Pentecost - a
Preached: June 12, 2011
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit comforts us with forgiveness in Jesus is Psalm 51.
Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a steadfast spirit within me. Don't cast me away from your presence. Don't take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation. Sustain me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:10-12)
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
The Spirit is my Janitor. That doesn't quite have the same ring as "The Lord is my Shepherd," does it? It may even rub our conscience as disrespectful. Yet being a shepherd wasn't always that prestigious either, but we don't hesitate to call Jesus our Good Shepherd.
The Spirit is my Janitor. Yes, you could misuse that statement. But consider how the two are alike. A janitor cleans up other people's messes. That's what the Holy Spirit does. He hasn't made any messes himself. He is the holy God. But he cleans up that sinful mess of your heart and mine. And what a mess we've made! Even the English names for their work sound similar. A janitor's work is sanitation; the Spirit's work, sanctification.
Furthermore, just as a janitor's work is often taken for granted, how many dismiss the Spirit's vital work of cleaning hearts and instead run after what seems flashy and powerful in the eyes of the world? Even as we hear the events of Pentecost, we might focus on the outward signs and miss the greater work the Spirit was doing. We see the flames of fire. We hear the sound of rushing wind. We listen to the disciples speaking in different languages. All these are special miracles of the Spirit, but he uses them only as outward signs pointing his greater work. The great work of the Spirit that day was the three thousand miracles he worked in individual hearts. Through the Word Peter preached, the Holy Spirit convicted the hearers of their sin and created faith in Jesus and his righteousness. That's how he cleans hearts.
The Spirit did not promise to repeat those outward, miraculous signs from that day. He makes no promise of speaking in tongues, faith-healing, earthly success, health, or wealth -- all things that the world might applaud.
So how do we know the Spirit is at work? What signs do we look for to know that he is busy cleaning hearts? This is what he has promised: Where his true, pure word is preached and taught and where his sacraments are properly used, there he is at work as our Janitor. He is cleaning filthy hearts, your heart and mine. For the word and sacraments are the Spirit's tools. And when he's cleaning our hearts, that also shows in our outward behavior. The fruit we produce in our lives is external evidence of the Spirit's inner work as he cleans our hearts through his Word and Sacraments
As we ponder these words from Psalm 51, words we often use in our liturgy, reflect on this theme: The Holy Spirit cleans your heart. Part one: He cleans your heart to keep bringing the joy of forgiveness to you. Part two: He cleans your heart to sustain a willing spirit within you.
"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10). A murderer wrote those words. Recall the history leading up to Psalm 51. The Lord had made David king of all Israel and firmly established his throne. But David's heart wandered. He committed adultery with Bathsheba, while her husband, Uriah, was away fighting David's wars. She becomes pregnant. To cover up the sin, David invites Uriah back from the front line so that he'd think the child was his own. But after reporting to David, Uriah sleeps at the palace entrance. He doesn't think it right for him to enjoy the comforts of his bed while his fellow Israelites are camped in open fields for battle. How loyal a soldier! (2 Samuel 11:1-13)
David sends him back with sealed orders for Joab, the commander. Joab was to place Uriah in the front line where the fighting was fiercest and then have everyone else withdraw. If Uriah somehow happened to be killed by the enemy, David could then marry Bathsheba and pretend all was fine. But this did not please the Lord. Yet for a year David lived this lie, hardening his heart. (2 Samuel 11:14-27)
This gives us food for thought. Our natural self wants to think: "Yes, David certainly needed his heart cleaned. What a mess of adultery and murder he made of it! I'm glad I'm not that dirty." But what do you think hurt his relationship with God more: His act of adultery and murder or his continual lying to God that he had not done anything that bad? Here's an illustration from the news. Maybe you've heard of Arnold Schwarzenegger's troubled marriage with Maria Shriver. What do you think hurt his relationship with her more: his infidelity over ten years ago or all the lies since then to cover it up?
As soon as we try to justify ourselves and claim that our hearts aren't that dirty, at least not as dirty as some people's, we're following that path of lies and cover-ups before God. Our dirt is much deeper than just this or that bad act, even if that act were murder or adultery. Do you remember how Jesus showed that lust makes us guilty of adultery (Matthew 5:28) and sinful anger makes us accountable before God as murderers (Matthew 5:21-22)? But our filth is even deeper than our thoughts. How filthy the very nature we inherited from our parents! Filthy to the core! David confessed early in the Psalm, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51:5 NIV1984).
