Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 32 in which the psalmist expresses joy at being delivered from great suffering.
On this Valentines Day, our culture incentivizes us to think about “love”.
But our psalm might ask us to ponder that the greatest suffering is to believe, quite falsely, that we are unloved – or worse, unloveable. Still, Psalm 32 assures us that we are never unloveable to our God:
Then I acknowledged my sin to you my guilt I covered not. I said, “I confess my faults to the LORD,” and you took away the guilt of my sin.
On this Valentines Day, you may have many dear human hearts to whom you wish to tell your love. But most important, in your prayer, tell the One Who is Love within you. And listen to Love telling you the same.
Poem: Bridges – Marion Strober
Music: Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 32, a classic penitential psalm.
It is an uncomplicated description of repentance and forgiveness which, nevertheless, discloses profound insights into the human spirit.
Blessed is the one whose fault is taken away, whose sin is covered. Blessed the one to whom the LORD imputes not guilt, in whose spirit there is no guile.
This relational sequence of confession and forgiveness is probed in depth in Psalm 32 (where) the speaker describes his silence and his consequent bodily disability (vv. 3–4). One can observe in the psalm an inchoate theory of repression that became definitive for Sigmund Freud. Repression immobilizes, says the psalmist! The abrupt move in verse 5 concerns the process of making his sin known, saying it aloud, confessing it.
It is confession that makes forgiveness possible. It is denial that precludes assurance and that immobilizes the perpetrator.
Walter Brueggemann, From Whom No Secrets Are Hid
Praying with Psalm 32 this morning reminded me of a story I wrote a few years ago.
Young Emma, skewered by indecision, had stared into her mother’s jewelry box. She had always loved those silver earrings, a gift to her mother from her grandmother—an heirloom now, a treasure beyond price. She wanted so to wear them on this special date, but they were “hands off” and she knew it. Still, her mother at work and unaware of her desire, Emma had succumbed to temptation.
The dance had been wonderful, a whirlwind of such delight that Emma had not noticed when her left earring had brushed against her partner’s shoulder, tumbling hopelessly under the dancers’ trampling feet. Only at evening’s end, approaching her front door exhausted and dreamy, had she reached up to unclip the precious gems.
Her mother sat waiting for her in the soft lamplight, having already noticed the earrings missing from her dresser. Awaiting retribution, Emma knelt beside her mother and confessed the further sacrilege of loss. But her mother simply cupped Emma’s tearful face in her hands, whispering, “You are my jewel. Of course I forgive you.” Though accustomed to her mother’s kindness, this act of compassion astonished Emma, filling her with an indescribable, transformative gratitude.
As we pray Psalm 32, there may be a great forgiveness we are thankful for, or just the small kindnesses that allow us to rise each morning with joy and hope. Perhaps there is a memory of compassion, like Emma’s, that we treasure—one that in turn has made us kinder and more honest.
But maybe, on the other hand, there is a “lost earring”, never acknowledged. With time, that unacknowledgement burrows deeper into the spirit restricting our capacity to love.
Psalm 32 reminds us that God is our Mother waiting in the lamplight to cup our face with love, to receive our joyful thanks for divine mercies.
For this shall every faithful soul pray to you in time of stress. Though deep waters overflow, they shall not reach us.
Like Emma, we may be astonished at the graciousness that has been given to us. We may respond by pouring out our thanks to God in a silent act of prayer.
May we also have the courage to become like our merciful God, anticipating the other’s need for our forgiveness. May we seek the strength not to harbor injury, but too release it to make room for further grace in our hearts.
Poetry: FIRST FORGIVENESS - Irene Zimmerman
The usually mild evening breeze
became a wailing wind
when the gates clanged shut behind them.
They shivered despite their leathery clothes
as they searched for the fragrant blossoms
they’d grown accustomed to sleep on,
but found only serpentine coils
that bit and drew blood from their hands. It was Eve who discovered the cave.
When she emerged, she saw Adam
standing uncertainly at the entrance. A river of fire flooded her face
as she remembered his blaming words—
“The woman you gave me,
she gave me fruit from the tree,
and I ate.”
“Spend the night wherever you choose,”
she told him bitterly.
“You needn’t stay with me.” Long afterwards, when even the moon’s
cold light had left the entrance
and she’d made up a word
for the hot rain running from her eyes,
she sensed Adam near her in the dark. His breath shivered on her face.
“Eve,” he moaned,
“I’m sorry. Forgive me.” In the darkness between them
the unfamiliar words
She understood their meaning
when she touched his tears.
Music: Father, I Have Sinned – Eugene O’Reilly
Our story above was about a “prodigal daughter”. Our music is about a “prodigal son”.
Today, in Mercy, David gets himself in trouble once again.
In the later years of his kingship, David is pretty impressed with himself. The kingdom has grown exponentially. There is peace and prosperity. David wants a census taken so that he can assess his capacity for new expansion.
So why does God get so mad about this census? The Book of Exodus sets out that a person has the right to number only his own belongings. The People belong to God, not to David. David’s pride and self-satisfaction has taken him over.
However, as usual, David repents. This is probably the best lesson we can learn from him. Then, in a greatly allegorized treatment, God gives David a choice of three punishments.
Passages like this can confuse us if we interpret them literally. Does God really interact and punish like this?
It helps to remember the purpose of these writings — not to relay a factual history, but rather to tell a story that helps us grow in relationship with God.
What I believe happened here is that a pestilence did fall upon the country. At the same time, David realized that his heart had grown selfish and graceless. He took the natural event as a sign to turn back to God. And then the writers told the story in a way that the ancient peoples could relate to – with a God that forgives but gets even.
In our Gospel, Jesus preaches another vision of God – a vision of Complete Mercy, especially toward the vulnerable, weak, and sinful. That pretty much includes all of us.
Jesus releases the power of this Divine Mercy by his words and miracles. But his own family and neighbors reject him. They are more comfortable with a God who behaves like they do – meting out more judgement and punishment (preferably toward others!😉) than mercy and inclusive benediction.
In this Gospel, we begin to see Jesus as One who asks not only for repentance but for conversion – for a new way of being with God and neighbor, the way of Love.
How might we have responded had we been in that neighborhood synagogue? How are we responding today?
These are periled times we live in, trouble everywhere
Weary hearts will often give in to this world’s despair
But high and over all, our Father knows our every care
And in His Book, if you will look, you’ll find His promise there
He who trusts in the Lord
Mercy shall surround him
He who trusts in the Lord
Mercy shall surround him
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice
You upright in heart, lift up your voice
For great is His mercy toward all who trust in the Lord
Soon will be the time when we will see the Holy One
Oh how sweet to know that He’ll complete what He’s begun
And blessed is the man who stands forgiven in God’s son
And blessed are they who in that day will hear Him say, “Well done”
Gracious is He and slow to anger
His loving kindness has no end
With love to embrace both friend and stranger
Reaching out to one and all, who upon His name will call
Mercy is His reward
For all who trust, for the pure and just
Who put their trust in the Lord
For all who trust for the pure and just who put their trust in the Lord