St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for August 5, 2018

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
August 5, 2018
John 6:24-35
Proper 13 B
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     "I have sinned against the Lord," David says to Nathan in our Old Testament lesson. Last week, we heard the story of David and Bathsheba, how David had an affair with Bathsheba who was the wife of Uriah. When Uriah returned from the battlefield at David's request, he plotted for Uriah to be with Bathsheba, so when the child of David's affair was born, Uriah would think it was his. When that didn't work, he had Uriah sent to the front lines of the battle where he would surely be killed. And he was.
     In today's reading, David takes Bathsheba as his wife and they have a son. But this adultery, deception and murder has displeased the Lord, so the Lord sends the prophet Nathan to David to speak on the Lord's behalf. Nathan tells David this heart-wrenching story about a rich man with many sheep taking the one sheep the poor man has to serve as dinner to his guest. David is angry and says to Nathan, "As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and because he has no pity." Then Nathan says to David, "You are the man!"
     Nathan then recites all the good things that the Lord has done for David - he was anointed as king over Israel, rescued from the hand of Saul, given the master's house and household, given the land of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, God would have given David even more.
     "Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?" In spite of all that God has given to David, he turns against God and does what is evil in God's sight. So God will repay him for that evil by publicly taking away all that God has given David. What David has done will no longer be private.
     Then David says to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord." He gets it. David realizes what he has done, that he has been selfish and greedy, and committed adultery and murder to get what he wanted. In the end, the Lord puts away David's sin and does not kill him. But he is held accountable for what he has done.
     Psalm 51, which we have just read, is thought to have been written by David after he had this encounter with Nathan. It is David's prayer of repentance and asking for God's mercy. Psalm 51 is said every Ash Wednesday as we start the penitential season of Lent.
     It begins, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses." It continues with confession: "Wash me through and through from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgression and my sin is ever before me. Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight. I have been wicked from my birth, a sinner from my mother's womb."
     David knows and acknowledges and confesses his sin. He then asks for deliverance, for redemption of his sin. "Purge me from my sin and I shall be pure; wash me and I shall be clean indeed. Make me hear of joy and gladness, that the body you have broken may rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out my inequities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me."
     David has sinned and he now implores God to mend him, heal him, make him whole again. Help him to regain his moral balance. Then he can teach others about the love and forgiveness of God. He can use his voice to praise God and be filled with God's Holy Spirit. "Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise."
     So what is sin? According to the Catechism that is found in the back of your Prayer Book, "sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation". "Redemption is the act of God which sets us free from the power of evil, sin and death"  (BCP pg. 848-849)
     Sin. Evil. Mercy. Forgiveness. Redemption. We have all sinned and fallen short. We have all done things that we should not have done. We have all said things that are hurtful or destructive. It is very difficult for us to really acknowledge that we are sinners, that we are sinful, and that we have indeed sinned. It is hard to admit our faults and ask for God's forgiveness.
     But that is what we are called to do. Every Sunday when we gather for worship, we say the Confession together. We confess that we have sinned against God in thought and word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We confess that we have not loved God with our whole heart and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We repent of our sins and we ask God to have mercy on us and forgive us that we may then walk in the ways of God and give glory to God's name.
We say those words together, in unison, as a community of faith. But do we take the words to heart? Do we really acknowledge specifically the sins we have committed, are we genuinely sorry, and do we really plan to change our ways? It's easy to mumble all the words together, but do we really take them to heart and mean them?
     After the confession, the priest then gives absolution in the name of God, forgiving our sins and strengthening us in all goodness, to have the power of the Holy Spirit to keep us on the right track.
     Confession and redemption opens our hearts to receive God's gift of forgiveness, new life and reconciliation. It liberates us from the bondage of our sin, the bonds that keep us tied up from experiencing the freedom of God's love. Our praise and glory of God is harder to voice when sin restricts us.
     All of us are sinful human beings. That's who we are. But we are also beloved children of God who loves us and forgives us of our sins. But in order to be made whole, we need to confess our sins to God, change our ways, and be willing to open ourselves to God's forgiveness. Then we can lead a new life, following the commandments of God.
     David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord." May we acknowledge our sins before God, change our ways, accept God's love and forgiveness, and joyfully follow God's ways all the days of our lives. Amen.
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