February 10th, 2019

I Wish Life Came with an Eraser!
Psalm 51:1-12

For years, Dennis the Menace cartoons were some of my favorites. I remember one particular cartoon where Dennis is being punished. He's sitting in the corner snuggling his teddy bear. When you see the wall across from him you realize why he’s being punished. The wall’s a mess. Spent crayons are scattered everywhere and the wall is decorated with the scribbling art of a child.

In a caption under the sketch, Dennis remarks, “Boy, I wish life came with an eraser.”

“I wish life came with an eraser.” Haven’t we all felt that way at one time or another? Don’t you wish you could erase some of those situations that created stress between you and your spouse? Or perhaps you wish you could erase some of those things you said that put you at odds with your friend or with one of your relatives. I know all of us wish we could erase some sinful deed that made us ashamed. Yes, at one time or another, we all wish life came with an eraser.

In today’s text, King David wishes life came with an eraser. David, the popular king of Israel, had committed adultery with a woman named Bathsheba, the wife of one of his soldiers. When Bathsheba announced she was pregnant, David put her husband on the front line of battle so he would be killed and then he married Bathsheba in an attempt to cover his mistake.

As you might imagine, David’s little scheme didn’t fool anyone and soon the whole nation knew of his sin. As we read our text today, we hear the prayer of a man who is ashamed, humiliated, and burdened down with guilt. He sees the mess he has made and wishes life came with an eraser. Listen to his prayer in Psalms 51:1-12.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin; for I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Yes, like Dennis the Menace, King David is sitting in the corner of his despair crying out to God, “I wish life came with an eraser.” But as David discovered and as we discover, life does not come with an eraser. Our sins and our mistakes scratch deep into the surface of our lives and while God most certainly forgives them, those ugly scars tend to remain.

So what can we do when life’s mistakes leave their scars on the surface of our living? What can we do when we can’t erase our sins? I believe this passage gives us a model for making the best of our mess.

I. We Make the Best of Our Mess When We Deal With it Truthfully.

Many people remain slaves to their mistakes because they never deal with them truthfully. Instead of taking responsibility for their own wrong doing they blame it on someone else.

These days, we live in a “no fault society.” When something goes wrong, nobody wants to take the blame, and more often than not, the blame is projected on someone else. Whether it’s religion, national politics, or local government, it seems like nobody wants to accept responsibility.

Sadly, this philosophy of avoidance is the least constructive way to deal with our problems, for as long as we pass the blame to others, we never deal with it ourselves.

In today’s text, David did a lot of things wrong, but he did something that was very right. David took personal responsibility for his mistake and in doing so; he took the first step toward resolving it. Listen to his words in verses 3 and 4 as he said, For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight. . .

In this prayer, David doesn’t pass the blame on to anyone else. When all is said and done, David takes responsibility for his own wrongdoing. As he pleads before God he says, “I am the sinner and it’s all my fault.”

One of my favorite television shows of all times was NBC’s West Wing. The show went “behind the scenes” at the White House as it detailed the activities of a fictional President and his staff.

In one episode, viewers discovered that President Jed Bartlett had Multiple Sclerosis. While the disease had not prevented him from executing his duties as president, it did pose another problem. During his campaign, Bartlett had concealed his disease and even lied about his health.

When members of congress found out about the deception they launched a full-scale investigation to see if his deceit warranted impeachment.

As soon as the problem surfaced, the White House staff began doing all they could do to make the problem go away, but despite their denials and explanations, the problem kept getting worse.

Finally, President Bartlett pulled his staff together and said: "I was wrong. I was. I was just wrong. . . No one in government takes responsibility for anything anymore. We foster. We obfuscate. We rationalize,'Everybody does it.' That's what we say. So we come to occupy a moral safe-house where everyone’s to blame so no one’s guilty."

Then after a long pause Bartlett concludes, "I am guilty. I’m to blame. I was wrong."

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to find a contemporary politician with the integrity to publicly say, “I’m to blame. I was wrong.”

Yes, the admission of our sin, the acknowledgment of our mistake, is always the first step toward dealing with it. For as long as it’s somebody else’s fault, it remains our problem. But when we become accountable for our failures, we begin to take that first step toward healing and health. Yes, we make the best of our mess when we deal with it truthfully. But there’s a second lesson we can learn from this text.

II. We Make the Best of Our Mess When We Turn it Over To God

In today’s passage, we hear the words of a man who is at the end of his rope. He’s made a mess of his life and tried to lie his way out of it. But that didn’t work. He tried to pretend it didn’t happen, but that didn’t work. He even tried to make things right by marrying the wife of the man he killed, but none of those efforts erased the ugliness of what he had done.

Finally in desperation, David came to God and begged for mercy. He brought the ugliness of his sin to throne of God and said, 'Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions'.

Yes, that’s always the most effective way to deal with our sin. Though we cannot erase our mistakes and pretend they never happened, we can take them to a God who deals with us in mercy and forgiveness, a God who will take the mess we bring him and do something constructive with what we have left.

One of my favorite verses of Scripture is I John 1:9. “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Yes, we make the best of our mess when we turn it over to God.

Almost two hundred years ago, in a Scottish seaside tavern, a group of fishermen were relaxing after a long day at sea. As a serving maid walked past a fishermen’s table with a pot of tea, one of the men made a sweeping gesture to describe the size of the fish he had caught. His hand collided with the teapot and sent it crashing against the white wall of the tavern where its contents left an irregular brown splotch.

Standing nearby, the tavern owner surveyed the damage. “That stain will never come out,” he said in dismay. “The whole wall will have to be repainted.”

“Perhaps not,” a voice uttered from across the room.

All eyes turned to the stranger who had just spoken. “What do you mean?” asked the tavern owner.

“Let me work with the stain,” said the stranger. “If my work meets your approval, you won’t need to repaint the wall.”

The stranger picked up a box and went to the wall. Opening the box, he withdrew pencils, brushes, and some glass jars of linseed oil and pigment. He began to sketch lines around the stain and fill it in here and there with dabs of color and swashes of shading. Soon a picture began to emerge. The random splashes of tea almost magically turned into the image of a stag with a magnificent rack of antlers.

At the bottom of the picture, the man inscribed his signature, “E. H. Landseer!” the well-known painter of wildlife.

That day in the Scottish tavern, Landseer did to that wall what God wants to do with our lives. He wants to take the messes we’ve made and turn them into works of beauty and art. He wants to give us his mercy and extend his forgiveness if we will simply give him the chance.

Remember those words from Romans 8:28. "And we know that God works all things together for good to those who love him, to those who are called according to his purpose." So often, we don’t realize that the “all things” mentioned in that passage include those messes we’ve made of our lives. Yes, in his grace and in his love God can take all those ugly blotches of our lives and work them together for good.

Don’t you wish life came with an eraser? Unfortunately, it does not. When we do what is wrong, it always leaves a stain. But we make the best of our mess when we turn it over to God.

Like David, we ought to pray, “Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me.” And additionally, we might want to add this to our prayer. “And dear Lord, if you won’t erase the stain, how about turning it into a divine work of art.”