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 He Appears

“When He Appears”

Malachi

Malachi 3:1-4 – December 6, 2015

Today is a challenging time in which to live. Wars, and rumors of wars. An increase in natural disasters. And, people around the world falling away from religion. Not going to their traditional place of worship, and not honoring God’s name. It doesn’t matter which nationality or which country we are talking about, in almost every country, area or region around the world we will see the faithlessness of people. Turning away from God.

This is exactly what our Old Testament prophet Malachi talks about, in our reading today! People in his time—400 years before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem—did not follow the God of Israel. Their priests were disrespectful and made improper sacrifices. Many of the Jews turned toward foreign gods because they married foreigners who did not worship the God Jehovah. The people fell away from the Lord! They were faithless and disobedient to God.

As one online commentary [1] had to say, the situation in Malachi’s day echoes that in our own day, too. “The charges against the people [of Israel] pertain everywhere and in every century. We can say of ourselves, as well, that false prophets and priests among us do not uphold the righteousness of the temple, and that we fail to adhere to God’s commands, [fail] to fulfill our duty, and [fail] to build up our neighbors.”

Malachi does not pull any punches. He tells the people of Israel exactly what they are doing that is wrong, and bad, and displeasing to the Lord. “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.”

Does anyone here remember doing laundry with particularly harsh soap? I’m talking about when people have stains that are really difficult to wash out. When I was a little girl, I can remember my mother using a special soap that came in a can, like a gel. She would scoop a little soap out, and put it on the clothing. I would see her rubbing the soap into the stain. Like on the grass stains in my older brother’s pants, I remember particularly. My mom would tell me to be very careful around that powerful soap.

There is some soap that is more powerful than that! It takes the color right out of cloth. Some people even need to wear rubber gloves when they use it, since the soap would blister or hurt their bare skin. For certain kinds of really deep stains or special kinds of material, that is the kind of soap that is needed to get things clean.

Malachi talks about when God comes. And when God does come, God is going to be very, very angry. God will not pull punches, either.

It’s like everyone has a horribly stained outfit. It’s laundry day, and God has a special, really harsh kind of soap that is guaranteed to get out the stains. Except, the soap is so strong that sometimes it takes the color out of our favorite shirt, or fades our new dark pants.

Laundry soap is the first comparison Malachi uses. Laundry soap! Not very glamorous, is it? Sinfulness is the awful condition everyone is in, and has been in for a very long time. And, God needs to put everyone through the laundry. Using a wringer washer, too. It gets the job done, even though it doesn’t have a ‘delicate cycle’ like an automatic washer.

I just heard that the retired pastor (who married me and my husband) is extremely ill. He has cancer in both his lungs and a brain tumor. He had the first of his radiation treatment and chemotherapy this past week. When people are seriously ill, they require serious medicine. Moreover, medicine like that often doesn’t taste very appealing or feel that good.

What about people who have broken several bones or gotten a severe muscle strain, and need physical rehabilitation? Has anyone here ever gone through rehab, or had a loved one that completed rehab? Not always an easy thing. Rehab hurts, sometimes, because of the really difficult, even awful situations people find themselves in.

This message, this reading is not very hopeful, is it? Yet, Malachi is telling the truth about the vast majority of the people in his country. He speaks the word of the Lord to a bunch of people who are not pleased with his message. Not pleased at all!

This reminds me a lot of our Gospel reading this morning. About the birth of John the Baptist, and the miraculous happenings that occurred just before and after his birth. Zachariah, John’s father, sang a song that was also a prophecy about his infant son John. Zachariah gives hints about what John’s purpose and message is ultimately going to be.

What is similar between Malachi’s message and John the Baptist’s message? “The Lord is not pleased with your lives! Or your intentions, either!” Sounds awfully familiar. God is trying to get across the message of repentance once more. And again. And again, after that.

God makes another comparison. The first was laundry soap. God is going to put us dirty, sinful people through the wash. And, a wringer washer, at that! The second is a refiner’s fire. Ouch! That hurts!

“What is important for us to know from Malachi is that the coming one is a refiner who is will purify and refine the people ‘like gold and silver.’” [2] This reminded me of an anecdote about this very verse from Malachi. “This verse puzzled the women having the bible study, and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God.

“One of the women offered to find out about the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible study. That week the woman called up a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest in silver beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver. As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that, in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest so as to burn away all the impurities.

“The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot – then she thought again about the verse, that God sits as a refiner and purifier of silver. She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire.

“The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?”  He smiled at her and answered, “Oh, that’s the easy part — when I see my image reflected in it.”

As God refines each of us, when God purifies our hearts and minds, we reflect God’s image more and more. Just as the silver becomes more pure the longer it is held in the fire, so we reflect God’s image better and better. Sure, it hurts sometimes. Sure, it is unpleasant and awkward and sometimes downright painful. We can celebrate because we know our God loves us enough to refine and purify us.

Malachi’s message is that sometimes we must make hard changes and work hard with God’s help to be the people God made us to be.  Challenge? Yes! Opportunity? Yes!

“Only in the Coming One is there the power to refine us, to make clean what is unclean, and to ready us to offer what will be ‘pleasing to the Lord.’” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

[1] Commentary, Malachi 3:1-4, Melinda Quivik, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!