With Ash Wednesday begins the journey of Lent. It is a season of reflection and preparation. We're encouraged to let go of the things that prevent us from fully following Jesus. In these texts that David Ackerman has chosen for his Beyond the Lectionary to be used on Ash Wednesday, we're invited to consider the relationships with God and neighbor, to consider the obstacles, and offered a word of assurance that God is there for us. Having written a book on the Lord's Prayer myself [Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord's Prayer], I was pleased to see David include this prayer as a reading, so that we might reflect on its meaning. How often do we simply repeat it by rote and neglect to hear its radical call to allegiance to God? May this set of readings serve to call us back to our ultimate allegiance, so that we might share in the blessings of God's presence.
“Turn to God”
Call to Worship: Isaiah 29:9-10, 13-16 NRSV
One: Stupefy yourselves and be in a stupor, blind yourselves and be blind! Be drunk, but not from wine; stagger, but not from strong drink!
Many: For the Lord has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep; he has closed your eyes, you prophets, and covered your heads, you seers.
One: The Lord said: “Because these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote; so I will again do amazing things with this people, shocking and amazing.
Many: The wisdom of their wise shall perish, and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden.
One: Ha! You who hide a plan too deep for the Lord, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, “Who see us? Who knows us?”
Many: You turn things upside-down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay? Shall the thing made say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of the one who formed it, “He has no understanding”?
Gathering Prayer: As we come together today, God, we are mindful of the fact that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Help us to turn to you now in a spirit of genuine humility.
Confession: God, as we remember our mortality this day, we confess that we have not lived as you have called us to live. We have turned away from you and sinned against you with our thoughts, words, and deeds. So now we pray to you for mercy. Forgive us, and help us to be the spiritually disciplined people that you yearn for us to be.
Assurance: From the ashes of the wrongs of yesterday, God marks us with a mark of life today. Now we are set free to be generous people who work and pray faithfully to God’s glory.
Scriptures: Jeremiah 7:1-15 – “Jeremiah’s Temple Sermon”
James 1:12-16 – “Endure Temptation”
Matthew 6:7-13 – “The Lord’s Prayer”
Commentaries and sermon ideas are available in Beyond the Lectionary.
- The beginning of Lent is an opportune time to consider the call to repentance found in the sermon in Jeremiah 7. Are we ever guilty of putting our trust in empty words that give us a false sense of comfort? Do we ever choose our own comfort over the hard work of doing justice? How do we become “a den of robbers” when we turn away from injustice for the sake of our own security?
- Can our worship of God become “a human commandment, learned by rote” as described in Isaiah 29? How can we turn from emptiness in our worship to experiencing the fullness of God? Can we endure such worship?
- Have you ever been tempted to do something you knew was wrong? How does the season of Lent encourage us in the face of temptation? What encouragement do you see in James 1?
- Take a close look at the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, verse by verse. How is it different from the prayer in Luke 11:2-4 (used on Proper 12 of Year C)? What does each line mean to you? What questions come to your mind as you study it? What are some of the differences in how people say it and what do you think are some of the reasons for those differences?
- How can we, as individuals and as a church, really turn to God in this season of Lent?
Prayer of Thanksgiving: Thank you, God, for refreshing and renewing us with your Spirit this day. Help us to truly turn away from our sins and believe in your good news.
Benediction: God sends us out as a people called to self-examination, prayer, and discipline. Let us go, then, and practice these disciplines as we show God’s love in the world. Amen.