Perhaps more than at any other time in the Christian year, Ash Wednesday is a call to look inward. This day calls us to an inner journey where we encounter and confront all within our lives that cause us to be separated from God.
Ash Wednesday calls us to this personal and inner journey. We are called to look deep within ourselves to discover or rediscover who we are and what we are about instead of looking at others around us with a critical eye and making unfair, inaccurate, and uncalled for judgments of others. We compare ourselves to Jesus Christ, not to our friends or neighbors or to any we to readily label thieves and scoundrels. It is our time with God; our time to center our focus on what is going on within us not what we see in others.
This day and this season of Lent center on a single, focused question: “How is it with you and the Lord?” If there is only one thought you take away from our time together tonight, make it this question … “Lord, how is it between you and me?”
Rather than the traditional “give something up for Lent” practice, this could be a time to take up something new. During the days that lie ahead, take a few moments each day to consciously set aside all the outward noise and demands and quiet the inner chattering of your mind. A well-known and wonderful writer, contemplative reflector and poet, Ann Weems writes this thought about the season of Lent.
“Lent is a time to take the time
to let the power of our faith story take
hold of us, a time to let the events get
up and walk around in us, a time to hover
over the thoughts of our hearts,
a time to place our feet in the streets of Jerusalem or
to walk along the sea and listen to his word,
a time to touch his robe
and feel the healing surge through us,
a time to ponder and a time to wonder. ..
Lent is a time to allow a fresh new taste of God!”
Taking time to look ourselves squarely in the soul, we can ask the question … “How is it between you and me Lord?” This is not an easy thing to do or a light commitment to make. Taking a serious, personal inventory of our souls is something most of us would rather not do. Indeed, there are significant barriers to the process. We are too busy for our inner lives. We are usually easy graders when it comes to our own lives and pretty hard with the grading system we use on others. We are quick to justify ourselves and slow to excuse others. We compare ourselves to those we consider beneath us instead of comparing ourselves to Jesus Christ and the glory of God.
And we are sometimes fearful of what we will see. It will usually take some outer voice or event to turn us to the inward journey. It can be the words of a parent who cares, or a friend who dares tell us to take a look at ourselves. Hopefully, for many of us it can be the gentle nudge of the Lenten season. For King David of Israel the voice behind Psalm 5 I was Nathan, the prophet.
Like many of us, David was living in denial. He was denying that he had committed a grievous sin against his top general Uriah. In his greed and lust for Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, David broke every major commandment God had given the people of Israel. He had lied, murdered, conspired to do harm, enlisted the help of others and committed both adultery and theft! He wouldn’t confront the seriousness or the reality of what he had done until the prophet Nathan pushed him to do so. It took courage to face up to a king but even more courage to ignore the push of God’s righteous anger aside. So, Nathan figuratively held a mirror up before the King’s face.
Psalm 51 is the account of David’s realization that his corrupt behavior had endangered his relationship to the God he loves and whom he seeks to serve. Although King David’s culture and time are so far removed from us, there is still great significance – important clues about forgiveness of sin and restoration of our relationship with God in these verses. We too need to come face to face with our sin; with the ways we have separated ourselves from God. “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” There are those we have done harm to and those we have pushed away. There are ways in which our broken relationship with others has caused us to sin not only against them but ultimately, against God. David had sinned against his people, against Uriah and Bathsheba and most importantly, David had sinned against God. “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.”
God alone is able to cleanse us from sin and to heal us. And we ask for God’s gracious hand to do so when we recite these words, “Have mercy on me, 0 God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions” Forgiveness of sin brings about new life, new birth, a new creation. “Create in me a clean heart, 0 God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” Those were David’s words, David’s prayer, and David’s hope. There is no authentic joy in our living until we are truly reconciled to God.
Again, Ann Weems captures what Lent might mean to us as we pray for God’s cleansing hand to touch us.
“Those of us who walk along this road do so reluctantly.
Lent is not our favorite time of year.
We’d rather be more active planning and scurrying around.
All this is too contemplative to suit us. Besides we don’t know what to do with piousness and prayer.
Perhaps we’re afraid to have time to think, for thoughts come unbidden.
Perhaps we’re afraid to face our future knowing our past. Give us the courage, 0 God, to hear your word and to read our living into it. Give us the trust to know we’re forgiven, and give us the faith to take up our lives and walk.”
So, with this night of reflection and the Lenten days, which follow, may God give each one of us the spiritual courage to look within ourselves, to allow God to confront us and to bring us the blessing, the joy, the grace of reconciliation. And may each of you keep a Holy Lent. Amen.