Lent Four - Lent is for Lovers Doug Floyd Apostles Anglican March 25, 2012 When God calls us, he calls

us away from the familiar. He calls us to walk a path that requires trust. He calls us to let go of what seemed essential only moments before. During Lent, we focus this call to let go. We meditate upon the way of the cross. We ask God to search our hearts. We return to the roots of our faith. Like new believers we seek to relearn, rehearse and remember. Just as we celebrate seasons in the church year, our walk of faith is a walk through various seasons and places. There are times when our Lord will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death. Even as we celebrate our great successes, he may call us away into the desert place. In few moments, our whole world can change and foundations that seemed so sure are suddenly gone. In His grace, He can plunge into places and times where we learn that man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of the Father. His Word comes to us as a love song. And it is in the wilderness that He will make us lovers. It is in the valley of the shadow of death that we learn to listen more acutely to His Word of Life. When everything falls away. Everything that has strengthened us, entertained us, filled us, distracted us. When all the food from Egypt has been eaten and we have no reserves to sustain us, we become desperate like the children of Israel. In the darkest, loneliest, driest places of our lives, we may just discover the refrain of a love song that feeds our weary hearts. We might just discover the Lover of our soul who has called us away into the desert, so that He might search our hearts, reveal our sin, heal our souls and teach us to live in His love. The Bible is a love song with many love stories. In Genesis, we read of the deep love Jacob has for his son Joseph. The story of Ruth reveals the undying love of a young woman for her mother-in-law. First and Second Samuel reveal the loving friendship of Jonathan and David that reaches even beyond Jonathan's death. In the Song of Solomon, we hear the love song of a man and woman. Again and again and again, we hear stories of love between husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters. But all the stories are incomplete, tinted with
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brokenness and suffering. They stir in us a longing for a love that is complete. In that sense, they point to a love that is complete. They are drawing our eyes and hearts toward Jesus. He reveals the true and holy love of Father, Son and Spirit. The love within the Triune God that is perfect and full of wonder. The words of love are on his lips and the acts of love are in his body. Jesus, the Word Made Flesh reveals love in every aspect of his life. Then we behold Jesus walking toward the cross. We behold the fullness of God's love to a broken, aching world, but we cannot fully grasp the love that Jesus reveals. It so alien to our sin-stained expressions of love that we are blind to true love. Even as we behold Him, He addresses us. He tells us that the law and the prophets witness to love. He calls us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. He calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. In His final feast with the disciples, He speaks and shows love again and again. In his final prayer before the betrayal, he prays for his disciples and all who would come later that we all would know this love that He shares with the Father. Our love stories fall short. Like the stories in Scriptures our love stories so often end in pain and heartache. Our romances promise something they cannot deliver. They have no staying power. They offer a promise of a happily-ever after love that knows nothing of Calvary love. The love of Christ revealed in the cross is messy, bloody, painful, and unyielding. His Love gives with no restraint. Nothing can defeat this love. Yet our loves can be so easily defeated, distracted, and distorted. Oh that we might know the depths of Calvary love. Oh that we might become the lovers Christ called us to be. Oh that we might know true love between a man and a woman, a parent and a child, between siblings, between old and young, between weak and strong, between outsiders and insiders, between all creation. Oh that we might know the love of God that is deeper than knowledge. Our Lenten journey is gift to help us realize both the depths of God's love and the depths of our brokenness. Only in His love can we be healed from the scars of sin. In the reading from Psalm 51 today, we encounter the hope that His love offers our sin-stained hearts.

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Psalm 51 has had a profound impact upon the church's understanding of repentance and atonement.1 For thirteen centuries, this Psalm was recited seven times a day as part of the daily monastic worship services. The Vulgate numbers this as Psalm 50, so throughout church history this was understood as having a direct connection with the year of Jubilee when all debts were paid and slaves set free. The Year of Jubilee was a year of atonement when all was made new again. Jubilee literally means ram's horn, and the sounding of the ram's horn is the sounding of freedom from sin and bondage. Thus Psalm 51 was called the "Ram's Horn of the Church." As we read the words of the Psalm, we hear the clarion call of our Lord to turn away from the sin the has damaged our hearts and come home to His healing love. As Paul proclaims, "where sin has abounded, grace has abounded much more." St. Augustine used this Psalm to encourage the church to have grace with baptized Christians who continued to behave sinfully. He writes, “we must live tolerantly among bad people, because when we were bad ourselves, good people lived tolerantly among us. If we remember what we were, we shall not despair of those who are now what we were then.” He calls upon the church to have grace for those outside the church and for Christians who behave as sinners. He believes in the power of God's grace to convert the sinful heart into love. In fact, becoming a lover is Augustine's main concern. In his book "On Christian Doctrine," he suggests that the whole Bible must be read through the lens of love. Scripture is calling us to know the love of God and to be changed by the love of God. As we approach Psalm 51 this morning, we approach it in light of God's call to love. We approach also in light of the church's understanding of this Psalm across the ages, this psalm is telling us today, "now is the time of Jubilee. Today is the day of salvation." Let us approach with hopeful hearts that God will speak and cleanse and lead us in the way of repentance that always leads to fullness of joy. Time prevents us from exploring every detail of this grand prayer. Let me read this prayer once more and offer a word of reflection. Have mercy on me, O God,
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In their book, "The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary," James Houston and Bruce Watke provide a helpful history of this psalm's influence.

