Weekly Bible Devotional
“The World Ahead: Alignment”
August 8, 2021
Scripture for Sunday: Psalm 51:1-12
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6 You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Notes on the Text:
One of the great gifts of our faith is the book of Psalms. It is filled with prayers that express our human struggles and joys in faith and life. This week’s scripture is from Psalm 51. This psalm is a humble prayer of return after losing one’s way. It is about renewal and repentance.
Psalm 51 was most likely used by the people of Israel after their return from their Exile in Babylon. After they were taken over by the Babylonians and had to leave their homes, they returned to their homeland around the year 536 BCE. They were still carrying a lot of the pain of their experience in Exile. This psalm speaks of rebuilding Jerusalem (v. 18), so we know that it was written during, or shortly after, the Exile. The people knew that they had a second chance, but they needed to let go of the pain and brokenness they were carrying. They could not come before God to worship and experience renewal until they were able to release whatever was holding them back.
The focal point of this psalm is not the sin of the psalm writer, but the goodness of God. Thus, repentance for the Israelites was about a change in the way they were moving forward. Instead of moving forward with heavy burdens of pain, repentance offered them a way to release their pain and to realign their lives with God. They knew that their chance for success as a country was not going to come only from fixing the wall of their city. It had to come from deep within them. A new heart and a new commitment to God’s love were at the center of their transformation.
The image of hyssop is invoked in this psalm to emphasize the importance of God’s commitment to the people of Israel and God’s love for them. Hyssop is mentioned several times in the Bible in association with God’s covenant with the people of Israel. The use of a bunch of hyssop as a brush daubing the lintels of the Hebrew homes with blood from the sacrificed lamb at the first Passover (Exodus 12:22) seems to have established the tradition for most other references.
Here are some Bible references for you, “This shall be the law of the leper on the day of his cleansing… The priest shall command for him…cedar wood…and…hyssop.” (Lev. 14:2-4) “For when every commandment had been told to all the people by Moses in accordance with the law, he took the blood of the calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the scroll itself and the people.” Heb. 9:19 “A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.” John 19:29
Hyssop is a reminder that the focus is on the covenant. It is not on our actions. The covenant is something that God established with the people out of love. A covenant, in contrast to a contract, is a one-way agreement whereby the covenanter is the only party bound by the promise. Israel broke many covenants with God, but God never broke any covenants with them. The mention of hyssop reminds us that repentance is not about feeling guilty. It is about opening to God’s renewing and healing presence.
Our experience through the pandemic has been life changing on many levels. All of us have experienced massive trauma. In order for us to find a healthy path forward, to find our way into the future, the ancient practice of repentance can help us find alignment with God’s vision for our lives. Unfortunately, repentance has a bad reputation in many contexts. It has often been reduced to a sense of deep guilt that we lug around. Guilt is often associated with repentance. Yet guilt does not always translate into changed behavior. One of the best ways to think of repentance is from Thomas Keating who said that “repentance is changing the direction in which you look for happiness.” When we get stuck searching for happiness in things that do not nurture our souls, we lose our way. That is when changing our direction with the help of God is needed.
Repentance is about naming our pain and holding it in God’s grace. It can help us realign our lives. Instead of living out of our narratives of fear, we can find a way forward that is grace based.
This week, we are invited to move forward into our world through alignment with the kingdom of God to help us live fully and authentically. Alignment is about flowing with one’s divine spark and purpose. When we forget about God’s grace or get out of alignment, the invitation is to return to our sense of wholeness. This process is often referred to as a conversion experience or a repentance experience. Conversion happens to us despite our resistance. Repentance is something we do on a regular basis to stay open and aligned.
Renewal and healing are gifts to us from God. Our work is to receive them. Repentance is about that work of opening ourselves to God, releasing our pain, and receiving God’s gifts of healing and grace. We truly don’t know what the world will look like in the future, but repentance offers us the grace when we stumble.
Prayer by Gerald May:
O God, help us to feel you;
Help us to know how precious we are to you,
that we might become at least half so precious to ourselves.
Move with us, according to your desire.
Ease our hearts, melt our harsh edges
so that we might sense how intimate you truly are.
Guide us, God in an ever more complete embrace of you,
that we might bear more of your endless embrace of us,
and thereby embrace ourselves.
Keep alive within us, O Christ, your most precious gift to us
which is our burning, longing, wordless yearning for you.
Grant to us the courage and the vulnerability and the dignity
to claim our hunger for you in every moment,
celebrating, in each instant the pain and delight of our longing.
Touch us beneath our will, opening us where we cannot open ourselves,
healing us where we cannot heal ourselves.
And, in the vibrant mystery of your Spirit within us,
accept our eternal gratitude for every act of goodness
that comes to us from another or through us for another,
for every nourishing way that souls may touch each other,
for every bit of love we share, and for the wonder,
the tender laughing touching calling beautiful wonder.