Ash Wednesday 3/2/22

August 1st, 2021

Preaching: Ash Wednesday

Sermon 1: Prayers We Don’t Pray

Scripture: Psalm 51:1-17

1Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!
2Wash me completely clean of my guilt;
purify me from my sin!
3Because I know my wrongdoings,
my sin is always right in front of me.
4I’ve sinned against you—you alone.
I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
completely correct when you issue your judgment.
5Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin,
from the moment my mother conceived me.
6And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.

7Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;
wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
8Let me hear joy and celebration again;
let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
Hide your face from my sins;
wipe away all my guilty deeds!
10Create a clean heart for me, God;
put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!

11Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
12Return the joy of your salvation to me
and sustain me with a willing spirit.

13Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways,
and sinners will come back to you.
14Deliver me from violence, God, God of my salvation,
so that my tongue can sing of your righteousness.
15Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will proclaim your praise.
16You don’t want sacrifices.
If I gave an entirely burned offering,
you wouldn’t be pleased.
17A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God.
You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed.


The smells of spaghetti, French bread, and corn on the cob filled the kitchen. It was Carol’s turn to say grace, “God, help us know when we have eaten enough and stop.” She stunned everyone at the table. How cruel does a person have to be to pray something like that? Some things shouldn’t be prayed. We know to avoid praying about things we have no intention of changing.

Hunger, for instance, is one of the subjects about which we’ve learned to be careful. If you pray too seriously for hungry people you’ll end up skipping meals and giving your money away. One church member I know makes a point of not having cash in his wallet on World Hunger Day. He understands that if you’re honest with yourself and God about hunger, then you have to give.

That’s why most of us are careful not to pray too seriously for the homeless. It’s awkward to pray for people who have no home when we have empty guestrooms. A pastor confessed, “If I don’t stop just talking about helping the poor and start doing something to help the poor I’m going to be embarrassed to meet God.” If you pray for poor people, then you have to help.

When our country is at war, we’re careful about how we pray. If you’re against a war, it’s hard to pray honestly about the sense of moral superiority that may take up residence in your heart. If you’re for a war, it’s hard to pray honestly about Jesus’ compassion for innocent children who are dying. If we pray too seriously, then God reminds us that there are people whose homes have been destroyed who need help. If we pray about it, we realize that there are things we could do that we haven’t done.

We avoid praying about things that we don’t want to change. It’s frightening to pray about our careers. Does the senior pre-law major want to pray about whether God would like for her to be a social worker? Does the successful businessperson want to ask God if a lower paying job might make more of a contribution to the world?

We’re careful about praying about the big questions. We know it would be dangerous to pray for orphans who need to be adopted. We’re careful about praying about small stuff. What if you’re going to a movie with some friends when a lonely person calls? If you pray about what you should do you might miss the movie.

We’re especially careful about praying for people we don’t like. Think of the person whose presence bothers you the most, who gets on your nerves and probably always will. When Jesus said “Pray for your enemies,” he was inviting us to the kind of prayer that will lead us to say something kind that we don’t want to say.

Most of the time we’re afraid to pray about what we could be and do. In so many ways, we choose a life given to comfort over a life given in prayer. It’s easier to live by the rules everyone follows and strive for the same version of the good life that everyone wants. We like what we have— including the vices we’ve gotten used to and the enemies we’ve carefully chosen. We don’t avoid praying because our prayers go unanswered. We’re afraid our prayers will be answered. We try not to see our potential, because we know far more of what we should be doing than we do.

We’ve learned to pray, “God, make me a better person, but not so much better that I have to change the way I live.” Prayer is hard because we don’t want to start doing what God invites us to do or stop doing what we’ve gotten used to doing.

King David went a long time without really praying. One afternoon a look turned into lust and David didn’t pray about it. The lust turned into manipulation and David acted in ways that he never would have considered if he had the courage to pray. David was able to keep from admitting what he had done or what he needed to do for a long time. He didn’t pray, because he didn’t want to face the harsh realities.

Psalm 51 is the cry of a person who struggled to find the courage to pray. The amazing thing about this psalm is that for all of its agony, there’s also a sense of relief. What David has ignored for so long is finally brought out into the open. It couldn’t have been any easier for David to tell the truth about himself than it is for any of us. There is no painless way to stop protecting our easy lives and be honest to God. Yet, David’s painfully honest prayer leads to joy.

