Message for Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010 Text: Psalm 51: 1 - 17
If there is a Psalm that literally “speaks” to the season of Lent…it would have to be the 51st Psalm. And for a very good reason indeed. The person accredited with writing the Psalm itself is none other than King David…a man after God’s own heart, or so it would seem. That is, until the prophet Nathan opened his big mouth and told the whole world what David already knew in his heart of hearts. As David states rather plainly in verse 3:
‘I know my offenses…and my sin is ever before me.’
In other words…a moment doesn’t go by that David’s mind doesn’t recall the first time that he ever laid eyes on Bathsheba…a beautiful woman whom he longed to have. The only problem being, that she was married to a man named Uriah. A man…who in fact was a soldier in King David’s army. A man…who could be ordered up to the front lines where it was almost a sure bet that he wouldn’t be returning home any time soon…if ever again. That’s if the King were to put such an order in place with his chief of staff.
As the story goes, that is pretty much what happened. In one fell swoop, David…a card carrying branch on Abraham’s family tree…hand picked by God to be King of all Israel…broke not one, not even two, but five of the ten commandments. And even though the concept of ‘original sin’ seemed like an easy way out…even David hated to admit, that “sin” is NOT just a matter of what we do. “Sin”…is a matter of who we are…and who we will always be. For all have sinned…the Bible says…and fallen short of the glory of God. Not one is innocent of guilt. Not one remains unmarked with the stain of “sin”. And that most certainly includes one King David.
No wonder, then, the very next step for David is to simply turn to God. To plead with God to take action as only God can do…given the circumstances. In verse 7, David pleads (and I’m going to quote the NIV translation, because I think it rings more true):
‘Cleanse me with hyssop…and I will be clean; wash me…
and I will be whiter than snow.’
The word “cleanse” literally translates to mean: “un-sin me”…which is to say that David is asking God…no, begging God…to be washed as a stained garment. Thrown and battered against the rocks with water running over him in an effort to loosen up the fibers so that the stain can be set free. To be made “whiter” than snow…to be made so pure, in God’s eyes, that there would be no figurative word to describe him. So that…when God looks upon him, he sees only a man who has never sinned.
What David is really praying for is to be made…created…fashioned into something “new”. Something that he intuitively “knows” in his heart of hearts that can not emerge from what is now, and which only God can fashion with God’s two hands.
So why in the world does David think that he even has a chance of God granting his request? For that answer, we need to go all the way back to verse 1…and see where David started with this whole petition. Knowing what he knows about himself…he begins where every single person on the face of the earth should begin, as they stand before God…”marked” in sin. Filthy…dirty…black as ash…impossible to remove…sin.
David opens his mouth and prays (NIV version):
‘Have mercy on me, O God…
according to your unfailing love;
According to your great compassion…
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me (un-sin me) from my sin.’
From the very beginning, David undoubtedly remembers that God had promised Abraham…David’s descendant…that if his people would turn and confess their sins before God…he would recall their sins no more. Why? Because in God’s great compassion and God’s unfailing love…he would always remain their God…and they would always remain his people. And from that moment forward…there would not be one iota of dirt…or dust…or ash…that could begin to separate them from his love…and forgiveness.
David recalled deep down within…what he had learned as a child. That God does not desire sacrifices…purely for the sake of sacrifice. What God desires above all else, is a broken and contrite heart. A heart so shattered that looks only to God when life’s troubles ‘crush’ our very soul…and sorrow has replaced our joy.
Like David…we too must now place our trust in God’s unfailing love. In God’s soothing balm of forgiveness. So that…life…can…begin…anew.
And we, like David, can then go…and bear witness to this life-giving truth.
Like David…go in peace now. And serve the Lord.