Taking Refuge In the God We’ve Offended- A Lenten Meditation

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The season of Lent begins today, with Ash Wednesday. For those of you who are not familiar with Lent, it is an annual Christian season of preparation for the 40 days (plus Sundays) before Good Friday. This season of preparation is often marked by small self-imposed disciplines, like giving up sweets or Facebook, which remind us of the tremendous self-imposed sacrifice Jesus made for us. The sacrifices of this season make the joy of Easter’s resurrection all the sweeter.

As this Ash Wednesday has been approaching, I have found myself wondering about King David.

Specifically, I’ve been wondering if from his place in heaven, the great King David has looked down upon our world and thanked God all the more that he did not live in an age of Social Media.

Psalm 51 is the prayer which David prayed in response to what might be called the most heinous – and the most famous – sin in all the Bible except for the Crucifixion itself. I’m speaking of course of David’s sin with Bathsheba.

If you’ve ever read that account in 2 Samuel, you know that David should have been at war with his men; however, he stayed back this time, tending to, um, administrative matters. He had done the “battle thing” many times; perhaps he would take this season off, kick up his feet for a change. Nobody could say he hadn’t earned that, right?

And one day, as he was taking a break from the, um, administrative matters, he noticed, not far away, a beautiful woman bathing. Rather than turning away in modesty or righteousness, he did what most men would have done: he gawked!

And it was all downhill from there.

This was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of David’s fiercest and most faithful warriors who, unlike David, did go out to battle. In Uriah’s absence, Bathsheba was called to the king’s chambers. When she became pregnant, David called Uriah home from battle and got him drunk, in an effort to cover up David’s indiscretion. When Uriah proved to be noble even in his drunkenness, staying away from his wife while his men were still in battle, David sent word to the front lines to pull back all troops in battle except Uriah, so that Uriah would be killed.

It’s incredible to think that this self-absorbed monarch is the same David who slew Goliath in his zeal for the Lord, the same David who danced before the Lord, the same David who God himself called a man after his own heart.

If David had lived in an age of Social Media, the internet would have exploded with outrage from CNN AND Fox News! Tweets and blogs and Facebook posts and unmitigated, furious online comments would all demand David’s resignation, if not his head.

But as it was, hardly anyone noticed. Hardly anyone dared to question the king.

In fact, it may have been spun as a kindness, a gesture of honor to the fallen warrior Uriah, that the noble and grateful king had brought the poor widow into his house. David was the king, and therefore he could do what he wanted. He behaved treacherously and covered it up, and no one noticed.

But God noticed.

Through his prophet Nathan, God exposed David’s sin: Thou art the man

King David’s first sin in this treacherous sequence wasn’t with Bathsheba, nor even in the lustful gawking from the rooftop; rather, David’s first sin was in letting his heart slip from trusting and serving God, to trusting and serving himself. And let me hasten to say that while the manifestations of my own sin may be different, the slip from trusting and serving God to trusting and serving myself is a slip with which I am very familiar. I’d be willing to bet you are too.

In Psalm 51 we are given the record of David coming to grips with the reality that he was in fact capable of wandering so far from God without catching himself or turning himself away from temptation.

In Psalm 51, David is doing everything he can to acknowledge and own up to the distance he’s wandered and to the destruction that’s caused.

In Psalm 51, David is seeking refuge in the only place he can – he is turning to the very God he’s offended.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;

In your great compassion, blot out my offenses.

Everything’s on the table, everything’s laid bare before the God of holiness and justice. With that naked exposure, David has the audacity to ask God for forgiveness. This, of course, is not because he deserves God’s forgiveness. Instead, his appeal is to the very character of God, whose nature is always to have mercy.

And friends, that’s Lent.

In the ugliness and gracious exposure of our sin, we take refuge in the very God we’ve offended. He is our God who notices, and yet whose nature is always to have mercy.  In Lent we pray,

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;

In your great compassion, blot out my offenses.

In our social media age, addicted as we are to indignation, and free as we feel to leave incensed comments, we want David’s head for such arrogant and oppressive sin. How dare he ask for mercy?!?! Look at what he’s done! We can imagine King David in our day, on the front page of every checkout line magazine; angry emojis under all the online articles. We don’t want mercy for King David, we want justice! We want blood!

Until Lent reminds us that we are King David. We’ve each slipped in our own way from trusting and serving God. Yours may look different from mine, and ours may look different from David’s. Yet this is the reality of the fallen human condition. When it finally becomes personal, when it becomes plain that we are the offending party, mercy begins to look a lot more attractive than justice.

In Psalm 51, David is looking at the bitter fruit of his sinful and wandering heart, and all he can do is ask for mercy. All he can do is stare with naked honesty into the reality that his actions, and his heart, have transgressed against the character and the command of the God who loves him. And David says, “Lord, have mercy, cleanse me from my sin. Renew a right spirit within me”

Psalm 51 is not a prayer of humility, but of humiliation, the plea of one who has fallen from the high rooftop of his self-righteousness with his only hope that he will land in the net of God’s saving grace.

And in truth it is the love of God that he has already received – the Love of God that he has experienced and treasured since he was a boy – that has David NOT sweeping it under the rug, but taking refuge in the God whom he’s offended.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness,

In your great compassion, blot out my offenses.

That’s Lent.

As I mentioned earlier, the observation of Lent usually involves the practice of what are called “Lenten disciplines.” We give something up, or we take something on. This is a wonderful tradition of the church, but it comes with a danger. If we take our eye off the ball, Lent can be reduced to a test of our will power, rather than refuge taken in the God whom we’ve offended.

So how can giving up chocolate for a few weeks be about taking refuge in the God we’ve offended?

Perhaps a better way to ask the question is, “What discipline will help me to pray without ceasing, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.’?”

First, we remember with conviction that no amount of abstinence from any vice or luxury will ever cleanse our hearts or renew within us a right spirit. What cleanses our hearts and renews our spirits is the cross of Jesus Christ. We are clean because Jesus declared we are clean. He declared us to be clean because he died under the consequence of our sin.

We want justice? We want blood? The blood of Christ paid the bond for the justice we deserve.

And it is in that Grace that our loving God would satisfy his own holiness and justice by bearing our penalty so that we might have life. It is only in that grace that we take refuge. We must remember this truth and cling to it with conviction.

Second, we give up something that’s very normal and regular in our lives. We give up something like chocolate, or Facebook, or time. And each time we feel that urge but hold back, we let that small sacrifice point us to the eternal sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf. If we fail in our chosen discipline, we allow that failure to remind us just how much we need Jesus’ sacrifice every day.

Lent is intended to be a season of purposeful preparation for both the impossible weight of Good Friday’s cross and for the glorious relief of Easter’s empty tomb. If we come to Easter five pounds lighter because of our Lenten discipline, but do not know Jesus Christ with any more intimacy or awe than we do today, our Lent will have been wasted vanity.

Yet, if we rest in the reality of the love and mercy of Jesus Christ, and if from that sure foundation stare with purpose and courage into the reality that our hearts have transgressed the nature of God, we can use those moments of discipline to pray without ceasing

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;

In your great compassion, blot out my offenses.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, renew a right spirit within me.

We are each, in a very real sense, just like King David; and yet we have each, by faith, been rescued by the Cross of Great David’s greater Son. So this Lent, with the cross and the empty tomb on the horizon as the assurances of God’s Mercy, we may be confident in the divine invitation to take refuge in the God whom we’ve offended.

 

 

 

 

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