Clean Hearts

Psalm 51:1-10

Exodus 32:7-14

1 Timothy 1:12-17

Luke 15:1-10

Steve Hammer

Ben Weaver owned the only department store in Mayberry. He also owned a lot of property. He was probably the wealthiest man in town due in no small measure to his miserly nature and grumpy demeanor. When Sam Muggins was caught making moonshine, Weaver insisted that Sheriff Andy Taylor keep him in jail even though it was Christmas Eve. When Lester Scobey fell behind in his rent, Weaver insisted that Andy execute an eviction order even though Lester’s wife was about to give birth.

Reflecting on these and other encounters with Mayberry’s grumpy old man, Andy commented, “When his time comes, he ain’t gonna go like the rest of us; he’s just going to nasty away.”

It is not clear which Psalms were actually composed by David, but Psalm 51 would be an appropriate candidate. Remembered as Israel’s great king, David was anything but flawless. The most obvious stain on his record was his liaison with Bathsheba, and then the misuse of his power to get her husband home from the war and then sent to the front where he was killed. David effectively murdered Uriah to cover-up his affair.

I’m not sure why our lectionary cuts the Psalm off at verse ten, but chances are pretty good you know the rest: “Create in me a clean heart, O God and put a new and right heart within me, cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your free Spirit.”

If anyone ever needed a do-over it was David. In that sense, Psalm 51 is more of a prayer than a song-a plea for something new to replace the fractured old.

Our theme for the next few weeks comes from Psalm 96: “Sing a new song unto the Lord.” As I prepare to compose new verse in my song, I hope you will embrace the opportunity of this time to add some verses to Esperanza’s song. It has been a good one, and the next verses are rich with possibility and promise.

It was a song that helped to clean Ben Weaver’s heart. Andy brought his family down to the jail to share Christmas with Sam Muggins and his family. Walking down the street by himself, Ben heard music coming from the courthouse that reminded him of the lonely price he had paid for being the person he had been. He was invited in, given some eggnog and invited to join in the singing.

Andy Griffith is best remembered for his role as Andy Taylor and commented that the sheriff was the best part of him, but not the only part. His portrayal of the very dark Lonesome Rhodes in “A Face in the Crowd” is a study of an unclean heart. Here is a quote from the man who brought those very contrasting characters to life:

“I firmly believe that in every situation, no matter how difficult, God extends grace greater than the hardship, and strength and peace of mind that can lead us to a place higher than where we were before.”

 

Storing Up Treasure – Luke 12:13-21

I have been making preparations to retire this fall and one of the required steps was filling out a lot of paperwork regarding the pension plan that I have been a part of for over 37 years. So it was just a little ironic earlier this week when after finishing up the paperwork I took a look at the gospel – specifically Jesus’ warning to those who “store up treasures for themselves.” Gulp.

The setting of the story is a man in the crowd who asks Jesus to arbitrate a dispute he has, presumably with his older brother. Luke does not give us specifics but in general when a man died, his estate was divided among male heirs but the eldest son was given two shares. It is worth noting that in the first century, nine out of ten people had a subsistence living. Even without knowing the details, it is safe to assume that the man was complaining about not getting his fair share.

Luke also does not tell us anything about what the man’s single share of the estate is, and maybe it doesn’t matter, but the fact that there even was an estate to divide put the man ahead of most. Thus, Jesus declares, “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” and then tells a story about a rich landowner.

The first and tenth commandments form a set of bookends for the other eight. “You shall have not other gods,” and, “You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Isn’t all the other stuff just a question of breaking one or the other of those two? And if you can accomplish either the first or the tenth, have you not also accomplished the other? I ask those questions in full awareness of my own inability to consistently keep either one.

When I was young, my grandparents had a small cottage across the lake from industrialist Eli Lily. He began working in his grandfather’s pharmaceutical company while still a schoolboy and eventually became one of the richest men in the world. He was also a lifelong Episcopalian, and with his father and brother created the Lily Endowment, the largest philanthropic foundation in the world. In addition to the gifts given through the endowment, after his death it was discovered that Lily had given millions of dollars anonymously.

So what about my pension? Am I storing up treasures for myself? Honestly, the answer is “yes.” But look at the full sentence: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” Those three words make all the difference.

Here are the “Seven Social Sins” from a sermon by Anglican priest Frederick Lewis Donaldson at Westminster Abbey in 1925:

“Wealth without work.
Pleasure without conscience.
Knowledge without character.
Commerce without morality.
Science without humanity.
Worship without sacrifice.
Politics without principle.”