Clean Hands and Pure Heart

Reading: Psalm 24
What are regarded as "correct" standards of behaviour differ from place to place and time to time.

I recall one small country town, for example, where all the shops closed for a funeral. In another, where the cortŤge often passed in front of a school, the local funeral director complained how things had changed. In his youth, you were expected to take off your hat and stand to attention while the cortŤge passed by - if you didnít, a teacher might knock your hat off your head.

It used to be the rule that men and boys stood up in a bus or tram if a woman needed a seat - the feminist movement has tended to change that. In some cultures, you must stand if there is an older person present. A Burmese friend of University days told me that an older man was given the title "U" (meaning "father"), while a person of your own age was "Ky" ("brother").

When King George III attended a performance of Handelís Messiah, he stood for the Hallelujah Chorus, acknowledging that Jesus is "King of kings and Lord of lords" - his King and his Lord. Over many years Christians in the audience have followed his example.

It seems likely that David wrote Psalm 24 at the time when the ark of the covenant - containing the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed - was brought into Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6). The renowned king - whose name became the model of kingship in Israel - acknowledged that the Lord is an infinitely greater King than he could ever be.

The Psalm begins with the recognition that the Lord is the Creator and that therefore everything and everyone belong to him (Ps. 24.1-2). This implies that, contrary to the way we look at things, human ownership is never absolute. Our "ownership" is really stewardship - we will be held to account for the way we have "owned" and used things that, in the final count, are Godís. It also implies that, while faith is our voluntary response to the presence and grace of God, it is the normal and appropriate response to him.

But this is in the context of the real world in which, by thought, word and action, we show ourselves to be sinners - unworthy and incapable of living in Godís presence.

"Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false" (vv. 3-4).

"Clean hands and a pure heart" - right actions flowing from right attitudes and motives. "An idol" - we may not have a physical statue or shrine, but technology has given us innumerable things which we put in the place of God in our lives. "Swear by what is false" - Jesus said we arenít to swear at all. Our word is to be a clear "Yes" and "No" (Mt. 5.34-37). Only God is to have that final superior authority over us.

This sets a standard that rules all of us out - apart from Godís forgiveness and grace. We can only come as those who seek to know him (Ps. 24.6), who receive his blessing and salvation (v. 5).

"Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle" (vv. 7-8).

The Israelites are carrying the ark in triumphant procession into Jerusalem. This is no ordinary procession headed by David their king. The ark represents the very presence and glory of the Lord. Of course, "the earth is the Lordís" and the Lord is already there in Jerusalem before they arrive with the ark - as we need to be reminded if we think to "call down" Godís presence.

The issue is how we respond as the Lord comes to us, offering himself to us. We arenít worthy, yet he comes because he is worthy to take his rightful place as our Lord and Saviour. Too often the "doors" of our lives have been long rusted shut. Yet he calls - and we need to open ourselves to him, to welcome him, to receive his forgiveness and grace and to bear his grace to others.

Prayer: O Lord our God, this is your world and we are your people - except that we spend most of our time claiming and owning it ourselves and acting as if we can just do what we want! Yet you love us and have made us free to choose your love - to receive your forgiveness and grace, to be part of your kingdom and family. You are the King of glory. We arenít worthy to have you come and share our lives, but you are worthy to take your rightful place. Come in, Lord, and welcome! Grant us a new attitude to our "possessions" and to all the people we meet. Help us to reach out with love and grace, in Jesusí name, Amen.

Come, King of Glory!

Gold miners
and settlers -
all came
to stake
a claim
to own
and farm
and mine
whatís "mine".

In every place
we changed
the face
of native beauty
to make room
for ordered life
and home.

"Be fruitful
and multiply!
Fill the earth
and subdue it!"
we were told.

Now fallen
we seek to tear
from God
what is rightly his,
and arrogant
we take
and live
by rules
we make.

Come,
King of glory!
Reclaim
your own!


© Peter J. Blackburn, Burdekin BlueCare Devotions, 8 July 2003.
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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