Prayer for Cleansing and Pardon
To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
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.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Psalm 51:1-12 (NRSV)
This week I was remembering back to my childhood and reminiscing about a camp that I attended when I was young. I thought about the songs we used to sing, the games we played, and the crafts we worked on. I thought about the pond where we rode in canoes, the same pond where stories were told of an enormous turtle named “toilet seat,” and the swimming pool that was always crowded with kids. But the activity that I thought the most about this week was archery. I remember being so excited the day that my group got to go to the archery range. I knew it was going to be fun, and it was going to be so exciting to see how many bullseyes I could get!
Well, as with many things in life, I found archery to be much more difficult than it looked. Not only did I not get a bullseye, but I couldn’t even hit the target! Our entire group struggled with it, so the counselors eventually let us move closer. But even still, no matter how hard I tried, I still couldn’t hit the target. I remember feeling sad and frustrated as if I couldn’t do anything right. What was going to be a fun afternoon turned into an eye-opening activity that only pointed out my weaknesses and my shortcomings. I remember the archery instructor talking to our entire group about the fact that even excellent archers sometimes miss the mark, meaning that they don’t always do it perfectly.
Well, if we look back to our scripture reading for just a minute, we find that the writer of today’s psalm is in a similar situation. He hasn’t been doing archery or trying to hit a target, but he is realizing his shortcoming and weaknesses. You see, King David, the writer of the psalm, knows that he has done something wrong, and he is feeling guilty about it. If you remember the story of David and Bathsheba, David commits adultery, and things only get worse from there. He makes one poor choice after another until he finds himself totally out of control. He quickly learns that trying to cover up the mistakes that you make only tends to make them worse.
So, in the psalm, David is turning to God, repenting, asking God to forgive him, and asking God to create in him a new heart so that he might become more caring and compassionate and so he might make better choices. As he says, “Create in me a new heart, O God and put a new and right Spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of
your salvation and sustain in me a willing spirit. “
One of the words in the Bible that we don’t like to talk about is “Sin” because sin makes us feel bad. The fact is, the word sin actually means “missing the mark.” Just like in archery! It means that sometimes we make poor choices, or we don’t treat others the way we should. Sometimes, we sin when we lose our patience, or we say something that’s not very nice, or we take something that doesn’t belong to us. But just because we miss the mark, should we throw in the towel and give up? No! When we make a mistake, should we just quit? No! When we say something or do something that we shouldn’t, does that mean that we will never have the chance to make amends? No! And when we find ourselves overwhelmed with guilt and frustration because all that we can see are our weaknesses and our shortcomings, does that mean that we will never experience joy again? Absolutely not!
Friends, we don’t tend to focus a lot on sin here in Oldtown, because it’s not heathy for our minds, our bodies, or our spirits to feel stuck. The fact is, we all sin, we all make mistakes, and we all make poor choices sometimes. Now we could spend our lives feeling bad, and feeling frustrated, and feeling guilty, only focusing on our weaknesses and our shortcomings; or we can choose to focus on God’s unconditional love and grace which says, “I love you no matter what mistakes you’ve made, and I want you to remember that you always have a chance to start again. A chance to make better choices. A chance to make a difference. A chance to reach out to your neighbor with kindness. A chance to do good and to share the light of Christ with the world.”
Friends, Jesus invites us today to join together at His Table. This table is set not only for the perfect and for the ones who think they have it all together, but it is set for you and for me. For the broken and the hurt. For the those who struggle and grieve. For those who are filled with questions and anxieties. For those who sometimes focus too much on their weaknesses and their shortcomings. Sure, we all make mistakes, my friends. We all sin and we miss the mark, and we may even feel like giving up sometimes. But the good news is that God never gives up on us.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, before you go out into your busy week ahead, I would urge you to come to the table. Come to be fed and nourished. Come to be reminded that, no matter what you’ve said or done or been through, God is always there, loving you and filling you with amazing gifts of grace. You just need to look beyond your weaknesses and your shortcomings. Don’t get dragged down by feelings of guilt and worry that you are not enough. Allow God to give you a clean heart, because, with a clean heart, it’s easier to live our lives in the loving ways that God calls us to. And when we do that, it’s much easier to hit the bullseye with our actions!
So my friends, may it be so, thanks be to God, Amen!