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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Where is Hope?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 27

Lord, listen to my voice when I cry out—

    have mercy on me and answer me!

Come, my heart says, seek God’s face.

    Lord, I do seek your face!

Please don’t hide it from me!

    Don’t push your servant aside angrily—

        you have been my help!

    God who saves me,

        don’t neglect me!

12 

Don’t give me over to the desires of my enemies,

    because false witnesses and violent accusers

    have taken their stand against me.

13 

But I have sure faith

    that I will experience the Lord’s goodness

    in the land of the living!

14 

Hope in the Lord!

    Be strong! Let your heart take courage!

        Hope in the Lord!

O (Observation): The hope that comes into play at the end of this Psalm is almost like from a friend speaking to another friend who has lost hope. The psalmist seeks out God in the pit of despair. The friendly voice in v. 14 is a reminder that God – the Lord – is still there beside the person.

Hope is possible, not because the individual can get back on track “without help.” Rather, because the psalmist cannot help himself/herself, hope exists. Because the psalmist lacks comfort, the LACK allows space for him / her to hope.

A (Application): We like to think hope is something that we can grasp in this life, as if hope is something to be reached through hard work and effort. Yet the nature of hope is that it is precisely something we cannot reach. For if it is something we can grasp on our own, then we don’t hope for it…we just create a plan to reach it.

If we can reach the thing(s) we hope for…then it’s not hope. We hope for money, a new car, control, power, and more. These things we “hope” for – if attained – is quite the opposite of good news. It means we think we can satisfy our drive or appetite and pushes us to acquire more of the same (if not material things, than power or control).

Let us, instead, focus on the idea that God never leaves us and can be our hope. In. Our brokenness, God enters in and helps us to be okay with our brokenness. For God does not need us to prove anything. Rather, God focuses our hearts and minds on being with others who are also broken…and together we lean on one another for consolation and hope. Hope in the Lord.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us filled with hope in You. Amen.

Justice Served…But When?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 17

I cry out to you because you answer me.

    So tilt your ears toward me now—

    listen to what I’m saying!

Manifest your faithful love in amazing ways

    because you are the one

    who saves those who take refuge in you,

    saving them from their attackers

    by your strong hand.

O (Observation): The psalmist recognizes salvation comes from God alone…not through defending one’s self, not through being smarter, not through being stronger.

The hope is that God will make manifest God’s wisdom and might and justice.

A (Application): We don’t always see God’s justice. Sometimes is takes days or weeks. Sometimes it takes months or years. Sometimes it takes generations.

…but God hears our plea…

That is enough to give us hope.

That is enough to sustain us in our search for justice.

P (Prayer): Lord, Listen to our cries. Bring justice. Amen.

Is God Here in Difficult Times?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 143

1

Listen to my prayer, Lord!

Because of your faithfulness, hear my requests for mercy!

Because of your righteousness, answer me!

2

Please don’t bring your servant to judgment,

because no living thing is righteous before you.

3

The enemy is chasing me,

crushing my life in the dirt,

forcing me to live in the dark

like those who’ve been dead forever.

4

My spirit is weak inside me—

inside, my mind is numb.

5

I remember the days long past;

I meditate on all your deeds;

I contemplate your handiwork.

6

I stretch out my hands to you;

my whole being is like dry dirt, thirsting for you.

O (Observation): The author is in the midst of a most difficult circumstance. They realize their lack of control over the outside circumstances, and life is dry and numb.

Does this mean the author is not faithful? Does this mean the author doubts? Does this mean the author was unfaithful and caused this harm to himself or herself?

A (Application): So often, we think that blessings come in good times when we are faithful, and bad things happen when we are unfaithful. That correlation cannot be more wrong.

Sometimes, faithful folks encounter difficult times and good things happen to us when we are doubting God and others.

The psalmist gives us space to be in the midst of difficult circumstances and still feel like God is still present. Even though things aren’t going our way, we can still trust in God to be with us and walk us through the challenges.

This can look like a friend being with us, or a pot of soup being brought over on a cold day.

Be on the lookout for signs of God showing up where we least expect. Especially in our times of challenge.

P (Prayer): God, we are challenged, but looking for you. Amen.

Advent Psalm

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S (Scripture): Psalm 139

11

If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me;

the light will become night around me,”

12

even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you!

Nighttime would shine bright as day,

because darkness is the same as light to you!

O (Observation): The psalmist hopes for the Lord to be the light in the darkness.

