4th Lenten Service (6th in series)
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Psalm 143:5-7 Sermon
Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & Lutheran Service Book):
TLH 155 "Sweet The Moments Rich In Blessing"
TLH 153 "Stricken, Smitten, & Afflicted"
LSB 572 "In The Shattered Bliss Of Eden"
TLH 555 "The Day Is Past & Over"
TEXT: “5 I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. 6 I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. 7 Answer me quickly, O Lord! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit.”
Several years ago, a woman I know shared a personal story with me. Prior to this, I noticed that something seemed wrong. She seemed preoccupied and far more somber than was usual for her. And when she finally told me what was going on in her life, I understood why.
It was a normal weekday, and everything was going on as normal. She and her husband had gotten ready for work, and had eaten breakfast. Since she had to go to work earlier than he did, he fixed her a cup of coffee to take with her in the car. He walked her out to her car, and she got in . He handed her the cup of coffee, kissed her good bye, and she went off to work.
Later on that same afternoon, a man whom she didn't know showed up at her office. He had an envelope with him that he handed to her. When she opened it up, she couldn't have been more shocked. The man was her husband's attorney, and the papers were divorce papers. She was completely blind sided by the whole thing.
So she tried to contact her husband on his cell phone. It went straight to voice mail. She tried contacting him at work, at home, and every other place she could think of. She was having no success at all. So she called her only son and told him what had happened. He was just as shocked as she was!
These people are about my age, and they had been married over 30 years. She always thought that they had a good marriage. But as things unfolded, it appeared that he had been planning his departure for some time.
As time progressed, their son was finally able to contact him for a brief visit. But there were still no definite answers to the questions arising from this situation, other than the fact that the husband just didn't want to be in a relationship with his wife any more. So he left their home, withdrew and basically estranged himself from his wife. The good bye words he spoke to her in the driveway that morning would be the last words that they would share face-to-face, at least to date. Their years of marriage had come to an end.
Sad to say, this is not an uncommon occurrence. There are divorced men and women who have their own unique versions of the same basic story. And as it happens so often, little children get in the middle of things. People wind up being single parents without really knowing exactly what happened.
The word "estranged" is one that is so frequently heard when these situations happen. The word "estranged" has a lot deeper meaning than just being separated. It means that something more serious has caused that separation, and there are deep feelings connected with it. That's the way I've always understood this word.
To better understand this, allow me to share what Merriam-Webster has to say about this word "estrange." Here is the dictionary definition: to cause someone to be no longer friendly or close to another person or group; to cause someone to be no longer involved or connected with something. To remove from customary environment or associations; to arouse especially mutual enmity or indifference in where there had formerly been love, affection, or friendliness; to alienate.
As we look at our text for this evening, we sense a lot of very deep emotion expressed by David who authored this Psalm. This is one of the penitential Psalms, where David contrasts his own sin and guilt with the power and forgiving love of God. Because of his sinfulness, David had become estranged from God. This situation was so serious, that for him to remain in this estranged state, there would be absolutely no hope for him. The same applies to us as well, right down to this very day.
So how did all this happen in the first place? We actually need to start at the beginning, right at the very beginning of human history. This takes us back to the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve. Our first parents were in a perfect relationship with God. They walked hand-in-hand with him in the bliss of paradise.
But then Satan steps in and does his dirty work. His whole intent is to ruin the relationship between God and humanity. The hand-in-hand relationship would be replaced with the hand of man becoming estranged and separated from God.
And so, the hand of man breaks free from God when that hand instead grasps the fruit that God has forbidden the man and woman to eat. Adam and Eve have chosen the path of disobedience, which in effect covers their hands with the guilt that brings estrangement from God. The bliss of Eden had been completely shattered, and was replaced by sin and evil. Satan wanted them to put their hands into his so they could be led astray, instead of in the hand of God that loved them, and wanted to help and protect them.
And as you know, they fell for the lies Satan was telling them. They were going hand-in-hand with him, heading right down the path to eternal perdition.
The sin and shame was very evident. The hand that once held God's hand in perfect fellowship had now become separated and estranged from him. The hands of sinful man were covered in nothing but guilt.
Oh what to do, what to do? Adam's response was sort of a diversionary tactic. He said he was trying to cover nakedness by making a covering for himself by sewing together fig leaves; but really, he was trying to cover over the guilt of his sin. Maybe God couldn't see through the leaves; maybe the "out of sight, out of mind" might just work. It's incredible to see just how faulty man's logic is sometimes! It's like putting a glove on a diseased hand, thinking that the disease will go away if it cannot be seen. This is like a little child's logic, thinking that if they close their eyes, then they cannot be seen.
Cover-ups are only just that; they're cover-ups and not cures. The disease still exists. The guilt, unless it is properly resolved will continue to keep us estranged and separated from God. The barriers are still there. And when those barriers are there, it affects every relationship we have. Our relationship with God is certainly affected, and that also affects our earthly relationships. The guilt associated with estranged hands permeates our souls, right down to the core of our existence.
