Psalm 51
1st Sunday of Lent – Ashes
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Give us grace to receive your Word to us today in faith, that we may obedient to your will and live always for your glory, through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

“Repent” We think of it as an angry cry from a street corner preacher, who seems to know much more about God’s judgment than God’s mercy. The longer I live the more I am ready to embrace and speak this word “repent” in gentleness, as an act of love. Patrick just read Jesus’ first words of proclamation and in essence Jesus’ message was “repent.” After being called “my Son, the Beloved” in baptism, after facing dangers and temptations in the wilderness, Jesus comes to proclaim good news and the good news is a call to repentance – turn, change, renew your life in Jesus Christ.

We embrace calls to change. Exercise – get fit now. Even the NFL is asking children to exercise one hour/day. Improve your reading skills – get help for your child to have better study habits. Change your eating habits – cut the carbs and fat, increase the fresh fruits and veggies. Nobody gets upset about those calls for healthy improvement. So what’s the big deal about inviting people to get healthy spiritually? Why I am suddenly judgmental when I invite people to repent. This invitation should seem as good-hearted as the one encouraging you to exercise, take your vitamins, and eat healthy foods. But no, everybody is defensive about this call to spiritual fitness. Well, time to get over that, Peace, because this is Lent. It is the season of self-examination. How are you doing with sin? You’re in better physical shape than spiritual shape, I’m guessing. You watch your diet better than you guard your heart against evil, if you’re like me.

King David loved God like we do. He played his instruments to God’s glory. The young man David was so capable, so impressive, he was chosen over all his older brothers and many others. But power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely and so King David lost his sensitivity to God’s desires when he went from shepherding the flock to ruling the land. He had many wives, but decided he would like someone else’s for a day, and like so many of us, once he screwed up (pun intended), he kept covering himself, defending himself with more sin, ultimately having an innocent and honorable man killed, one who served him well so he could keep the wife he had stolen. Then as spiritual weakness becomes blindness, he could not even see his sin when the prophet Nathan pointed it out. He sat in judgment over the man in Nathan’s parable, not even realizing that he was the man. So it is with us.

If this story of David, Bathsheba, Uriah, and Nathan is vague for you, then take some time later today to read 2 Samuel 11-12. 2 Samuel 11-12. It is a sexy and sad story of the infidelity and blindness of all of us. How we dig deep holes for ourselves because we do not resist temptation. And then when we sin, we cover, instead of confess. But our reading today is the good news from Psalm 51, the prayer of David, when he acknowledged and repented of his sin. Let us hear David, and pray with him, this prayer for a clean heart.

NRS Psalm 51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. 5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. 6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice 9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. 14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. 17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, 19 then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

A broken and contrite heart, God will not despise. Richard and I were discussing this psalm and he said, “God seems way too concerned with our humility.” Think about it. Sin has humbling consequences, often all the more humbling the longer we defend our actions. Remember when one of our presidents tried to re-define sex. It is best to be humble and contrite, truly sorry. How many arguments would be avoided in your home if we would all practice a ready and willing contrition. It takes practice, being humble enough to admit wrong. But most of us practice defensiveness and self-justification instead. I used to be able to pick a good fight with Richard but lately, he’s been undermining me, by saying quickly, “You know, you’re right. I should work on that.” Darn, I was waiting for him to argue with me or blame me for being the source of the problem. Instead, he humbly received my critique. What do I do now? Say a prayer of thanks.

Look at the humble and contrite repentance of Tiger Woods, whom some have said sounds more like a Jew or Christian than a Buddhist this week. His words sound a lot like Psalm 51, 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. He said, “I knew my actions were wrong but I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply. I never thought about who I was hurting, instead I thought only about myself. I was wrong and I was foolish.” He admitted to hurting his wife, his kids, his mother, his extended family, his friends, and kids all around the world who admired him.

That’s how it is with sin – there are far-reaching consequences, even if you are not a public figure. I believe that admission of sin, even looking closely at ourselves to find sin which we hide from ourselves, is the key to a healthy spiritual life. To avoid talk of sin, which seems to be our tendency these days -- even Christians avoid the subject -- is to deny ourselves the opportunity for healing. Sin is a sickness. And sickness unattended leads to death. But thanks be to God, death never gets the last word.

If you can admit to being sick, and go to church as a hospital, then you should receive the healing grace of God’s forgiveness in Word and Sacrament, and the balm of music and prayer and the companionship of fellow sinners forgiven will ease the pain of your wounds – wounds of your own sickness and wounds inflicted by the sickness of others. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. Think of the child, who will not let the parent wash a dirty, scraped- up knee. The parent knows that knee needs to be washed, and sometimes cleaning out debris can be very painful, but the parent does it because that’s the only way to start the healing process.

Admitting sin is painful. We want to just get a band-aid, slap it on, and forget about all the dirt in there, but we need deep cleaning. But our hearts need to be pure. We need to stop playing the blame game. God does not want us trying to make up for sin. God wants us clean as fresh snow and with God’s help we can be that clean. 16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. 17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. What pleases God is our broken spirit – like a wild horse, unwilling to be bridled, we need our spirit of fierce independence, our spirit of rugged individualism, our spirit of prideful egocentrism broken. Like a wild two or three year-old or a rebellious fifteen year-old, we need the taming of our heart. We need a humble and contrite heart. We need to know our boundaries, respect authority, and become loving, grateful, and responsible human beings, on whom others can depend. We try to dispense self-esteem these days to kids who have no self-control and no humility, and that does them no service. It invites them to be sick and stay sick. Healthy self-esteem comes through knowing our sin, repenting of our sin, and then rejoicing in our forgiveness, the amazing grace-filled gift of God, which is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord.

As we begin the season of repentance, Lent, I invite you to spend time in self-examination, to devote yourself to prayer and fasting, to engage works of love and service, to read and meditate on God’s word, to seek a life of fruitful sacrifice for Christ’s sake. When you come forward to receive the gifts of Christ at the communion table, you will also be encouraged to receive the sign of the cross on your forehead, a mark of ashes, reminding you of the frailty of life and of our mutual need for renewal in Jesus Christ.

Let us pray....(solo) Give me a clean heart, so I may serve Thee. Lord, fix my heart, so that I may used by Thee. For I’m not worthy of all these blessings. Give me a clean heart and I’ll follow Thee.