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Psalm 51


Have mercy on me,O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy 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 may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 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 uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.


Our Death and His

Ash Wednesday

18 February 2015

Today many Christians begin the season of Lent by receiving the imposition of ashes. They hear the intonation of death over them: "Dust you are. To dust you shall return." It is a salutary lesson to learn that we live in death even as we partake of life. But we must learn precisely this on Ash Wednesday. We must understand our human weakness and our liability to sin and death. Only then will we use the ashes rightly as a sign of a life of repentance: they must be in outward sign of an inner attitude: true humility and contrition. David puts it so beautifully: "A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Ps 51:17). The ashes must not become a sign of anything else, such as our moral or spiritual superiority over those who do not receive the sign this day. What an abomination it would be to treat the very signs of humility as the signs of superiority and pride. As the corny song has it: "Oh, Lord, it's hard to be humble, when you're perfect in every way!"


Whether we choose to fast or some other appropriate Lenten discipline, what is important about it is the lesson of our weakness, mortality, and sinfulness. You are not making a point to God about how pious you are; because He is aware of your piety (or lack of it) without your pointing it out to Him. It is not as though He is sitting in heaven, pointing to our Lenten discipline with glee and exclaiming: "See how they love me! I wouldn't have known the depth of their faith and piety, if they hadn't given up chocolate for Lent." God is not a dumb idol to be tricked by some outward display. Lent simply highlights the humility of the Christian life, that it is a life of repentance from beginning to end. We learn from the Lenten discipline, we do not teach God by it.


If our whole life is one of contrition and repentance, then we cannot hesitate to pray: "Forgive us our trespasses," as we do in the Lord's Prayer. We should be continually aware of our sin, seeking God's face for His gracious message of mercy in Christ, the only Redeemer from sin. Lent finds us walking with Christ to the mystery of the faith, His death as God's only Son for our sins. This a holy time embedded in mystery. It begins with an intoning of our death and ends with His. The imposition of the ashen cross reminds us that our death is shaped by His and becomes ours by faith.


Martin Luther


"Since Christ is the master of the spirit, not of the letter, and since his words are life and spirit (Jn 6:63), He must teach the kind of repentance which is done in spirit and in truth, but not that which the most arrogant hypocrites could do openly by distorting their faces in fasts and by praying in streets and heralding their giving of alms (Mt 6:16). Christ must teach a repentance which can be done in every walk of life, a repentance which the king in purple robes, the priest in his purity, and the princes in their dignity can do just as well as the monk in his rituals and the begging friar in his poverty, just as Daniel and his companions did in Babylon (Daniel 1 and 3). For the teaching of Christ must apply to all men, that is, to men in every walk of life.


"We pray throughout our entire life and we must pray 'forgive us our debts' (Mt 6:12). Therefore, we repent throughout our whole life and are displeased with ourselves, unless anyone may be so foolish as to think he must only pretend to pray for the forgiveness of debts. For the debts for which we are commanded to pray are real and not to be treated lightly."


Martin Luther, Explanation of Ninety-Five Theses, 1.2


Collect for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. 


For all the faithful, that they might repent of their sins and receive holy absolution from their pastor as from Christ Himself 


For Morgan Jones, who is gravely ill, that the Lord would send his holy angels to watch over her and bring her healing

For Paul Lodholz, who is undergoing therapy for brain cancer, that the Lord would continue to grant him health and healing

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)

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Memorial Lutheran Church | 5800 Westheimer Rd. | Houston | TX | 77057