Lent 5 B

We just can't do it. We can't escape our sin. We can't justify ourselves in God's sight. We can't become worthy of forgiveness. We just can't do it.

Let the Spirit move!

Jeremiah 31:31-34

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
-- Jeremiah 31:33

Verse 33 is quoted twice in quick succession in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Justification. It starts off a list of biblical quotes (AP 4.123) that "set forth what we believe about love and the fulfilling of the law " (AP 4.122), and then (AP 4.125) sets the groundwork for the coming argument that faith leads to a following of God's will that no external ritual of human origin can inspire or replicate. This verse is also quoted in the quarto edition (AP 4.219 n. 167) to show that love is a precursor to living according to the law, and that it comes only through the gift of faith given by the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 51:1-12

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
-- Psalm 51:3

Verse 3 is cited in a footnote in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 1: Original Sin (SD 1.52, n. 42) sending us to where Luther reflects on the corruption caused by sin. If you want to check it out, it's in Luther's Works, volume 14, page 169.

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 judgment.
-- Psalm 51:4

Verse 4 is quoted in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 12: Repentance (AP 12.108) as part of the argument that the enumeration of particular sins in confession is not necessary because no one can successfully name all of their sins. Rather, the point of confession is to recognize that we have angered God and seek reconciliation through God's mercy.

An interesting rephrasing of verse 4 follows the quote that might be localized by congregations in place of the general order of confession and absolution, but please use significant pastoral discretion in discerning if this is appropriate in your context:
"I confess that I am a sinner and deserve eternal wrath. I cannot set my righteousness or my merits against your wrath. Accordingly, I declare that you are just in condemning and punishing us. I declare you to be in the right, although hypocrites judge you to be unjust in punishing them or in condemning those who deserve it. Indeed, we cannot set our merits against your judgement, but we shall be justified only when you justify us, one you regard us as righteous through your mercy." (AP 12.108)

Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
-- Psalm 51:5

Verse 5 is cited in Smalcald Articles, Part 3, Article 1: Concerning Sin (SA 3.1.3) along with several other scriptural citations to show that we need scripture and enlightenment from the Holy Spirit to see how sinful we are. Indeed, without such aid, we cannot see our own sinfulness.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
-- Psalm 51:10

Verse 10 is cited in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 2: Free Will (SD 2.26) along with several other passages in a long argument with many citations. Verse 10 is part of the argument that we cannot live in a way pleasing to God without the gift and presence of the Holy Spirit, who gives us new hearts.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
-- Psalm 51:12

Verse 12 is cited twice in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 2: Free Will, both times as an insight into what actions the clean heart and new spirit of verse 10 might lead. First in a long section of biblical citations (SD 2.26) to show that our free will cannot lead us to want to do God's will, as this new birth is only possible through the work of the Spirit. The second citation (SD 2.60) names the conversion of the person through faith given by the Spirit "crating a new heart," and cites this verse.

Psalm 119:9-16 (Alternate)

Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes.
-- Psalm 119:12

Verse 12 is cited in a footnote to Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 2: Free Will (SD 2.15, n. 62) as one of the ten times in Psalm 119 that the psalmist asks God  to "impart to him the understanding he needed to grasp and learn divine teaching properly." The emphasis in this section of the article is God's gift of enlightenment by the Spirit so that we might discover the awesome truth of God's Word.

Hebrews 5:5-10

So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”;
as he says also in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.”
...having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
-- Hebrews 5:5-6, 10

Verses 5,  6, and 10 are cited by editorial addition into Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 24: The Mass (AP 24.53) in a section where Melanchthon is challenging the reading of Hebrews presented by Rome. His main concern is the idea that we still have to have a priest make a sacrifice for our sins, which Rome presented as the mass being the priest re-sacrificing Jesus. Melanchthon turned to the reformers' readings of Hebrews to show that there is only one high priest who can make the acceptable sacrifice, and that is Jesus, who sacrifices himself. The work of the priest in the New Testament and thus the church, argues Melanchthon, "is a ministry of the Spirit, as Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 3[:6], it has but the one sacrifice of Christ which makes satisfaction for and is applied to the sins of others... it presents the gospel and the sacraments to others so that they may thereby receive faith and the Holy Spirit, be put to death and be made alive" (AP 24.59).


It really is all about grace and faith. The Spirit gives us faith, forgives our sin, and makes us new not because we are or ever can become worthy of God's love, but only because God loves us. How often do we get this backwards? How often to we seek to save our own life rather than trust and follow Jesus? How often do we cry "Save me from this hour" instead of "Father, glorify your name"? Yet doing anything else is only possible through the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!