Create In Us A Clean Heart, O God

Rev. Katherine G. Dougherty
Sermon Text: 

First Sunday in Lent

March 10, 2019 – Year C

Create in Us a Clean Heart, O God


       On Wednesday we started a new season in our faith life together.  With the liturgy found in our prayer book, with the prayers we said together, with the ashes we rubbed on our foreheads, and with the Eucharist we celebrated - Lent began.  As we are taught, Lent is the 40-day walk with Jesus from his time in the wilderness to his death upon the cross.  There are jokes galore about what we should give up for Lent and how long one can actually resist those chocolaty Cadbury Eggs or the calling from that bowl of jellybeans sitting on your co-worker’s desk. I have even heard the comment of, “I’m giving up Lent for Lent, because it’s too hard and depressing, and does it really matter anyway?”

         Well today’s sermon is not about giving up chocolate or how we should feel guilty for not “doing something for Lent.”  What I would like to do is have you grab your prayer book and turn to page 264.  This is the service – the prayers and the words - we use for Ash Wednesday.  Look towards the bottom of page 264…in these words are described what the early Christians used this time of Lent for…(read Dear People of God…).

         What we call Lent was a time for those who were new to Christianity to learn about Jesus, his teachings, and his life.  It was a time for those who were new to Christianity to quiet themselves and to simplify their lives as they prepared to be baptized.  It was also a time for those who had committed some, “notorious sin,” and who had turned away from Jesus’s teachings and his/her relationship with God - it was a time for them to repent for what they had done.  As you can see in the words on page 265 they, “were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church.” 

         What did this time give to the faith community?  By witnessing the work these folks were doing those new to the faith and those wanting to return to this faith community they were reminded of Jesus’ message of pardon and forgiveness.  There was no guilt or shame in any of this.  This was a holy time – a sacred time of focusing on one’s relationship with God and learning about Jesus.  Guilt and shame are not Jesus’ message to us, or what God wants for us.

         Now…I want you to look at the paragraph in the middle of page 265. (read I invite you… through meditating on God’s holy Word.)  The architects of our prayer book provided us guidance in how to spend these 40 days.  If you’re anything like me though, your eyes may focus on words such as fasting, self-denial, and self-examination. And if that’s the case, we may all find ourselves right back in the land of guilt, Cadbury Eggs, and Lent feeling overwhelming and heavy.  But what if those words and practices were to remind us of the early Christians and how they would prepare themselves for baptism?  What if those words spoke of simplifying our lives during Lent?  By being more intentional during Lent, might we slow down a bit?  And in slowing down, might we find a few minutes to focus our attention on God?

         This Lent, I’ve taken on the practice of reading a mediation each day.  I’m actually using the Lenten Meditations we have out in our narthex.  It’s funny – you’d think for a priest it would be “easy” to find the time to quiet myself, to read, and to ponder those reflections.  It’s not easy, but I have noticed something.  I am reminded that by doing this type of practice – whether I have time to read it in the morning or not until the end of the day – it grounds me.   It reminds me of what season this is.  It gives me something to think about, but most of all it connects me back to God - the God who created me from the dust of the earth.  Who knows every inch of me.  Who loves and forgives me – each and every day.

         Now turn to page 266.  This is Psalm 51 and is read or sung every Ash Wednesday.

         “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;*

                  in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

                 Wash me through and through from my wickedness,*and cleanse

                   me from my sin.

         For I know my transgressions,

                  *and my sin is ever before me.”

Lent is also a time to name something.  It’s an opportunity to say – yes, I commit sins…known and unknown...done by me and done on my behalf. 

Some shy away from this word.  It can be a hard word to embrace, yet we all sin.  Let’s just go ahead and name it. We all make mistakes – we all hurt people from time to time – we all turn away from God in one way or another.  Yet by God’s grace and love….we are forgiven.  As the writer of this psalm says…Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

         What if Lent became a time when we each did one thing that turned our attention towards God?  Reading this psalm throughout the week could be one practice.  Taking a walk and noticing God’s creation around us could be another.  Praying as a family and naming one thing we are each thankful for is a simple way to include everyone.  Journaling or saying a prayer before we fall asleep are other practices.

         What if, like those early Christians, we took these days of Lent and spent some time each week focusing our attention on God in some simple way – not out of obligation or guilt but to feel closer to God. Might that  renew our spirits this Lenten season and create in us clean hearts?


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