Make Us Clean!

“Make Us Clean!”

Psalm 51:1-12 (51:2) – February 17, 2021

            The marvel and puzzle of adults with smudges on their foreheads – on purpose! – is a wonder to many children. Why would adults have dirt or ash crosses put on their foreheads? And why wouldn’t they wash it off to make it all clean?

            It takes a while for young people to learn, “yes, I am a sinner, too.” Doesn’t it? Sometimes it is difficult for grown-ups to state plainly that they sin, too. They fall short of what God would have for them in this life. They mess up the clean sheet of paper. Isn’t that what sin is? Falling short, missing the mark, washing away the guilt and stains of sin. However we describe it, we know very well when sin happens. King David knew when he was dirty on the inside from sin, too.

            It does not matter whether King 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. 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.”

“We are all first marked with the cross using water (and sometimes oil) at our baptisms.  At that time to be marked with the cross is a wonderful thing.  We are identified as the beloved children of God.  On Ash Wednesday we are marked with the cross using ashes and the words, “remember you are dust.”  The ashes and words remind us that we are not so wonderful.  In fact, we are all sinners.  The sign is not an X, marking us as [mistakes or] hopeless rejects, but a cross reminding us that God loves and forgives us, sinners though we be.” [1]  

We are not perfect believers in God. But, God says that is okay. God loves us just the same. This Ash Wednesday service is a special time to gather together, and to become aware of our turning-away from God. This understanding 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.

Hear the Good News! In Jesus Christ, we all are forgiven! Amen.


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/01/years-abc-ash-wednesday-february-18-2015.html

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Clean on the Inside!

“Clean on the Inside!”

Psa 51-2 wash me, cleanse me

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.” [1]

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.

[1] 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.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

When We Fast

“When We Fast”

Matt 6-16 when you fast, script

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (6:16) – February 14, 2018

The church season of Lent is a season of penitence, a forty-day period of time where we contemplate our inner selves, our sins, our shortcomings, and our position before God. But, it’s not all about us. Not by a long shot.

This Ash Wednesday service tonight is—similarly—a contemplative time where we are called to repentance. This day is the beginning of Lent. In our service we make a special effort to show God that we are sorry for our sins. We approach God through special prayers and readings of repentance, and through the visible sign of the cross of ashes.

When I was growing up on the northwest side of Chicago, our family was the only family on our block with children who attended Chicago public schools. All of the other families were Catholic, and all of the other children attended St. Ferdinand’s Catholic school. I remember them getting ash crosses on their heads. I did not. I was not Catholic.

Our Gospel reading tonight comes from the Gospel of Matthew, in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus talks about how we approach God. There are good ways to approach God, and not-so-good ways. Jesus talks about charity, prayer, and fasting. Good ways to do all of these things, and not-so-good ways.

Let’s focus on the third way Jesus talked about. Fasting. Not a particularly fashionable thing to do today. (Unless you need to do it for health reasons, in which case I absolutely agree with the medical professionals. I fully support them.)

People would fast to show sorrow for sin and repentance, as well as their humility before God. Years ago, centuries ago, fasting was almost a badge of honor among religious people. What was up with this? Why so much attention paid to fasting?

Those super-spiritual super heroes of Judaism, the Pharisees, practically turned fasting into performance art. They were particularly skilled at it. They even advocated fasting twice a week—on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They recommended looking tired and hungry and even dumping ashes on yourself, on the days you were fasting. That way, everyone would know you were fasting. Also, the fasting process had tight guidelines and rules on “how-to-fast.”  (That way, you could earn extra brownie points with the Lord, too!)

What is the matter with this kind of fasting? Is this the best kind of approach to God? Can we really please God if we go about it in such a rigidly controlled manner?

What did Jesus say? Reading from Matthew 6, “And when you fast, do not put on a sad face as the hypocrites do. They neglect their appearance so that everyone will see that they are fasting. I assure you, they have already been paid in full.”

I suspect Jesus would not be particularly happy with the way the Pharisees fasted. Sure, the way they treated the outward body portrayed the inner way they were trying to follow God, but in such a hypocritical fashion.

Since we are beginning Lent today, many Christians all over the world commit themselves to fasting in some way, or deny themselves some food, drink or activity during these forty days. It’s meant to remember Jesus and His withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days to prepare Himself for His public ministry. Other people read a Lenten devotional. Or, some follow various Lenten calendars or Lenten task lists to try to follow God more closely.

I remember when I was a child, the other children—Catholic schoolchildren—would give up something for Lent. Chocolate or cakes and cookies would often be selected, as would soda. A few jokesters would suggest they were giving up homework for Lent, but that would quickly be frowned upon by both the religious sisters and by their parents.

The other children would sometimes boast about what difficulties they were having, “giving up” something for Lent. Today, there is even a term for it: “humble-brag.”

