Ash Wednesday – March 6, 2019

March 6, 2019  

Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
(Psalm 51: 1,2)

This is our prayer.
Have mercy, God. Wash me. Cleanse me.
Our prayer is personal, more personal than any prayer we might pray.
God, have mercy. Wash me. Cleanse me.
We are asking God for mercy. We are asking God to wash us, thoroughly, to cleanse us from our sin.
This is our prayer.

We alone know our sins. There may be sins we have committed, each of us personally, that it seems the whole world knows and names. They shame us, we think.
Some of our sins may be known more by others than others. Some of our sins are unknown, even to us.
We each carry the shame of our sins—those most private, those most public, those that most haunt us.
We sin.

In verse 5 of Psalm 51 the psalmist writes: Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” Tradition calls this belief “original sin.” Original sin is the understanding that, as humans, we are born with the desire to turn away from God rather than turning toward. Tradition tells us this desire is inevitable.
Have you ever had one of those moments when you remember something you have done, something you wish you had never done, something you feel ashamed of? All of a sudden your memory pops into your head unexpectedly, making you wince?
We all have those memories.
We all have those regrets.
Those are the times we are called to pray, again and again: God have mercy. Wash me. Cleanse me.

A scholar named A. Whitney Brown once said “Any good history book is mainly just a long list of mistakes, complete with names and dates. It’s very embarrassing” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 4, p. 887-888). The bibles is not much different.

When I taught Intro to World Religions one section of the class was on Judaism. Each semester, during that section, I drew a timeline on the board illustrating the history of God’s relationship with the Israelites. It is a history fraught with brokenness and repair. God tried to work through Isaiah. God tried to work through Moses. God gave the Israelites the ten commandments to govern their behavior. God gave the Israelites kings to rule them and prophets to teach them. Nothing ever seemed to work. With every attempt to make relationships right, there was a consequent failure.
And so the Hebrew people long for the Messiah.

We, as Christians, believe the Messiah has come. The Israelites history of failure is our own. And yet—we believe the Messiah has come ending our failure in relationship with God. Yet, what have we done? What is our New Testament and New Times history?

According to the Gospel of Mark, the disciples failed to understand who Jesus truly was.
According to the letters of Paul, early congregations struggled with disorder and gossip. They were conflicted. They were chastised and offered guidance back into right relationship.
The early Church experienced holy wars, the crusades, the great schism dividing the Church into East and West…
Churches now argue about doctrine and inclusion, theology and practice.
And so we pray, generation after generation: God have mercy. Wash us. Cleanse us.

Today we make public confession of our sins.
Today, our confession is heard by equally public words of forgiveness and love.
Our sins ARE forgiven.
We HAVE been shown mercy.
We HAVE been washed and cleansed; we are free from our sins.

Knowing and believing we have been forgiven our sins, we are called to

  1. Forgive those who sin against us;
  2. Open our clean hearts that God’s love might shine brightly for the world to see.

Amen and Amen.