Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

Covered Sins


Read Matthew 26:20-30. This is the recounting of what we know as “The Last Supper” and the model for our practice of the Lord’s Supper or what we call communion or even referred to as the Eucharist or the Holy Meal. We do not participate in communion during this season of Lent and often people will ask why we do not celebrate this Holy Meal during Lent. The answer lies in the foundational story for Lent - the story of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days so as Jesus fasted so do we - fasting from the meal he has brought to us.
Let’s remember the story of Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus at about the age of 30 comes to see John the Baptist who is baptizing people in the Jordan River. John is trying to bring the Jewish people back to the true worship of God so they will be able to recognize the Messiah when he appears. Jesus is baptized and immediately the heavens open up and we hear the voice of God saying, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased” and then we see the Holy Spirit descending from heaven in the form of a dove and landing on Jesus. Jesus, filled with God’s spirit, comes out of the river and immediately (this word is stressed in the scripture passage!) - Jesus
immediately goes out into the wilderness where he spends 40 days in fasting and prayer considering the work that God has called him to do. 40 days of fasting and prayer thinking about his relationship with God and what God wants him to do, This is our model for Lent - 40 days of fasting and prayer and thinking about about our relationship with God and thinking about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and about what God wants us to do as a result of what he has done for us. Some people really fast during this time but even if we don’t fast from our food, we do fast from the Holy Food so that when we share in that meal on Resurrection Sunday - communion is a great celebration and a time of joy as we are reunited with and sharing a meal with our risen Lord!
As we continue with our look at the Psalms during this Lenten time, we look today at Psalm 32 - a Psalm that reminds us of our sin and guilt and of our forgiveness. When we gather around the table for the Holy Meal we hear Jesus’ words - “This cup is a new covenant sealed in my blood, shed for the forgiveness of sin.” This idea of sin and blood and forgiveness is an important part of our understanding of our relationship with God. God is a holy God and God cannot ‘look at sin’. Why were Adam and Eve thrown out of the garden? Remember God would come down and walk with Adam and Eve, but after they sinned by disobeying him, he could not longer spend that intimate time together, so Adam and Eve had to leave the garden; they had to leave the presence of God.
So as the sinful people we are, we could not be God’s people without some means to cover up or rectify our sin. And that returning of our relationship with God happened because Jesus shed his blood. So Psalm 32 starts out with “Happy is the one whose sins are forgiven!”
Have you ever really considered why you should be happy because your sins are forgiven? Maybe we should start that discussion with what sin actually is. There are sins - those acts that are morally bad for us and bad for society - these are the lying, stealing, adultery, type sins. Paul also adds things like gossip and dissension and complaining to those morally harmful types of sin. But the sin that we really need to consider is the sin of disobedience to God - this is the sin that falls under the Deuteronomy 6 passage - you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength and with all your soul. Meaning that God is first in everything we do and think. And I think we can all agree that we don’t do that. We fall short of doing that minute by minute. But through the blood of Jesus Christ, God forgives us and for every minute we don’t do what God desires, God forgives us and will continue to do so forever……..
God says we cannot have a relationship with him as a sinful person, but then he says I love you so much that I want to have a relationship with you so I have provided a way for you to be forgiven. And knowing that - the Psalmists says we should be happy. Not just happy, we should be ecstatic!
The next section of the Psalm teaches us the benefit of confession. Any of you who have a Catholic heritage know that confession is an integral part of the practice of Catholicism. Now I don’t know the nuts and bolts of how that worked exactly, but psychologists have supported that practice of confession saying that confession to another human being of the acts we feel guilty about has a great therapeutic benefit to the individual. That act of verbalizing the things we have done wrong - whether they be the sins like lying, stealing, or the sins of gossiping or hurting another individual, or the sins of not putting God first in our lives seems to have a positive effect on our lives and is a step toward a true feeling of happiness with ourselves - that feeling of joy, peace and contentment that we all seek. We do a little of that when we have our prayer of confession during worship which is laid out the way it is because it gives us a chance to confess corporately - as a church, then we have that moment of silent confession when we can silently admit the things we do wrong and then we end the prayer with that plea to God for forgiveness recognizing that we know that regardless of the sin, God will forgive us. While we may think that is just a ritual part of our worship, it is a part of the worship because acknowledging our sin is an important step in understanding who we are and who God is.
Even from Old Testament Times God knew that in order to really relieve ourselves of the guilt we carry, we have to be able to acknowledge what we do wrong. That was the purpose of the system of taking an animal to the temple and having it killed as an act of realizing the need to offer something to God for his forgiveness. Our admitting our sin is like the first step of the AA 12 step program - you have to admit you are an alcoholic at the very beginning or else the program won’t be of any help to you and we have to admit that we are sinners or else the shed blood of Jesus makes no difference in our lives. And if the shed blood of Jesus makes no difference in our lives - then why are we here?
This final week before Holy Week calls us to think about sin. Not something we want to think about; none of us like to think about what is bad about ourselves….. yet it is part of our understanding of our faith. If we aren’t sinners, then we don’t need Jesus. and then we immediately learn that even though we are sinners, God loves us anyway. Its quite the circle.
God made us capable of making choices. Unfortunately we often choose not to put God first in everything we do. And God sent his son to shed his blood to forgive us. Rejoice and consider how much our God loves us.


A gateway to the Psalter - On the Wings of God

The Wings of God

As we continue through Lent looking at the Psalms, this morning we are going to look at the message we receive from Psalm 91. It is believed that Psalm 91 was actually written by Moses as he sends the ‘spies’ into the Promised Land. We read that story from Numbers this morning but lets look at it again.
Moses and the Hebrew people have spent 40 years wandering through the Sinai peninsula desert. This was a time of preparation for God’s people. His purpose for taking them on this long route to the Promised Land was to teach them that they could put their trust in him - that God would provide everything they would need. And certainly he did that through this journey. Every need they had was met - he fed them, he gave them water, they had clothing and shelter. He gave them the Law which was to help them live in an orderly society together; he gave them a means to worship so they could know the peace of living a thankful life; he protected them when they were in trouble….. He did it all for them - for 40 years he took care of them. So now they are poised on the banks of the Jordan River and God says - “OK. Here you are. You are ready to cross over into the promised land - you are ready to go over to the land of milk and honey. You have been in the desert all these years and now you are moving into the land which has abundance of grass and water and fruit and harvest like you have never seen. And all you have to do is go in and claim it.” Sound easy enough. But the Hebrew people were a little unsure. Who knows what might be in that land we have never been in before? Who knows who might lurk across that river. We just aren’t sure……
So God says - “Alright. To prove to you what a great land this is I have given you, send 12 people over into the land to scope it out and then report back.” Seemed like a good idea so across the river the 12 spies went. So after a while they came back carrying fruit so big that they had to carry it on litters and poles…… Wonderful, delicious, plump fruit the size of they had never seen before. And the people were really excited. Wow! Look at that and a great excitement spread throughout the people….. until the spies gave their report. “Yes, there is luscious, wonderful food in that land of milk and honey. More food than we or our sheep could ever need….. but giants inhabit the land.” Oh no - Giants. Oh well, it was good while it lasted. Guess we are stuck on this side of the river in the desert forever. Oh woe is us. “Wait!” two of the spies said - spies named Caleb and Joshua “Remember what God has done for us. Remember how God has helped us through the desert and helped us get here - don’t you think God will continue to help us? Don’t you think God will help us defeat the giants? God is not going to abandon us when we cross that river. We can do it!” “Oh, we don’t know…” the people said. Sounds pretty scary. I don’t think we should chance it.” And so they bantered back and forth for a while until the “We don’t think we can do it” people overruled the “God will help us take the land” cry of Caleb and Jacob. And because they did not trust that God would protect them, they decided they should just stay put on their side of the river.
The story then continues in Numbers with God grieving over his people. “How can they not trust me?” God cries out. “ Look at all the things I have done for them. I freed them from slavery in Egypt, I led them through the waters of the red seas, I provided food and water and clothing, I gave them a way to worship and the law to make their lives easier, I have been with them every step of the way through this wilderness journey - and yet they cry out that they aren’t sure whether I will continue to help them?” What utter frustration God must feel! He’s got to be thinking - what more could I do? W
hat more could have I done for them to get them to understand how very much I love them?
I wonder if God sometimes feels that way about us?
Years ago, on the old Candid Camera TV program they interviewed a big burly truck driver—a man of about fifty. They asked him what age he would be if he could be any age he wanted. There was a silence for a while as the trucker thought its over. What was he thinking? Was he hankering for age 65 and retirement so he could trade his Kenworth four-and-a-quarter semi tractor down to a John Deere riding lawnmower? Or was he yearning for age 18 and the chance to go back and take some turn he had missed? The trucker thought it over. Suppose he could be any age he wanted. Finally, he turned to the interviewer and said that if it was up to him he'd like to be three. “Three? Why three?” the interviewer wanted to know. "Well," said the trucker, "when you're three you don't have any worries.” When I first heard the interview I thought the man was trying to be cute. I now think he said