Psalm 51 (NRSV)
Verse 1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Verse 2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
Verse 3For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Verse 4Against 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.
Verse 5Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
Verse 6You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Verse 7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Verse 8Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Verse 9Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Verse 10Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Verse 11Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Verse 12Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Verse 13Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
Verse 14Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
Verse 15O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
Verse 16For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
Verse 17The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Verse 18Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
Verse 19then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Early in my call as a mission developer, I attended a few conferences to learn “how to grow a church.” Much of the instruction was about the style and content of worship services. One host pastor insisted that to reach people outside the church, worship leaders needed to jettison the prayer of confession and announcement of forgiveness—a standard part of my Lutheran worship experience. “It’s too much of a downer for people today,” he said.
The worship practice is a “downer” if it’s only about remembering my sin that “is ever before me.” Or if worship combines to suggest it’s up to me to wash off my sin and improve myself. I can never scrub hard enough or long enough to make that happen. The Good News for all people is that our Creator God is a God of steadfast love who mercifully and patiently cleanses us from sin and creates a clean heart in us. God does this! And intends joy for all who hear this word.
God of abundant mercy, cleanse me from my sin, create in me a clean heart, and put a new and right spirit within me. Amen.