Ps 51:1-3: Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
'Have mercy on me, O God', cries David after the prophet Nathan confronts him with his sin. He has abused his political power by having Uriah murdered in battle after impregnating Uriah's wife Bathsheba. In his cry we enter into lament that perhaps is the deepest and most troubling of them all, the lament of our guilt and shame. 'My sin is ever before me,' David continues and so forces us to face that which we most want to avoid, our faults which have caused destruction and pain.
One of the most common criticisms of churches like Berean is that in our focus on social justice we turn a blind eye to sin. Perhaps we do it for understandable reasons. Sin has too often been used throughout Christian history to frighten and coerce people with threats of an angry God and eternal punishment in the afterlife for power, political and financial gain. And it has also been used as a weapon to harm enemies. Those unlike 'us' are labeled 'sinners' and so stripped of dignity, agency and legitimacy. Even now 'sin' is most often thought of as a issue pf personal piety; sexual infidelity, dishonesty, and anger for example. But the sins most often complained about, by Israel to God and God back at Israel, are social; the presence and avoidance of the impoverished, financial advantage of the wealthy over the poor, the shaming and renouncing of the sick and disabled, and the use of violence as a social method for instance.
What David gives voice to is a mix of both personal and social sin. Yes, he is guilty of sexual infidelity, but it is an abuse of his political and military power. Both personal and social sin is addressed. Facing our failures whether we have failed by using unkind words that cause pain or participating in systems that abuse or oppress, is such a painful process that it is tempting to either ignore or project our faults. And in this way David is an example. He does not deny his sin. Neither does he try to shift the blame. Instead, trusting in God's unfailing love and great compassion, he faces and names his sin. And this is vitally important.
It is important because it is NOT fear that compels David to be honest with himself, Nathan and God about his sin, but trust in God's love. Too often we have been taught to fear God when we sin. What we need to celebrate is that we are loved in our sin and then out of it into something new, something clean. David will sing in this song, 'wash me and I will be whiter than snow.' Too often when I am offering spiritual care to folks I hear them say, 'that’s just the way I am.' That isn't always a confession of sin. Sometimes its just frustration with a weakness that they cannot seem to overcome. Regardless, notice the theological story. There is nothing that can be done. But we worship a God who created beauty out of chaos, who renamed Jacob, Israel and Saul, Paul, and who was not finished with David even after this grievous sin. Admitting sin and trusting in God is proclaiming the chore of our faith, which is that we are not reduced to worst moment, nor are we stuck in unhealthy patterns. God is always willing and indeed able to intervene in our lives in transformative ways. That is why we confess sin with confidence. It isn't only an act of humility, but also of great confidence in the creativity of God working in our own lives.
Prayer – Encourage us Lord, through your great love and mercy, to admit and confess our sins, personal and social. Make us brave to acknowledge that the way we are can be unhealthy and hurtful, to ourselves, our friends and neighbors and even to larger society. But teach us to trust that when we engage in this honest assessment of ourselves, you do not leave us or forsake us to guilt and shame. Instead, you call us Beloved, you re-name and shape us, forgive, cleanse and renew us that we would be better fit to serve you and your kingdom. Make moments of honest and reflection and confession moments of humble confidence, peace and joy knowing that we are not stuck as we are, but loved into our truest and best selves.