1Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
5Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,"
and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
6Therefore let all who are faithful
offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
shall not reach them.
7You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah
8I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
else it will not stay near you.
10Many are the torments of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.
11Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
Luke 15: 11B-32
11b"There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."' 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe-the best one-and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.
25"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' 31Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"
What is a blessed life?
Is a blessed life one of personal fulfillment? More money? Better food, sensual pleasures or good scotch? Look up #blessed on social media and you might reach this conclusion as you see everything from wedding pictures, to college acceptances, to pictures of new boats and work successes.
Or is a blessed life one in which we follow the right rules and live morally? Is a blessed person one who works hard for things? Does being blessed mean being righteous and volunteering in the church or showing off pictures from a mission trip so that we’re recognized by others for our goodness and dedication?
Or is a blessed life something else entirely?
Our two Bible readings today give us good lenses through which to examine a blessed or happy life. Psalm 32 and Jesus' prodigal son parable feature many of the same things—distance from God, confession and celebration. But there is something important to learn about a blessed life that comes from looking at both of them together. Lets examine Psalm 32 first.
The introduction of the psalm gives us the key to a blessed life right off the bat when it says:
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.
The psalmist gives us the life lesson first and then tells us how they got there. The psalmist is saying I have learned this life lesson the hard way. Learn from my experience and avoid your own suffering.
Your life will be blessed the psalmist says when you are forgiven AND when there is no deceit within you. That’s two conditions, not just one. There’s something God does and something we do.
I was deceitful, the psalmist says. I did something awful and I felt so guilty I could barely admit it to myself let alone God. I kept it inside and it was killing me. My body felt so heavy I could hardly get out of bed. I had no energy to do anything. Then I hit bottom, I confronted my sin. I admitted that big awful mistake to myself. I decided to name the monster that was holding me down.
Once I was honest with myself, I found the courage to go before God and really, truly confess. I told God my dark truth. I did not hide my iniquity and I decided to change. And God forgave me. God responded with glad cries of deliverance. The psalmists says we should rejoice and shout for joy because through God’s forgiveness we can be upright in heart again.
The psalmist moves from mistake to admission to confession to restoration.
He or she takes a hard look at their life and realizes how important it is to be honest with themself and God. The psalm says that admitting our mistakes to ourselves is a crucial step on the way to being blessed. We have to confront ourselves before we can be experience true blessing. Because, really, when it comes to sin, we may be able to fool ourselves, but we can’t fool God. God knows our hearts. God already knows our sins. When we confess our sins we are not giving God any new information.
God already knows your heart. The question is, do you?
Our second reading, Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, is about two young men who don’t know their hearts. Both sons are known and loved by their father and they both are blind to the sin within them. In fact, in some parts of the world this parable is called the lost sons, plural. Let’s look at them to see why.
The older brother—the one we might be tempted to call good—is the moralistic rule follower. He never stops working to ask for nice things or show love to his father because he wants to be sure he’s worthy of the inheritance. He sees his father’s love in the same way he sees the money and property—as finite and limited. He doesn’t trust the father will give it to him so he works to earn it. He leaves no room for the generosity of the father because he’s slaving away at being obedient and faithful.
The younger brother is an immoral squanderer of his father’s love and property. His problem is that he doesn’t value the love of his father and takes it for granted. He abandons his family in pursuit of pleasure, devouring his inheritance with prostitutes. He gets low as he could go. He’s so far down on the moral scale he’s in the mud longing for the food the pigs eat.
At this low point the party son forms a plan to return and waltzes back into the family. Everyone is overjoyed to see him. Everyone except his older brother. The brother who was there the whole time. The brother who has been caring for the father and the property. The brother who has been faithful and obedient becomes angry and pouty.
When we read the story closely we discover that it’s not just the younger son who is lost and distant from the father. Both of the sons are deceiving themselves.
The older brother always does the right thing, but he doesn’t do it with the right spirit. He’s righteous and obedient to the point of feeling like a slave. He’s follows the rules and thinks he deserves to be #blessed for doing so.
But who was the older brother really working so hard for? His father? Or was he doing it for himself to be sure he got the inheritance? He mistakes obedience for love and self-righteousness for real righteousness, and he doesn’t even realize it. He’s using his obedience to manipulate his father into giving him the inheritance. His true motives come out when his younger brother comes home to a party. He’s bitter and angry because he feels he deserved to be blessed with the fatted calf. He distances himself from his father by refusing to go in to the party. So the father goes out to him and promises to give him all that he has.
On the other hand, the young son sins boldly. When things get bad, he longs for what the father offers and so he decides to return home and confess. This looks like a good thing—a righteous act. But why does he do it? Look at verse 17—He says, How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!
The younger brother doesn’t go home out of love for his father. He decides to confess because he’s hungry. He adopts a false righteousness so that his father will feed him. The younger brother appears to go through the right motions, but is where is his heart, really? The younger son plans an elaborate confession so that he could be #blessed with food.
But here is the beauty of the story. Verse 20 says, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
The father runs to embrace the younger son BEFORE he blurts out his confession. The father is filled with compassion before the returning son even says a word.
Notice that the father goes to both of the sons despite the self-righteousness and false righteousness. They both get forgiveness from the father. But our question for today is: Are they #blessed?
Remember how the psalm describes blessing?
Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.
Deceit still lived in both sons’ spirits. In the end both were only acting for themselves—going through the motions of obedience for reward or confessing for blessing. These young men didn’t know their own hearts. They didn’t acknowledge what was broken within them. Even though they were forgiven, neither of them could feel truly #blessed because they weren’t willing to face what was really motivating them.
The story doesn't finish with a happily ever after. In fact it just kind of stops with the father pretty much saying I love and forgive you both despite your sins. The father is the only one in whom there is no deceit. The father’s actions are motivated by only one thing—his love for his broken and self-centered sons.
The sons may still have deceit in their spirits but there is no deceit in the father’s heart—only the desire for his family to be reconciled in love. In his life, death and resurrection, Jesus shows us and tells us that the Father, Our God, will stop at nothing to make that reconciliation happen. God seeks to bestow this blessing upon us.
So during the our time of reflection and repentance this Lent, lets try to live into the psalmists idea of blessing as both living without deceit and receiving God's forgiveness. Let’s examine our own spirits to see if there is deceit in them.
Are you a little self-righteous? Or do you tend toward false righteousness? Do you take God’s love for granted? Or are you afraid that your sin is too big God? Do you bury the bad things of your life and hope that if you don’t acknowledge them, nobody else will? Do you worry that if other people know your dark truth you will no longer be loved?
For the next few weeks, lets work on finding our deceit. Let’s trust that God’s steadfast love is big enough to transform whatever it is we are trying to hide. Let’s examine our hearts, trusting that God’s has hiked up his robe and is already running to to us with compassion—just as he did for the younger son when he returned home. Lets look deeply into our spirits knowing that God wants to give us everything he has promised— just as he said to his older son when he was outside the party.
Let's take some time at the end of each day and examine our spirits for deceit. Let's honestly acknowledge and confess what is in our spirit and in doing so give our whole selves to God. The day that we trust that God's love doesn't have to be earned or manipulated is they day that we realize that we are really, truly #blessed.