Sunday, March 12, 2023

On the substitute's bench

 A first today. The week before I was asked if I would stand by with a sermon for today.  The text was fixed - Psalm 51 - but the scheduled preacher had suddenly been given a hospital appointment for a much needed procedure.  Wisely, he wanted a Plan B, if he felt unwell.

But being on the bench means being match ready.  So I plunged into Ps 51, - an extraordinary psalm when David comes clean before God.  It  is prefaced by an historical note that gives its context as the confrontation in 2 Sam. 16 between the prophet Nathan and David.  David seems to have somehow justified to himself his adultery with Bathsheba and the subsequent cynical murder of her husband, Uriah, by orchestrating his death, sending him on a front line suicide mission.  How he could delude himself and appear to live blissfully in continuing relationship with Bathsheba is one of the greatest warnings.  The most spiritual person (just look at his other psalms) can fall so deeply into sin.

It needs courageous Nathan to rebuke him in God's name  Only then does he see the horror.  Ps. 51 is his horrified response. Yes, he's sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah, but it hits him how he has sinned first and foremost about God. This is deadly serious. You shall not commit adultery, commit murder...he knows he deserves death.  In fact, though he doesn't die, his son does and his kingdom will never recover.

His recognition of his sin, of his need for cleansing, of his offering of a broken and contrite heart is such a powerful preparation for the only hope of cleansing for broken and contrite hearts in the gift of Jesus' sacrifice for us. Only there!  Like all the psalms, which formed Jesus' own prayer book, only Jesus can bring the cleansing we need.

So, I was on the bench ready, wondering if I would be called right up until 6:00 pm on Saturday. Then in answer to my query to the preacher I heard I would not be needed.  Sitting on the bench in church was a strange experience. He did preach a challenging sermon. But at least I have the luxury of a blog to use some of my prep.   

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