ASH WEDNESDAY — To Be Broken

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:1-17 ESV)

The introduction to this psalm says, “To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” This is a confession, an admission of guilt, an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. David has taken a man’s wife — how consensual it all was we do not know — impregnated her, and then killed the husband, a loyal and dutiful soldier, when he refused to unwittingly cooperate in his own cuckolding.

I like David. He’s a sinner who rarely thinks about what he does, and yet God seems to love David no end. But here, David is a bad man. He has lusted and coveted and murdered and possibly raped. And he doesn’t realize he’s done anything wrong until Nathan confronts him with it all in the form of a parable.

We all need the confrontation sometimes, when we have done wrong, when we have sinned.

When confronted, David didn’t argue, didn’t try to justify himself, didn’t get angry with Nathan and try to send the prophet away. He listened, and he heard, when Nathan said “You are that man!” And he believed.

He could not undo all the terrible things he did. But he could be broken, he could understand, he could acknowledge his wrong and repent. That he could do.

David sings here that the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. These, and not burnt offerings, are what God asks of us, what God will accept.

We who are broken — sometimes by God himself — come to God, contrite, ashamed, guilty. With things we cannot ever undo. With pain and suffering inflicted that will never be made right. And yet, we want to be made right. Let us be your people again, whole, blameless, justified, redeemed. Let us be your people again.

And so, silently, today, we listen — you are dust, and to dust you shall return. People of God. Thoughtless. Selfish. Frightened. Broken.

Beloved.

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