“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new a new and right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10
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All of us want a second chance in life, don’t we? We fail at something, get angry at ourselves, and wish we could start all over again. We want that second chance in life.
We fail a test in school. We want another chance to take to retake that test.
We scream at our kids for no good reason. We want a second chance to treat them kindly after we calm down.
We drink too much at a party, come home drunk and it results in an argument with our spouse. We wish we had kept our good senses at that party so conflict would not result at home.
All of us want a second chance because our humanity becomes weak and falls into the clutches of sin.
King David wanted a second chance. He sinned with his affair with Bathsheba. To make matters worse, King David had his military commander set up Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, to be killed in battle.
So King David fell prey to breaking two commandments. He broke the Fitfth Commandment, “Thou Shall Not Kill.” He also broke the Seventh Commandment, “Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery” as he acted upon his carnal desires with the beautiful Bathsheba.
When King David came to his senses, he wanted God to give me a second chance. We read King David’s words of confession and repentance in Psalm 51, a psalm we speak from our hearts on Ash Wednesday as we enter the season of Lent with its emphasis on repentance for sin and dependence on God’s grace and mercy.
Aren’t there moments in our lives when we yearned for a second chance? Aren’t there moments we just wish we could do life over again? Aren’t there times in our lives when we wish we had not acted with foolishness, anger, greed, or hate?
In my senior year of high school, a classmate, Janet (not her real name), asked me to go with her to the “backward’s dance” where the girls ask the boys for dates. I had known her since our days when we went to the same Lutheran elementary school.
So after classes one day in our senior year, she said, “Will you go to the backward’s dance with me for old times’ sake?” I was caught off guard. I was surprised. But since she did not run around in the same social circle that I did, I told her “no.”
I was foolish. I was not sensitive or caring. I bet she left school that day feeling hurt and wondering what kind of guy I really was. After I heard that years later she went out West, walked in the mountains and was never found again, I thought back to the time when I turned her down.
I wish I had a second chance and said “yes” to Janet and enjoyed the dance with her. But I was foolish and I sinned.
Or I remember the time just a year later when I was a freshman in college. One afternoon I ask the guy across the hall in our dormitory to go to the gym with me and play some basketball. Well, I knew and so did the guys on the same dormitory hall that Fred (not his real) had a bad heart and had to take it easy when he played sports. But Fred wanted to play basketball that day. We played a game of two on two against guys that looked like athletes on scholarship. We lost to them, but there was a lot more to lose that day.
After the game in which I tried to make sure that Fred did not play too hard, he sat down on the baseball court, slumped over and fell unconscious. In a panic I ran to the gym office and asked the employees to call an ambulance. After he was put into that ambulance, I hurriedly went to the university hospital emergency care waiting room anxiously awaiting news about Fred. When I got the news that my friend died, I was overwhelmed. I was sad. I felt guilty. I felt foolish for even thinking that it was alright to invite him to play basketball.
I wish I had a second chance to turn back the clock a few hours and not have asked him to do something so strenuous that it would hurt his heart and lead to his death. I felt I sinned and was not “my brother’s keeper.”
But let’s look at Psalm 51 to see what King David had to say when he felt guilt, knew he had sinned, and pleaded to God for a second chance.
Verse 1 – King David asked for God’s mercy because God has steadfast love and abundant mercy for humanity. He wanted God to “blot out” his transgressions.
Verses 2 – 7 – King David pleaded with God to wash his sins thoroughly. He recognized that he had sinned not only against Bathsheba, but against God Himself. He admitted that he had turned to evil ways. Using metaphors, King David wanted God to “purge” his sins with hyssop (a wild bush that was used for healing) and to be “washed” by God so he would be “whiter than snow.”
Verse 8 – 9 – King David wanted”joy and gladness” to be restored to his life and for God to “blot out his iniquities.”
Verse 10 – A familiar verse where King David asked God to “create” (make new) a clean heart and a “new and right spirit” within him.
Verses 11 – 17 – Once again King David pleaded to God to restore joy to his life so he could declare God’s praise. He admitted that what God desired was a “broken and contrite heart” when sin takes over one’s life.
King David’s confession is totally dependent upon a loving and merciful God. It is this gracious God who forgives and creates a heart of joy and gladness so that he and all of God’s people could live again and sing God’s praises with a renewed life. It is this kind of God Who gives second chances.
Martin Luther said this about Psalm 51, “A knowledge of this Psalm is necessary and useful in many ways, it contains instruction about the chief parts of religion, about repentance, sin, grace and justification, as well as the worship we ought to render to God.” (Working Preacher, Eric Mathis, Commentary for Ash Wednesday; his notes on Psalm 51 are very helpful.)
So on Ash Wednesday when receive the sign of the cross on our foreheads as a sign of our frailty, humility and dependence on a merciful God for the gift of forgiveness, let us rejoice in the God Who gives us second chances.
I firmly believe with my whole heart that God forgives me each day and raises me up to newness of life and God in Christ promises to do that for you, too.
As we journey to the cross this Lent, may we keep in mind the good news that a gracious God gives us second chances to repent and turn to Him again by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In that promise we can rejoice.
Thanks be to God.