Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. (Psalm 32:1)
On Sunday mornings I normally have a low level of anxiety. It’s the day of the main meeting of the church and I am usually in charge (humanly speaking). That means the opportunities for my falling flat on my face (not usually literally, thankfully) abound. A church leader should be thoroughly prepared, yet open to the Spirit; ready for deep conversation with a few without ignoring the many who need a greeting; conscious of what God is saying to the church as a whole but still worshipping wholeheartedly oneself. I love church but sometimes I get it wrong.
I got it wrong the other day. There were a couple of things I forgot. I have to admit it’s not uncommon for me to forget things. Lack of preparation and forethought is one of my common faults, and while the other side of that particular coin is that I am good at being flexible, it’s something that I need to work on. God highlighted that to me again as I had forgotten the contribution that some others were going to make to the service. I felt bad; I had let down those individuals, God, and the church as a whole, by my inattention.
However, (oh, praise God for the ‘howevers’!) the individuals concerned were immediately gracious and good-humoured. They forgave me and made their contributions excellently anyway. Most of the rest of the people didn’t notice (I think – though of course they may be reading this now) and the service went ahead smoothly. In fact it was a particularly good one, in which God spoke to us about unity and there was a great awareness of God’s presence among us.
And I sat on the front row in the worship time and heard God talk to me about covering over sin. I knew my sins were forgiven – I preach it every week – but that day I was experiencing something different: a covering over. God lets me off many of the consequences of the sins I commit daily, so that I don’t appear nearly as stupid, heartless and self-centred as I really am. That is real grace!
There’s a danger in this contemplation and it is this: I must not presume on God’s covering. It does not give me licence to keep sinning. I really must work on my organisation and other things which I know need to change. God may have hidden some things from some people, but he and I both know they are there; he hasn’t just swept them under the carpet. Some day, if sin is not dealt with, it might indeed be exposed (Luke 12:1-2), but in the meantime God shelters.
You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. (Psalm 32:7)
Then of course, as I have received freely, I must freely give. Not only does God cover my sin, he asks me to cover that of others.
Love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
So with God as my model, I seek not to ignore sin in others, but also not to expose it. It may be that there are things I have to confront people about – but the place to do that is in private and not by public exposure, at least to begin with, which of course is the pattern that Jesus gave us for church discipline in Matthew 18:15-17.
Praise God for his grace and mercy!