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Psalm 51

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! 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; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar. (ESV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Piling On

Friday of Lent 3

28 March 2014

"You think that is bad? Wait until I tell you what happened to me!" are the last words we want to hear when we are suffering some great calamity. It is a kind of "piling on." The comfort of "it could be so much worse" is no comfort at all while we are in midst of trouble. "One-upsmanship" is generally annoying and not especially helpful, but rather causes us to be more down about our present suffering. Yet, this is exactly what God does to us when He condemns our sin, both original and actual.

 

Generally, humans have at least a sneaking suspicion that they have done things to merit the divine condemnation. Guilt sends us a wakeup call. Unfortunately, we also have the delusion that if we just tried harder we could take care of our sin and its guilt. This often gives rise to an impromptu game of "Let's Make a Deal" with God: "God if you will get me out of this hospital bed this time, I promise I will come to church every Sunday I am able." But our heavenly Father is not Bob Barker. No deals can be cut on the side of law. So just when you thought your sin was bad enough, the Apostle to Gentiles also piles on the fact of original sin. The one sin brought condemnation to all men. "So, you think you have it bad with your sin? Wait until I tell you how bad it is. You are also liable to condemnation for the sin of primeval Adam, whose guilt you bear." Oh, I feel so much better now. Not! Such knowledge, when it is fully felt, leads to despair. How bad is it? Really bad!

 

"Piling on" was a playground game played in the school yard at recess when I was growing up. It was a tough neighborhood. When the crowd had knocked down a playmate then someone would cry "Pile on!" and the deluge of bodies would flood in, crushing the child on the bottom. You can see why a child might try to avoid being on the bottom of the pile at almost any cost. I recall being "piled on" with little fondness. I felt the crushing, almost suffocating weight of wriggling children. Salvation arrived when the recess bell sounded and my playmates had to unpile. The spiritual power of the law to attribute both actual and original sin is God piling on. The abundance of the law's power to bring guilt can crush.

 

This power drives us to find our rescue outside of ourselves. Those suffocating moments on the bottom of the pile make clear that we will never throw the weight off by our own power. Rescue must come from without. But here is where God responds so remarkably to our dilemma. Just when we feel hopelessly piled on by this crushing load of sin; actual and original, just then God our heavenly Father brings the rescue we need. What we have doubly destroyed in our sin, both original and actual, God doubly repairs in the person and work of Christ, His Son, our Lord. Our feeling of being piled on is absolutely dissipated by the work of Christ, for as bad as our situation is, the solution is doubly powerful in Christ. For while original sin is attributed to us and burdens us with the sin of another, the righteousness of Christ is attributed to us as the covering of both original and actual sin. Where sin is piling on, God doubly piles on His mercy. 

 

Augustine of Hippo

 

"We can understand the apostle and see that judgment is predicated of one offense unto condemnation entirely on the ground that, even if there were in men nothing but original sin, it would be sufficient for their condemnation (Rm 5:15-16). For however much heavier will be their condemnation who have added their own sins to the original offense (and it will be the more severe in individual cases, in proportion to the sins of individuals); still, even that sin alone which was originally derived unto men not only excludes from the kingdom of God, which infants are unable to enter (as they [the Pelagians] themselves allow), unless they have received the grace of Christ before they die, but also alienates from salvation and everlasting life, which cannot be anything else than the kingdom of God, to which fellowship with Christ alone introduces us.

 

And from this we gather that we have derived from Adam, in whom we all have sinned, not our actual sins, but only original sin. Whereas from Christ, in whom we are all justified, we obtain the remission not merely of that original sin, but of the rest of our sins also, which we have added. Hence it runs: 'The free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin.' (Rm 5:16). For the judgment, certainly, from one sin, if it is not remitted-and that the original sin-is capable of drawing us into condemnation; while grace conducts us to justification through the remission of many sins, that is to say, not simply from original sin, but also from all other sins."

 

Augustine, On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins and Baptism of Infants, 1.15-16

 

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, You have done all to save us poor sinners from all sin, both original and actual. Give us the overwhelming joy of knowing that you have given us double blessing to cover all our iniquity. Free us from our guilt and help us to live in peace and joy all our days. Amen.

 

For the family of Baby Katherine Grace Samuelsen who was born prematurely and whom our heavenly Father took to himself, that they might find comfort in the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come

 

For Susan Hyder, that she might gain strength from the Lord her God in the midst of grief

 

For Pr. Ian Pacey as he travels to Tucson to conduct a wedding, that his travel would be safe and his homecoming joyful 

 

For all those who are administrating the churches, that they might always confess their weakness so that the Lord their God might be all their strength 

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)

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