No Fear In Love: Saved By The Other

Each week Pastor Sarah offers a devotional reflection to connect with the South Shore UMC Family. Use this entry as a way to prepare your heart and mind for worship. See you Sunday!

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Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 9:35-38 and I John 4:7-12.


Devotional Scripture ~ Psalm 51.


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This Sunday South Shore UMC begins a new sermon series entitled No Fear In Love. This series is framed by Bishop Will Willimon's book Fear Of The Other: No Fear In Love. Each week of the series we will explore a reading from First John and a reading from The Gospel of Matthew or Luke, and place those scriptures in conversation with Willimon. I look forward to this time of learning together!


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Psalm 51 is a scriptural example of ‘cleansing atonement theory.’ This is the Psalm sung and/or penned by David after the prophet Nathan holds him accountable for his adultery with Bathsheba and the unjust murder of her husband, Uriah. In this passage, David pleads that God would


Have mercy on me – wash me – cleanse me – purge me – create in me a clean heart – restore to me the joy of your salvation – deliver me.


In ‘cleansing atonement theory,’ sin is a stain that we inflict upon ourselves and that we are unable to remove ourselves. Through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, we are cleansed. Through Christ’s atoning work for us, we are made one with God again. And Psalm 51 is clear – our reaction to God’s miraculous and merciful cleansing is joy.


Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit (v. 12).


These days when I think of joy I first and foremost think of Joshua. Joy has a particular look on him – it begins as an expression that develops into an experience – and the vehicle that moves Joshua from expression to experience is discovery. He solves a puzzle. He connects the dots. His pieces all fall into place.


The in-between time, though – the path that he and we walk and wander towards joy – can be messy. Anyone that has invested time with and around toddlers knows the messiness possible! And the clean-ups necessary.


As I read Psalm 51, I hear an implicit prayer behind this explicit song:


A prayer for patience.


I truly believe that God could and can wholly cleanse us in an instant. And I truly believe that God desires us to work cooperatively with God in our cleansing. We cannot complete this cleansing apart from God; we cannot save ourselves. Working with God in cleaning up our messes – in attending to and repenting of our sin – that is holy work. It happens over time. There will likely be setbacks. Do not let the possibility or actuality of setbacks immobilize or discourage you! David was an adulterer and a murderer, among other uncleanliness-es, and he is forever remembered as righteous in relationship with God because he committed through relationship with God to cooperatively work out his cleansing.


Friends, our God is patient. Our God is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. Our God is committed to us and to our cleansing. Through God’s mercy, God can and will wash, cleanse, purge, restore, and deliver. Through God’s mercy, God creates clean hearts.


A clean heart is the vehicle that moves us towards joy.


Reflection: Write about the joy you remember experiencing as a result of God cleansing you from sin and creating a clean heart in you.


Prayer: “Open my mouth and let me bear gladly the warm truth ev’rewhere. Open my heart and let me prepare love with thy children thus to share. Silently now I wait for thee, ready my God, thy will to see. Open my mouth, illumine me, Spirit divine!”* Amen.


*”Open My Eyes That I May See,” The United Methodist Hymnal 454.

**Devotional Resource: The Weekly Prayer Project by Scarlet Hiltibidal