3 Cubed- A Sermon on Psalm 32

[This post was originally a sermon given on June 16, 2013 on the occasion of Father’s Day & the 4th Sunday of Pentecost/11th Sunday of Ordinary Time]


So, a priest, a nun, and a rabbi walk into a bar and the bartender says, what is this some kind of joke? Often times we’re primed to hear in sets of 3. Good things come in groups of 3- 3 Musketeers, 3 Amigos, 3 Stooges, 3 strikes- you’re out, 3 men in a tub rub a dub-dub, 3 sheets to the wind [ok, may be not that one], 3 piece suits, 3 blind mice. My favorite ice cream- Neapolitan has 3 glorious flavors! If you want to be spiritual, 3 Wise Men, Trinity- 3 in 1. I realize that Trinity Sunday was 3 weeks ago, but our text this morning, Psalm 32, has building, tacked, groups of 3s.


Psalm 32 is attributed to David and is 1 of only 7 penitential psalms- it reads as a confession and plea for God’s mercy. This psalm not only includes penitence and confession, but also thanksgiving and wisdom. Perhaps wisdom and thanksgiving are closely related to penitence and confession. No one seems to be certain, but perhaps David wrote this psalm, this plea for mercy, this assurance of forgiveness, this reminder of God’s promises, in connection with his indiscretions with Bathsheba, the plotting of killing her husband Uriah, and mourning the death of their child, as we heard part of this story a moment ago out of 2 Samuel. Even if you have never found yourself having an affair, plotting to take out that person’s spouse, and mourning the child of your affair, this psalm lays outs a process to having peace with God.


The psalm opens with David observing a holy person or people- “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.” I don’t know, but I wonder if he had Nathan the prophet in mind here. As we heard in the 2 Samuel passage, Nathan tells David a parable and gives him guidance with firm correction. Nathan was for David wise counsel. Proverbs 9:10 says “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Peace with God, forgiveness and wisdom, begin with a reality check that God is the only One who is perfectly holy. Fearing God is remembering and knowing that God is holy, but also remembering that God is gracious and merciful.


These verses, 1-2, include 3 verbs expressing the absoluteness of Divine forgiveness- 1) forgiven, 2) covered, 3) does not count. When verse 1 says that the transgressions are forgiven, this literally means carried away, guilt is removed. When verse 1 says that the sins are covered, sin becomes an outdated reality that God will not bring up any more. If you are like me and have a selectively sharp memory and have a hard time releasing and forgetting past mistakes, there may be frustration here. It is one thing to see a mistake, to see sin, ask for forgiveness, learn from the mistake, and move on, but it is another thing to see a mistake, ask for forgiveness, and not be able to let it go. When you find yourself unable to let a past mistake or sin go, remind yourself of the truest reality- when we ask God for forgiveness, as verse 2 says here, the Lord does not count the sins against us. God forgives & carries away, God covers the sin to make it an outdated reality, and God does not count the sin against us.


There are also 3 words for sin in these 2 verses- transgression meaning act of rebellion, sin meaning missing the mark of God’s perfection, and some translations use iniquity meaning conscious intent to do wrong. Perhaps these 3 synonyms for sin show just how deeply God, our Heavenly Father, forgives us- when we act rebelliously, when we have patterns of imperfection, when we consciously in our mind, actions, and attitudes, intend to do wrong. God will forgive.


God will forgive and we need to confess or acknowledge wrongdoing, wrong thinking, wrong saying. Part of the work of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin. When we know that we are not right with God, an appropriate next step is to confess it, as we move toward peace with God.


Verses 3-5 compare David’s life before and after confession his sin. It says, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” David is describing conviction here. What an interesting metaphor- “as in the heat of summer”. I realize we’re not even entirely in the throes of summer heat yet, but I had 2 days this past week when I had a little too much sun. I was out helping harvest on a farm. It wasn’t actually super physically demanding for me, but we were out in at least the beginnings of the summer heat for hours. I didn’t quite realize it until after I came inside, but I had had a little too much sun and felt drained, thirsty. You know that feeling. That’s how conviction and the need to confess is- feeling spiritually drained and thirsty.


But, verse 5 gives us an image of relief- “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” David uses 3 verbs for confession here- 1) acknowledged, 2) did not cover up, and 3) confess. Acknowledgement, but not just passive acknowledgement- coming to God with initiative. Not just words, but desire to change. He did not cover up his iniquity, which is so tempting to do. Recall the Garden, Adam, Eve- after they sinned, they covered themselves up for it says they were ashamed. There is a big and important difference between shame and conviction. Conviction moves us to action, in this context, confession. Shame shuts us down and pushes us into hiding, hiding perhaps from ourselves, hiding from others, even trying like Adam & Eve to hide from God.


