikei Hadas Synagogue…says the first step toward forgiveness is to swallow your pride and make a clear admission of fault, what Jews and Christians call repentance. In God’s eyes, repentance is so important that the Talmud, the ancient collection of commentaries on Jewish law, declares that God created repentance before creating the universe.
Bulka says sin and repentance have become dirty words, because they suggest guilt and we don’t want to feel guilty. However, “if we talk about it (repentance) in terms of self-improvement, or self-actualization, or realizing your full potential, it has a different ring to it. And that’s basically what’s happening here.
“It’s moving away from narcissism, seeing yourself as the centre of the universe. It improves the way you relate to people, and expresses caring for society at large.” 2
The season of Lent is now upon us. Lent offers us the opportunity to confess and repent; to be reconciled and forgiven. It is a season to focus on the height and depth, the width and breadth that Jesus went to provide forgiveness to you and me and all humankind by his suffering and death on a cross. It is a forgiveness freely, unconditionally offered to each one of us. It is an invitation to journey with Jesus in his way of suffering. In our journey with Jesus, we come to grow more at ease with confessing our sin and guilt—trusting that he will hear us, not judge and condemn us, but rather forgive and reconcile us. In so doing, hopefully we, like the psalmist will discover new life, health and healing—making it possible for us to practice confessing, repenting, reconciling and forgiving in our relationships with others.
At the outbreak of the last war a man called Leonard Wilson was…bishop in Singapore. He became a prisoner in the infamous Changi jail. There he suffered, with thousands of others, brutal and relentless torture. But he never lost hope or faith. He tried to follow the example of Jesus of Nazareth and prayed for God’s forgiveness for his torturers. After the war he came back to his country to be a much loved Bishop of Birmingham. But in 1948 he was allowed to return to Singapore. There he held a confirmation service in his old cathedral. At confirmation, the bishop lays his hands on the head of each candidate and prays that God’s Holy Spirit will be poured upon them. Suddenly amongst the candidates he saw one of the most sadistic of his torturers. A wave of fear swept over him as their eyes met. But Leonard Wilson laid hands on his former jailer and afterwards they talked and embraced. The man told him how hard he found it to live with his memories of giving those beatings. The bishop told the man how hard he had found it to live with the memories of being beaten. Yet in and through God’s graciousness something even greater than forgiveness was at work—the healing of memories and the gift of new life and hope. 3
1 Cited from: Norman Vincent Peale, The Power Of Positive Thinking, pp. 159-61.
2 Cited from: Bob Harvey, “Yom Kippur Commentary: Atonement ultimately brings us closer together,” in the Calgary Herald, Saturday, September 21, 1996, page H16.