St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh
Midweek Devotion 18th March 2021
Led by Rev Craig Meek
Welcome to today’s online devotion with St. Giles’ Cathedral. My name is Craig Meek and I am the Assistant Minister here at the Cathedral, and I am delighted that you’ve joined us today for a short time of reflection and prayer together. May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ soften our hearts and strengthen our spirits, friends. Let us listen together for a Word from our Lord.
A Reading from Psalm 51
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgement.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6 You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Confession is good for the soul. It’s a bit like a soothing balm on a wound that stings when applied to the skin but eventually alleviates one’s pain, even if sometimes a scar remains. But confession is also more than simply a means to an end – a means to find healing or avoid consequences.
Contrary to what many of our politicians and public figures may lead us to believe, we don’t confess in order to save face or to save our endorsements and reputations. We confess because we’re wrong – because we’ve not only distorted our own lives but often the lives of others as well. In the end, sin is never really an individual matter; it’s always communal. What we do affects the people we love and the communities within which we live and move. Far from breaking some sort of arbitrary divine command, sin is our distorting the image of God in which we’ve been created; it’s the distorting of that image in others as well, when our actions and thoughts are maliciously – whether implicitly and explicitly – directed towards them. It’s our choosing to live for ourselves rather than as one’s self for God and for others, and the first step in addressing such an issue is confession.
Psalm 51 is a stark and honest confession, a plea for mercy made by King David after he murders a man in order to take his wife for himself. David’s actions are nothing short of despicable and cowardly, and here in this Psalm we get a glimpse into the gravity of his regret and shame. It’s a sentiment that I think any one of us might be able to empathize with, although the quality of our own sins may not be quite as egregious as David’s. Nevertheless, David throws himself entirely upon the mercy of the living God, appealing not only to God’s loving kindness but also to God’s power to change his heart. For part of what makes David’s confession so powerful is his desire to be changed by God’s forgiveness and eternal love, and while this is surely a process that takes time – a process that surely has its own ups and downs – it is a desire that we would do well to emulate. After all, what good is the confession of a person who refuses to change?
Human beings have the ability to change, even if only by the power of God. For the beauty of God’s love is that it never leaves us just as it finds us but is always shaping us into the person that God has created us to be. Such change, however, is rarely immediate. It takes time. It takes discipline and dedication. It involves confession; it involves contrite listening and humility. Often, it involves our sitting with the uneasiness of our sin; our learning to live with the scars of unresolved tensions and broken relationships. But so too, does it involve the presence and patience of the Living God; so too, does it involve mercy in abundance and a steadfast love that never gives up on us; so too, does our changing involve a love divine that not only bears our sin and shame but also renews our lives and directs what we will be. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Together in Prayer
As we turn to God together in prayer, friends, today’s words are adapted from a fitting prayer offered by the Scottish theologian John Baillie in his Diary of Private Prayer. Not only are Baillie’s words moving but they capture something of our Psalm today and provide us with an appropriate collection of words for our offering to God. Let us pray.
God of mercy and love, you care for us in ways that are beyond our knowledge, and for this we are eternal grateful. Remember us in your mercy, Lord. Forgive our misdirected desires and misused talents in recent days. Cover up our iniquities with your grace, and strengthen our service to you and our fellow creatures, that our hearts and actions may align with your will and bless the world.
Remember, Lord, the all the creatures of the earth and humankind alongside them. As the earth is filled with your glory, let us join in its chorus of praise and work to sustain its life and goodness. We pray, Lord, especially for those whom we love and we commit them to your care. We think especially of those who are sick; of those who are lonely; of those who feel abandoned or face challenges in the days ahead; and of anyone who grieves the loss of a loved one. May your bind up our wounds – both physically and spiritually – Lord, drawing near to us in our times of need and blessing again those lives that are marked by hardship and sorrow.
For these things we ask in the name of Christ Jesus, who taught his friends to say together:
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is heaven. Given us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever. Amen.
Friends, I hope that this brief devotion has been an encouragement to your today, and that you’ll join us again another time. Until then, may the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you peace, both this day and for evermore. Amen.
Dieterich Buxtehude Vater unser im Himmelreich