We come to the realization that our guilt must be resolved in some way, and that we cannot do it ourselves. The Holy Spirit leads us in faith to believe what Jesus has done to remove the guilt from us, and to bring our estranged hands back into the loving grasp of our Father's hands. There is no way we can cover our own sins, only Jesus can accomplish that.
David knew that God was the only one who could forgive sins. In our text for this evening, David cries out in verse 6: "I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land." David's hands were covered with guilt and estranged from God.
But David also knew God's character and power. It is God's will, as Paul reminds Timothy, that he wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. Our God is a God of grace, a God who deals with sinful humanity out of a love that is beyond comprehension.
God's power shows a love for his people as he graciously leads them and provides for them. God does not remove himself from us and our world, but he interacts for our benefit. So, as David says in verse 5 of our text, "I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands." When we see what Jesus has done for us on our behalf, we are reassured of his forgiveness.
In verse 7 of our text this evening, we read: "Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit." Over and over again, David shares his faith with us. He knows without a doubt that God is with him. If we jump ahead a couple chapters to Psalm 145, listen to the joyful confidence David has: "17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. 18 The Lord is near to all who call upon him; to all who call upon him in truth. 19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them."
Jesus tells us in John chapter 15 that apart from him we are nothing. We cannot remove that which estranges us from God. We cannot cover it over ourselves, or pretend that it doesn't exist. We cannot pay the price our sins demand.
Through faith alone, Jesus takes our estranged and guilty hands and he heals them. He makes them just as good as new again. Our sins are forgiven, and the price has been paid. This is nothing of our own doing, it is God alone who does this on our behalf out of nothing but love.
When her husband left, my friend went through a whole gamut of feelings and emotions. To this day, she still doesn't know why all of this happened. He refuses to even talk to her. Even when it came time to get the remainder of his belongings from the house, he gave a list to his attorney. Someone else came and picked it all up. He estranged himself from his wife, and it has caused nothing but hurt, grief, and misery. They had over 30 years of marriage, and it went right down the tubes.
If this kind of hurt can be caused by an earthly relationship, can you imagine what God feels like when his people are estranged from him because of their own doing? What kind of hurt do you think he experiences when he extends his loving hands, only to have them pushed aside by the diseased and guilty hands of humanity? What kind of grief does Christ experience when people reject his perfect sacrifice, and choose to try to do it by themselves?
As we look at our hands, there are certainly many tales that can be told. Our hands are dirty, seeking, hurting, nervous, angry, and estranged. We have hands that bear the marks of this world. But as Christians, we also have hands that reflect the love and forgiveness of God, which are hands dedicated to God's service.
In closing this evening, I am going to share a touching story that was Emailed to me this past week. The story is entitled, "Grandpa's Hands."
Grandpa, some ninety plus years, sat feebly on the patio bench. He didn't move, he just sat with his head down staring at his hands. When I sat down beside him he didn't acknowledge my presence; and the longer I sat, I wondered if he was OK.
Finally, not really wanting to disturb him but wanting to check on him at the same time, I asked him if he was OK. He raised his head and looked at me and smiled. "Yes, I'm fine. Thank you for asking," he said in a clear strong voice.
"I didn't mean to disturb you, Grandpa, but you were just sitting here staring at your hands and I wanted to make sure you were OK," I explained to him.
"Have you ever looked at your hands," he asked. "I mean really looked at your hands?"
I slowly opened my hands and stared down at them. I turned them over, palms up and then palms down. No, I guess I had never really looked at my hands as I tried to figure out the point he was making.
Grandpa smiled and related this story: "Stop and think for a moment about the hands you have, how they have served you well throughout your years. These hands, though wrinkled, shriveled, and weak have been the tools I have used all my life to reach out and grab and embrace life.
They put food in my mouth and clothes on my back. As a child my mother taught me to fold them in prayer. They tied my shoes and pulled on my boots. They have been dirty, scraped and raw, swollen and bent. They were uneasy and clumsy when I tried to hold my newborn. Decorated with my wedding band, they showed the world that I was married and loved someone special.
They trembled and shook when I buried my parents and when I walked my daughter down the aisle. They have covered my face, combed my hair, and washed and cleansed the rest of my body. They have been sticky and wet, bent and broken, dried and raw.
And to this day, when not much of anything else of me works real well, these hands hold me up, lay me down, and again continue to fold in prayer. These hands are the mark of where I've been and the ruggedness of my life.
But more importantly it will be these hands that God will reach out and take when he leads me home. And with my hands he will lift me to his side and there I will use these hands to touch the face of Christ."
I will never look at my hands the same again. But I remember when God reached out and took my grandpa's hands and led him home. When my hands are hurt or sore I think of Grandpa. I know he has been stroked and caressed and held by the hands of God. I, too, want to touch the face of God and feel his hands upon my face.
Yes indeed, through faith in Jesus our Saviour, he will take our hands and fold them into his. Our hands will no longer be estranged, but will be safely led through this life into a glorious eternity in heaven.