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Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your mercy.
According to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are just when You speak, and blameless when You judge. Behold, I was born in iniquity and in sin when my mother conceived me. Surely You desire truth in the inner being. Make me know wisdom inwardly. Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness, so the bones You crushed may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence--take not Your Ruach ha-Kodesh from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then will I teach transgressors Your ways and sinners will return to You. Deliver me from bloodguilt, O God--God of my salvation. Then my tongue will sing for joy of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.
You think I need a whole day to remind me I am a sinner? UGH!
Once a year we gather on Ash Wednesday to reflect on our sin as we begin Lent. Not a very appealing invitation or marketing slogan to get people to come to a service, I know. As the season of Lent begins, and we enter a 40 days of self reflection and sin-evaluation, we take this day to remind ourselves of something that most of us already know... we are sinners. We do things, or take on behaviors, that deny the presence of Ruach/Breath/Spirit in our lives.
As an aside, if you were ever looking for a definition of 'sin,' that's a great one to use. After all, God created us good; God put Ruach inside of us, God is always with us and has promised to never leave us so when we go against the core of who we are, or act in a way counter to who God has designed us to be, we deny, ignore, forget, the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives. We miss it! Actually the Greek word for 'sin' is an old hunting term which means, "missing the mark." We miss the mark, or fall short of God's desire for us... sin-simple.
In general, we do not need to be reminded we are sinners. God's laws are written on our hearts, and our names are carved into the palm of God's hand... so we are intrinsically connected. So we know-inside- when we've gone against the grain, and done something to miss all we could be in Christ.
But do we really need a service to let us know how far we've gone off course, where the high point is marking our foreheads with ash, reminding us that we are no more than dust?
Confession without fear
There is something, however, about confessing all of this to God. In our shame, or denial, as the case may be, we often don't feel we can go to God when we fall short. We've tried so hard, after all, and we think, 'God had such high hopes for me, I don't want to disappoint God, and I certainly don't like admitting all the things I've done.' We project our human traits on to God, and think somehow we may push God to the limits of grace- that eventually God will get fed up with our wicked ways and throw in the towel on us. "Done! It's hell for you!" And my friends, that is a real fear, and it's been driven home for centuries by the church... the very institution that is supposed to have taught love and unconditional acceptance and forgiveness.
But let's look at the example we just heard in Psalm 51. David is in sin- big sin- he's murdered, committed adultery, lied to cover his tracks, was a terrible parent, especially to his daughter, and yet he comes before God and dumps everything out before the creator. "I'm a nightmare!" David says, and proceeds to pour everything out, no holding back!
Where does that transparency come from? I believe the only way a person can find the strength to do that, is in the confidence that they will be forgiven.
Forgive, Create, Renew, Wash, Purge, Deliver, Restore, Open
But there is something else David is doing in his confession, when he asks God to blot out his transgressions, or forgive his sins. He asks God to act in his life- he is miserable the way he is- (isn't that the truth when we've let our sin pile up for so long?) and asks God to help him from the inside out; take a look at the verbs he uses: Create, Renew, Wash, Purge, Deliver, Restore, Open... wow! Each one of these is worth meditating on these 40 days. Create in me a clean heart- throw out the old one and create on that doesn't want to disobey. Renew a right spirit within me. Wash me, purge me, deliver me from this, restore my soul, open my mouth... and I will praise you!!
What a gift to be able to talk to God that way! No wonder Davi was called 'A man after God's own heart!"
So what's our problem? What holds us back from that kind of transparency and openness with God? Is it possible that we aren't sure about this whole forgiveness thing? Do we actually believe that we are loved beyond measure? Is it true that God's promises really are for us? That might take a while to think about... and pray about... and wrestle with. Perhaps it's something we can ponder together over the next 40 days. For tonight, rest in this: God's grace is bigger than your sin. It's why we mark this day with ashes on our forehead- to remind ourselves that we are less powerful than God... that there is nothing we, as dust, can do to make God love us more than God does right now, and there is no sin we can commit that can make God love us less that God does right now. We mark our foreheads to remind ourselves of God's forgiveness, and as a sign to others that God forgives... yes, even sinners like me! Rest that God knows everything about you, and will never, never give up on you. You are loved.