Powerful Prayers: Create in Me a Clean Heart

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Pastor Deb Kielsmeier

Psalm 51:1-17

Have you ever heard of a weight vest? Yup.  It is a thing. You strap it on and your cardio, pushups, pullups, planks or sit ups are just that much harder.  You know, in case they were not challenging enough. If it doesn’t kill you, your stamina and strength will improve.  The question is: will it improve my preaching?

For the rest of July, we are going to be delving into a sermon series on Powerful Prayers.   There are some prayers that – if we are truly honest – we can pray without even thinking, like a memorized grace before a meal.  Not bad, but not exactly heartfelt.  A bit wimpy.  And then there are prayers that are powerful. Muscular. Even dangerous. Prayers that have the power to transform our entire lives. One of those prayers is found in Psalm 51. Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God.

Many of us are carrying around a lot of extra weight on our shoulders…like this vest.  And it is weighing us down. The cause of that burden can be varied – you may be overwhelmed, anxious, worried, or feeling the pressure to perform.

But when that weight stems from the guilt of sin, it can be crushing.  There may be things in our lives that we don’t want anyone to know. We’d rather just cover it up or try to justify our actions. But we know what we have done, and it can haunt our dreams, hurt our relationships and burden our hearts.

What would life be like to live without that burden? To be truly free?

Psalm 51 is one of seven penitential psalms. Penitential means to pour out to God our regret and sorrow over sin. We don’t really like to talk much about sin in the 21st century, but the Old Testament doesn’t shy away from it – AND, it has a depressingly large number of words to describe it. One Hebrew word for sin means missing the mark – an archery term. Another Hebrew word holds the sense of being unclean or blemished. Sin is described as wandering from the path, outright rebellion, or being crooked or broken.   The gist of all of this is that something is very wrong.

If you look in your Bible at Psalm 51 there is a superscript that tells us that David wrote this psalm when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he committed adultery with Bathsheba.  All the drama and intrigue of that story is recorded in 2 Samuel 11 and 12. David not only commits adultery, but then has Bathsheba’s husband Uriah – a loyal soldier – murdered on the battlefield in a desperate attempt to cover it all up.  God was not happy, scripture tells us – and sends Nathan the prophet to confront him.

David comes clean, admitting his sin and crying out to God in the words of this psalm. Have mercy on me O Lord, according to your steadfast love. I know my sin… it is ever before me.  Wash me, blot out my transgressions, cleanse me and create in me a clean heart.  It is a psalm fit for a king and a king-sized sin, but it has been on the hearts and lips of believers like you and me ever since.

Our sin may not be as quite as public or brazen as David’s, but we all are sinners.  I John 1:8-9 says,If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We can pretend that everything is just fine, thank you very much. Or we can come clean, confessing our sin to ourselves and to God. It involves admitting the truth– but Jesus says the truth will set you free.

There is a story about the King Frederick the Great of Prussia who was touring a Berlin prison. The prisoners came to him, falling on their knees and proclaiming their innocence—all but one man, who hung back and said not a word.

King Frederick asked him, “Why are you here?”

“Armed robbery, Your Majesty,” he replied.

“And are you guilty?”

“Yes, Your Majesty, I am. And I deserve my punishment,” he said.

Frederick then called to the jailer and told him, “Release this guilty wretch at once. I will not have him kept here in this prison where he will corrupt all the fine innocent people who live here.”

There is freedom in telling the truth.  And confessing our sin to our powerful and merciful God.

Remember all those Hebrew words for sin? There is an equally large number of Hebrew words for forgiveness. In the first verse of Psalm 51, three different words are used for God’s compassion toward us.  One means to stoop in kindness over one who has fallen. Another means God’s unfailing covenant love, built upon God’s own promises. And the third word is the love of a mother for her infant child. We need not fear punishment, for our God bends over us with a tender love that never fails. Ever.

Several years ago, a life-sized sculpture of a man in an iron cage was erected on the campus of Northern Kentucky University. He sits slouched with his chin on his chest and around his wrists and ankles are manacles with heavy chains. If you stop and look carefully however, you can see that the manacles are not actually clasped, and cage door swings open easily with a touch. Nothing is holding the man from shaking off the chains and walking out of that cage into freedom, except the weight of his own despair.

God has loosed the chains of sin and death and has opened wide the door to freedom and new life.  God loves us deeply… indeed even to the point of death on a cross. And that same God wants you to experience, not punishment, but freedom.  Not despair, but restoration and healing.

There is power in confession. Freedom in forgiveness. New life in a transformed heart.  “Oh God – Create in me a clean heart. And restore in me the joy of your salvation.”

Here is where faith meets life.  Ask yourself:

Where is sin standing in the way in your life?

Where is it holding you back or weighing you down?

Will you give it to God?

Let us pray.

Lord God. Help us now, to let your healing light shine into the dark places of our lives. Give us the courage God to lay down the burden of guilt and shame and let it all rest in your loving hands.  You died that we might be free, that we might live in your light. Create in us a clean heart of God. Trusting that as far as the east is from the west so far have you removed our transgressions from us.

In the name of our savior and life, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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