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The Gospel According to A Bar of Soap and Unwanted Gifts

Written by Rev. Rebecca Reeder, Associate Pastor, Sewickley Presbyterian Church

Psalm 51 (NLT)

1 Have mercy on me, O God,

because of your unfailing love.

Because of your great compassion,

blot out the stain of my sins.

2 Wash me clean from my guilt.

Purify me from my sin.

3 For I recognize my rebellion;

it haunts me day and night.

4 Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;

I have done what is evil in your sight.

You will be proved right in what you say,

and your judgment against me is just.

5 For I was born a sinner—

yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.

6 But you desire honesty from the womb,

teaching me wisdom even there.

7 Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;

wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

8 Oh, give me back my joy again;

you have broken me—

now let me rejoice.

9 Don’t keep looking at my sins.

Remove the stain of my guilt.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.

Renew a loyal spirit within me.

11 Do not banish me from your presence,

and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and make me willing to obey you.

13 Then I will teach your ways to rebels,

and they will return to you.

14 Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves;

then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.

15 Unseal my lips, O Lord,

that my mouth may praise you.

16 You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.

You do not want a burnt offering.

17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.

You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

18 Look with favor on Zion and help her;

rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then you will be pleased with sacrifices offered in the right spirit—

with burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings.

Then bulls will again be sacrificed on your altar.

“. . . blot out . . . wash . . . clean . . . purify . . . purify . . . clean . . . wash . . . whiter than snow . . . Remove the stain . . . create . . . clean . . . Renew . . . Restore . . . Rebuild . . .”

These are the words that stand out to me in this morning psalm They make me think of the frequent battles to remove stains from my clothes and the seeming inevitability of spilling coffee on myself if I choose to wear white. I recall my 9th grade chemistry science fair experiment testing different commercial and homemade stain removers on red wine stains. I was convinced that OxiClean could not possibly be as effective as the energetic Billy Mays made it out to be in the commercials. (I was wrong by the way – OxiClean was the most effective stain remover and I’ve been using it ever since…)

These words also remind me of a game I used to play with friends in youth group. One person would name an object and then someone else had to find some way of relating that object to the Bible, Gospel, or Christianity as a whole. I know – we were really nerdy! On one occasion I was tasked with finding the theological significance of a bar of soap. I proceeded to say it’s like our efforts to rid ourselves of all the sin, or dirt, in our lives. But soap cannot remove all the dirt permanently; inevitably we get dirty again and have to keep coming back to that bar of soap.

Similarly, we often try ferociously to rid our lives of sin – of the bad choices and harsh words and hurt we cause ourselves and others. We rub and scrub and seem to get clean for a time, only to discover we’re dirty again after another hard day in a fallen world. Like the bar of soap, our efforts to clean ourselves will never be able to purify us forever. The best self-help stain removers cannot make us whiter than snow any more than OxiClean can fully remove deep crimson stains from a white t-shirt – there will always be a faint remnant.

Thankfully, that which is impossible for us to do on our own is more than possible for God (Luke 18:27). In fact, it is already complete in Jesus Christ. Scripture assures us of this. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). All we need to do is acknowledge our need and receive the cleansing, purifying embrace of Jesus, our Savior.

Have you ever received a gift you didn’t ask for, didn’t really want or need? That Christmas gift from the relative that insists on giving you trinkets or chocolates or themed gifts without any purpose every year? Or a gift they assume you can use – like a paperweight – but for which you have no real need? You appreciate the gesture and sentiment, but inevitably the gift finds its way to a shelf out of sight, collecting dust, or in a box to donate to Goodwill (or Day on the Lawn!). But when you know what you want, what you truly need, and ask for that thing, the joy in receiving that gift is so much more than the unwanted paperweight.

I think of God’s forgiveness like that; it’s a gift God wants to give, is ready to give, has in fact already assured us we will receive. We simply need to ask. If God gave this gift to us when we didn’t want it, or didn’t know we needed it, the gift would be like the unwanted paperweight on that dusty shelf, never used to its full potential.

When we confess that we need forgiveness, when we want to be clean, and when we ask for that, God is overjoyed to give it to us. God wants to renew, restore, and rebuild us – is in fact already in the process of doing so for the whole world. All we need to do is confess, ask, and

then receive God’s forgiveness – the bar of soap that washes away every stain, makes us whiter than snow, purified forevermore.

“. . . blot out . . . wash . . . clean . . . purify . . . purify . . . clean . . . wash . . . whiter than snow . . . Remove the stain . . . create . . . clean . . . Renew . . . Restore . . . Rebuild . . .”

This is my prayer.

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