something wistful. What he knew was that when you are a child, and if your family is running the right way, your burdens are usually small. You can go to bed without worrying about pipes freezing on a cold winter night. You don’t wonder if the tingling in your leg might be a symptom of some exotic nerve disease. You don't wrestle half the night with a tax deduction you claimed, wondering whether some federal person might find it a little too creative. No, you squirm deliciously in your bed, comforted by the murmur of adult conversations elsewhere in the house. You hover wonderfully at the edge of slumber. Then you let go and fall away. You dare to do this not only because you expect that in the morning you are going to be resurrected. You also dare to do it because you are sleeping under your parents' wing. If parents take proper care of you, you can give yourself up to sleep, because somebody else is in charge. Somebody big and strong and experienced. As far as a child knows, parents stay up all night, checking doors and windows, adjusting temperature controls, driving away marauders. They never go off duty. If a shadow falls over the house, or demons begin to stir, or a storm rises, parents will handle it. That's one reason children sleep so well. Their nest is sheltered and they love it, as they should. I think children might be alarmed to discover how much adults crave this same sense of security. Adults need to be sheltered too. Some of us have been betrayed. Some of us have grown old and are not happy about it. People get rejected or they get sick. Some are deeply disappointed that their lives have not turned out as they had hoped. Others have been staggered by a report that has just come back from a pathology lab. Still others are unspeakably ignored by people they treasure. To all such people, to all of us, the psalmist speaks a word of comfort. It's one of the great themes of the Scriptures: God is our shelter. He will cover you with his wings like a hen protects her chicks and under his wings you will find refuge. The image here is that of an eagle, or maybe a hen—in any case it's a picture of a bird that senses danger and then protectively spreads its wings over its young. An expert on birds once told me that this move is very common. A bird senses the approach of a predator, or the threat of something falling from above, and instinctively spreads out its wings like a canopy. Then the fledglings scuttle underneath for shelter. The move is so instinctive that an adult bird will spread those wings even when no fledglings are around! Sort of like that Mom move in the car when you hit the brakes and your right arm immediately reaches over to protect the person in the passenger seat…. What Psalm 91 does is to express one—one of the loveliest, one of the most treasured moods of faith. It's a mood of exuberant confidence in the sheltering providence of God. Probably the psalmist has been protected by God in some dangerous incident, and he is celebrating. Psalm 91 says no evil shall befall us. When we have cashed out some of the poetry and then added in the witness of the rest of Scripture, what we get, I believe, is the conclusion that no final evil shall befall us. We all know that we can believe God with all our heart and yet have our heart broken by the loss of a child or the treachery of a spouse or the menace of a fatal disease. We know that. Everyone in this sanctuary knows that. And yet, generation after generation of saints have known something else and spoken of it. In the mystery of faith we find a hand on us in the darkness, a voice that calls our name, and the sheer certainty that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God—not for this life and not for the life to come. We may be scarred and shaken, but, we are also loved. We are like fledglings who scuttle under the wings of their parent. The forces of evil beat on those wings with everything they have. The pitchforks of the evil one, falling tree limbs in the storm, rain and hail—everything beats on those wings. When it is finished, when evil has done its worst, those wings are all bloodied and busted and hanging at wrong angles. And, to tell you the truth, in all the commotion we get roughed up quite a lot. But no final evil can get to us because those wings have never folded. They are spread out to be wounded for our transgressions and bruised by our iniquities. And when the feathers quit flying, we peep out and discover that we have been in the only place that was not leveled. Yes, we have been bumped and bruised and hurt. Sometimes badly hurt. The truth is that, if we had not stayed under those wings we could never have felt the body shudders and heard the groans of the one who loved us so much that those wings stayed out there no matter what came whistling in. This is the One who protects us from final evil, now and forevermore.

