Good morning. Today is Sunday, March 29, 2020, and as promised I am sending out another devotional in the hopes of encouraging you. I know these days are strange but I trust the Lord is with us and will guide us in the days ahead. Today’s devotional is a bit more liturgical because – well I’m Presbyterian and that’s how we roll. But it is also the Lord’s day and I have included elements that are part of our time of worship at Bethel and at Windsor. Please know that the folks at Bethel and Windsor are praying and they would be happy to pray with you. If there are things you’d like us to pray for – just let us know (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). Join me know in our call to worship.
Call to Worship: from Psalm 28:6-8
Christ is Risen!
Amen! Amen! Christ has risen indeed, and He is King and Lord.
Blessed be the LORD! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts;
My heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
The LORD is the strength of his people;
He is the saving refuge of his anointed.
Hymn: Create in Me A Clean Heart
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a right spirit within me.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Thy presence;
Take not Thy holy Spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation;
And renew a right spirit within me.
Corporate Prayer of Confession: Christ the King
Lord, when the prophet Isaiah was confronted with your holiness, he exclaimed: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Without your mercy, we, too, are lost. Forgive us for the sins that we commit toward other people; our neglect of our walk with you; forgive us through the blood of Jesus, our King, our High Priest, and advocate. Our hope is in Jesus. Lord Hear Our Prayer. Christ Have Mercy. Lord Have Mercy. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: Based on Colossians 1:13-14
Through the crucified body and blood of Christ the King, we have been given a pardon from God. “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Friends – in Christ Jesus our King your sins and mine are forgiven. Thanks be to God.
Scripture Reading from Psalm 51
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.  Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.  Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.  Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.  Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.  Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.  Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.  O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.  For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem;  then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar. (ESV)
Prayer asking God to help us as we hear his word:
Guide us, O God, by your Word and Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Reflection by Dr. Mark A. Hutton
These are crazy days indeed. I don’t have to tell you that. All of us are dealing with this viral interruption and it is THE TOPIC everywhere. And all of us are dealing with it in a variety of ways. In fact, everyone from the Pope to the President have asked people to pray. We know we ought to pray and most of us probably want to pray.
If you have a sort of nudge to pray about something or for someone, especially if the church or Christianity isn’t your thing – then you really should pay attention to that nudge because it means something spiritual is probably going on – and you ought to pay attention to that and maybe start asking some questions (by the way I’m always happy to take your questions – I may not have the answer but I may be able to help you find the answers).
But I know that a lot of people have trouble with praying. Prayer for a lot of people – even people who have been around church for a long time can be sort of tricky. People often have questions about prayer; they don’t know what to say or how to say it; they wonder if they have to use more formal language than they ordinarily do; some people aren’t sure if they are supposed to stand or sit or kneel or how to hold their hands (should they fold them, lift them) or if they have to keep their eyes open or closed, bow their head, or not.
But more than that – even – I know that some people just don’t feel like they can pray. It isn’t so much because they don’t have the words – but they don’t feel like they can talk to God because of who they are or what they’ve done or not done. I know there are folks who feel so overwhelmed by the mess of their lives that they just can’t see how they can pray.
Well, I’d like to point folks to the Old Testament book of Psalms because there is a powerful lesson tucked within that book. I think I’ve said before that I love Psalms. I love it because of all that it does.
The Psalms teach us who it is that can talk to God and how to talk to God – how to. They teach us who can worship and how to worship. But they do not give us formulas; there isn’t an “insider language” as Eugene Peterson said. Instead, the Psalms provide insights into just who can pray and how to pray.
In fact, some of the Psalms can get pretty raw in their approach to God – because – well – people go through tough times and those times don’t call for super flowery language that glosses over the real stuff a person is going through. The Psalms – however poetic some of it may be – are nevertheless chocked full of real language written by real people, at real moments, in real-time. They do not give formulas to follow other than equipping people to use their words to express their thoughts and feelings and experiences to God. And in that, they teach us to pray, and lament, and worship, and yell, and praise, and exclaim, and express frustration, and cry out in anxiety and fear, and even admit to God when we’ve blown it.
