Monday Matters (March 18, 2024)


Psalm 51: 1-13

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you only have I sinned and
done what is evil in your sight.

5 And so you are justified when you speak and
upright in your judgment.

6 Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth,
a sinner from my mother’s womb.

7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me,
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

8 Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

9 Make me hear of joy and gladness,
that the body you have broken may rejoice.

10 Hide your face from my sins and
blot out all my iniquities.

11 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.

12 Cast me not away from your presence
and take not your holy Spirit from me.

13 Give me the joy of your saving help again and
sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

Spring Training

A wise priest I admire, who also happens to be a baseball nut, has compared the season of Lent to Spring training. With that in mind, as we await opening day, a word from Francis T. Vincent, Jr., former Major League Baseball Commissioner:

“Baseball teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure. We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in baseball and, precisely because we have failed, we hold in high regard those who fail less often—those who hit safely in one out of three chances and become star players (.333 average), I also find it fascinating that baseball, alone in sport, considers errors to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.”

Along with baseball, our Christian faith embraces that rigorous truth. We see it in Psalm 51, a portion of which was read in church yesterday and is included above. The psalm surfaces early and often in the season of Lent, attributed to King David. Tradition holds that it was written to express his remorse over failures, egregious sins of adultery and murder, after he was called out by the prophet Nathan. To put it mildly, he did not bat 1000.

I’m not sure how one knows that David is the author. I don’t worry about that, because it points to something true about all of us. We each have occasions when we have messed up. We all stand in vital need of opportunity to start over. That is one of the things that I find compelling about the Christian message. Our faith tells us that there is always opportunity to begin again. Sometimes folks talk about it as being born again. The gospel holds the promise of renewal, a fine thing to think about in the season of Spring.

I find this hopeful dynamic in the baptismal covenant when we promise to persevere in the resistance of evil, affirming that whenever we fall into sin, we can repent and return to the Lord. The operative word in that promise is whenever. It doesn’t say if ever. Our falling short will happen as surely as the sun comes up in the morning. Rigorous truth. The good news is that there is always a way to come back. Failure does not define us. It does not limit us. It does not end our story. We bless the Lord who forgives all our sins. God’s mercy endures forever.

Here’s the verse from Psalm 51 that I find myself rehearsing over and over:

Create in me a clean heart, renew a right spirit within me.

The verse is really a prayer, asking God to go to work in us, making a clean heart. That is God’s work, not our own. At the same time, Lent is billed as a season for self-examination. That kind of spiritual audit has revealed that there’s a lot in my own heart that doesn’t feel particularly clean. I’m not inclined to share (or over-share) on the particulars, but trust me, there’s a lot there. And I find a need for a renewal of a right spirit. The prospect of renewal means that I can come back to a healthier place. I may be a miserable offender, but that’s not the bottom line on who I am. That is by no means the end of my story. God can turn that around. I think all that’s needed from me is openness to that good work.

We’re coming to the conclusion of the season of Lent. In these last days, before we come to Holy Week, prepare for this most extraordinary week by offering the prayer for a clean heart, a renewed spirit. I suspect that there is some way in which every one of us needs that restorative, renewing work. And with that in mind, we can get ready to play ball, spiritually speaking.

-Jay Sidebotham

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