Repent and Return


March 1, 2017 Ash Wednesday

Psalm 51:1-17

At one time or another in our lives, we will manage to screw up. We will make mistakes because we are human! We forget to love our neighbors as ourselves because we are human. We sin because we are human. While the gospel lesson is full of great nuggets, I am going to turn to the Psalm. In the Psalm, we encounter the mercy and grace of God.

If you didn’t know, the Psalms are prayers and songs lifted up to God through the various psalmists that they are contributed. In Psalm 51, rather than the author speaking from a point of righteousness, he speaks from a point of repentance. Many of you are familiar with the story of King David and Bathsheba. While we lift up King David as a great example of leadership, he commits adultery with Bathsheba, and then had her husband Uriah killed. There is at least a couple of commandments that King David has managed to break at this point. It is in this that Psalm 51 is attributed to David in the midst of his sinning.

We enter this season of Lent with much going on in our lives and in the world. We sin daily and the world around us is not any different. We are left wondering how we are to react to those that differ in opinion from us. We are left wondering if we should look beyond ourselves and care for our neighbors because our consumer culture gives us the message that we should focus on our own personal needs. We are still reeling from a contentious election cycle that does not seem to be getting better anytime soon. In the midst, we are left to wonder where God is in everything that is happening.

In the Psalm we pray for Gods presence with us. God is present to witness our sins, as well as the sins of the world. God is present when we fail to reach out to our neighbors with love and compassion. God is present in the midst of turmoil, death, and doubt. The thing is, we cannot fix any of it on our own. We cannot wave a magic wand and making everything better. We cannot say just the right thing to get everyone to be sociable to one another. In this knowledge, we turn to Psalm 51 and pray. It may even sound familiar, as we often sing it when our offerings for God come forward.

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.

These next forty days are not going to be much different than the last forty days. We will continue to sin. Death and destruction will continue to happen around the world. In the words of Psalm 51, we have a prayer asking for a fresh start. A prayer asking to be made new. A prayer seeking to be washed clean of all our sins. A prayer to remind us of the greatness of God and the glory of Christ to bring salvation to the world.

In the ashes, we are reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return. They represent our finiteness in this world. In the meal we share, we are reminded of the grace and love of God that comes to us, as sinners, seeking forgiveness and grace freely given.

While the world around us might not change much in the next forty days, may we be changed in the Word of God and the meal we share together. May we repent and return to the Lord, our God.

Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your steadfast love. Amen



By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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