Some items from church this morning:
A. The pastor told a story about when he was little and his family was on vacation. He was sitting around, and his father said to him, “Don’t just sit there. Do something!” The pastor said that he would reverse what his father said in the area of Christian sanctification, the process of sinning less and becoming more like Christ. “Don’t do something! Just sit there!” We cannot overcome sin on our own and we need God’s salvation. The pastor seemed to be treating Paul’s statement about beating his body into submission (I Corinthians 9:27) as the thing NOT to do. That would need more explanation. Still, in my opinion, there is wisdom in what the pastor is saying. When one calms down and is at peace, one may find that one acts better than when one intensely tries to tame the wild bull called sin.
B. The pastor referred to a confession that calls us “miserable sinners.” “Miserable,” according to the pastor, means not being in misery but being pitiful: God pities us on account of our sin. We find the Gospel there.
C. The Bible study was about Psalm 130. It is a psalm of degree, perhaps sung as pilgrims went up to Jerusalem for a festival. Psalm 130:1 states: “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD” (KJV). The deep was a symbol for chaos. The Psalmist felt as if he were drowning. This could have been internally, in terms of his own despair, or externally, due to chaos on the outside. God tamed the deep at creation and rules over it, and God tames the deeps within through God’s forgiveness and grace. But God also uses chaos, as when God employs it in judgment.
D. Psalm 130:3 states: “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” (KJV). Iniquity, according to the pastor, is the sinful nature behind the sin: how our nature is twisted. If God were to take account of how often that is the case, then who would be able to stand before him? The question that went through my mind, and has gone through my mind before, was, “Is the Christian’s nature still twisted?” Paul in Romans 6 talks about the death of the old human being and death to sin. Are Christians truly dead to sin? Or is that more of a process than a fait accompli?
E. Psalm 130:4: “But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared” (KJV). The pastor referred to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s criticism of “cheap grace,” the idea that God loves to forgive, I love to sin, so sweet deal! God’s forgiveness should inspire a degree of fear, however, for, were God not to forgive, the results for us would be catastrophic. God’s law helps us to appreciate God’s mercy.
F. The pastor said that, for Lutherans, the primary motivator of God’s character is his desire to show mercy. Mercy permeates God’s providential care, salvation, and even judgment. God would love to forgive even were there not enough sins for God to forgive. Theoretically, that makes sense: that God would love people, as people, so much that God gives them numerous chances. We are all imperfect, so do we not need chances, and on a continuous basis? For some reason, though, I find that I fail to forgive. Some people are just toxic for me to be around. Or their hurt against me overwhelms any positive feelings that I can muster towards them. I am fine with God loving them, but I don’t love them. Maybe remembering God’s love for them will help me to love them a little bit better.
G. The pastor said that Luther called Psalm 130 a Pauline epistle because it clearly anticipates Paul’s articulation of the Gospel: that all humans are sinners and that forgiveness comes from God’s mercy, not from what we do to earn it. The pastor also called sin the great equalizer: there is no little or greater sin, as far as God is concerned, for sin places all of us in need of God’s salvation. I am going through the Book of Psalms for my daily quiet time and am thinking about the extent to which that reflects the Psalms. The Psalmist talks repeatedly about God favoring the righteous, which sounds like law. Those who pursue peace with others will inherit the land, whereas those who attempt to undermine others will perish in God’s wrath. Yet, although the Psalmist calls himself blameless, he acknowledges that he himself is a sinner and is in need of God’s forgiveness. The Psalmist seems to think that there are better and worse people, depending, perhaps, on whether people are at least willing to behave better. But he also acknowledges that he needs God’s forgiveness.
H. Psalm 130:6 states: “My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning” (KJV). A student remarked that, as surely as morning comes, so is the sureness of our salvation.