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December 2, 2013

What part of the Bible helps congregants experiencing struggles

KANSAS CITY — EDITOR’S NOTE: The Kansas City Star provides this weekly column from a pastor and a rabbi who answer questions of religion and faith. This week’s question: What part of the Bible do you go to first when congregants make a complete mess of their lives.

STORY OF KING DAVID

The Rev. Betty Hanna-Witherspoon, Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, Kansas City, Mo.: When I received this question, I could only ask, “What Scripture do I go to when I mess up my life?”

The Scripture is Psalm 51. The annotation above the psalm says that it is the psalm of David when the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Psalm 51 is the psalm read on Ash Wednesday as the Lenten season begins. It allows the penitent believer to ask for mercy, to acknowledge transgressions, to ask for cleansing from sins and a return to joy after the pain of separation from God.

The psalm offers the way back to a right relationship with God — to a clean heart and a clean spirit. The path back is an attitude of humility as manifested in a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart for God does not despise such an attitude. This psalm allows all of us to acknowledge our sins, take responsibility for them and ask God to forgive us.

The next Scripture is John 21: 15-19. It tells the story of Jesus reinstating Peter. Peter had denied him at the time of the crucifixion, but Jesus asks him one question three times, “Do you truly love me?”

Our response to that question gives us the ability to move beyond our messing up and into the next season of our lives.

COMFORT OF OTHER PSALMS

Rabbi Mark H. Levin, Congregation Beth Torah, Overland Park, Kan.:

I turn to Psalms, which recall the sufferings of our ancestors who believed in God. It’s natural for humans to err. Sometimes we blunder because we don’t know any better. Other times we know better but proceed anyway.

Psalm 130, particularly the first three verses, I find personally meaningful. I sometimes call out from the depths. Verse 3, “Let your ears be attentive to my supplications,” is particularly helpful because God does not hold onto our transgressions or we could not stand.

Human beings may refuse to forgive, even when we repent and apologize. We hold grudges. But God forgives and lets go while sustaining us. I have experienced God’s mercy.

Another psalm also helps: No. 27. “Knowing the shelter of God’s house comforts me. When all others abandon me, God remains my haven.”

I also turn to those parts of the Bible that remind me that others, greater than I, messed up. King David (II Samuel 11 ff) committed egregious sins both with Bathsheba and against her husband, Uriah.

In recompense David suffered the death of his child, the rape of his daughter, the murder of his son by another son, rebellion and had to flee for his life. Yet David, with all of his sins, remained steadfast in his faith before God and was rewarded.

Perhaps God also will forgive and comfort me of lesser sins.

SEND questions for our Voices of Faith writers to faith@kcstar.com. This column is distributed by MCT Information Services.

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