“Clean on the Inside!”
Psalm 51:1-3 – March 6, 2019
I remember the wringer washer my mother had in the basement of our small brick house on the northwest side of Chicago. I remember it well! We did not have an automatic washer, like all of my classmates at school. This was in the 1960’s and 1970’s. No, my mom insisted that the wringer washer did a perfectly good job cleaning our clothes—and even though I protested, she would say that a few broken buttons from the wringer were easily repaired with a trip to the fabric store for more buttons, and some needle and thread.
King David had no idea of a washing machine when he wrote this psalm—not even an old-style wringer washer. But, his filthy insides certainly needed cleaning up. This psalm, Psalm 51, was a lament to God. David felt so dirty on the inside! Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever made a really, really, really big mistake? What can be called a huge sin before God? A transgression so big you did not even want to think about it, but you—we just wanted the earth to open up and swallow us whole, because we felt so rotten? That is how rotten David was feeling.
Admittedly, David’s sin before God was indeed huge.
In short, he had seen an attractive young woman named Bathsheba from the roof of his huge palace in Jerusalem. He was king, after all, so he had his private guard of soldiers bring her to him, and he slept with her. (This was despite having a number of wives and concubines of his own, already.) After a few weeks, Bathsheba sent to King David to let him know that she had become pregnant. Big problem! Bathsheba’s husband was a general in King David’s army. He was away from home. so she would become known as an adulterer, and possibly be stoned.
King David summoned General Uriah home from the battlefront, but Uriah would not go home to sleep with his attractive wife Bathsheba—he was too filled with integrity to do that, since the men under his command did not have access to their wives because they were on the battlefield. So, David ends up unjustly ordering Uriah to go back to the front and die a valiant yet horrible death on the field of battle. Essentially, murdering him, but using the enemy army to do the wicked deed. So—the pregnant Bathsheba was free to marry David.
Except, this chain of events went so much against God’s laws, and David had broken so many of God’s commands. This series of sins was so huge that when David faced up to the immenseness of the horrible deed, he fell on his face before the Lord and confessed his transgressions in the words of Psalm 51. After all, this psalm has the superscription attributing the psalm to David “after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”
Perhaps you and I have not committed such a huge wrongdoing as King David. But whether our sins are huge or not-so-huge, they still have that dirty, grimy patina that discolors our souls. “Psalm 51 was spoken, sung, and later penned by someone who understood the cleaning industry [of that day]. Look at the verbs: wash, cleanse, wipe, purge, blot. They all speak to something that is very dirty or really deep, or both.” 
It does not matter whether David was remembering the women of the village where he grew up, washing, scrubbing and wringing out their families’ clothing in tubs outside their homes, or whether we think of the agitator on those automatic wringer washers of yesterday, we all need to be cleansed from the wrongs we commit, on a regular basis.
Today is the first day of Lent, that penitential period of forty days before Easter when the Church all across the world begins to journey with Jesus towards the Cross. Yet, many people use external things like food or drink or certain practices to show their observance of Lent. This is a good thing, and I do not want to cause anyone to rethink their Lenten practices. However, King David here in Psalm 51 had something far more radical in mind. He wanted more than just his exterior cleaned. He wanted his insides cleaned up, too. Cleaned, and renewed!
Ash Wednesday is the day in the liturgical year when we concentrate on renewal—the messing-up we have done, on the inside as well as the outside. Whether large or small, we can all be cleansed and renewed deep down on our insides. The psalmist uses that most intimate of all things, first-person pronouns. “Have mercy upon me,” “blot out my transgressions,” “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,” “I know my transgressions,” and “my sin is ever before me.”
At the beginning of each regular service each Sunday, we at St. Luke’s Church have a corporate time of confession. This Ash Wednesday service is a special time to gather together, and to become aware of our turning-away from God. This understanding of our sin—of the messing-up we have done and are continuing to do—prepares us to receive the forgiveness and joy of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. And the cross of ashes on each forehead is a reminder of that blessed forgiveness in each one of our lives.
Praise God, we can be restored to a close relationship with God. Ash Wednesday and its intimate reflection can deepen our trust in God and thankfulness for God’s faithfulness. And best of all, when we are restored to a close relationship with our Lord—vertically, we are freed to enter into a closer relationship with everyone else—horizontally.
What a wonderful thing to look forward to. Praise God, indeed.
 Marty, Peter M., Homiletical Perspective on Psalm 51, Ash Wednesday, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Vol. 2 (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 9.