Ash Wednesday Worship – March 2, 2022

Isaiah 58:1-12

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 51:1-17

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

Wash me through and through from my wickedness,
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my offenses,
and my sin is ever before me.

Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are justified when you speak and right in your judgment. 

Indeed, I was born steeped in wickedness,
a sinner from my mother’s womb.

Indeed, you delight in truth deep within me,
and would have me know wisdom deep within.

Remove my sins with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be purer than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness;
that the body you have broken may rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my wickedness.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit. 

Let me teach your ways to offenders,
and sinners shall be restored to you.

Rescue me from bloodshed, O God of my salvation,
and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness.

O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

For you take no delight in sacrifice, or I would give it.
You are not pleased with burnt offering.

The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit;
a troubled and broken heart, O God, you will not despise. 

2 Corinthians 5:20b–6:2

[Saint Paul writes:] We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.   For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.  For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

[Jesus said to the disciples:]   “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.   But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Have mercy on me O Lord! Have mercy!

Yes! Yes please!   Our hearts cry out for mercy.   For relief . . .   For a break . . . For something to go our way . . .

It feels like we come to this Ash Wednesday in a particularly fragile place. These are such fraught times.   Many of us are just plain weary.   Others are sad or grieving or hurting.   Some of us are frustrated or disappointed.

Still others are simply fed up. Enough is enough. If we cry “uncle” – will it finally stop?

This is not the world we want to be living in.

First – it was the relentless pandemic that has gone on and On and ON.

Covid-19 has changed us. Yes – Covid-19 revealed some of our strengths. It has shown us how resilient we are and how innovative we can be.   Covid-19 has revealed our creativity for better (and unfortunately – for worse . . .)

Covid-19 has also exposed so many of our weaknesses and our flaws and our brokenness. Covid-19 has revealed just what a horrible mess our world is in. What a mess we are in . . . Covid-19 has shown ALL of us just how human we are. This has been hard for us to see. Hard for us to live. Very – very hard.

Covid-19 has been painful. And likely will be painful for years to come.   We have a lot of healing to do.

Our hearts cry out – “have mercy on us O Lord! Have mercy!”

And now Russia has invaded Ukraine. We watch what is happening in Eastern Europe and we hold our breath.

Russia is a sleeping giant no more. Russia demands to be heard! Russia isn’t saber rattling. Russia is shouting and roaring to the world with their nuclear weapons!

We cry out – “Have mercy on us O Lord! Have mercy!”

We are a broken – hurting – messed up bunch of folks living in a broken – hurting – messed up world.

Oh – how we need our Lord’s mercy. Oh – how we ALL need hope.

We long for comfort and joy. We long for better times. We long for healing. We long for a brighter future. Most of all – we long for hope!

And if we look in the mirror this evening – that is exactly what we will discover. (No – I am not talking about finding hope in ourselves and in the eyes gazing back at us.)

Rather I am talking about turning your gaze just a bit further north to that black mark right in the middle of your forehead. Because that black mark is not just a careless smudge. It is not a slash or a line or merely a mark made of ash simply to declare: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” No – that mark on your forehead is a cross.

There in the cross is the answer to our deepest longings. There in the cross is our hope! There in the cross is the answer to our cry for mercy!

Yes – the ashes do remind us of our brokenness and our sinfulness and our very human humanness. The ashes do remind us that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

But those ashes form the shape of the cross of Jesus Christ who is our Lord and Savior.   Who is our hope! Who is God’s answer to our cry for mercy.

We are all so messed up – aren’t we? We are all broken and struggling and sinful and just so very human!   No matter how hard we try – none of us can save ourselves.

And thank goodness we don’t have to. Well actually – thank our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we don’t have to save ourselves. Jesus saved us when he willingly died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

Jesus died in our place for us – so we don’t have to die an eternal death for our sins.

Yes – on Ash Wednesday we are reminded of just how messed up and sinful and broken we all are. And we are marked by our brokenness and our sinfulness because of the black – crumbling – falling apart – gritty – messy – ashes we all wear on our foreheads.

But we are also marked by our greatest hope because we wear crosses on our foreheads!

These crosses are bold – beautiful reminders of God’s forgiveness and the promise of resurrection to eternal life lived with God the Father in heaven.

Our God has heard our cry. Our God has blessed us with his grace – love and mercy!   And truly that is very Good News indeed. Amen.

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