Rescue Me: Week Five - "Repent"

It's the Fifth and final Sunday of the season of Lent, and we are journeying together after Jesus as he travels to Holy Week and the Cross.

The thing is, when we walk the Lenten journey, it's easy to feel a bit lost.  It's one of the most difficult seasons of the year--a long wintry trudge that is sandwiched between the joys of Advent and the transforming moment of Easter.

And let's face it, following in the footsteps of Jesus as he journeys to the Cross isn't exactly the most thrilling of propositions for most of us.

What we need are guides to help us along the way, to inspire us to keep going and to give us direction when we feel lost and alone.  That's the focus of the sermon series we're beginning today--a series entitled, "Rescue Me."

We'll be engaging with the lectionary Psalms that are part of our Lenten readings for each of the Sundays in Lent.  The Psalms are more than just poetry.  They are more than prayers.  The Psalms provide us with a connection to our true selves.

We chose as our overriding image for this series the image of a message in a bottle...

Messages that we throw off into the ocean, hoping that they'll be found, that we'll know that we are not alone in the universe... that God is with us, for us and will rescue us from whatever it is that we need rescuing from.

And the messages we search for, the ones we hope will wash up on the shore, providing us with surprising and startling truths about who we are, and the new people we are called to become.

Today we're going to start with an important question that lots of people are trying to figure out, even if they aren't entirely aware of it:

How do I find freedom from guilt?

Guilt is one of the great negative motivators in the pantheon of Human Emotion.  

We all feel guilty about something from time to time.  And sometimes guilt can be a good thing.  Guilt has been the impetus for more than one act of repentance over the course of human history.  

Including my own. 

Have you ever found yourself in a disagreement with your spouse or significant other, and this disagreement led to a heated conversation and in the midst of that heated conversation, you said something that you didn't mean? 

Yeah, that's never happened to me.  

I know that this sounds like an impossibility, but there are moments when I am not exactly the perfect husband.  I know--hard to believe, right?  And yet--it's true.  

And I have found myself in the previously mentioned situation before when a stupid, hurtful thing that I am about to say starts to come out of my mouth, and the tiny little gatekeeper in my head screams "Nooooooo!!  Turn back!!!" 

More times than I would like to admit I've ignored that little fellow and just said it anyway, and almost instantly regretted it.  

When you see the hurt visible on the face of your loved one when you've said something to hurt them, guilt washes over you like a cold shower, doesn't it?  If you let it, that guilt can lead you to some serious repentance, and maybe even to a new place in your relationship if you're sincere.  

But the problem that so many of us face when it comes to guilt, however, is that we don't let it act on us positively in ways that lead to renewal and reconciliation.  For many of us, guilt often lingers.  And when guilt lingers, it can grow, and if it grows, it can take over our lives.  It can permeate all that is pure and good about us and can destroy peace, joy, love, and hope.  

Guilt pollutes goodness. 

What if I told you that you could be free from all of it, though?  

I want you to hear this.  If you are living with guilt over things that you have done...  If you are living with guilt over things that have been done to you... If you are living with guilt over mistakes or bad decisions that you have made... 

You don’t have to.  

So many of us Christian-types have the wrong idea about Christianity.  We have been made to feel guilty by other Christians, who operate under the assumption that the reason Jesus died was to expose our sin and guilt.  

Jesus didn’t die to make you feel guilty.  He died to free you from it.  

Today we are going to be receiving our final message in our Lenten sermon series--a message from Psalm 51.  This Psalm, which was written by David in a critical moment in his life, helps us learn something valuable.  

Repentance is the foundation for real reconciliation.  

Let's read Psalm 51:1-12

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation

    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Let me tell you the story behind Psalm 51--a story from the life of David.  This isn’t one of the triumphant giant-killing stories from his life.  This is the story of how David lusted after a woman, committed adultery with her, got her pregnant, and then had her husband murdered so he could marry her.  

The story begins in 2 Samuel 11:1 which reads, “In the spring at the time when kings go off to war... David was at home.”  

David wasn’t where he was supposed to be.  He should have been off with his soldiers, but he was idling away on the rooftop of his palace surveying his kingdom and he happened to see a beautiful woman taking a bath on her rooftop.  

Bathsheba was married to one of his officers, a man named Uriah.  David decided that he wanted Bathsheba, and he had her brought to him.  He had sex with her, and then not too long after that she sends word that she is pregnant.  

David summons Uriah home, hoping that he will take the opportunity for a little leave to go home and get reacquainted with Bathsheba.  He doesn’t.  He acts noble and chooses to sleep outside David’s palace since he is officially “on duty.”  

Once David realizes that Uriah is too noble to comply, he plots to have him killed on the battlefield.  With Uriah out of the way, David waits a bit and then marries Bathsheba.  

This is when God sends the prophet Nathan to confront David with his sin.  At this point, David thought he’d gotten away with it.  Nathan tricks David by telling him of a rich man in his kingdom who stole the solitary lamb of a poor man in order to serve it for dinner.  David becomes incensed and demands to know the name of the rich man so he could be punished.  

"Atah ha'ish!"  “You are that man!” Nathan declares to David.  And David is immediately overcome with shame and guilt.  

