“Honest To God” March 1, 2020
“Honest To God”
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7/ Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19 (5:12, 17-19)
Selah. S-e-l-a-h. I think this might become my new favorite word for the season of Lent. The word “selah” is found 74 times in old testament scriptures: 71 times in the Psalms and another 3 times in the prophetic writings of Habakkuk. Selah is an ancient Hebrew word – so ancient that scholars can’t say for sure exactly what it means. As best we can figure, the word “selah” is a word of instruction for singer and musicians. Now the Psalms, the Psalms of David, let’s remember were originally songs – they were meant to be sung. They were the ancient equivalent of what we call hymns. Our hymnals are full of suggestions to help us sing together in a somewhat pleasing fashion: there are notes, there are words, time signatures, key signatures – all very helpful. In David’s time, things were, obviously, quite different. It was up to the singer to know the tune, I guess, and the words were read from an ancient scroll. Other than that, we don’t have a clue – except for one thing. In some of the Psalms, not all of them, there occasionally appeared a suggestion. It was a musical suggestion to pause, to stop, to take a break. “Selah” – time out. The 32nd Psalm which we read today is a classic example. (vs 3 ERV) Lord, I prayed to you again and again, but I did not talk about my sins. So I only became weaker and more miserable. 4 Every day you made life harder for me. I became like a dry land in the hot summertime. Selah
At this point, the song stops – Selah. And once the music stops we are inclined to, oh I don’t know, think about what we’re going to do this afternoon maybe? Mow the grass, make dinner? Or maybe-just maybe-our thoughts might turn to David’s sorry situation. “I prayed to you again and again, but I did not mention my sins. So I became weaker and more miserable.” And let’s suppose this musical pause becomes a full blown intermission. Now we find ourselves out in the hallway drinking coffee thinking, “Wow, poor David. …Do I ever do that? Keep the good sins to myself? The really nasty ones? Well….” But just in the nick of time the music starts back up and the words of David are sung once again. (vs 5) But then I decided to confess my sins to the Lord. I stopped hiding my guilt and told you about my sins. And you forgave them all! You forgave them all.
You know, folks have been speculating forever as to what the music might have been like those many years ago. Many hymns have been written based on the Psalms of David but, you know, it’s just not the same. But the practice of “Selah;” now that’s something; a pause, an interruption. Sometimes it’s a little on the awkward side; sometimes it’s downright uncomfortable. But we, as people of faith, know all too well that it is in those moments that our God comes to us with open arms. It is in those moments that we can be totally honest to God.
Congregations that follow the lectionary can expect that on the first Sunday of Lent, they will hear the story of the temptation of Jesus. Next year at this time, we will hear it again. The gospel of Mark tells the story with very few words while Luke and Matthew offer up a lot more detail. However it is read, the conversation always seems the same: is this a trial, a temptation, or both? Well, I’d like to take a break from this old argument because I swear that every time I read the story of Jesus in the wilderness I can’t help but feel that the guy starving and tempted in the desert is me. Worst of all, in those low-down moments when God is reaching out the most, I’m holding back. I’m not honest to God. Instead of truly repenting of the sin that makes me miserable, I hang onto them like they are a winning lottery ticket. The story of Jesus in the wilderness isn’t told to convince us how tough Jesus was; how obedient, how faithful. Sure, he was all those things but maybe there’s a larger point here. A man without sin has nothing to confess; a man without sin has nothing to fear. (1 John 3:5) We are told, But you know that Jesus came so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.
We are beginning the season of Lent, the season of preparation for the resurrected Christ, and the season of repentance. The Lord won’t put a bit in our mouth and lead us to the altar of forgiveness. But honest to God, there is a special peace in forgiveness freely given. Once again, from the 32nd Psalm: It is a great blessing when people are forgiven for the wrongs they have done, when their sins are erased. It is a great blessing when the Lord says they are not guilty, when they don’t try to hide their sins. (vs11) Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart.
Amen & Shalom