A Gateway to the Psalter - Beginning our Lenten Journey


Beginning our Lenten Journey

Jesus said: (Read Matthew 5:3-10) We know these words as The Beatitudes. It is a list where Jesus is helping us to see what it takes to have a happy, joyful life. Jesus says that compassion and meekness and showing mercy and such will lead us to a feeling of joy and contentment. Happiness, says Jesus, cannot be found in the things we do for ourselves, but only in the ways we give ourselves to others and to God. This is the same message we hear from Psalm 1 - a Psalm that leads us into this time of Lent. We are going to spend Lent looking at specific Psalms that will help us to better understand who we are as God’s people and how God guides us to live. The Psalms are a fascinating record of real people who were struggling through life just like we are; real people who were trying to better understand who they were in relationship with God and exactly what this meant as they tried to live each day in that tension between the world around them and the life God called them to lead. In the book of Psalms we find Psalms of joy and psalms of sadness; psalms of lament and psalms of questioning. Psalms run the whole gamut of emotions. But even with this great range, the Psalter’s goal is to tell us that regardless of the ups and downs in the journey of our life, we can still live a life of ‘happiness’ - of peace and joy and contentment. Collectively The Psalms are known as “The Psalter”. This psalter is the hymnbook of the Hebrew people. Just like the hymnbook we use, these are the songs that were sung as the Hebrews worshipped. Some of these hymns were used to enter worship - the Hebrews would gather outside the Temple and then sing their way into worship. These are called Psalms of Ascent. The Hebrews sang during worship just like we do and they sang to end worship. But as we pick up our hymnbook and turn to the proper page - or look up on the wall to see the words in order to sing our hymns - Hebrews had these Psalms memorized. They learned them as they sang them all the time. It was the only music they knew and except for a scroll in the Temple, the psalms weren’t written down anywhere. The psalms were not numbered during the time of the Hebrews; they knew them by their first line. So you would say the first line of a Psalm and everyone immediately would know what to start singing. Now we think what a great feat this is to have all these Psalms memorized, but I imagine that we are able do this more than we think. If I say, “Holy, holy, holy” you would continue with “Lord God Almighty!” Or “Silent Night” and you say, “Holy Night”…. and we could go on for a while and I bet you would know a lot more hymns by memory than you thought! There is a story about a dairy farmer who would milk a different cow every day and each cow was known by a Psalm number. As he milked the cows he would memorize a Psalm. So when he milked the cow known as Psalm 4, he would memorize Psalm 4 and when he milked Psalm 22 he would memorize Psalm 22 and he said before he knew it he had all 150 Psalms memorized! We are starting our Lenten study of the Psalms by starting at the beginning - with Psalm 1. Psalm 1 is actually an introduction to the whole Psalter. Its purpose is to help us to get an idea of what the message is of the entire Psalter . It is like any introduction to any book that prepares you for what you are going to learn as you read through the book. In other words, what message should we get if we sat down and read through the entire book of the Psalms? And the introduction, Psalm 1, tells us that message would be - that if we live the life described in the Psalms, we would be living a life of joy and peace and contentment - we would be happy in who we are. And, according to the Psalm, the mechanism of this joy and peace and contentment is to acknowledge God as sovereign over all our life and to meditate on the ‘law of the Lord’. We are to understand that the Psalter is not just merely a hymnbook - but a guide to the life of joy, peace and contentment that God has intended for all of us. So we have this Psalm which is the beginning of the book of Psalms that tells us that God’s desire for his people is for them to be happy. Then the Psalmist says - the way to this happiness is to ‘meditate on the ‘law of the Lord’. How do we do that? First we have to remember what ‘the law of the Lord’ is. Our inclination is to think that the Psalmist is referring to the 10 Commandments. And indeed the 10 commandments are a part of it - but the original word from the Psalm is not ‘law’ but ‘Torah’. We are to meditate day and night on The Torah. The Torah refers to the first 5 books of the Old Testament. Meditating on the Torah means that we are to learn and study and remember the events of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. We are to think about how all these stories impact our life and help us better make decisions and choices that will please God and help us to be more faithful. We learn about Abraham and Jacob and Moses and Joshua. We learn about the Hebrews journey through the wilderness and understand how that applies to our journey from salvation to becoming closer and closer to God. And the Psalmist says: This shouldn’t be something that is a burden. It shouldn’t be like that homework we were assigned in English class or Math class that we drug home and had to force ourselves to conjugate those verbs or solve all those algebra problems. It shouldn’t be “OK. I’ll read the Bible cause God tells me to - but I’m not going to enjoy it…..” The Psalmist says that the happiness comes in because we spend time in God’s word because we want to; because the true desire of our heart is to learn and grow and we know that comes from letting God himself teach us as we read those stories of Scripture. In fact the Psalmist tells us that there are only 2 types of people - those who delight in the word of the Lord and the ‘wicked’. The ‘wicked’ does not refer to evil people but to people who see no benefit in spending time reading and learning God’s teaching. Alluding to the Psalmists ideas that if you desire to learn and grow then you will become closer to God and if you don’t, if you ignore God’s word; if you don’t read and study and learn then you will grow in the other direction - you will grow away from God and the true ‘happiness’ that he offers. Sort of like the grinches heart that was 3 sizes too small. This is the value of Lent. Lent challenges us to think about where we stand on that line between Christ and ‘the wicked’. If you imagine Christ as your left hand and ‘the wicked’ as your right hand and your reach out to your left and right sides and imagine a line between the two - where are you? Are you ‘meditating on the law’, studying and learning and growing more towards Christ or are you putting off your daily devotional time, putting off that time of Bible reading and studying and so heading the other direction on that line……. Or instead of a line, the Psalmist uses the picture of a tree. The tree planted by the water grows and becomes strong but the tree who is not by the water, will dry up and be blown away. So as you reflect during this time of Lent, remember the words of Jesus from Luke - Happy are those who hear the word of God and keep it.