Ash Wednesday – A Contrite Heart

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S (Scripture): Psalm 51:


You don’t want sacrifices.

    If I gave an entirely burned offering,

    you wouldn’t be pleased.


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.

Avoiding Failure? Or Embracing Forgiveness?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 32

1 The one whose wrongdoing is forgiven,
whose sin is covered over, is truly happy!
2 The one the Lord doesn’t consider guilty—
in whose spirit there is no dishonesty—
that one is truly happy!
3 When I kept quiet, my bones wore out;
I was groaning all day long—
every day, every night!—
4 because your hand was heavy upon me.
My energy was sapped as if in a summer drought.

5 So I admitted my sin to you;
I didn’t conceal my guilt.
“I’ll confess my sins to the Lord, ” is what I said.
Then you removed the guilt of my sin.

O (Observation): Something the psalmist recognizes is that what brings us to peace is not a life full of righteous deeds alone, but rather, a contrite heart – a heart willing to acknowledge its own brokenness and shortcomings. Full honesty with God brings true happiness.

The psalmist recognizes the pain that comes with NOT confessing (“my bones were out,” “groaning,” etc.). The way we are made is such that we confess our wrongdoings to God and to one another.

In confession, truth comes forth…and the truth will set you free.

A (Application): This all sounds good and well, but won’t God be disappointed in me? Won’t my neighbors be disappointed in me? When I confess, won’t I be admitting failure?!?!?

In a word, yes! Yes you will be admitting failure…but to whom is that failure a problem?

Is God disappointed when we fail? How did your parents react when you didn’t win the track meet? When you goofed up at the dance recital? When you forgot your line in the school play?

How did your friends react…your true friends…when you forgot you were hanging out over the weekend, and you made other plans?

We focus so much on failure and HOW TO AVOID IT!!! What if, instead, we focused on forgiveness and learning from our mistakes?

My parents have been (and continue to be) excellent examples of what forgiveness looks like. They showed it to me growing up, and they instill this in their grandchildren. They were always proud of us (and still are) and they help teach us to do work that we can be proud of…but to also know that failures can be lessons learned.

As we work through challenges in my family, we are trying to instill the same values of the psalmist. Come to one another in full disclosure. Admit when we’ve done wrong. Seek forgiveness in all things (instead of just getting defensive).

When we are honest and seek forgiveness… ain’t much more than that to make me a proud son / husband / father.


P (Prayer): Lord, you encourage us to let you in and be honest with you. Give us courage to do this with you and with one another. 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.