Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Sermon: "Recipe for Repentance: Ashes and Crumbs", Psalm 51 (selected verses) (February 17, 2021--Ash Wednesday)

(This is the Ash Wednesday sermon for our Lenten Series, "Recipe for Repentance". The full worship service can be found here.)


“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your faithful love! Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion! Wash me completely clean of my guilt; purify me from my sin! Because I know my wrongdoings, my sin is always right in front of me. Yes, you want truth in the most hidden places; you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.” (Psalm 51:1-3, 6) 

On Ash Wednesday, Christians all over the world take ashes onto our bodies in remembrance of our mortality and need for repentance. It’s a reminder that, no matter how clean we feel, no matter how much we think we’ve “got it all together,” we are always at God’s mercy. We’re always subject to the death and decay of our sin. While we can easily wipe away the ashes on our foreheads, our sin is far more difficult to remove. We need to repent before we can be at one with the Lord.

But before we can even begin this process, we need to fully prepare ourselves for what will always be a long, messy, and complicated undertaking when taken seriously. The very first step is to clear our minds and hearts of all excuses, all distractions, all rationalizations—anything that might get in the way of a complete commitment to the work of repentance. No one wants to start baking with a messy counter—the results would be a disaster. So let’s begin this season by first clearing our lives of the crumbs and clutter that hold us back from a true reckoning of our sins.

“Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow. Hide your face from my sins; wipe away all my guilty deeds! Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me! Please don’t throw me out of your presence; please don’t take your holy Spirit away from me. Return the joy of your salvation to me and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways, and sinners will come back to you.” (Psalm 51:7, 9-13)

In baking or any kind of cooking, constant handwashing is a necessity. If we deny the existence of germs, we run the risk of contaminating our food and making ourselves or others sick. We can’t just “go through the motions”, quickly running our hands under the faucet; we need to fully and thoroughly lather every inch of our hands with soap in acknowledgement that germs cover us.

In the same way, before we repent, we MUST accept the reality of our sin and be constantly aware of how it’s affecting us. Otherwise, our repentance is superficial and meaningless—just as washing your hands without soap isn’t really washing your hands, repenting without acknowledging your sin isn’t really repenting; it’s more like “covering your bases”. Repentance isn’t sin insurance; it’s a necessary response to the sin that’s already there, that we know follows us throughout all our lives.

Repentance is impossible without this acceptance. If we don’t believe in germs, why bother washing our hands? If we don’t believe we’re sinners, why bother repenting?

“Deliver me from violence, God, God of my salvation, so that my tongue can sing of your righteousness. Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise. 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 contrite." (Psalm 51:14-17) 

Anyone with a kitchen knows that baking requires a LOT of supplies. Bowls, spoons, measuring cups, cutting boards, knives, rolling pins…before you even begin combining ingredients, you need to gather all the tools you’ll need.

But at the same time, you can’t just unpack your entire kitchen and consider yourself prepared. You have to carefully pick and choose which materials are needed for the particular recipe you plan to make; otherwise, you’re back to square one, having to clear away the clutter before you can do anything else. It’s impossible to make food without equipment—the RIGHT equipment.

In order to do this repentance thing right, we need to collect the right supplies before getting started: people to hold us accountable, enough time to keep from rushing the process, any materials we might need for new spiritual practices we decide to undertake, a prayer practice that we can stick to. We should make sure we have everything we need in order to avoid getting stuck the moment we realize something is missing.

But we also need to be careful not to gather the wrong supplies. That can be just as disruptive to the process of repenting as a missing tool. God doesn’t want ostentatious displays of remorse or lives devoted to extreme asceticism. God doesn’t want us to clutter our lives with performative gestures. These things aren’t helpful. Instead, we should simply bring our whole selves—body, heart, mind, and spirit—as an offering, so that the Lord can make use of them in our repentance however God sees fit.


Kindred, each year we celebrate our redemption through Christ’s death and resurrection. But for forty days before that, we set aside time to reflect and repent, preparing for the redemption that’s promised to us. This preparation is just as important as the celebration itself, since we know how deeply we’ve sinned and how desperately we need atonement. We recognize that we can’t do this alone. The mark of the ashes also marks the beginning of our journey towards repentance, reminding us to clear space in our lives, acknowledge our sinfulness, and gather what we need in preparation. So I invite you to enter into this season of Lent with intention, wiping away the crumbs and clutter of the rest of the year, so that you might commit yourself fully, body and soul, to the important work set before us. Lent is upon us: let’s get started. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment