5 March, 2014

Ash Wednesday Sermon

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Create in me a clean heart. That’s what we sing. Create in me a clean heart.

While the words may be new to you, that’s what the Psalmist cried out. Create in me a clean heart.

And that’s what I want… A clean heart. A heart that does not harbor resentments. A heart that does not shy away from love. A heart that does not remember its hurts and its pains. A heart that is open to all and loving to all. Create in me a clean heart, O God.

Have you ever wished yourself a clean house? Have you ever just continued on your normal way, and suddenly, through no work of your own or work of anyone else, the house was clean? No! Houses, like our hearts, follow the law of entropy—that the natural tendency of the universe is to fall into disorder—and become messier and messier if they are not attended to.

I have a messy heart. I’d like a clean one, please.

So I have to do the work of a clean heart. What is that work? First, I have to recognize that my heart is messy. Next, I ask God to create in me a clean heart. Next, I attend to my heart. How has it gotten so messy? What sin in my life is leaving in me such a mess in its place? Is it my arrogance? Is it my willful need to be right? Is it my unwillingness to see the mess I am creating? Next, I sweep out the cobwebs and the dust bunnies. Maybe that means forgiving myself. Maybe that means saying I am sorry. Maybe it means forgiving others. Finally, it means ordering things so that it doesn’t get so messy again.

Last week, I cleaned out my closet. You would think that in such a short time, my closet could not be such a mess. But it is! So as I’m folding neatly my shirts and my pants into neatly sorted piles, I realized that keeping it neat would be easier. Keeping a clean space clean is easier than cleaning a very messy place.

How do you order things so that they don’t get messy? With practice. Have you ever thought about that word? Doctors and lawyers have a practice. We practice our crafts (like piano). It means simultaneously to carry on a profession and to perform repeatedly to acquire a skill. In other words, it means the one who practices is both a novice and a professional. 

And with our hearts, we are both novices and professionals.

Jesus tells us how to practice. Giving alms, praying, fasting. Not so that others will applaud us, but so that our hearts will strengthen. We are both incompetent and experts having hearts. We must practice.

And Jesus told this parable:

“No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new one will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.'”

You know, I always wonder why we’re not asking for a new heart. One that hasn’t been broken, hasn’t harbored resentments, hasn’t failed at loving, hasn’t failed at forgiveness. And I think it’s because of another really important reminder of Ash Wednesday and Lent… 

We don’t ask for new hearts because our old hearts are okay. We don’t ask for new hearts, because these are fixable. But we believe that something NEW can fix our hearts. A new love. A new home. A new location. A new job. 

The truth is that putting a new love on an old heart to fix it will burst the skins. Putting a clean patch over our worn hearts will cause them to have an even bigger hole. 

We need clean hearts, so that we can see our lives in a different way, see our relationships with a new eye, and leave ourselves open to loving and to being hurt by the same people, those with whom we share life and love. We don’t need a new job, we need a new way to see our jobs. We don’t need a new location. We need to grow where we’re planted. 

Create in me a clean heart, O God. 

This evening we ask for a clean heart. Because our hearts have become worn and chipped, hurt and hardened by life. But this is the human condition: our hearts are worn and chipped and hurt and hardened, not because we are sinful and bad, but because we are human. It’s what our hearts do.

We come here tonight to be reminded that we are human. Human beings who through sin and hardship have hearts that need to be cleansed. 

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