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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

3rd Sunday of Lent, March 8, 2015

 He Restores My Soul

Psalm 51:1-17; Matthew 18:21-35

              Three men sat down in a diner and the waitress came to take their orders. “I just want coffee, cream and a touch of sugar.”  The next one said, “Same thing, only make mine black.”  The third said, “Black coffee for me, too, but make sure the cup is clean.”  The waitress wrote down their orders, and when she returned with their coffee she said, “Okay, who gets the clean cup?”  The waitress may not have been much of a waitress, but she was a pretty decent theologian!  For she was aware that all of life is stained, that this world is not what it should be; it is broken and fallen.  Sin is common to us all, and none of us are strangers to the brokenness that it brings.  We all know something of what it means to make mistakes, and we all have said things and done things that if we could take back, we would.  But alas, we cannot.  We all do battle with the forces that drag us down and draw us away from God. 

             So today, we turn to that venerated phrase from the King James Version, “He restoreth my soul.”  New Testament theologian and lifelong Presbyterian missionary to the Middle East, Kenneth Bailey, says this is one of the times that English translators have taken a metaphor or picture and turned it into an abstract concept, albeit an accurate one.  Ken Bailey points out that in Hebrew the image was a reference to the lost sheep, and Bailey suggests that Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15 was drawn from this Psalm.  Bailey’s translation recaptures the Hebrew metaphor: “He brings me back; He causes me to repent.”

             David, probably more than most of us, knew what a gift God’s restoring, redeeming love could be.  Remember last week I mentioned John Calvin’s insight on this Psalm?  Calvin suggested that David wrote it late in his life, after he had solidified his kingdom and became powerful and prosperous, as a safeguard against the greatest danger to those who have been greatly blessed by God: Forgetfulness.  How could David ever forget how God brought him back when he had strayed, and caused him to repent?  How could David ever forget how God restored his soul?  The shepherd boy had slain Goliath and ultimately rose to be King of Israel.  He succeeded at every turn and would rise to unparalleled power and prominence.  Then one day, when the men of Israel had gone off to war, David spotted a beautiful woman sunning herself, and taken by her beauty, took her for himself, though he knew she belonged to another man.  Her pregnancy complicated his life, so to fix the problem, David finally sent her husband, Uriah the Hittite, into battle to be cut down and eliminated.  It all would have gone unnoticed were it not for God’s prophet, Nathan, who had the courage to expose David’s sin.  And as if that was not enough, David also suffered a broken relationship with his overly ambitious son, Absalom, who sought to overthrow David, and was killed in battle by his father’s own army.  David’s life had gone from the heights of joy and honor to the depths of despair and shame.

             And in brokenness, feeling lost, David cried out to God for help.  In the hour of his greatest need, he cried out to God: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy steadfast love….  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation….”

             Now I cannot prove it, but it is hard for me not to believe that when David, in Psalm 23, said, “He restoreth my soul,” that he was thinking back upon this experience of being brought back by God, this experience of restoration, redemption and reconciliation when his life had fallen apart.  When David wrote, “He brings me back; He causes me to repent…,” he was not engaging in some abstract concept.  He was speaking from his gut, for David knew both the shame and ruin of his own failure and the joy of restoration and redemption.

             The Gospel is always about this – about our “lostness,” our moral and spiritual failure, and God’s power to redeem, restore and reconcile.  As many of you know, Connie and I are huge Downton Abbey fans.  Season 5 just ended, and the last episode was one of the most powerful yet, for all kinds of reasons.  I will mention just one.  Edith Crawley is Lord and Lady Grantham’s “ugly duckling” youngest daughter.  She is always at odds with Lady Mary, her older sister, and Edith’s life has been one heartache after another, aided by her own ability to wound herself.  Finally Edith falls in love with Gregson, a successful British journalist, and gets pregnant out of wedlock, just as he disappears in Germany.  Edith keeps her pregnancy a secret from the family, with the help of her grandmother, but then cannot live with her separation from her child.  Finally, of course, Edith’s “sins find her out,” and in a beautiful, powerful moment, her father comes to her by night, confronts her tenderly with the truth, but lovingly forgives her.  When she says, “Can you ever forgive me?” he says, “Oh, dear Edith, can you forgive me?”  The whole episode is about reconciliation and redemption, about sacrifice and love, which is exactly what is so very powerful and winsome about the Gospel.

             God’s love is steadfast and can redeem, restore and heal us, if only we will let it.  No matter how far we have strayed, no matter how lost we may feel, no matter how broken our lives are, God is the Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who can restore us, and bring us home, and heal and redeem our lives.

             Restoration and redemption are God’s way with us.  To the Shepherd God, life is not a spelling bee, where one miss, and you’re out.  And the Church is not a junkyard, where once we are wrecked we are thrown on a scrapheap.  No, the Church is more like a body shop, where God is in the repair business.  King David ruined his own life, but God restored it, and restored to him “the joy of his salvation.”  God brought David back when he had strayed.  And God caused him to repent, to turn from his sin and to face God again.

             This is what God wants, and this is the great power of the Gospel.  If God could redeem and restore King David, don’t you think God can do the same in our lives?  And don’t think for a moment that God is not intent upon redeeming, reconciling and healing this whole broken world!  Yesterday we remembered the Selma March’s fiftieth anniversary.  It was a march born of great conflict, of hatred and hurt, and it resulted in too much tragic violence that day.  But much healing and redemption came from it, because as Gabriel Marcel observed, no event, however tragic, is complete in and of itself.  There is the event, and then our response to it.  Our response always holds the power to redeem and restore.  My faith in Jesus Christ tells me that God works for good in everything, that God is always at work in the world to heal and restore its brokenness.  The question is, Will we be responsible?  Will we join in God’s redemptive ways?  It always begins with repentance, with facing God and ourselves in honesty, and then receiving God’s redeeming, reconciling, healing, restoring love.  This is literally, “the joy of our salvation”!  We do not have to stay lost or broken.  We don’t have to stay bitter or angry or resentful, but we can join God in His determination to restore and heal this world.

             Jesus bids us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  Having been forgiven by God, we are called by Jesus to become agents of restoration and reconciliation.  Having been forgiven by God, we are called to offer that forgiveness to others.  Did you hear what Jesus said to the unforgiving servant in our parable?  “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”  These are among the harshest words Jesus ever speaks, but they point to the truth that unless we learn to forgive, God will never be able to get through our anger and our hurt and bitterness to restore our broken, hardened hearts.  We are the ones who put up the walls that shut us off from God’s mercy, not God!  God stands always ready to forgive; indeed, God searches for the lost sheep until that one is found.  But we will never know God’s healing, restoring power unless we can take down our defenses of bitterness and resentment and let God in.

             So a student asked Rabbi Eliezer, “What must I do to be saved?”  Rabbi Eliezer responded, “On the day before you die, repent of all your sins and forgive anyone who has wronged you.”  “But how do I know when I will die?” asked the student.  “You don’t,” said the Rabbi, “which is why today you must repent of all your sins and forgive any who have wronged you.”

             “The Lord is my shepherd … He restoreth my soul.  He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”  For “His name’s sake,” may we all be open to God’s redemptive, restoring love.

                                                                                     Amen.

 

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