Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Lifting Our Spirits “ based on Psalm 51:10-12 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, August 12, 2018
Goldenseal, Grape seed extract, St. John’s Wort, Dandelion root, Cytogreens and something called “Mushroom Emperors”—which I’m assuming are legal, but also sound kinda’ shady! You know what they all have in common? They’re all dietary supplements touted by the testimonials of world famous internet “physicians”—who may or may not be real. One thing’s for sure, they promise big things. One supplement I came across hyped its effects this way:
This powerful enzyme has been proven to dissolve non-living
tissue and leave any living tissue alone. It can safely remove the
fatty deposits and fibrin buildup on the inside of your arteries
without any side effects. The dissolved deposits flush harmlessly
out of your body!
In other words, take a pill and that little tiny enzyme will go to work cleaning up your heart, chomping up years’ worth of garbage and restoring veins and arteries to pristine condition. Does it work? I have no idea. But when I read that I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be cool to have something that works like that on our stubbornness, on our selfishness, on our apathy, a spiritual drano that gets rid of all the junk that clogs up our hearts with things that keep us away from God? And is that what David was praying for when he penned the words of our text for today, the familiar of the words of the “Create in Me” from Psalm 51? Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Perhaps one of the reasons that Psalm 51 is so familiar and so dear to so many of God’s people is because we see so much of ourselves in David. He messed up, big time, he knew it and he knew there wasn’t anything he could do to make it right. Specifically, he’d committed adultery with another man’s wife and then had that man, a faithful soldier named Uriah, killed on the field of battle. It seemed like the perfect cover up. But God knew the truth. And when the prophet Nathan called David out for his sleazy behavior, there was no place to hide any longer, there was no way to deny the facts any longer. He was bad guy. From inside the vice of public shame and profound, sleepless night, never a moment of solace guilt, David does the only thing he can do. He begs for mercy. Can you hear the frantic nature of his crying out, just in these verses? Look at all the imperatives, every phrase is begging for something. This is not the sound of a man bossing God around. This is the sound of man drowning in his sins, going under for the last time, desperately pleading, “Save me!”
Isn’t that at the heart of our worship service confession? “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” Isn’t that at the heart of our bedtime prayers? “Jesus, Savior, wash away, all that I’ve done wrong today.” Isn’t that at the heart of our pre-communion self examination? “Lord, may your body and your blood be for my soul the highest good.” There’s a deep need in all those entreaties, the sound of the helpless drowning in their sins, going for the last time, desperately pleading, “Save me!” If we speak those words thoughtlessly, merely going through the motions we have some serious soul searching to do. For the sins that clog up our hearts are not benign—they are ugly cancers that kill faith and will grow out of control if left unchecked.
But when we cry out, “Create in me a clean heart!” our desperate cries do not fall on deaf ears. Jesus hears, his heart is moved, he reaches out a nail marked hand and he says—every single time, without fail—“The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. If you are lost, you are the one that I’ve come to find. If you are a mess, you are the one I’ve come to clean up. If you are the one drowning in sins, you are the one I’m here to save.”
Once we’re in the boat, so to speak, the question inevitably comes to mind. “What happens next? If I’m pulled out the depths by my Savior, it would be pretty stupid to jump back. But, you know, I can be pretty stupid.” When we pray Create in me a clean heart, we’re not only praying “forgive me,” we’re also praying, “change me from this day forward.” That’s where the Holy Spirit really starts to shine. It’s true that No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. It’s also true that no one can truly hate sin, daily drown the Old Adam, consistently offer up sacrifices of loving obedience—except by the Holy Spirit. You can see it in David’s words. In verse 10, David pleads for a steadfast spirit. In verse 12, David pleads for a willing spirit. But the meat in that sandwich, the thing that ties our text together is found in verse 11. “Do not take your Holy Spirit away from me.”
How does the Holy Spirit change hearts? In Baptism, he creates a new person in us, and then recreates that new person in us each day throughout our lives. In Lord’s Supper, he empowers us to believe that Jesus’ in really present and strengthens us to leave sin behind. In the Word, he tells us how we are loved by God and how we can live for God. Through what we call the Means of Grace, the Word and the Sacraments, he goes to work on our hearts, chomping up the bad stuff, daily clearing out the things that alienate us from the Giver of All Good. Now…you, me and every Bible writer as well, understand that we’re still people who wrestle with temptation living in a world full of temptation. But no longer does the devil always win. In fact, it’s our goal that he doesn’t win and a lot of the time, he gets a real beat down. That wouldn’t happen, those attitudes wouldn’t exist in us if the Holy Spirit wasn’t at work. He’s the one who cleans hearts, who makes us want the things that God wants and love the things that he loves and actually grow in those things.
With that in mind, David’s words in Psalm 51 give us something to take with us today. Whether you call them prayers, commands, requests or desperate pleas for help, there are a whole bunch of them in these verses. Maybe we could shine the spotlight on just one. “Renew a steadfast spirit within me.” The Hebrew word that’s translated “steadfast” means to be firmly established—it’s used to describe a roof that’s held up by cement pillars. The roof can bear a lot of weight, it can remain unshaken in many storms, not because of any power or strength by itself, but because it’s held up by the pillars. Oh, Holy Spirit, give me, give us that kind of spirit—a steadfast spirit! That we may remain unshaken in many storms—not because of our strength, but because we’re held up by you.
A believing soul. A cleansed heart. A steadfast spirit. The works of the Holy Spirit are indeed great and glorious! His name is worthy of praise! Amen.