Ash Wednesday – A Contrite Heart

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S (Scripture): Psalm 51:

16 

You don’t want sacrifices.

    If I gave an entirely burned offering,

    you wouldn’t be pleased.

17 

A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God.

    You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed.

O (Observation): The psalmist realizes that no amount of offering will please God. Rather, the focus is on being contrite – being honest with one’s own brokenness and admitting that self to God.

A (Application): Admitting our brokenness means that God has an entry point into our lives. When we lie to ourselves and make believe all is well, we are essentially telling God that we are just fine (yeah, right) and no change is needed.

On Ash Wednesday, today, in many churches, we will gather in our worship spaces to recognize that our lack, our brokenness is what binds us together. God knows this lack, for Jesus was on the cross, knowing what it means to feel separation from God.

In that loss, we have room for God to enter our being, and remind us that while we will be returning to the dust, we can rest assured that our rest is Christ.

So, we mark ashes on our foreheads, but always in the shape of the cross.

A cross of ashes.

Death and new life.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me to make room for you! Amen.

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Carry the Light

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S (Scripture): Acts 26:20b [Paul said to King Agrippa:] “My message was that they should change their hearts and lives and turn to God, and that they should demonstrate this change in their behavior. 21 Because of this, some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to murder me. 22 God has helped me up to this very day. Therefore, I stand here and bear witness to the lowly and the great. I’m saying nothing more than what the Prophets and Moses declared would happen: 23 that the Christ would suffer and that, as the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to my people and to the Gentiles.”

O (Observation): Paul stands accused by the Jews of inciting unrest and they make Paul stand trial. The Roman authorities don’t care much for these problems, but when the skirmishes become unrest for a large part of the population, they listen in.

King Agrippa listens to Paul’s claims.

But maybe these words are more for God’s followers.

Paul lays it out: Jesus was always part of God’s plan. As told through Moses and the Prophets, Jesus – the Suffering One for All – was not a backup plan when people “messed up.” People were never perfect, and thus wandering in the dark, fighting for self-preservation and self-interest.

Jesus is the light to all people, a true revelation of God’s glory.

And now, Paul simply witnesses to the light for all who would hear. He bears God’s redeeming word for all the heat.

A (Application): Quite often we feel like we have to defend Jesus and defend our faith in a preemptive way. Like anything we do could rightly defend our God.

I’m not saying we don’t stand up for peace and justice, but we first struggle with the idea that we are first and foremost seeking the light for ourselves. Sounds selfish, but this is the starting point for all of us. To stumble in the dark until the light is revealed to us in the person of Jesus.

In receiving the light, we are then compelled to share our story to any who would listen.

And as we share the light, as Paul does, we also remain humble, because the light is never ours to own. We simply carry the light for God. We give thank to God that we can carry that light that never diminishes.

We humbly, with broken hearts and minds, carry this light into our homes, work places and schools.

May we be the light…humbly thanking our God for brining the light to us in the first place.

P (Prayer): Lord, shine your light on this poor sinner. Amen.

We See Broken; God Sees Mended


S (Scripture): Isaiah 37:14 Hezekiah took the letters from the messengers and read them. Then he went to the temple and spread them out before the Lord. 15 Hezekiah prayed to the Lord:

16 “Lord of heavenly forces, God of Israel: you sit enthroned on the winged creatures. You alone are God over all the earth’s kingdoms. You made both heaven and earth. 17 Lord, turn your ear this way and hear! Lord, open your eyes and see! Listen to Sennacherib’s words. He sent them to insult the living God! 18 It’s true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have destroyed all the nations and their lands. 19 The Assyrians burned the gods of those nations with fire because they aren’t real gods. They are only man-made creations of wood and stone. That’s how the Assyrians could destroy them. 20 So now, Lord our God, please save us from Sennacherib’s power! Then all the earth’s kingdoms will know that you alone are Lord.”

21 Then Isaiah, Amoz’s son, sent a message to Hezekiah: The Lord God of Israel says this: Since you prayed to me about Assyria’s King Sennacherib, 22 this is the message that the Lord has spoken against him:

The young woman, Daughter Zion, despises you and mocks you;
Daughter Jerusalem shakes her head behind your back.

28 I know where you are,
how you go out and come in,
and how you rage against me.
29 Because you rage against me and because your pride has reached my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth.
I will make you go back the same way you came.

33 Therefore, the Lord says this about Assyria’s king: He won’t enter this city. He won’t shoot a single arrow here. He won’t come near the city with a shield. He won’t build a ramp to besiege it.

O (Observation):  King Sennacherib is planning to attack God’s people in Israel.   He has conquered many people and taken many lands.   This time, he has his eyes set upon taking over the Israelites.   

King Hezekiah (of Israel) hears of these threats made by the Assyrian King Sennacherib, and takes the letters which contain Sennecharib’s plans…and Hezekiah lays them out before God.  Hezekiah seeks God’s discernment on this matter, which weighs heavy upon his heart.  

God’s response is priceless.  God says that the Assyrian’s will not get a single shot of an arrow off, let alone build a siege ramp.   Reading past these verses above, you will notice that God sends his messengers to slay 145,000 Assyrian soldiers and has Sennecharib’s own sons kill King Sennecharib!

God was pleased with his people turning to God, rather than to their own strength or wisdom.    In response, God protects the Israelites.  

A (Application):  When was the last time you relied on God?   We try to be self-made people…and yet we have a God who calls us to call upon and depend upon God.   The struggle we have is that we think we can make it on our own…apart from God.   

