St. Peter's Blog 'Create in me a clean heart!' from St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church – North Wales, PA's Blog

Create in me a clean heart!

Friday, Feb 20, 2015
Author: Pastor Andreas Wagner

An Ash Wednesday reflection on psalm 51:10

Some scripture verses are more powerful and poignant than others. Some are enough to keep us occupied for an entire season. I suggest that we condense the entire season of Lent, all forty days, Holy Week included, in this one prayer of King David, found in Psalm 51: "Create in me a clean heart, o God, and renew the right spirit within me." That's it! If we can place this sentence on the tablets of our hearts and pray it for the next six weeks, we are doing Lent. But of course it's not as easy as it sounds. It would require us to acknowledge something that we may find uncomfortable if not outright offensive: that our hearts, our intentions, our innermost motifs are not as clean as we think they are, that we truly need this prayer for our own good and for the health of our partners and families and co-workers: "Create in me a clean heart and renew the right spirit within me."   

Yesterday, before the Champion League Soccer Game between Paris St. Germain and Chelsea, a bunch of fans, some would call them hooligans, denied a colored man access to a train in the French capital and pushed him off. The soccer fans, most likely already intoxicated, then started to chant, "We are racist and we like it that way." It was captured in a video camera  and went viral. The home club reacted immediately, distancing itself from those types of fans and making clear that such behavior will not be tolerated. This morning I heard a commentator who has watched that type of fan clientele for a long time say, "Nothing surprises me anymore, but I have to say, this stunned me. The gleeful rejoicing in racism! I was shocked."


I sometimes think that it's almost better when something like this happens, not because it's in any way, form or shape acceptable, but because it gives people an incentive to react, to combat the evil, in this case to stop a stunning lack of respect and open racism. When something is bad and evil in your face, at least you know that you should be doing something. However, most racism and sins are much more hidden and subtle; they're covered up like the shoddy work that you often find in homes above the ceiling tiles, below the floors, behind the stucco. The problem is: we don't see them. We first have to find them. And that's exactly why we have a season such as Lent: because our sinful tendencies are not always obvious - least to ourselves. And we need that prayer: "Create in me a clean heart, o God, and renew the right spirit within me."


This season of Lent asks Christians of all places and all respectability levels to exercise some form of self-examination, everybody from prisoners to judges, from grumpy people to nice people, from pastors to confirmation students, from rock solid parishioners to those who often wonder about their faith. We are asked to pray this prayer and to expect that we will find some filth in hidden places, some impurity, some dust that needs to be wiped off. We don't accept this sign of the ashes because it looks so cute, but because we are in the season of self-examination and repentance. 


Here is a story I heard about a divinity student who was sending his 7-year-old daughter to clean up her room during the Saturday morning family chore time. The girl emerged from her room after five minutes and said to him, "I'm done. Can I watch TV?" Suspicious, he went to investigate. Her room looked clean and pristine. Until he opened the closet door and was almost buried by an avalanche of stuff. So he got a book, sat on a stool and read it in her room while she cleaned her closet. With Dad present, she got in gear and almost happily cleaned her closet, putting toys on shelves, clean clothes in drawers and on hangers and dirty clothes and wet towels in the hamper. When she was done she came and hugged him and said "You're the best Dad in the world."


That's a sweet story, but it's not just that. It's also a story that points to our Lenten task and God's presence with us in it. Our Lenten task is to clean up our closet before we clean up our room. It is to look to our inner motivations and desires before we get preoccupied with how we're coming across to others. We like to present a tidy appearance to the world, but we all have little hiding places. I might confess that in our family we sometimes say, "We need a party again!"  A party - to work up the motivation for a very thorough house cleaning. Expecting company in your home is often the best motivator to finally clean out clutter. But unfortunately what often happens instead of the thorough cleaning is that, a lot of little clutter ends up in a big bag, which ends up in some room out of the way or in a closet, temporarily we say. And sometimes that temporary placement gets forgotten and it takes a while before it is really cleaned out. I might also add: we do laugh a lot about ourselves and that helps!


"Create in me clean heart , o God!" That also means, "Lord, help me to clean out my inner clutter, all the things that occupy my heart and make me less of the person I am meant to be. I always view Lent as a wonderful time for us to come to ourselves, to clean up our inner rooms as our heavenly father is watching with a smile. And like all physical clean up jobs, it's never done and never finished, but it makes you feel better for a while and sets you back on the right path. What is my clutter tonight? What disturbs my inner peace this evening? What makes me less of the person I am meant to be? Let us bring it before God in this six week long prayer: "Create in me a clean heart, o God, and renew the right spirit within me."   Amen.

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