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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, November 22, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Psalm 103

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
   and all that is within me,
   bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
   and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity,
   who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
   who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works vindication
   and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
   his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
   slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse,
   nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
   nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
   so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
   so far he removes our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion for his children,
   so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made;
   he remembers that we are dust.

As for mortals, their days are like grass;
   they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
   and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
   on those who fear him,
   and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
   and remember to do his commandments.

The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
   and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
   you mighty ones who do his bidding,
   obedient to his spoken word.
Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
   his ministers that do his will.
Bless the Lord, all his works,
   in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul. (NRSV)

Each week in our worship services we have a time of confession, a time when we come to God stating our sin, our brokenness, times and places where we have missed the mark of God’s will for our lives. We join in a common confessional prayer, stating where we have sinned both as individuals and also in our corporate life. It is followed by the Assurance of Pardon, when the worship leader often quotes Psalm 111: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

Backing up a little, I wonder if you and I really understand ourselves to be sinful? Is that an old-time term that is riddled with guilt, that is simply what Karl Marx called the “opiate of the people,” a way of keeping us ridden with a burden and thus not in a place to rise up and overthrow the systems of oppression? Karl Menninger’s blockbuster book in the 1970s Whatever Became of Sin? takes up a discussion of the shift in our American cultural assumptions about the nature and place of sin. Mainstream Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church assumed that we are guilty of sin and need to repent and confess. But in today’s religious culture the liberal Protestant culture puts less emphasis on sin and tends to concentrate on the aspirations and possibilities, even the power of positivity, so as not to inhibit the liberation of faith and how it frees us.

I want to suggest that sin is a reality of our lives as humans and confessing our sin as the body of Christ opens the way for untold liberation. We know that territory: when we fail to care for one another or creation or when, in our humanity, we come face-to-face with our limitations and we face our brokenness and our distance from God.  Psalm 103 asks us to come face-to-face with our Creator and state what plagues us and keeps us hiding from God. It does not deny the sorrow that life brings or the hurt we inflict, whether intentional or not. And at the heart of this psalm is an invitation to do what is counterintuitive, maybe countercultural: to confess, that is go public with our sin, our wrongs, our denial, our misappropriation of power and privilege—yes, confess it boldly so that the mercy and grace of God can meet it and undeniably empower us to live in the “Yes” of God’s steadfast love.

Good and gracious God, give us courage to be bold in our confession and even more ready to receive the bounty of your grace and mercy. Through Christ. Amen.

Written by Lucy Forster-Smith, Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development and Adult Education

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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