When you think about the most courageous Christians you know, the ones who make sacrifices for their faith, do you feel sorry for them or is it clear that they have something we should want? People who pray passionately don’t have easy lives, but they have abundant lives. God has dreams for us that we’ve been afraid to imagine.

What would be the result if we prayed for hurting people, the victims of tragedies, and our enemies? What would happen if we made a searching, fearless inventory of how much more we could be if we asked God for the courage to take chances?

Who’s to say exactly what would happen, but we might know when we’ve eaten enough and stop; take a bag of food to someone who needs it; open our home to someone who needs help; write a check to help refugees; see our enemy with compassion; hear God inviting us to a different job or a different life; confess who we are and discover who we are meant to be; end up less comfortable and more saintly.

Ash Wednesday challenges us to pray courageously. When was the last time you prayed about anything that makes you uncomfortable? What will happen if we ask God, “What should we do?”

—Brett Younger

Sermon 2: An Extraordinary Offering

Scripture: Exodus 35:4–36:7

4Moses said to the whole Israelite community, This is what the LORD has commanded: 5Collect gift offerings for the LORD from all of you. Whoever freely wants to give should bring the LORD ’s gift offerings: gold, silver, and copper; 6blue, purple, and deep red yarns; fine linen; goats’ hair; 7 rams’ skins dyed red; beaded leather; acacia wood; 8the oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet-smelling incense; 9gemstones; and gems for setting in the priest’s vest and in the priest’s chest pendant.

10All of you who are skilled in crafts should come forward and make everything that the LORD has commanded: 11the dwelling, its tent and its covering, its clasps, its boards, its bars, its posts, and its bases, 12the chest with its poles and its cover, the veil for a screen, 13the table with its poles and all its equipment, the bread of the presence, 14the lampstand for light with its equipment and its lamps, the oil for the light, 15the incense altar with its poles, the anointing oil and the sweet-smelling incense, the entrance screen for the dwelling’s entrance, 16the altar for entirely burned offerings with its copper grate, its poles, and all its equipment, the washbasin with its stand, 17the courtyard’s drapes, its posts, and its bases, and the screen for the courtyard gate, 18the dwelling’s tent pegs and the courtyard’s tent pegs, and their cords, 19the woven clothing for ministering in the sanctuary, and the holy clothes for Aaron the priest and his sons for their service as priests.

20The whole Israelite community left Moses. 21Everyone who was excited and eager to participate brought the LORD ’s gift offerings to be used for building the meeting tent and all its furnishings and for the holy clothes. 22Both men and women came forward. Everyone who was eager to participate brought pins, earrings, rings, and necklaces, all sorts of gold objects. Everyone raised an uplifted offering of gold to the LORD. 23And everyone who had blue or purple or deep red yarn or fine linen or goats’ hair or rams’ skins dyed red or beaded leather brought them. 24Everyone who could make a gift offering of silver or copper brought it as the LORD ’s gift offering. Everyone who had acacia wood that could be used in any kind of building work brought it. 25All the skilled women spun cloth with their hands, and brought what they had spun in blue and purple and deep red yarns and fine linen. 26All the women who were eager to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. 27The chiefs brought gemstones and gems to be set in the priest’s vest and the chest pendant, 28spices and oil for light and for the anointing oil, and for the sweet-smelling incense. 29All the Israelite men and women who were eager to contribute something for the work that the LORD had commanded Moses to do brought it as a spontaneous gift to the LORD .

30Then Moses said to the Israelites: “Look, the LORD has chosen Bezalel, Uri’s son and Hur’s grandson from the tribe of Judah. 31The LORD has filled him with the divine spirit that will give him skill, ability, and knowledge for every kind of work. 32He will be able to create designs, do metalwork in gold, silver, and copper, 33cut stones for setting, carve wood, do every kind of creative work, 34and have the ability to teach others. Both he and Oholiab, Ahisamach’s son from the tribe of Dan, 35have been given the skill to do every kind of work done by a gem cutter or a designer or a needleworker in blue, purple, and deep red yarns and in fine linen or a weaver or anyone else doing work or creating designs.

