“Did you wash your hands?”
We all grew up hearing this question, whether it was our first few times using the restroom without parental supervision or before gathering around the dinner table after hours of playing with germ-covered toys and dirt—not to mention every five minutes during flu season!
It’s important to have clean hands.
Psalm 24 has something to say about clean hands and pure hearts. Oh, and according to Psalm 24 it’s also important that we don’t worship false gods or make false claims. That’s quite the list. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? Certainly not me. Gosh, maybe I shouldn’t come to the dinner table. Maybe none of us should.
There is a chaos that invades our world. This chaos also invades our countries, states, cities, communities, churches, families, hearts. This chaos has a name but takes many forms. Sometimes it looks like tension between nations and wars broken out. Other times it looks like that kid who doesn’t seem to have any friends being bullied into doing something he doesn’t want to do. It looks like parents getting divorced, children being abused, women being tossed around as objects for human trafficking, punches being thrown in a bar, depression, suicide, spiritual apathy. It has many faces and doesn’t give warning upon arrival. Do you know what it is?
Sin. Brokenness. Pain.
Our hands are dirty.
And, yet, we have been invited by the God of hospitality to participate in worship that is integrated, ethical, and right.
Our psalm this week is a three-part hymn; it is a collection of three very different pieces that somehow fit together as a unified whole. The first stanza tells us of God the Creator who established order out of chaos and to whom all of creation belongs. Second, an inquisition. On the one hand it is an inquisition of the reader and on another, of the God worthy to be praised in the holy place. This leads us marching into the last stanza. A liturgy of procession concludes the psalm, highlighting the kingship of God, who demands and desires entrance into the temple of Jerusalem.
The Psalm’s setting is most likely the temple in Jerusalem, with the people of God singing this hymn as they prepare to worship. It is much like Psalm 15, where we read a similar inquisition as in Psalm 24: “O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?”
Much was expected of the people of Israel in order for them to enter the temple: blamelessness, righteousness, honesty, good character, not seeking revenge, honor, generosity, and more. If that list from Psalm 15 isn’t convicting enough to swallow, our Psalm this week puts the nail in the coffin: clean hands, pure hearts, singleness of heart and mind, and honesty.
Wow. I surely don’t make the cut. I venture it’s safe to say none of us do.
So where is it we belong? Surely, we can’t go to church on Sunday morning because God is there, the One worthy to be praised but only by those worthy (according to that long—though certainly not exhaustive—list).
And yet here we are. It’s 2018 and floods of people enter the doors of local churches everywhere every week. How?
As a pastor, I enter the doors each week—usually a couple hours early because of praise team practice or to prepare to preach—with brokenness of my own on my shoulders. Some weeks, I am weary because depression has been heavier than joy as of recent, or maybe I poured myself out and didn’t do what I needed to be filled again. Maybe you who are reading can say the same of your own life. It is for this reason, however, that I am awestruck week after week by the diversity of the people who enter the sanctuary who bring with them their own burdens of sin and brokenness. Sometimes it’s obvious and it can be seen all over their faces and body language. Others come in beaming, perhaps because they aren’t struggling or perhaps because they don’t want to expose their brokenness. Whatever the case may be, each person comes with brokenness, whether presently or distantly. And we all enter to worship together, broken.
But God, who is Creator, while at the same time being the King of glory and Holiest of Holies, mighty and strong, who founded a dwelling place out of literal chaos so that we could live, has given the invitation to enter and celebrate, to praise and lament, to lay ourselves out to be made right again. Week after week we are invited.
So, I want to offer a paraphrase of the great entrance liturgy that concludes our psalm:
Lift up your heads, O people of God!
and be lifted up, O hardened hearts!
that the King of glory may come in.
The beauty of Psalm 24 is not that it not that draws the reader into a disposition of introspection, though it does, but that it dives beyond shallow self-reflection, reaching toward the depths of the One that invites all to the table.
May we allow ourselves, upon entering the doors of our local churches each week, to be opened up as dwelling places for God, the Creator and King of Glory, to come in.
The honest truth about the church today is we enter with brokenness on our shoulders, often hidden from our neighbor, for fear we might be exposed. We enter with dirty hands, impure hearts, and distracted minds. And yet, we have been invited to the celebration of the people of God, the togetherness of the body of Christ, who died for those with dirty hands and feet and even washed them for us so that we could have a seat at the table. That is how we can enter the doors of the church each week. We serve a hospitable God. So, though you may not have clean hands this week, and though your heart might be impure or mind distracted, you have been invited. We have been invited.