An anthropologist once wrote an article on the cleansing rituals of the Nacirema tribes. They have elaborate holy places where they perform daily purification rituals, sometimes more than once a day! They are obsessed with sacred liquids and ointments for ablutions and often submit themselves to thorough inspection using instruments of refracted light.
Of course, this article was a tongue-in-cheek description of American (nacirema spelled backward) bathing and grooming practices. In Psalm 51, the psalmist equates unclean to sin and clean to salvation. Cleanliness is important. God’s people focused on being clean to be acceptable to God.
Many people today wash even more often than in ancient times and buy antibacterial soap to ensure cleanliness. Washing our bodies is one thing, but what about our hearts? Our hearts get unclean in lots of ways. Sometimes shame coats our hearts so thoroughly that no light can enter. Sometimes our hearts are soiled by life circumstances or feel trashed by our own mistakes.
To make matters worse, we sometimes prefer to keep our hearts that way. We cling to grudges and resentments like badges of honor, yet these sully our hearts. We keep our hearts unclean by living in a constant state of fear or worry that clutters every corner. Anything that keeps us from God’s presence makes our hearts unclean. What clutters your heart making it unavailable for love?
In today’s world, constant busyness can distract us. We are too preoccupied to examine our hearts or to listen deeply to God. Perhaps the first step is simply to stop. Stop right now and explore your heart. What do you discover?
Holy One, as close as each heartbeat, show me the contents of my heart. Amen.
We can maintain outward appearances for only so long. At some point what is in our hearts will come to the surface. God understands this, of course, which is the reason for the promise in Jeremiah. God promises a day when God’s law will no longer be an external standard that we are trying to follow, but will be written on our hearts. In the aftermath of his sin with Bathsheba, David cries out in Psalm 51 for God’s forgiveness and a new heart. The New Testament readings begin to focus our minds toward the end of Jesus’ life. God’s transformative work comes at a cost to God through the death of his Son, who suffered in obedience but through his death was glorified.
• Read Jeremiah 31:31-34. In what areas of your life do you find yourself keeping score? How can you release that tendency?
• Read Psalm 51:1-12. What clutters your heart, making it unavailable for love?
• Read Hebrews 5:5-10. When have you fallen into the habit of faith rather than exhibiting authentic faith? What distinction do you draw between the two?
• Read John 12:20-33. How does the author’s illustration of the seed and flower help you understand Jesus’ crucifixion and death?
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