Psalm 51 (NRSV)
Have mercy on me, O God,
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.
Jeremiah 3:6-18 (NRSV)
Then the Lord said to me: Faithless Israel has shown herself less guilty than false Judah. Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say:
Return, faithless Israel,
says the Lord.
I will not look on you in anger,
for I am merciful,
says the Lord;
I will not be angry forever.
Only acknowledge your guilt,
that you have rebelled against the Lord your God
and scattered your favors among strangers under every green tree
and have not obeyed my voice,
says the Lord.
Romans 1:26 – 2:11 (NRSV)
Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life, while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but injustice, there will be wrath and fury.
Our Lenten Devotionals this year are focused on a theme of the “Journey to the Cross.” What insight that focus gives us on the nature of God and how He would want us to respond to the world we live in. I have chosen three of the five passages in the lectionary for today, as each, written hundreds of years apart, addresses the same issue. Together they point to a timeless view of the nature of our God.
Each passage begins with a recognition of the sinful and irredeemable nature of human beings. The Psalmist (attributed to David after Bathsheba) cries out “Have mercy on me, O God … blot out my transgressions … cleanse me from my sin … my sin is ever before me.” God’s revelation to Jeremiah is filled with His clear disappointment with the lack of faithfulness of the people of both Israel and Judah. They have taken up the gods and sinful practices of the stronger nations around them and abandoned God. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he devotes almost all of this long passage to describing in detail the total guilt of human behavior and the righteousness of God’s judgment on these actions. The sum total is simply overwhelming.
But in each passage, God’s response is not about judgment; it is about repentance. God’s focus is on His personal relationship with each individual based on faithfulness and forgiveness. The Psalmist (David?) recognizes God “does not seek showy sacrifice,” rather the sacrifice desired is “a broken and contrite heart.” The words God gives Jeremiah to tell to the people of Israel are a call to repent. “Return to me, faithless Israel, for I am merciful, I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt … and I will bring you to Zion.” After noting the long list of things that should not be done, Paul asks his readers “Do you imagine that when you judge those who do such things, and yet do them yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Do you despise the richness of His kindness and forbearance, and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”
God has taken the ultimate step to bring about this faithful relationship with His people in the gift of His son, who assumed the guilt of our sin on the cross and rose again to show us the way to live in a right relationship with God. Early in each worship service we remember this vital gift as we humbly confess our continued sin and hear the bold assurance that “In Jesus Christ we are forgiven.”
Dear God, in these times of stress and uncertainty, we ask again for the sure knowledge of your faithfulness and constant presence with us. May it sustain our confidence and our hope as we pass through difficult times. Amen.