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according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem;
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then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar. (Psalm 51 ESV) My sermon falters beside the actual words of the prayer. The best thing any of us can do is take time to pray Psalm 51, to soak in Psalm 51, to rehearse Psalm 51, and to offer it back to the our Lord. Even as we pray, the Spirit of God prays within us and through us, offering our broken words to the Father through Jesus who is ever interceding for us on the throne. There is so much in this Psalm that requires deeper more thoughtful reflection than I could possibly give this morning. We see how sin is deeper than one act, it has poisoned the very soul of David and stretches all the back to when he was in the womb. Yet we also see God's promise to cleanse, purify, renew in the deepest recesses of the heart. He is teaching us truth, creating in us a clean heart, renewing a right spirit within. We behold a joy that accompanies repentance. The joy of our salvation overflows into lips that sing praise, into lips that instruct sinners, into healing the land, restoring Zion, rebuilding Jerusalem. Let us take just a few moments and consider verse one in more detail. In this one verse, we begin to see the wonder of God's grace revealed in this song of Jubilee. Listen again to the opening prayer, Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Before David ever mentions his sin, he repeats three different Hebrew words that emphasize the mercy and grace of God. He begins, Have mercy on me, O God, The first word for mercy is "chanan." This is a cry for grace from servant to master. Thinking of David's lowly estate. He is looking up to the One who dwells in a high and holy place. He cries, "Grace me, O God."

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This is a cry for the Lord to come down and lift up his servant. The Lord hears David's prayer and lifts him up, restoring him to favor. This prayer that God would "Grace us" or lift us up into His presence is completed in Jesus. He descends to ascend with us to the throne of God. He lifts us up. He graces us. Or as Markus Barth suggests, "Christ Christs us Christward." His grace is His Spirit raising us up in Christ. When David cries out "Grace me" and we rejoin, "Yes Grace us Oh Lord." Then David prays, according to your steadfast love; The word for love is "khesed." This is one of the most important words in the Old Testament. It indicates God's covenant relation with His people. He is loyal. He kind. He is true. We are disloyal, faithless and deceptive. David cries out for God to look on Him with kindness and covenantal faithfulness in spite of David's unfaithfulness. We join David in our faithlessness. "O Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief." We discover the absolute faithfulness of Christ. He is faithful. He alone is faithful. He will not forsake but will transform us into faithful people. It is His faithful love that leads us to true repentance.

Finally David prays, according to your abundant mercy This last word for mercy is "racham." It indicates the deep love of a mother for her child in the womb. Later in the prayer David will acknowledge that sin impacted him even in conception. The wound of sin touches scars early and scars deeply. But God's love reaches even deeper. He is the One who truly formed us in our mother's womb and who continues to shape us into His image. Like a helpless child, looking up to his mother, David kneels before the Lord who created him and who is still creating him, and asks for "mercy." In these three words, we behold the wonder of our Lord who created us, who faithfully loves us, and who lives us up. He graces us, lifting us up from the dust, adopting in His family and promising to complete the work He began in us.

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These same three words are also grouped in another verse in Exodus 34:6 when the Lord reveals Himself to Moses. The Lord proclaims of Himself: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6) Moses wanted God's assurance that He would be faithful. Moses wanted God to reveal His glory. The Lord uses the words "chanan," "khesed," and "racham" to describe Himself. God reveals to Moses that He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Though sin may infect three or four generations, the love of God will forgive and keep His people for thousands of generations. The Lord does lead Israel in places that will test their hearts and reveal their idolatries. He is exposing and cleansing their sin. In spite of their constant unfaithfulness, He restores them again and again. Even when they bow before the gods and the surrounding nations, He does not completely destroy them. He gives them into the hands of their enemies, but He doesn't forsake them. He works through the prophets to expose their hearts, convict their sin, and lead them to true worship. Eventually, He restores them to the land. When Jesus comes, He is fulfilling the story of Israel. He is the true Israelite who loves the Lord His God with His heart, soul, mind and strength. He is the true Israelite who loves His neighbor as Himself. Jesus reveals the depths of God faithfulness. He enters into the sin of His people. He bears their brokenness and suffering. He dies their death on the cross. He dies our death. In His rising, we rise. We are hid with Christ in God. He is the source of our eternal salvation. This is the full unveiling of chanan, khesed, and racham. His grace, faithful love and unending mercy. It is His goodness alone that can lead us to the place of repentance. Thus Psalm 51 begins by unveiling the character of God. He is absolutely trustworthy and faithful. David could not, would not even repent if if were not for God's grace.

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By unveiling His love, the Lord unveils our hearts. He exposes the sins and the wounds of sin that have crippled us. The Proverbs tell us that "faithful are the wounds of a friend." His faithful love may seem painful. He may lead us through the wilderness by way of the valley of the shadow of death. This is the place where we question God. Do you really love me? Have you forsaken me? What did I do wrong? In the times and places of deep struggle, we are tempted to question the goodness of God. Once I was struggling with an old friendship where I felt the friend had abandoned. In the midst of my struggle, the Lord convicted me that my real pain was a fear that God would abandon me. Instantly I remembered when I was young teen. I would pray almost every night that God would save me because I so fearful that He would forsake me in the end. This fear impacted my perception of people. Somewhere deep inside, I developed a mistrust for people and a sense that they would all abandon me someday. In his grace, He exposed this wound of sin and began healing my soul. He is doing this deep work of transformation in each us. It is painful. But know that He is good and trustworthy. In His grace alone, He will lead us places and times of confession and repentance. He will also heal, restore and renew us. He will fill with the unexplainable joy of His Presence. He will tune our hearts to His love. That we might also be lovers. That we might be songs of praise and joy and light for the world to see His goodness. So let us rest in His faithfulness, trusting that He will complete the work He's begun us and in our world.

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