In fact, the Psalm that I read a few moments ago – Psalm 51 – is a Psalm in which David lets God know about something he’s done. And friends, it is not good – not at all. In fact, it is one of the worst stories in the Bible but it is also good in that it doesn’t gloss over the fact that David was – well – a mess.
Sometimes folks get this idea that the people mentioned in the Bible are special. But friends, outside of Jesus – outside of God – outside of the Holy Spirit and the few angels – everyone in the Bible is just like you and me. They weren’t super-human. They were a mess. They weren’t perfect. They were a mess.
A case in point is David. If you look at our text for today-in your Bible or printed out here – you’ll notice that it gives a little bit of information about the occasion for the psalm itself: To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Well, that little bit of information has been part of the Psalm since they were written – a very long time ago – and within that information, we learn some things.
Not every Psalm gives us something like this but this one does – and it tells us David wrote it. David wrote a lot of the Psalms. He wrote a lot of songs and a lot of prayers, which is good. But Psalm 51 tells us something very important about David that helps us understand who can pray and just how to pray.
David has some good qualities and he had some not so great qualities. He was a successful leader – except at home, he didn’t do so well. He was a man who was brave and noble, he loved God deeply, and at the same moment, he was shallow, callous, prideful, lustful and capable of the grossest of offenses. He rose to the heights of power and trampled over people on the way.
He was also a man known as a “man after God’s own heart,” who also committed adultery and set the woman’s husband up to be killed in battle. That’s what this Psalm is all about. David wrote this Psalm – a prayer of confession – after he was confronted by Nathan about his affair with Bathsheba that led to Uriah – her husband’s – death.
David was a mess and yet David was also a man who understood that his only hope was God. David knew that God knew what kind of person he was but he didn’t let that stop him from praying to God. He couldn’t pretend that he was “all good” because people knew.
You see what I mean about how the Psalms teach us to pray? Not only do they give us the language, but they remind us that the people who wrote them weren’t perfect, spiritual gurus that were out of touch with humanity. The Psalms were written by people like you and me – people that recognize that they have faults, and fractures, and well – they know they are a mess. And yet even within their mess – there they were – reaching out to God – laying things out there in real language about real things that were happening to them and zeroing back in on God as the center of their world and the world around them.
Friends, you may not feel like you are good enough to pray but a large chunk of the psalms were written by a man that was a mess. And here’s the thing, he’s not covering his mess up. People knew. In fact, you can read about it in the Book of Samuel and in Kings. Oh, and not only that, you can read some of it here in Psalm 51.
David’s story is a powerful one because throughout the Psalms we have these prayers from a man who is a mess. God knew it. David knew it. A lot of people knew it. Nevertheless, there’s David lifting his heart to God. It is raw. It is real and it is clear from a man who was as human as you and me.
But being a mess didn’t keep David from praying. Being a mess didn’t keep David from crying out to God, or asking for God’s help, or from praising God, giving God thanks, or acknowledging that God is his hope, his refuge, etc. And being a mess shouldn’t keep us from doing that either.
And therein lies the biggest take away from all of this. The story of the Bible is one that human beings are a mess. All of us are a mess. But God loves the mess of humanity. In fact, God loves the mess so much he was willing to send His own Son into it – to redeem it – to restore humanity and all creation – to not only clean the messy people up but to make them new and spotless. Friends, we can’t make ourselves any less of a mess. Only God – only Jesus can do that for us.
God – through Jesus – through His Spirit- is in the business of cleaning people up. But we all know that cleaning up messy people takes time – it takes a lifetime and in fact – it is not one and done – there is no such thing as coming to Jesus one time and we are all good to go from that point on. Truth be told, we will probably not be all cleaned up this side of heaven. It is just the nature of being human. Oh, we might be less of a mess than we once were but there is always going to be a little residue hither and yon about us. But that doesn’t mean that God still isn’t at work cleaning us up.