One of my favorite authors boils down shame to be fear of disconnection. When we come to God for confession, let us not come out of shame, fearing disconnection with God. When we accept Jesus as Lord, we have connection that will not be shaken. Instead, let us come to God because we know that God will love us and take us prodigal children in closer and closer to God’s Self a million + infinity times. Finally, David uses the word confess- “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and You forgave the guilt of my sin”.


This sincere confession and forgiveness reminds me of a story a friend told me 1 time. This is a true story. My friend had a much younger sister who was maybe 5 or 6 at the time, and they had a family pet goldfish named Bubbles. My friend walked by the fish bowl one day and saw that the water was really really brown and kinda bubbly, and unfortunately Bubbles was doing the “breast stroke”, you know upside down. So, my friend asked her sister if she knew anything about what happened. Oh, yes her sister said, I gave Bubbles some Dr. Pepper. I thought he would like it. J When my friend calmly explained to her sister that fish can’t have soda and that Bubbles died, her sister was understandably really upset, and she cried, and the whole thing. Later, that evening, during prayer time before bed, her sister offered a sniffly confession- I’m so sorry that I killed Bubbles. I just thought he was thirsty. I won’t do it again!


Her confession was so earnest! During that fateful day, she moved through a process of confession, of repentance- she realized her mistake, grieved the mistake, confessed the mistake, and committed to not repeating it again. The truth is that we are part of a fallen Creation in the process of being redeemed, but not yet fully redeemed. We will continue to make mistakes, but God desires us to ask for forgiveness and to desire peace with Him.


After David goes through his confessions in verse 5, he broadens the lens from himself to all faithful people, all believers in verse 6- “Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them.” Then, he moves to an appropriate response to God’s gracious response to his confession- thanksgiving and trust. Verse 7- God, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” Sometimes the song of deliverance we most need to hear is deliverance from ourselves to forgive ourselves. Sometimes the song of deliverance we most need to hear is closure by asking or maybe giving forgiveness with another person. Sometimes the song of deliverance we most need to hear is God has forgiven me. Completely. Let it go.


When we come to God, remembering God’s complete forgiveness and confessing our sins with sincerity, verse 8 says that God “will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go, and God will counsel you with a loving eye”. There are, you guessed it, 3 promises here- God will instruct you, teach you, and counsel you. God does not forgive us and say, ok, better luck next time with a slap on the back. God instructs us and teaches us the ways we should go through His word. One of my favorite verses comes from Psalm 119:11- “I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” God instructs us and teaches us in the Church through shared life and prayer together. God counsels us with a loving eye sometimes through the Word, but also through other people. Have you ever had someone tell you something and you sensed that God was speaking to you? Sometimes God gives us encouraging or wise or gentle people in our lives as a way to counsel us with a loving eye.

Verses 9-10 say don’t be stubborn, but trust in God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness, God’s guidance, God’s love- “Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.” Do you trust Him? Even if you trust God, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be difficult times, or future sin, or consequences to sin. But, trust in God does mean hope. Hope that the current broken reality will not be permanent as all of Creation will be redeemed, and hope that God will continue to love and forgive.

That hope from God’s love will lead to what David describes as a threefold praise in verse 11- “Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” Rejoice! Be glad! Sing! This verse reminds me of the Hebrews coming out of Egyptian oppression and being delivered under Moses’ guidance. Exodus 15 describes Miriam, Moses’ sister, and other women leading a conga line of praise on dry ground as pharaoh was being swallowed by the sea behind them. So it is with us who are being redeemed- leaving behind old oppressive ways, trusting God now, and moving forward with faith.


As you may have noticed, David uses stacked patterns of 3 throughout the psalm. Why does he do this? Perhaps as a poetic device such as the hundreds of uses of 3 in the Bible- the Ark of the Covenant had 3 sacred objects in it, Isaiah went barefoot for 3 years, Satan tempted Jesus in 3 ways, and so on. In Torah law, sometimes there was special purification and healing on the 3rd day. Sometimes 3 signifies completeness or finality. Perhaps David uses these 3 patterns to keep with literary tradition, to emphasize the purifying & healing power of God’s grace, and to even further communicate the completeness or finality of God’s forgiveness. May we always remember the totality of God’s forgiveness- as far as the east is from the west. Amen.