David is told that the son he and Bathsheba conceived will not live. The baby falls ill, and despite David’s daily fasting and praying on his face before God, he dies.  

God doesn't cause all things, but God is present in all things.  God did not cause David's child to die, whatever was wrong with him would have caused his death regardless--and the fact that Nathan predicts it doesn't mean that it was a punishment.  

I know that this sounds terrible, but you have to understand this as a consequence, not a punishment.  And David saw it the same way, despite the guilt that he felt in the midst of it.  

Psalm 51 is attributed to David as the prayer that he prayed to God when he realized the great pain and shame that his sin had caused.  In this Psalm, he repents and seeks reconciliation with God first and foremost--knowing that this reconciliation will lead him to further reconciliation with others.  

When David was told that his son was dead, he cleaned himself off, stopped mourning and started living.  When people criticized him for it, he said that his son was dead and that one day he would go to him.  

What he was essentially saying was, “I will see him one day, but not today.  I have some living left to do.”   David and Bathsheba would go on to have another son, and his name was Solomon.  Out of death, sin, immorality---out of guilt, God brought resurrection and life.  

David is referred to in the Bible as "a man after God's own heart."  

In the end, resurrection happens out of this sad, broken story.  And all because... 

Repentance is the foundation for real reconciliation with God and with others.  

And when we have that reconciliation, when we concede our own will to God's---that's when we are able to experience new life.  

So how about you?  Do you have regrets over the mistakes you've made, the ways that you have wronged others, and strained your relationship with God?  What lengths do you go to in order to not feel guilty?

Do you beat yourself up on a daily basis?  Do you sabotage every significant relationship in your life because you feel that you are not worthy of being loved?  

Or do you go overboard with Christian-y behavior, living a legalistic life where there is only black and white and no grey?  

You can be free from this guilt.  You don't have to live with it any longer.  

There are five basic things that you can do right now to let all of it go, and to find reconciliation with God, and with others.  

First, you need to recognize the kind of guilt that you are feeling.  Is it a conviction by the Holy Spirit or a distortion by the Enemy?  Remember, guilt pollutes goodness.  And it does it quietly and swiftly.  If your guilt has led you to a place of self-destruction, rather than repentance---that's not the Holy Spirit working on you.  God didn't cause it.  

Second, you need to make amends or changes sooner rather than later.  In other words, repent and be reconciled.  Make restitution if you need to.     

I heard the story of a shoplifter who had a bit of remorse and sent the store he’d stolen from a letter.  In the letter, he confessed his crime and enclosed a $100 bill.  He said that because of his guilt he was giving back some of the money.  He then went on to say, “If I feel any guiltier, I’ll give back the rest.”  Repentance, reconciliation, restitution----they don’t work like that.  

Third, accept your responsibility, but move on.  David’s example is a good one here.  You need to trust God that he will make resurrection happen.  Know that you are frail and broken and that Jesus came to set frail and broken people free.  

Fourth, learn from your mistakes.  Be your own good, bad example.  Don’t keep doing the same dumb things over and over again.  If you fell into sexual sin, don’t keep frequenting the same bars looking for the same hookups.  If you were a drunk, don’t put yourself in situations where you drink.  Live differently. 

Fifth, give yourself a break.  After all, Jesus does.  There is no one who is perfect.  Jesus always picks the wrong people to accomplish his will and great work of salvation in the world.  That way he gets the glory and we don’t.  Jesus loves that you aren’t perfect because if you were, you wouldn’t need him so badly.  Grace is not about getting what you deserve, it’s about getting what you don’t deserve.  

In closing, I want to share with you the strange case of Matthew Cordle.  

I'm going to show you a video that went viral several years ago.  This video went viral earlier this month.  It's the video of a young man who confesses to the world that he drove drunk, got into an accident and was responsible for the death of another man.  He fled the scene of the accident, but then later was overwhelmed by his guilt:  

Matthew Cordle was convicted of his crime, and he was given what amounted to a 50% longer sentence than was normally given for the same crime--even though the widow of the man he killed plead with the judge to lessen his prison time.  Matthew accepted his sentence, however, and did not appeal it. 

Shortly after his incarceration, Matthew's sisters started a non-profit organization called Save Your Victim that works with cab companies to provide free rides to people who are too drunk to drive.  

Matthew recently said that he wakes up every day and tries to live in a way that would honor the man he killed.  Matthew made a horrible mistake, he had more than enough reasons to dive into his guilt--to let it define him.  

Instead, he repented and sought reconciliation.  He knew there would be consequences, but he lived in the hope that one day there would be a resurrection.  

And there has been.  Countless lives have been saved because of the nonprofit his sisters started, millions of people have been inspired by his story.  Because of his repentance, there was reconciliation, and out of that reconciliation came resurrection.  

Listen, Jesus didn’t die to make you feel guilty.  He died to free you from it.  
If you have been led to believe that being a Christian is something that is steeped in guilty feelings, you’ve been lied to.  

Be free from guilt in the name of Jesus Christ.  He gave everything so that you would know freedom and peace.  

Tear down the walls of guilt in your life and let the world see a someone who is redeemed, restored and resurrected.  

Repentance is the foundation for real reconciliation 


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