Is this what Jesus wants us to do, in order to follow Him more closely? No! Other people were (and are) not to know that we are fasting! This is a way that Jesus suggests to follow God more nearly.

We have many options to follow Jesus during Lent. We can follow a daily Lenten prayer and bible reading. We can meditate and pray every day.

What are we as a congregation going to do, on Sundays in Lent? I have a small Jesus-figure, and I’ll be featuring it in the children’s sermons in the weeks ahead. I will use this figure as a visual aid, helping the children understand Jesus and His journey to the cross. Plus, we will follow Jesus all around the sanctuary.

We can all strive to love God more dearly and follow Jesus more nearly, as we journey with Jesus through Lent. Amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Whiter Than Snow

“Whiter Than Snow”

Psa 51-7 whiter than snow

Psalm 51:1-3, 7 – February 10, 2016

Have you ever made a mistake? I mean, not just like an ordinary mistake, like in addition or subtraction. I know we all made those while we were in grade school. That’s what erasers on pencils are for! I mean, a whopper! A mistake that is so bad, so huge, you wanted the earth to open up and swallow you? The kind that when you remember and look back on it, you want it to be permanently erased off the face of the planet? A mistake that big. That horrible.

Maybe you and I have never made that huge of a mistake. Maybe we have. But, I suspect all of us can relate to that kind of negative feeling. That horrible, gut-wrenching, sinking feeling. That “I wish I had never, ever been born!” feeling.

The psalm we consider tonight is all about this kind of negative, sinking, yucky feeling. This psalm is written by King David after his affair with an attractive married woman, Bathsheba, and his subsequent murder of Bathsheba’s husband (David’s general), Uriah.

Adultery! Attempted cover-up! Plotting and murder! And, another cover-up! Sounds like it’s right out of a soap opera script. Except, it really happened. And, it happened to a man after God’s own heart. A man with a close, personal, even intimate relationship with God. This all happened to King David, some years into his reign over Israel.

So, David has sinned. I mean, really sinned! I can see people shaking their heads, even now. David had a close relationship with God. God called him “a man after God’s own heart.” And some people might say, “David should’ve known better!”

Looking at us, today, we sin, too. We are often in a similar situation. We say we have a close relationship with God. We know the commandments, God’s rules, we have Jesus Christ and His example for us. Some people might say of us, “they should’ve known better!”

And what is David’s response? Verse 3, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” He does not pull punches. David comes right out and says it. He sinned. He knows it. He knows very well that God knows it, too.

We know we make mistakes, too. We know we mess up. We say mean things. We don’t tell the truth. We cut off people in traffic. We slam doors in anger. Who hasn’t bitten their tongue the second after saying something unfeeling? Or nasty? Or stupid? And, there are larger mistakes, too. Mistakes like, breaking the law. Theft. Embezzlement. Various felonies. Or like King David, with adultery, cover-ups and murder.

The psalm writer freely acknowledges his sins. Not even using euphemistic phrases like “wrong was done,” or “mistakes were made.” David is amazingly clear in stating “my transgressions,” “all my iniquity” and “my sin.”

Listen again to the verbs David uses – “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,” “cleanse me from my sin,” purge me with hyssop.” To “wash” in verses 2 and 7 could better be translated “scrub,” as one scrubs dirty clothes. (I wonder whether David was remembering his mother, scrubbing the family’s dirty clothes when he wrote that verse?) “Cleanse” in verse 2 and “be clean” in verse 7 is the same word used for washing clothes in a river (Leviticus 13:6, 34, 58). (Perhaps when David was a shepherd for his family’s sheep, he would go by the river and watch the women from his village washing—cleaning or cleansing—their families’ clothes.)

One commentary I read mentions “sin as a kind of figurative stain on her life and conscience that she needs God to scrub away. After all, [we] beg God to ‘blot out,’ ‘wash away’ and ‘cleanse me.’ It’s the image of ancient people washing dishes or clothing and modern people using various detergents and stain removers on stubborn stains.”[1]

In other words, my sins are washed away, and though I may still be in the (figurative) spin cycle, yet shall I dry. I can freely confess my sins, too. Here, tonight, we all can acknowledge the wrongs we do.

At the beginning of each regular service, we gather together and have a corporate time of confession. This Ash Wednesday service is a special time to gather together, confess our sins to each other, and to understand we are sinners. This understanding of our sin—of the mistakes we have made and are continuing to make—prepares us to receive the forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ. And the cross of ashes on each forehead is a reminder of that forgiveness in each one of our lives.

Yes, there IS good news! We can ask God to take away our iniquity. God’s abundant mercy will forgive. We can be sure of God’s unfailing love towards all of us.

Believe the Good News of the Gospel. In Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross, our sins are forgiven. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-5b-2/?type=the_lectionary_psalms

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey. Pursuing PEACE. And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!