Ash Wednesday Sermon 2019

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. This from Psalm 51:17 speaks of where we start with God on the road He leads us upon of sanctification. Psalm 51, a Psalm we say together every Ash Wednesday in the Penitential Office, is a Psalm of repentance, absolution, and of sanctification. It is about God’s work within us to help us with His grace to go forth to love Him and others INSTEAD of hating Him and others. The sign of iniquity is hate through the pursuit of pleasing self. Sure, the world tries to sell us the lie that love of self is most important. The problem with the love of self is that it leads directly towards hatred of others through our actions. The breaking of any of the Ten Commandments dealing with our fellow human beings is an act of hate. The breaking of each one can easily be justified through the sinful flesh as an act of loving self. Whether it is honoring our parents, faithfulness to our spouse, or other people’s property; actions against such are hateful. When love becomes placing my needs above the needs of others, it becomes sin. Tonight with the beginning of this Lenten Season, let us focus upon how Psalm 51 marks us a trail of sanctification in Christ alone through cleansing, through God’s creation, and through praise and teaching.

What is Sanctification?

        First, we need to define sanctification. In the New Testament in terms of the work of Jesus Christ to save us, salvation has three parts. Jesus justified us from the guilt of our sins against God through His death. Jesus through the Holy Spirit is then spending the rest of this life sanctifying us or purifying us to live in Him. At the second coming and resurrection of the body, we will be glorified in Him in a state of no sin. Often though, we as fallen yet redeemed do not want to deal with the ongoing, daily grind of sanctification. We just want to hear about justification and glorification, not wanting to deal with the gritty element of purification. We do not like it because it forces us to examine ourselves throughout life for parts of life that need God’s work to give to Him and to ask His help to sanctify and turn to His service. If we develop a theology that skips the middle, everyday of sanctification; we have developed a deficient and dangerous theology.

        Part of the Christian life, of the need of the Church Calendar, is the reminders for the need of sanctification. Lent is the part of the Church year where we are brought face to face with this need, with this essential to growing in Jesus Christ. Lent is a 40 day timeframe every year where this pesky element of salvation is brought to the forefront. It is to teach us that serving Jesus and one another is not easy. It is often painful just as it is painful to deal with sin through repentance when we have hurt others or to forgive when someone that hurt us repents to us. It is painful to be pruned of the sins of the flesh. Being herded back to the fold when we want to run away is painful. Yet, the pain is not meant to destroy, but to excise elements of sin to build us into servants of Christ more submissive and reliant upon His grace than we were before the pruning.

Cleansing

        After coming back to God through repentance, an important area of sanctification found in Psalm 51 is the idea of cleansing. Cleansing begins with the pardon only God gives through Jesus Christ. Our Psalm opens with a plea for forgiveness, “Have mercy on me, O God.” God cannot wash us without confession of our sins, that we need Him. The act of contrition is an act of submission to God, to His work of forgiveness and the subsequent washing that occurs throughout the life of faith. It is what we see in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. We live our baptisms every day, knowing we are forgiven and that He constantly cleanses us.

        Verses 2 and 7 of our Psalm speak of this most important part of sanctification. Verse 2 states, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” In declaring us saved through justification, washing and sanctification speak of applying and remembering the Lord’s work upon ourselves all our days. As Psalm 51 is David’s confession for his sin of adultery and murder, we see these words of asking for washing and cleansing as necessary. Since we still deal with the presence of sin in this life, we have to deal with being cleaned.

        Often, just as toddlers not wanting to be pulled from their muddy playgrounds to the bathtub, we as fallen yet redeemed sinners go kicking and screaming to that next cleansing. Yet, such is needed to remember what Jesus has accomplished and that He clothes us in His righteousness. This process of sanctification is lifelong … confessing … receiving forgiveness … cleansed often painfully in cleaning the wounds and scabs caused by our sins. Lent is one such time where we are confronted with the necessity of submitting to God washing us anew.

Create

After repentance, forgiveness, and the cleansing anew, we submit to; we understand that pardon begets renewal. This renewal of our lives, of our spark in Christ, is described in verse 10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” All of humanity is born with a need for God’s grace as Psalm 51:5 teaches. We have a deep need for His work within for clean, new hearts.

As verse 6 conveys, God works within our hearts. We do not attract Him. “and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” This work of sanctification creates within us a changed heart. It is His slow work to steer us from the depths of destruction to the depths of His love. This creation within us leads us to verse 12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Often when we go astray, our joy is missing. God restores this when we submit to REPENTANCE AND His PARDON. It is sort of what happens when someone goes through times of just going through the motions of something to suddenly have it snatched away. When the activity is restored after an absence, we again approach it with newness and joy. The work of cleansing is hard. The result of His creation of a new heart is worthwhile.

Creating in us a new heart teaches us that He raises us up from the deadness of our sins throughout this life. The action of God forgiving requires resurrection for it to be eternal in scope. This is the finished work of Christ at the Cross and His resurrection at daily work through our sanctification, through covenant renewal. This sanctification and picture of creating in us clean hearts and renewal of a right spirit within is brought to the forefront every time we partake of the Holy Communion. We feed on Christ in our hearts by faith, hearts made clean … spirits renewed aright.

Praise and Teach

        The last area of sanctification is where the work of God to cleanse us and create anew a right spirit leads to the action of us praising Him and teaching others about Him. In order to worship and teach, we must first be open to His Word. This is the new heart. This is what verse 8 conveys, “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.” Often in the works of the flesh, we are broken to the point all that is left is to be created anew, healed and restored to live for Christ. We cannot fix ourselves. Christ alone does this through sanctification.

        In this healing, we find that God’s work of sanctification is not about me. Often during Lent we are drawn to what am I going to do, about me, about things I am going to give up; me, me, me, me. This is not a proper approach.  Rather, Lent and sanctification is about His work within us to serve others. As verse 13 states, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” When we see sanctification as about self-help and being a better you for the sole benefit of the individual, we have ceased speaking about true sanctification. True sanctification involves giving up self for the good of others, of submitting to God’s work to cultivate, prune, and foster us to bear fruits for the needs of others. When we teach others of His ways, sinners will return and join us in this loving endeavor. Only in serving Christ and serving others do we find joy.

        As verses 14-15 state, opening with His deliverance from our sins and the cleanings and renewing such entails, “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.” Our praising God is God sanctifying us. When we praise Him in worship, we serve Him and submit to Him. We set our time aside as His to worship. We offer ourselves as living sacrifices, for Him to use to His glory.

        On this evening where we join Christians around the world in embarking upon Lent, let us submit to the areas of our lives that need sanctifying. Let us give Him the areas through repentance where cleansing is needed. Maybe we have fought tooth and nail for a long time not to be washed in certain areas by God. Use this Lent to give up, repent, receive pardon, and go through His washing. Let us commit ourselves again to submit to His work of creating within us a new spirit to serve Him anew out of love, not compulsion. Let us throughout this Lent never forget our first love in Christ to commit all the disciplines we will undertake with praise, thanksgiving, and a willingness  to serve others through teaching of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Amen.