Do you see that any sin no matter how small we might imagine it to be is an attack on God's holiness? Do you see that any attempt to downplay our sinfulness, excuse our offenses and failures, or lessen our guilt drives us even farther away from God? Any sin, no matter who it hurts, is first and foremost a sin against God. We certainly deserve any judgment God sends down on us. The punishments he pronounces are truly right. "Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge" (Psalm 51:4 NIV1984), David confesses.
If he had died thinking he had covered up his sin from God, he would have gone to hell forever. That's what we deserve. We deserve to be cast out of the Lord's presence forever. We deserve for the Holy Spirit to be taken from us once and for all. That's what David deserved.
But the Lord sent the prophet Nathan to confront him. See the Spirit do his work through the prophet's words. He told David of a poor man who had a pet lamb, in fact, much more than a pet. "It shared his food, drank from his cup, and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him" (2 Samuel 12:3 NIV1984). But when a guest came to the rich man's house, rather than taking one of his many sheep, he butchered the poor man's lamb.
David's righteous anger flared against this rich man. And the prophet said, "You are man!" (2 Samuel 12:7 NIV1984). The Lord had blessed him with so much, but he took Uriah's wife and murdered him. David's self-righteous arrogance is crushed. "I have sinned against the LORD" (2 Samuel 12:13 NIV1984), he confesses. "The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die" (2 Samuel 12:13 NIV1984), Nathan answers. What joy of forgiveness! The Holy Spirit was busy as David's janitor, cleaning his heart through the prophet's words of forgiveness.
The Holy Spirit washes clean even the sins of murder, adultery, and lying to God. So great is the Lord's mercy and love! No wonder David begins Psalm 51 saying, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin" (Psalm 51:1, 2 NIV1984).
As you rely on the Lord's mercy and call out, "Create in my a clean heart, O God," the Holy Spirit is already at work. He washes you in the blood of God's Son, Jesus Christ. Day after day he cleans your heart to keep bringing you the joy of forgiveness. For the blood of Jesus Christ, God Son, "purifies us from all sin" (1 John 1:7 NIV1984). The Spirit washes you cleaner than any janitor could. In fact, washed in Jesus' blood and clothed with his righteousness you stand before the holy, all-seeing God, and he calls you his saints, his holy people. What great work the Holy Spirit does in your heart! What joy his forgiveness brings! The joy of salvation! "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation" (Psalm 51:10-12).
But David knows that the Spirit's work doesn't stop with forgiveness in the heart. The Spirit cleans our hearts and makes them new so that our character and behavior change. He changes us from the inside out. This is the willing spirit the Holy Spirit works in us and sustains in us. This willing spirit shows itself in our attitude, words, and actions. David prays: "Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me" (Psalm 51:12 NIV1984).
When the Holy Spirit cleans our hearts, why would we want to dirty our lives? Rather we desire to do what our Lord wants. The joy of salvation shines out in willing obedience to our Savior. As the Psalm continues David shows that willing spirit within him. He wants to teach sinners the Lord's ways. He wants to open his mouth to declare God's praises. He wants to offer God not just outward sacrifices but a broken and contrite heart that knows its sin and the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit.
And just as the Holy Spirit uses the Gospel in God's Word and Sacraments to bring you the joy of salvation, so also he uses the same Gospel in Word and Sacraments to sustain the willing spirit within you. With the Gospel he feeds your spirit empowering you to live a godly, righteous life.
So many today imagine that once they know the Gospel of forgiveness, then they need to move on to other things if they are going to clean up their lives. So they try to make themselves better Christians by running after seven rules or twelve steps or a forty day plan. But the vast majority of these leave the Gospel on the sidelines. Rather than focusing on what Jesus has done for us, they focus on what you should do. But that's not where a willing spirit comes from. They may have some helpful advice. They may talk a lot about the Holy Spirit. But when they sideline the Gospel of Jesus and his sacraments, they sideline the Holy Spirit, whether they intend to or not. Just as janitor uses his tools to clean, so the Holy Spirit uses the Gospel in Word and Sacraments to clean not only our hearts but also our lives, sustaining a willing spirit within us.
So dear friends, on this day of Pentecost, stay focused on the great work of the Holy Spirit. What a janitor he is! He cleans your heart. Through the Gospel he brings you the joy of forgiveness, no matter how great your sin. Through the Gospel he sustains a willing spirit within you, so that in your behavior and life you can freely serve your Lord, whose blood has washed you clean.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.