When I preached three weeks ago I shared with you my hope for my own discipline this Lenten season. I described my feelings as my own cross to bear. For those of you who were not present a few Sundays ago I said with all sincerity that if I could give up anything for Lent it would be& me. All of me. I desperately mean this, still, because as I said, then, I get so tired of myself. My wish then was to hire a family practice attorney to help me file for legal separation from myself.
Well, I have had three weeks to give myself to God, to let go of this world and its trappings. I have failed miserably. In my last sermon I made a list of all the stuff that you and I should hand off to Jesus: our bad moods, angst, anger, worries, judgments, insecurities, weaknesses, fear, and lies. The plan was to place all of it in a bag and throw it over Jesus shoulder and let him carry around our dirty laundry for 40 days. I must confess that I left something very important off that list: covetousness.
Let me explain. Recently, it has become clear that we Corsellos have too many babies per square foot. All the things that were once quirky and charming about our century-old house in Church Hill now annoy us. So we’ve been looking at the real estate listings. Last weekend we toured a spectacular, contemporary glass cube home perched on the banks of the James River. An architect built the place for himself, and I have to say it is definitely a work of art. Andrew was just as bowled over by it as I was.
Problem is, Andrew is far more practical than I am. He didn t get emotionally carried away. He was quite irritating, actually. The way he kept calmly pointing out that the house has no more space than our current house. And that space was the reason we were looking in the first place.
While conceding bitterly that, yes, the Cube had one less room than our current home, I argued passionately that it more than satisfied my storage and kitchen requirements. Andrew nodded and in a diplomatic tone said that yes, perhaps we could store Casper in the kitchen cabinets. I brushed this suggestion aside and told him I was ready to put in an offer then and there. Andrew kept putting up roadblocks, kept citing “the needs of our family.”
But I had become a woman obsessed. That night, I lay in bed mentally arranging furniture, reworking the space in the bedrooms, making it all work. I went to bed thinking about the house and I woke up thinking about the house. Andrew told me on Tuesday to let it go; it was not going to happen. I was heartsick. My sinful nature took hold of me. I should have been in prayer, asking God to release me from my covetousness. Actually, I was in prayer I was praying that Andrew would see the light. I even had Gina Young in the church office praying a novena that somehow The Cube could become ours. How sick is that? Throughout the week, at home and at work, during the hours I should have been writing this sermon, I kept returning, like some kind of real estate junkie, to the Internet in order to take a virtual tour of the House that Would Be Mine.
And it only got worse. When the realtor called on Thursday to say that someone else had put a contract on the Cube, I felt physically ill. I wanted to cry. Andrew, instead if being villainous, said he was truly disappointed for me, and for us. This only made it worse.
It s a sickness with me. I saw the house as a missed opportunity, something that would never come my way again. Did you notice how I said “my” way? The priest in me was ashamed of my obsession. The person in me did not wake up until Thursday to begin pleading with Christ to remove this cross from her.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
The words from our Psalm this morning have been my mantra since then. I have said them over and over and over. If I had to choose a single verse of scripture from the entire Bible as a mantra for daily life and for these final two weeks of Lent and especially through a new Eastertide season, it would be this:
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Psalm 51 in its entirety holds one of the most profound analyses of sin and renewal to be found in the Bible; it opens before us “the double mystery of sin consciousness and of reconciliation with God” (Terrien 171). Beginning at verse 4, “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight& You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.”
At once the psalmist grasps the hopelessness of the human situation and the true nature of sin which is separation from God. As the psalmist goes on to implore, Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
I am going to name my sin: I blurred the line between my will and God s will. With my covetousness, I separated myself from God, from all that is godly, and all the God wants me to be. Which is: with Him. Woe be to those who cannot tell God s will from their own! Just two Sunday s ago we read how Jesus cleared the temple of money changers and merchants. His message was bold: Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father s house a marketplace! And then the scripture says that his disciples remembered that it was written, Zeal for your house will consume me (John 2:16-18). You see, my zeal was for my temple, the temple I would possess not the temple in which I would allow Christ to dwell. The temple God wants to be master of is the human soul, which God created and fashioned in his image. This is why Jesus wants the temple to be pure, so pure that nothing should dwell there except himself.
Ralph Waldo Emerson had some sharp and startling words about covetousness, and about how those who pray for what they covet as I did separate themselves from God and turn his temple into a marketplace. I quote:
Prayer that craves a particular commodity& is vicious. Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul& But prayer as a means to effect a private end is meanness and theft. It supposes dualism and not unity in nature and consciousness. As soon as the man is at one with God, he will not beg.
I want to try to get at this theology of begging, of losing something that could have been and the heartache it causes. Maybe you are as silly as I am and the thing your soul begs for is a house or a car, or a piece of jewelry that you’ve convinced yourself you can’t live without. It may be that you landed your dream job in another city but are unable to uproot your family. The thing your soul begs for may not be a thing at all; it may be the loss of love of another person that you had to let go because you knew in your heart that that person was not your life mate. It may be the grief you experience over losing your children to college or marriage, or a spouse to divorce. How do we let go of something or someone we want so badly, whether or not that something or someone is right for us? What is the line between covetousness and wanting what is rightfully ours?
If you are thinking about the spiritual dimensions of your life this Lent and you want your life to be as whole and pure and caring as it can be, remember the words of the psalmist: Cast me not away from your presence and take not your holy Spirit from me. Give me the joy of your saving help again and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit. What is meaningful to me about this scripture is that God’s forgiveness is on-going. We do not have just one chance to get the rust and decay out of our hearts but we have God s saving help again and again and again. With God’s help, you really can create in yourself a clean heart. You really can renew a right spirit within yourself. You just have to be willing to rid it of the stuff that causes pain so that you have more room in your heart for God. It may not happen immediately. It may not happen for months. But it will happen.
That’s what I’m hoping for myself. I want to be patient. I want to stop begging and start praying; I want to sit quietly, wait and listen for that still small voice and then let God’s will pour into my soul. I want to live with evenness and balance. I want to want what I need and not need what I want. I want to feel every day that God and I are in control of my life. I want to be deliberately grateful each day for the tender mercies in my life, and for the blessing of the roof over my head that protects me and my family.
A clean heart and a right spirit! As we enter Holy Week, let us remember what the Apostle Paul wrote: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away [and] everything has become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).