This Lenten series is designed to help us look within—not in an exclusive or self-centered way, however. We look inward so that we can move outward. That is what it means to live inside out. Yes, there is work for us to do as individuals; there is our primary relationship with Christ that needs attention. There is confession and repentance and transformation that can take place in this season of contemplation and examination. But we cannot simply stop there. We can’t just focus on “getting right with God” and ignore how we live in community and the world. Our relationships – from the most intimate to the most public – all are shaped by that primary relationship with God in Christ. So, we look inward so that we can live outward. We examine the state of our souls so that we understand and enhance the state of our relationships in the world. In fact, that is often how we discover that there is something wrong, something broken, something neglected in our relationship with God because we are struggling with our human relationships too.
You know that feeling. That something is just out of place. Something is broken, or out of sync. The funny wheel on the shopping cart. The tiny stone in the shoe. You just limp along feeling out of sorts. And when someone asks you if everything is ok, you don’t even know how to answer. Because nothing is wrong, really. Just not ... right.
Or maybe you do know. Maybe there was a word spoken that you wish you could unspeak. Maybe there was an effort you should have made but didn’t, and now it is too late. Maybe there was a response you should have held in, an event you should have acknowledged, a call you should have made. Maybe your brokenness lies heavy on your heart today.
Whether known or unknown, the feeling of disconnect is very real. What we need is not an explanation, but an antidote. And where better to turn than to worship. At least that is the suggestion of the Psalm for this week.
“Wait a minute,” you are thinking. “How is Psalm 51 about worship? It is about sinfulness and the need for confession.” Yes, and ...? It is about the separation from God and the need to be cleansed. Right, and ...? It is about guilt, heavy burdensome guilt and the need for restoration to joy. Certainly, and ...?
And what? You are getting on my nerves with all this “and?” stuff. Where are we going here? What is the point that is being pointedly pointed at? Or something.
Where do you go for restoration to joy? Where do you go to be purged and made clean? Where do you go for a new heart? Worship, of course. The purpose of worship is to glorify God. And the result of worship that glorifies God is to reconcile the worshiper with the Presence. For reconciliation to take place, cleansing must occur. For cleansing to occur, an open heart must be offered. For an open heart to be offered, a hunger must be acknowledged.
When we come to worship hungry, then something happens: we are transformed, we are healed, we are made clean. We are made right with God, and then it becomes possible to be made right with one another. That is why we worship as a body, so that the effect of our worship can be felt between us as well as within us.
That is what is missing when we are missing from worship. That is the “not right” feeling that we get when we are away from the body. Many have spoken about that lack, that unsettled feeling that they get when they miss worship for whatever reason. Maybe you’ve heard it too, pastor. It is hard to name sometimes, but it is real. The truth is, we can have that feeling even when we are present in worship. Because presence doesn’t always mean engagement. Presence doesn’t always mean coming hungry. We are so filled up by the busyness of this life that we forget how hungry we really are. We forget to seek the face that defines us, that accepts us, that loves us with a love almost beyond description. We think we are self-sufficient, when, in fact, we are anything but. We are needy. We are often empty. We are hungry for that word of acceptance, of unconditional love. We are hungry for meaning and direction and hope.
And our unspoken fear is that the one we seek this from won’t offer it. That we are somehow not worthy. That we are too dirty to be made clean. Too broken to be made whole. Too rotten to be made healthy. And that feeling of disconnect is not just inside us; it is from that source, and we are cast away from all that will make us “right.”
The psalmist feels that too. And yet there is a plea; there is a hope; there is a remembrance of wholeness and joy. So, the psalmist seeks it, even as we seek it. The psalmist worships, even as we worship, that we might be made right again.
Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and put a new and right spirit within me (51:10). That’s our prayer, our theme for worship. Then our lips will open, and our mouths will declare praise. Come and worship, come hungry and worship with joy. Amen.