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The season of Lent calls Christians to embrace the faith journey by reflecting upon and deepening their relationship with God and by acting upon their Christian beliefs. Although often considered a time for giving up something as a way of symbolizing Jesus’ sacrifice and his struggle in the wilderness, the forty days of Lent (Sundays are not counted as “Lent days”) also offer an opportunity for taking up. During this season, we are invited to thoughtfully take up the gifts of faith—worship, study, prayer, and service—in preparation for Holy Week and Christ’s journey to the cross.
As a resource for such Lenten reflections, we make these devotions, written by Fourth Presbyterian Church members and staff, available to you. We hope you will find the reflections herein useful in your personal prayer and reflection during this season. For information about other Lenten opportunities at Fourth Church, visit www.fourthchurch.org.
Wishing you blessings on your Lenten journey,
—Members and staff of Fourth Presbyterian Church
Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Today’s Reading | Psalm 51:1–17
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.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (NRSV)
When David was fingered by Nathan as the one who committed adultery with Bathsheba and sent her husband off to battle to be killed so he might have her all to himself, he knew he had messed up royally.
Psalm 51 is David’s confession, lament, and statement of repentance. He calls on God for mercy, for cleansing from his guilt and sin. Interestingly he states he has sinned only against God: when we violate one another, demean and abuse one another in any way, we ultimately sin against God and the love God represents.
David acknowledges that God is justified and correct in judging him. He pleads with God to purify him, to cleanse his heart, to wipe away his guilty deeds and to create in David a clean heart and a faithful spirit. He prays that God will not throw him out of God’s presence or deprive him of God’s holy spirit. He declares that he wants to sing God’s righteousness and proclaim God’s praise.
It is clear that if all that David is saying is on the up and up, David is a broken and humbled man. Repentance, honesty, and transparency are hard to come by when the temptation is strong to be in denial and deceive oneself.
During this season of Lent, this time of reflection and repentance, we might all do well to emulate David and his honesty in the confident assurance that the God who judges us is also the God who will not despise a heart and a spirit that are broken and crushed and the God whose love will never let go of us.
Dear God, when I am tempted to kid myself about myself, help me to have the courage to be honest with myself, with others, and with you. “Do not hold my sins up against me, but hold me up against my sins,” that your goodness and mercy might follow me all the days of my life. Amen.
(quoted prayer text by Søren Kierkegaard)
Written by John H. Boyle, Parish Associate
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