“Create in me a clean heart, O God … (This one is muddy.)”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Hebrews 5:7-9

John 12:20-33

Psalm 51:10-15

The words begin at verse 10 of Psalm 51. They are some of the most familiar words in the Bible to people who worship in liturgical churches because they are used in so many liturgies of the church. I doubt that, in this case, familiarity breeds contempt, but it may breed indifference.

The verses before the famous text set the stage. The psalmist takes a good look at himself and isn’t very happy with what he finds. His sin and guilt lead him to seek God’s grace and mercy. He recognizes that it is not just a problem of doing wrong, but of being wrong. The misdeeds have occurred since his birth, but the state of being existed at his conception and he knows it. He does not go to the Great Physician for heart surgery–he needs a transplant: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”

He is confident that the dirty deeds and guilt can be washed away, but the unclean heart and spirit need to be replaced with the heart and Spirit of God–not the same old stains coming out of the washer–but something altogether new, clean, fresh and right!

Years ago, my two sons played in some mud and were covered with slime. They were about to burst through the kitchen door when their mother yelled, “Stop!” She made them go to the back patio, hose off and strip before they could enter.

The psalmist is wise enough not to burst into God’s kitchen. In fact, he knowingly pleads, “Cast me not away from Your presence and take not Your Holy Spirit from me.” He did not know how his words would be invigorated with greater meaning by Christian Baptism and because “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.”

There are many all-or-nothing-at-all aspects of the Christian faith. Some people think of Christianity as an addition to their present life, rather than a whole new one. They join a church in the same way they join a health spa, country club or service organization. They participate when it’s convenient, but they don’t let it interfere with whatever they consider to be real life in the real world. They need a box of salt handy whenever they hear words from Jesus like, “Whoever loves his own life will lose it.”

Those words are part of Sunday’s Gospel Lesson. Jesus’ heart was troubled as He contemplated His coming suffering and death, but He knew it would produce much good fruit. It was for that very moment that He came. He joined us in the muck of sin and the muddle of human emotions that more than “trouble” our hearts. Because His heart and Spirit were right, He did what was good for us. Even when the mire sucked Him down, drowned and buried Him, He did not succumb to it. He arose victorious!

Those naked boys on our patio had removed every stitch and, even though the water was very cold, they did not step a muddy foot into their mother’s house. How unlike them we are when we want to sneak our old ways into the new life Christ gives to us. How unlike them are all those who merely “participate” in Christianity–when it’s convenient, not too cold and as long as they “feel good” about it. Faith is not to be muddied up by our refusal to let go of sin. Rev. Steve Hughey is fond of saying to fellow-Christians, “You are either a goer (into God’s mission) or a sender.” The other alternative is that you still need someone sent to you! Lent is for renewal–ask God to:

“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and uphold me with Your free Spirit.”

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