Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Coming Clean

Dave was in a close relationship with God and it showed.  He seemed to live one of those charmed lives, where everything went well for him.  In the eyes of everyone around him he was successful and had all that a man could want.  But he reached a point in his life where he wanted more.  He discovered something he couldn't have and that made him want it all the more.  It was a woman.  This woman was married to another man.  But Dave wanted her.  So he took her.  He seduced her and raped her.  And she became pregnant.  Now Dave had to have the woman and the baby and he would do anything to make it happen.  Even commit murder.  So he tricked the woman's husband into going to a place where his killer was waiting for him.  Dave made sure the man was murdered.  And then he married the man's wife, the woman who was carrying his child.  Nice guy, huh?  So much for his close relationship with God.

Well, if you didn't recognize him, the guy in the story is a pretty famous man in the Bible -- King David.  After he did this despicable thing, God sent his prophet Nathan to tell David just how wretched he was.  He pronounced judgment on David.  And tradition has it that it was on this occasion that David wrote Psalm 51, the Psalm that we read every year on Ash Wednesday because it so perfectly leads us into the season of Lent.

Lent, we know, is a time to be drawn close to God.  After all of our wandering and straying from God's path throughout the year, Lent comes to us prodigals once again, calling us home. What was true for David is true for us as well. We may work hard to convince the world, and maybe even ourselves, that we have it all together. But inside every one of us, even the most beautiful people, there is some ugliness.

When I was a kid, I don’t remember having much of an awareness of my sinfulness. I do remember adults making a really big deal out of some of the things I did. Like when I picked the neighbor’s flowers. Or when my friend Jeanne and I got caught with our shorts down leaning against the house. Or when I built a damn in the gutter right in front of the sewer at the end of our street. Adults made such a big deal out of those kinds of things. And I felt shamed by them. But I didn’t honestly feel like a bad girl. From my perspective, I had a perfectly logical reason for everything. I picked the neighbor’s flowers to give them to my mom. I pulled my shorts down on the side of the house, because I really had to relieve my bladder. And when I built that damn in the gutter it was because I wanted to make a little pond to play in and every time I tried to do it with sticks and mud it got washed away. So I had to build it with the concrete mix I found in the basement. I honestly thought my parents would praise me for being so smart. But, oh, my! You would have thought I was ready for juvie it was such a big deal.  I didn’t get it.

It wasn’t until I got older that I saw myself as a Psalm 51 kind of sinner. I was not yet 30 years old, a young mother and a young pastor in my first call.  My daughter was four and my son Ben was 18 months old.  I had the life I’d always dreamed of and I felt invincible in those days. But keeping up with a large parish and two very active little ones, I was often harried.

One night when my husband and I were preparing to go out to an international potluck with some other pastors in the area, we were running late, as usual. We needed to give the kids a bath before we left and we needed to prepare something to take to the potluck.  My husband took bathroom duty, and I started cooking.

I was making egg rolls.  So, I poured the oil into the wok to heat it up while I started wrapping the egg rolls. The counter was covered with dirty dishes and I didn’t have time to deal with them. I just scooted them aside and made myself a work space and a space for the wok to heat. I was so frazzled that I wasn’t paying close attention. And I did something that I knew I should never do. I left the cord to the wok hanging over the kitchen counter.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw little Ben trotting into the kitchen buck naked. He had escaped from his father. And I stood about two yards away as I watched his chubby little hand tug on the electric cord to the wok. It happened so fast, but I remember watching it like it was in slow motion. There was nothing I could do.  Hot oil landed on Ben’s head and ran down his back.

Well, this was just the beginning of the nightmare.  One thing led to another and we spent years in hospitals dealing with the devastating results of this burn. To this day, you seldom see Ben without a hat. The accident affected his life in profound ways. And mine, too.

And, of course, while we were going through all of this, there was no disputing one critical fact.  It had been my fault.  Sure it was an accident. But an accident that was caused by my stupidity and my carelessness.

It was a Psalm 51 time in my life. You may have had one or two of those in your life, too. You may have experienced something much worse than I did. Perhaps something so horrible you can hardly bring yourself to think about it. You may have made excuses for what happened because it’s so hard to face the truth. But I think we all know how it goes when you stuff things deep inside. They fester and then come popping out in unhealthy ways. Often far worse than the original offense.

You may not always be aware of it. It may take messing up big, like David, for you to see yourself as you really are. Or you may be one of those rare people who is gifted with enough self-awareness to see the truth about yourself without a crisis forcing the issue. But when you realize that you’ve been kidding yourself by believing you have it all together, you know you have to come clean if you ever want the kind of life in all its fullness that God promises us by his grace. This doesn’t mean that we’re evil or that we intentionally go around hurting other people. Our offenses come from a place of deep woundedness inside us. They are unavoidable. But that’s the point. Sin is not just about the things we do or don’t do that are wrong. It’s the condition in which we live, which isn’t quite right. The psalmist writes: Indeed, I was born steeped in wickedness, a sinner from my mother’s womb.

If you feel a bit overwhelmed by the hopelessness of it all, you get the point of Lent. We come to this season again to hear these words of Psalm 51. To remember that we are not God. We are dust, and to dust we shall return. Yes, it all sounds rather hopeless.

And that’s why we turn to God. When we realize that, left to our own devises, we will simply make things worse, we know there’s only one place we can go. It is God who has mercy on us according to his steadfast love. It is God who blots out our offenses with his compassion. It is God who washes us purer than snow. It is God who creates a clean heart within us and renews a right spirit within us. It is God who restores us to joy.

Lent is the time for us to draw close to the One who is our hope. Draw close. Feel his loving embrace. And hold on for your life!

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