We’re cleaning today. Well, I was, now I’m sitting here writing this. I got permission from the list-maker, just so you know. And I’ll be back at it soon. But for now, here I am. We’ve got lots to do. The house has to be ready. We have a potential showing tomorrow. And if that doesn’t result in an instant sale (please let it be so!) then the photographer comes on Wednesday and we list the house and have an open house next weekend and then do whatever needs to be done until it is sold.
It was easier when we had a parsonage. Oh, we still had to clean. We did our best to make it look new for the next pastor and family who would come after us. But we didn’t have all the showing and keeping it clean in between time, pretending that no one really lived here. That’s the standard, it seems to me. To make it looked inhabited, but not lived in. Nothing out of place, nothing actually used, just looking like it could be.
It’s a high standard. Almost unattainable. I’d be more worried about it if I hadn’t gone look at a few houses when I was in Nashville. Some of them were super clean, some were ... lived in clean. Maybe we worry too much about it. Maybe most folks understand what living in a house is like. Maybe clean enough is clean enough.
But then, we want to make a good impression, we want someone to imagine living here enough to want the house themselves. Imagine themselves in this space. With their clutter and not ours. So, we have to move stuff out of the way, so they have space to imagine.
And maybe that’s why God is so concerned about cleanliness. At least the Psalmist thinks that God is concerned about cleanliness. There’s that line in the twenty-fourth psalm, that says you can’t get close to God with dirty hands. You can’t find your place on that hill, in that holy place if your heart is smudged and your hands aren’t washed. “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.” Psalm 24:3-4
I know that there is more of concern than a little dirt on one’s hands in that reference. But still, the cleanliness of the hand seems important enough to add to the list, next to heart and mouth. Be clean. But then, cleanliness doesn’t guarantee that all will be well. In Psalm 73, the psalmist says I was clean, I had good cleaning habits, but still I stumbled. Still I struggled. Cleanliness in and of itself didn’t save him. His hands were clean, but his heart was full of himself, of pride, of arrogance. And he felt it when he came face to face with God. He realized he was relying on his own cleanliness, his own ability to make himself worthy, rather than on the love and grace of God. It was when he recognized his neediness, his own helplessness, that he came closer to the kind of cleanliness that God requires. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:25-26
But the best known call to cleanliness comes from Psalm 51. Behind that psalm is dirtiness almost beyond description. The story of David and Bathsheba and Uriah and Nathan the prophet is too messy to recount in this space, but it includes breaking of covenants and abuse of power and a sentence of death for an innocent, two innocents to be accurate. Not to mention all the others within whom innocence died so utterly. Could anyone ever be clean again after such a series of events? It seems unlikely. And yet that is the prayer of Psalm 51. “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”
Psalm 51:1-17 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. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. 14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. 17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Is it possible to be clean again? We don’t think so, do we? We might scrub and scrub, we might humble ourselves as much as we possibly can, we might try to fix what we have so irreparably broken; but deep inside we know it is a lost cause, a waste of time and energy. We can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube. We can’t mend the hearts that we have broken, the covenants we have smashed. We just can’t. It is simply beyond us. We are no more capable of making ourselves clean than we are of flapping our arms and flying to the moon.
Which is why Psalm 51 is a petition, a plea for help. “Wash me,” says David. Only then, he knows, will he be clean. He can scrub all day long, but there will still be stains, there will still be fault. So, he asks for help. He asks for the cleansing that can only come from the One who made us in the first place, the One who holds our true image in the grace of memory and hope. The only One who can restore us to that image. Wash me, and then I will be clean. Purge me, blot out my stains, restore me.
And then, he says, then I’ll share it. Then I’ll show it. I’ll be a showplace of cleanness, I’ll be an example of what cleanliness is all about. Then I’ll have an open house of the chambers of my heart and all will walk through and see what it is to be clean. To live within and still be clean. Because the Cleaner is at work within me. Wash me and I’ll sing your praises, says the psalmist.
Maybe those who walk through our house in the days to come will sing praises. Maybe. Maybe they’ll say this is where we want to live. And will sign a contract. And we’ll be done. Maybe. Sigh. But until then, I need to get a bucket of hyssop and get back to work. The baseboards are saying “wash me and then I’ll be clean.”