“Create in me a clean heart, O God” Psalm 51:10
Some people enjoy cleaning, but I am not one of them. Although I like the way my home looks after a thorough cleaning, doing the work that goes into keeping it that way is a different story. Often I rush through my house doing a quick “lick and promise” neatening. This makes things look better superficially, but true cleaning is hard work, when done properly. It involves moving furniture to see what’s accumulated underneath, climbing on stepladders to reach cobwebs and getting down on my hands and knees to examine and scrub all the corners and crevices. The worst part is, no matter how often or how strenuously I clean, dust and dirt soon creep back. Within a week, it’s time to start over. Keeping my house clean is an ongoing task that requires continuous attention.
Cleaning up my soul, or confession, is no different. Each week I confess my failings during worship services. Sometimes, however, I do this without real reflection or repentance. Once I start looking, I see sins I had completely forgotten or never noticed before. I see the bad things I do over and over again no matter how hard I try to change. Sometimes a sin is so ingrained I despair of ever entirely removing the stain it has left on my life. Others are buried so deeply I have trouble bringing myself to admit to them. I sigh at the stacks of “stuff” I have been carrying around, things I must sort through and examine closely in order to eliminate the garbage. Such stuff includes a critical attitude, lack of trust, selfish desires or plain old laziness (just as a start!) It’s a painful and unpleasant process, one that requires discipline and humility. Worse yet, my confession is never complete because I can’t stop sinning! Like Paul, in the book of Romans, I mourn, “…I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep doing.”
Thankfully, when it comes to my sinful nature, I do not need to rely on my own efforts. The psalmist cries out to God, “create in me a clean heart” because he realizes his helplessness. I am helpless, too. I can never clean up enough to make myself right in the eyes of God. A clean heart is His handiwork, accomplished by the sacrifice of Christ and revealed to us through the Holy Spirit. The absolution I hear after confession each week does not just mean I am forgiven for the wrongs I remember and committed recently, it is an announcement that ALL my sins, past and present, known and unknown, have already been erased by the suffering and death of Jesus.
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:24-25.
This was originally published in The Lutheran Ambassador, the monthly magazine of the Association of Free Lutheran Church.