Sermon Summary, “Old Time Religion,” Psalm 103:8-14, Aug 21, 2016
I recall the first time my pastor in Connecticut asked me to liturgist. For me it was a sacred duty. I remember the words of assurance that were to be said, “8 The Lord is merciful and gracious… 11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Ps 103: 8a-11,12) By the way, verses 11 and 12 are your verse memorization assignment for this week.
Too many of us think of the Old Testament God as a wrathful God, yet here is God’s self description from Ex 34:6 repeated by the Psalmist, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger , and abounding in steadfast love…” Is your Old Testament God a harsh God? Or is he a forgiving God? A merciful God? A God giving assurance?
We know from the attribution at the top of the Psalm that King David wrote Psalm 103, but we don’t know the occasion. Ellsworth Kalas conjectures, but there is no evidence of it, that it was a follow up to Psalm 51, David’s Psalm of penitence.
You remember the story of David’s fall from grace with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah, her husband as a follow up. Even then he was oblivious until the Prophet Nathan declared “You are the man.” (See 2 Samuel 11 and 12). Psalm 51 tells us the occasion was “A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” Innocuous words aren’t they? Anyway, Kalas points out that for all its wonderful words of penitence, there are no words of assurance, that at the time he wrote it, David may not have been able to feel God lift his burden from him. Some time later, he wrote our verses for today: “The Lord is merciful and gracious… so far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our sins from us.” Assurance. Assurance.
The Old Testament God is a God of grace! How is it that we should respond? With repentance. Jesus begins his ministry by saying, “Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near.” Repent, not just confess, but turn around, change, start a new life, take a new path.
Change is hard. John Wesley knew that. He gathered his followers in groups and had the leaders ask every week: “What sins have you committed since our last meeting?” Now, we might not want to go to that kind of meeting, but we must at least ask the question of ourselves an if we do, we may give ourselves pause each week. And by the way, we have a God who is merciful and gracious. David was glad. We are too. Our response to grace? Repent, turn around with assurance.