We think need is a sign of weakness in this world…like if I need childcare, or money, or help fixing a car or doing taxes.    Why?   What if we know people who can help with these things?   Isn’t that part of the reason why we have community?   Aren’t we here to help each other out?  If so, why the shame?

We’re not fighting an army or worrying about a pending attack, but we are facing our own challenges.   The biggest struggle is likely self-image.   When we think we have to rely on ourselves to get us through our problems, we will likely fail.   Or worse, if we get through it and forget to thank God, we find ourselves like so many of Israel’s kings…thinking “we” did it, no thanks to God. 

But I hope we can be like King Hezekiah: ready to lay out the world’s sinister plans for us, and seek God’s power and wisdom.   

In doing so, we become vulnerable, but vulnerable to God’s ways, which is a good thing.  We lay down our ways, and pick up God’s ways.  This is God’s grace for us.  A way forward that relies on God.  

I was listening to a song today on the radio: Matthew West’s “Mended.”   (Listen to “Mended” by clicking here.)  When we lay down our ways, and instead see ourselves and the world around us through God’s eyes, we see a world waiting to be mended.   

May you see the world through God’s eyes today: when we see broken, God sees mended.   

P (Prayer):  Lord God, we lay our plans and the world’s plans at your feet.   Guide us. Save us.  Amen.   

A Broken Heart


S (Scripture): Psalm 51

15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

O (Observation):  David confesses to God that out of all of the earthly riches he holds…none of that can be as pleasing to the Lord as David’s own broken and contrite heart – a heart broken by David’s own wrongdoing.  

I don’t think God wants brokenness, but in this psalm, we see that the divine mystery encourages us to approach God not with position or power…but with an empty heart.   

“Contrite” means “feeling or expressing remorse or penitence; affected by guilt.”

A (Application):  Lutherans talk a lot about guilt.   And rightly so.   

We don’t dare come to God with our “good deeds,” lest we start to think that our ways are good.  Now, that sounds pretty morbid…I know.  But the point here is that while we do indeed do good things, and we can celebrate them, when we come to God, we come with broken hearts, for God alone is good.  

Living out God’s grace and mercy are good things.  We are called to show God’s love to our neighbor, and do good deeds, for “faith without works is dead.”   

But what do we bring to God?   What is pleasing to God?   Is a heart full of pride something God wishes?  I think not.  

Here is a story from a recent Richard Rohr daily email that is helpful:  

An old story goes like this:  A proud young man was being interviewed by a potential master.  He bragged about his understandings of life and philosophies.  The master listens silently and begins to pour a cup of tea. He pours and pours, and when the cup is overflowing he keeps right on pouring. Eventually the student notices what’s going on and interrupts his monologue to say, “Stop pouring! The cup is full.”

The teacher says, “Yes, and so are you. How can I possibly teach you?”

The same holds true for our hearts.  Full of pride, we have no need for God.  Instead, let us empty our hearts in humility and brokenness and seeks God this day to fill our hearts once more with grace and mercy.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, may you fill my broken heart this day.  Amen. 

Who Do You Look Up To?

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S (Scripture): 2 Chronicles 15:19 There was no more war until the thirty-fifth year of Asa’s reign. 16:1 In the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign, King Baasha of Israel attacked Judah, and he established Ramah as a military outpost to prevent anyone from leaving or entering the land of King Asa of Judah. 16:2 Asa took all the silver and gold that was left in the treasuries of the Lord’s temple and of the royal palace and sent it to King Ben Hadad of Syria, ruler in Damascus, along with this message: 16:3 “I want to make a treaty with you, like the one our fathers made. See, I have sent you silver and gold. Break your treaty with King Baasha of Israel, so he will retreat from my land.” 16:4 Ben Hadad accepted King Asa’s offer and ordered his army commanders to attack the cities of Israel.

O (Observation): For 35 years King Asa of Judah (the southern kingdom) sought the Lord for assistance for spiritual matters and for matters of war. For some reason, he seeks a foreign army to keep his northern compatriots at bay. Hmm…I wonder why…?

A (Application): Last night, our Theology on Tap group had a great discussion. Topic: Who do you look up to? What ensued was an interesting and very honest conversation about idols, sin, and redemption.

Instead of starting with a particular person, we started with the recognition that we are all sinners in need of redemption. This means that none of us has a person that we look up to completely and totally, without reservation. We recognized that the folks we discussed were as in much need of redeeming as those of us who shared a meal and beverages around the table last night.

Asa was probably looked up to quite a bit. 35 years he relied on the Lord. Yet, he, too, took a course that would bring him and his people shame.

With this text, taken with last night’s conversation, I’m reminded how much we are all in need of redemption. Jesus Christ is that redemption for me, making it possible for me to reconcile my sinful self, while also looking at myself as God sees me: beloved, broken, but built up again.

I hope you see yourself as a sinner of God’s own redeeming, able to stand before the Lord by the merit of grace alone. God sees you for who God created you to be. God has equipped you. God trusts you with his grace, to be shared lavishly in this world, so that others can know the grace that you know.

Who do you look up to? Why? What faults do they have? For what reasons do you look up to that person?

P (Prayer): Lord, we are not worthy of your grace, yet you grant it to us. We are not worthy to carry your message, yet you trust us and equip us to carry it. We give you thanks for this gift of life which you entrust to us. Amen.