Carrot and stick no more…

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Psalm 38:17 For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever with me. 18 I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin. 19 Those who are my foes without cause are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully. 20 Those who render me evil for good are my adversaries because I follow after good. 21 Do not forsake me, O LORD; O my God, do not be far from me; 22 make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation.

In v.18 the writer confesses to God his sins (iniquity), essentially admitting that his suffering is just. At the same time he names the source of his suffering in v.19, those “who hate me wrongfully”.

A key principal of Old Testament theology involves adhering to the will and ways (rules, laws, statutes, ordinances) of God. Those who follow them diligently are promised health, prosperity and blessing. Those who don’t are promised punishment, loss, adversity. It’s God’s “carrot and stick” approach to managing people. Given this orientation between people and God one can understand why the psalmist presumes guilt when faced with adversity. He must have screwed up or he wouldn’t be in this mess.

I’m grateful we have a new covenant in Jesus that is not based on adherence to the law, but upon grace through Jesus Christ. As you know, Jesus (who was without sin) gave himself to the cross, suffered, died, then rose again on the third day. He shed his blood as an atonement for our sins. It’s as we hear in the words of institution spoken in our communion liturgy. The presider raises the cup and says:

“This is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.”

This is not to say we ignore the will and ways of God. It’s just that our place before God is not determined by our fidelity to these things – because we are fundamentally incapable of keeping the law. Instead we confess our sin to God and are extended forgiveness as a gift of grace from God through Jesus Christ.

God our Father, this morning we confess our sins to you. We have strayed from your will over and over – in thought, word, and deed. For the sake of your Son Jesus, absolve us of guilt, dear Lord, and renew us from the inside out to serve you. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

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