And that’s the thing to bear in mind in how we think of ourselves and how we think of others and how we think about prayer. The Psalms were written over a span of time. David authored a lot of them over the span of his life. That means that there were times when the mess of his life was more prominent than others and yet he was still praying, still worshipping God, still connected to God.
Friends, God doesn’t turn away from us in our mess and we shouldn’t either. We shouldn’t hold ourselves back at all – no matter who we are – no matter how often you go to church or if you’ve never been. We shouldn’t let the fact that we are a mess hold us back from God at all.
I think people have either a tendency to hide the fact that they are a mess, or they tend to use the fact that they are a mess to stay away from God – from Jesus. But the lesson of the Psalms is that being a mess is part of what it means to be human and it can neither be hidden from God or anyone else – and it is never a reason that a person should stay away from God. After all, that’s the whole point of the Gospel.
Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, which means we will be leaving Lent behind and embracing Holy Week. I’d encourage you to take some time this week to prepare for that. But anyway, for me one of the most powerful moments in the gospel accounts involves the reaction of two men who betrayed Jesus. First, there is Judas, who basically sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver. When Judas realizes what he’s done and the mess he’s made of things, he hung himself. It was pretty clear that Judas never really knew Jesus at all. That’s a shame, really.
Then there is the account of Simon Peter. I love Simon Peter. He’s impulsive; he said things he shouldn’t have said, especially when he said them; in fact, in one moment Peter went from confessing that Jesus is the Christ – the Son of the Living God – to trying to reprimand Jesus for something he said. That actually made Jesus say “get behind me Satan” to Peter. Simon Peter even cut off a guy’s ear out of loyalty to Jesus when the man came to arrest Jesus. Peter was all about Jesus but he was a mess.
Then, of course, came the time of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion (and resurrection). Jesus warned the disciples that they would all fall away. Peter speaks up and in one moment both affirms his loyalty to Jesus and shames the other disciples. He said, “even if every one of these other guys fall away, I will not. I’d rather die first.” At which point Jesus told him that the rooster wouldn’t crow three times before Peter denied knowing him three times. And that’s how it played out, too. Peter betrayed Jesus in a critical moment. He even cursed in the process.
Peter was a mess. Jesus knew that and Peter knew that Jesus knew. And after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter was the first one to run to Jesus. Peter was a mess but he knew that God loves messy people. He didn’t let the fact that he was a mess keep him from walking with Jesus. He didn’t let the fact that he was a mess keep him from allowing God to clean him up over a lifetime. And neither should we.
We shouldn’t let the fact that we are a mess keep us from praying. We shouldn’t let the fact that we are a mess keep us from reaching out to God at any and every moment of the day or night. We shouldn’t let the messes of our past, our present, or our future keep us from walking with the Lord.
Will you join me in reaffirming your faith? Christian, what is it that you believe?
Affirmation of Faith:
“I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.”
Prayers of the people and the Lord’s Prayer
Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer. Almighty God, in Christ you taught us to pray and promised that we would receive all that we ask in his name. Hear now our prayers –
- Hear now our prayers for the church around the world – help your people to bear witness to who you are in this moment of uncertainty and anxiety;
- Hear now our prayers for our loved ones;
- Hear now our prayers for those who work in the health industry…give them wisdom, hope, stamina;
- Hear now our prayers for our church…as we look to you to hold us together and to help us be the light of Christ in this community;
- Hear now our prayers for the healing of the world needs from this pandemic;
- Hear now our prayers for peace and justice in the world;
- Hear now our prayers for our nation’s leaders;
- Hear now our prayers for our community;
Lord hear our prayer – for we pray in the name of Jesus who taught us to pray saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Friends, God loves you. He’s made his love known to you through His Son, through His Spirit, through His word, and through the fellowship we have with one another. Now He sends us out into the world to bear witness to His deep and abiding love. He does so with this blessing, “Now may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you His shalom.”