Ash Wednesday: A Sermon


Today’s psalm begins:

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul, *
and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, *
and forget not all his benefits.
3 He forgives all your sins *
and heals all your infirmities;
4 He redeems your life from the grave *
and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;
5 He satisfies you with good things, *
and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.

As I enter Lent this time around I’m drawn to these verses, one of the Psalter’s more important portrait of God’s character and action. Had someone piped up in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, wondering where Jesus was getting “for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” or “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” or “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him,” Jesus could have easily pointed to these verses.

Recall the story of how we first went off the rails:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:1-5)

The fruit is a secondary issue. The primary issue is the portrait the serpent paints of God: selfish, deceitful, stingy, in a word, untrustworthy. If that’s what God is like, go for the fruit!

So, card-carrying descendant of that those parents, I need those verses from the psalm.

So, entering Lent this time around those verses give me plenty to work on. What in my daily or weekly routine makes it easier or harder to trust this portrait of God, to trust this God? That’s a question I want to regularly ask. And then there’s v.2.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, *
and forget not all his benefits.

The psalmist lists some of those benefits—in, necessarily, general terms. But what would my personal list look like? So, today I’ve started a list of what I’m thankful for. Day one, so there’s just one item. Each day I’ll add an item. Many, like the first, will be people. Some will be moments or situations in my life when things didn’t go off the rails. Some of them may generate phone calls (“I was thinking about you today…”). I wonder what the list will look like when I hit Holy Saturday.

If you don’t already have other plans, would you like to discover what your list would look like?

20 Bless the Lord, you angels of his,
you mighty ones who do his bidding, *
and hearken to the voice of his word.
21 Bless the Lord, all you his hosts, *
you ministers of his who do his will.
22 Bless the Lord, all you works of his,
in all places of his dominion; *
bless the Lord, O my soul.

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