Psalm 32; Ezra 3; Acts 27:39–28:6

Psalm 32: The underlying theme of this psalm is the joy one feels when forgiven: “Happy, of sin forgiven,/ absolved of offense.” (1) And just to make sure we get the point, “Happy, the man to whom/ the Lord reckons no crime/ in whose spirit is no deceit.”

I’m intrigued by the phrase, “in whose spirit there is no deceit.” It tells me that true confession is exactly that: truth spoken; nothing held back. In fact, the psalmist emphasizes this again: “My offense I made known to You/ and my crime I did not cover.” (5). Nothing is hidden; everything is out in the open. I know I have confessed to wrongdoing, but sometimes only partially, holding back, thinking to myself, OK, perhaps I’m partly at fault, but then rationalizing that it really wasn’t all my fault.

We can think confession, but its real power is saying it aloud, exactly as the psalmist does: “I said, ‘I shall confess my sins to the Lord,'” (5). And the result is “You forgave my sins offending crime.” (5b) This is why confession at the beginning of worship is so powerful (and deserves to be done every Sunday, not just at Lent.” As other psalms have made abundantly clear, there is tremendous power in what is spoken rather than merely thought. And when we confess in the presence of our community, the power of that spoken confession is, I believe, multiplied.

Ezra 3: The Israelites have returned to Judah and seven months later, they gather at Jerusalem. The temple is still in ruins, but they set up an altar and “and they offered burnt offerings upon it to the Lord, morning and evening.” Then, they celebrate the festival of booths “and after that the regular burnt offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the sacred festivals of the Lord, and the offerings of everyone who made a freewill offering to the Lord.” (5).

The capital campaign to rebuild the temple has begun and “they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon.” (7)  The priesthood is reestablished and “When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel.”

All the people sing, “responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, /for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”” The foundation of the second temple is laid, and many who had seen the original temple begin to weep while others shout for joy “so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.” (13)

Surely this had to be the happiest day since the dedication of the original temple by Solomon or the discovery of the long-abandoned writings of law of Moses in the temple. But above all it is a reminder that in God, there is always the opportunity to begin again–to start over. Whether it’s personal confession as in today’s psalm, or the joy of an entire nation as it begins to worship as a community once again. God is indeed the God–our God–of second chances.

Acts 27:39–28:6: Speaking of second chances… The plan to bring the disabled ship up onto the beach at Malta goes awry when it gets stuck on a reef. The centurion, realizing that Paul has saved them all, prevents his men from killing the prisoners.  Everyone survives, but as Paul is gathering wood on the beach for a fire, he is bitten by a viper in the woodpile. At first the Maltan natives think, “This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.” (28:4). But when Paul fails to die, and they “saw that nothing unusual had happened to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.” (6).

Of course, Paul is not a god, but I cannot help thinking that the viper has a larger meaning here. Paul has just left Jerusalem when the “viper” of angry Jews has failed to kill him. He has just survived a disaster at sea; not even nature can kill him off. The soldiers have been prevented by their commander from killing him. As with his experiences at Phillipi and at Ephesus, Paul is a survivor. And we cannot help but be grateful that Paul survived for our sakes as well. For it is in Rome, where he is headed, where his great epistles will be written. There is no question that the Holy Spirit has watched over Paul–to the church’s–and our–enormous benefit.

When I’m tempted to think that events are random and God is indifferent to our fate, we need only remind ourselves of Paul’s incredible story.

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