“Whiter Than Snow”
Psalm 51:1-3, 7 – February 10, 2016
Have you ever made a mistake? I mean, not just like an ordinary mistake, like in addition or subtraction. I know we all made those while we were in grade school. That’s what erasers on pencils are for! I mean, a whopper! A mistake that is so bad, so huge, you wanted the earth to open up and swallow you? The kind that when you remember and look back on it, you want it to be permanently erased off the face of the planet? A mistake that big. That horrible.
Maybe you and I have never made that huge of a mistake. Maybe we have. But, I suspect all of us can relate to that kind of negative feeling. That horrible, gut-wrenching, sinking feeling. That “I wish I had never, ever been born!” feeling.
The psalm we consider tonight is all about this kind of negative, sinking, yucky feeling. This psalm is written by King David after his affair with an attractive married woman, Bathsheba, and his subsequent murder of Bathsheba’s husband (David’s general), Uriah.
Adultery! Attempted cover-up! Plotting and murder! And, another cover-up! Sounds like it’s right out of a soap opera script. Except, it really happened. And, it happened to a man after God’s own heart. A man with a close, personal, even intimate relationship with God. This all happened to King David, some years into his reign over Israel.
So, David has sinned. I mean, really sinned! I can see people shaking their heads, even now. David had a close relationship with God. God called him “a man after God’s own heart.” And some people might say, “David should’ve known better!”
Looking at us, today, we sin, too. We are often in a similar situation. We say we have a close relationship with God. We know the commandments, God’s rules, we have Jesus Christ and His example for us. Some people might say of us, “they should’ve known better!”
And what is David’s response? Verse 3, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” He does not pull punches. David comes right out and says it. He sinned. He knows it. He knows very well that God knows it, too.
We know we make mistakes, too. We know we mess up. We say mean things. We don’t tell the truth. We cut off people in traffic. We slam doors in anger. Who hasn’t bitten their tongue the second after saying something unfeeling? Or nasty? Or stupid? And, there are larger mistakes, too. Mistakes like, breaking the law. Theft. Embezzlement. Various felonies. Or like King David, with adultery, cover-ups and murder.
The psalm writer freely acknowledges his sins. Not even using euphemistic phrases like “wrong was done,” or “mistakes were made.” David is amazingly clear in stating “my transgressions,” “all my iniquity” and “my sin.”
Listen again to the verbs David uses – “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,” “cleanse me from my sin,” purge me with hyssop.” To “wash” in verses 2 and 7 could better be translated “scrub,” as one scrubs dirty clothes. (I wonder whether David was remembering his mother, scrubbing the family’s dirty clothes when he wrote that verse?) “Cleanse” in verse 2 and “be clean” in verse 7 is the same word used for washing clothes in a river (Leviticus 13:6, 34, 58). (Perhaps when David was a shepherd for his family’s sheep, he would go by the river and watch the women from his village washing—cleaning or cleansing—their families’ clothes.)
One commentary I read mentions “sin as a kind of figurative stain on her life and conscience that she needs God to scrub away. After all, [we] beg God to ‘blot out,’ ‘wash away’ and ‘cleanse me.’ It’s the image of ancient people washing dishes or clothing and modern people using various detergents and stain removers on stubborn stains.”
In other words, my sins are washed away, and though I may still be in the (figurative) spin cycle, yet shall I dry. I can freely confess my sins, too. Here, tonight, we all can acknowledge the wrongs we do.
At the beginning of each regular service, we gather together and have a corporate time of confession. This Ash Wednesday service is a special time to gather together, confess our sins to each other, and to understand we are sinners. This understanding of our sin—of the mistakes we have made and are continuing to make—prepares us to receive the forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ. And the cross of ashes on each forehead is a reminder of that forgiveness in each one of our lives.
Yes, there IS good news! We can ask God to take away our iniquity. God’s abundant mercy will forgive. We can be sure of God’s unfailing love towards all of us.
Believe the Good News of the Gospel. In Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross, our sins are forgiven. Thanks be to God. Amen.