This comes to ultimate fulfillment in the person of Jesus entering humanity.

A (Application): Jesus is the light in our darkness. This is what Advent is about: expectant hope. We pray that Jesus – the Light of the World – come.

How are you showing a posture of hope this year?

P (Prayer): O come, o come, Emmanuel. Amen.

The Written Word

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S (Scripture): Psalm 119

169

Let my cry reach you, Lord;

help me understand according to what you’ve said.

170

Let my request for grace come before you;

deliver me according to your promise!

171

Let my lips overflow with praise

because you’ve taught me your statutes.

172

Let my tongue declare your word,

because all your commandments are righteous.

173

Let your power help me

because I have chosen your precepts.

174

Lord, I long for your saving help!

Your Instruction is my joy!

175

Let me live again so I can praise you!

Let your rules help me!

176

I’ve wandered off like a sheep, lost.

Find your servant

because I haven’t forgotten

your commandments!

O (Observation): The close of this Psalm is found here in the text provided for you today. This Psalm is an acrostic. Every letter of the Hebrew alphabet begins a section. Each section begins with the coordinating letter of the alphabet. This is meant to show wholeness or completeness. The wholeness is how God’s followers are caught up in God’s being. The wholeness shows how the Torah shapes God’s people towards righteousness – that is, to be in good standing before God and neighbor.

God’s guidance is sought in all things. When afraid, angry, sorrowful, repentant, happy…in all things, God’s people remain grateful for God’s guidance and grace.

Even though “I” is used, I read it as a “collective ‘I’.” That is…imagine everyone who has ever read and prayed over this Psalm. Imagine all of God’s people reading it – aloud – together, in multiple languages. God’s people…with one one, heterogenous praise.

How beautiful…

A (Application): Reading this text today has caused me to pause. Quite often, when I think of someone “falling away” from God, I think of myself or others doing “bad things.” What a limited view of sin.

As I read this text today, I am ashamed. For these past few months, so much personal strife has entered my arena. We have not done “bad things” as much as circumstances around us have simply been difficult and challenging.

This Psalm reminds me that not trusting that God will lead me / us in times of strife has been my sin. My despair has been winning, but today’s reading brings me hope once again…and it reminds me of the importance of reading Scripture daily. (Or almost daily : )

God reaches out to us in friends and family and so many other ways…of this, I have no doubt. Yet…what lies in our power is to pick up the written Word and to trust that it will not return empty.

Pick it up.

Open it in your browser.

Just start reading.

In fact, read it with others. Ask questions. Struggle with how the Scripture applies to your life. (Kind of like what I struggle through every time I write!)

BibleGateway.com. Give them a whirl.

What scriptures to read? Do like I do:

Go to https://www.moravian.org/ and see what texts they suggest for the day!

What is your pain / strife today? In what ways do you feel like you’ve been drifting?

P (Prayer): Lord, continue to speak to me. Amen.

What’s Worth More?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 119

65

You have treated your servant well,

Lord, according to your promise.

66

Teach me knowledge and good judgment

because I’ve put my trust in your commandments.

67

Before I suffered, I took the wrong way,

but now I do what you say.

68

You are good and you do good.

Teach me your statutes!

69

The arrogant cover me with their lies,

but I guard your precepts with all my heart.

70

Their hearts are unfeeling, like blubber,

but I rejoice in your Instruction.

71

My suffering was good for me,

because through it I learned your statutes.

72

The Instruction you’ve given to me is better

than thousands of pieces of gold and silver!

O (Observation): Instruction from the Lord proves useful and challenging for the author of this Psalm. The Psalm points to the ways that God brings community together by helping individuals to realize that they are called to follow God’s Instruction, rather than establishing their own individual ways.

A (Application): Like a really good workout – tearing muscle and allowing it to re-build stronger than it was before – following God’s instructions and ways can prove quite beneficial. The standards God has set forth do indeed guide us and give us hope.

And yet, we must remember the place of these Instructions. Too often we apply these instructions to those who do not believe in God. That is wholly unfair.

I hold myself to the Instructions God has given, but until someone else consents to the same standards, I will not hold others to this standard. Instead, I will allow the Instruction to have a hold on me so that I can (hopefully) trust in God. After all, this Instruction is worth more than the $1.6 billion “MegaMillions lottery” coming up tonight. This Instruction is priceless!

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to follow your Instruction for the sake of others around us. Amen.