Ash Wednesday Sermon Text

ash_crossMarch 1, 2017
Ash Wednesday
Psalm 51

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

We see it time and time again; the shame, tears and bemoaning of a prominent figure, facing the press, spouse alongside, as he makes confession for the wrongs he has done. Through it all, comments are made: “I knew he was crooked, that’s why I didn’t vote for him.” “He is only sorry because he got caught.” Though she has done nothing wrong, even his wife cannot escape the scrutiny. “I can’t believe she is standing by him after all this.” “She had to have known.”

Harsh words, shameful displays, ugliness of self-righteousness judgment; these are all byproducts of sin. They become exposed when one must face his or her shortcoming. They entrap even the mighty when exposed to the light of truth. But even in all of these, one thing should become evident, one truth that is all too often overlooked, or at best simply glossed over. The one standing in the spotlight; the one facing the judge and jury of public opinion, shrouded in his shame and guilt; this sinner faces a moment of great consequence.

They know they have sinned. They know they have fallen short. They know they have hurt others. They know they have hurt themselves. It seems as though it takes a crisis before we imperfect humans are willing to take a good hard look at our sin, to acknowledge our disobedience to God is real and definitive terms. It seems that it takes our losing that which is precious to us, losing the love of those whom we hold dear, before we are willing to even consider the notion that our desires do not match God’s desires. But as we consider our sin. As we consider the times we have failed to love God and one another, we have to come to the realization that, on our own we cannot reconcile that which is broken. We cannot redeem that which is lost.

Holy Scripture teaches us that the wages of our sin is death. When we take a serious look at our sin, we have to acknowledge the reality of death. That is what the season of Lent is all about. We have to acknowledge the chasm that stands between God and humanity. Because of our sin, therefore, crying out to God for mercy is the same as asking God to raise the dead. And so we make our journey to the cross of Christ, that we may at last behold, one day, the empty tomb.

Psalm 51 is David’s cry for mercy. His greatest sins, the taking of Uriah’s wife Bathsheba into his bed, his plot to have Uriah killed on the battlefield lest his sin become known…all of these come to bear as the prophet Nathan exposes David’s sin to the light of God’s truth and judgment.
Why does it take a crisis before we are willing to seriously consider our sinfulness? Why does someone have to get hurt before we are brought to our knees in confession?

David writes: “Have mercy on me.” “Wash me through and through.” “Indeed, I have been wicked.” “Purge me from my sin.” This is the cry of a sinful man, a king who has fallen from grace, a man who has grieved the heart of God.

Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence.
Take not your Spirit from me.

We sing these words of King David’s psalm most often as an offertory on Sunday. How often, as we sing them do we pay attention to what we sing? Do we hear David begging for mercy? Do we get a sense of his remorse? Do we understand the longing of one who has grieved God’s heart, the longing to be brought back into the joy and peace of the love of God? After all, as we look closely at our sin, as we consider our disobedience, we find ourselves in the same predicament as David. We are sinners in need of God’s redeeming grace.

Each year, on Ash Wednesday, Christians gather in worship to begin the Lenten journey toward God’s mercy and grace. Each year we gather, confess our sins, hear words of absolution, and receive the ashes of our mortality as a sign of our repentant hearts. Yet, taking a serious look at our sin, taking into account how we grieve God’s heart, understanding how we treat one another, a question looms. “Does it make a difference?”

Does it make a difference in our lives that we face our sin head on one day a year? Does it make a difference that we hear the confession of King David, his passionate plea before the God he loves, his plea for mercy, David’s begging for his life? David cries out to God, “Open my lips, O Lord!” He begs God to open his lips and to fill his mouth with the truth of God’s saving grace. David knows that if he dares to open his lips on his own, evil words, selfish words, words of deceit, words of contempt, such are the words that will be spoken.

O Lord, open our lips! Remove the words of hatred. Erase the words of idle gossip, false judgment, self-righteousness. Take these words away from us and fill us with the Word of your Christ. Open our lips, O God, and our mouths shall proclaim your praise!

People of God, as we come before our Lord and God, we do so as sinners who have wandered from God’s desires for us. We come before our God as disobedient children, having fought with one another, lied to one another, having born false witness against one another. Yet, we also come before God as sinners washed in the blood of Christ. Through Christ, we come as beloved children of our heavenly Father. By the power of the Holy Spirit given in Baptism, we come as sanctified people, made holy, justified through faith.

All too often it takes a crisis before we are willing to address our sinfulness before God. Yet, he already knows. God knows, and yet he gathers us in his house. God knows and he hears our confession. God knows, and through his only begotten Son Jesus Christ, he forgives us and makes us whole. The promise of God is sure. Those who believe in Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior will be forgiven. And so joyfully we give God thanks and praise, singing the song of David.

Create in us clean hearts O God, and renew a right spirit in us.
Cast us not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from us.
Give us the joy of your saving help again, and sustain us
with your bountiful Spirit. Amen.

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