1"Let Bezalel, Oholiab, and every other skilled worker whom the LORD has given skill, ability, and knowledge for the work of building the sanctuary do all that the LORD has commanded.”

2Moses then called together Bezalel, Oholiab, and every skilled person whom the LORD had given skill and who was eager to come and do the work. 3Moses gave them all the gift offerings that the Israelites had contributed to the work on the sanctuary. They kept bringing him spontaneous gifts, morning after morning.

4Finally, all the skilled workers building the sanctuary left their work that they were doing one by one to come 5and say to Moses, “The people are contributing way too much material for doing the work that the LORD has commanded us to do.”

6So Moses issued a command that was proclaimed throughout the camp: “Every man and woman should stop making gift offerings for the sanctuary project.” So the people stopped bringing anything more 7because what they had already brought was more than enough to do all the work.


The wandering nation of people needed a designated space for worship. They were God’s people. They wanted to honor God with an appropriate setting for community worship. Something must be created that would reverence God, provide adequate sacred space, and yet still be portable for the unknown wanderings ahead.

A worthy tabernacle would also be made of quality products: jewels and other precious stones, durable hardwoods, fine linens, and such. Where could such valuable materials be found? Moses decided to receive an offering.

The call went out for voluntary gifts. The people responded enthusiastically. Gifts came pouring in. The size and number of the gifts suddenly seemed to overwhelm the project managers. They went to Moses with a most unusual request. “Tell the people to stop, Moses. We have enough to do the job. We have more than enough. We are being inundated with offerings,” they seemed to say.

Moses listened to the artisans’ story. Then he went to the people with this stunning

proclamation: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” In effect, Moses said, “Stop bringing your offerings. We already have more than enough to do the job.” What becomes important is the why of the story. Why did the people respond so completely and so generously? What was the amazing secret of this offering? We can learn from what happened in this desert offering more than three millennia ago!

First, there seems to be a great love for the holy place. Translated into our time, this means a great love for the church. Whatever else may be in doubt, people seem to have an innate, God-given love for the holy place. A great love for the “church” thrived in the desert, in the hearts of the Hebrew people. They found joy in giving, and they knew God had a serious claim on their lives. They knew an innate durability in the holy place. The ancient Hebrews gave abundantly, generously, because they knew they were investing in something that would last.

Second, the story suggests that the trust level was very high. Integrity was in place. Through a multitude of experiences, confidence had grown. The God of Moses was clearly among them. Integrity is very important to the church. Integrity was present in the desert. Thus, resources came in abundance.

Third, the capacity to give was present. Who would have believed that wandering nomads in the desert could make such an offering? Perhaps they had plundered the Egyptians before leaving. Maybe they had collected some precious valuables along the way. The point is this: their capacity to give was greater than they knew. But Moses knew.

We sometimes cry “poor” today. We have cried “poor” for so long that we have talked ourselves into believing that we are poor. The capacity to give is present for most people. Very few congregations are overextended. A great teacher of stewardship once said, “Not one church in a hundred has any real notion of its power.” The offerings began to pour in.

Fourth, this offering was a freewill offering. The storyteller makes this abundantly clear. Key phrases are used throughout. Consider all of the phrases in one short story—some of them used several times.

“Everyone whose heart was stirred.” “Everyone whose spirit was willing.” “A willing heart.” “Everyone . . . whose hearts made them willing.” “A freewill offering to the LORD.”

Paul writes, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion” (2 Corinthians 9:7). His words form the foundation of what happens to us and to what happened in the desert long ago.

Authentic believer giving is not a tax or a tax deduction. Neither is it dues or some legalism. Giving is not what I “owe” my church. Giving is not a safe passage to heaven. Giving is a freely offered response to the goodness of God in my life. Giving among the community of believers has a whole different standard from the world.

Benjamin Franklin offers a valuable testimony in his autobiography. His witness demonstrates the power of good growth giving in the human spirit. In this setting, Franklin is listening to the preaching of George Whitfield.

[During the sermon] I perceived he intended to finish with a Collection, and I silently resolved he should get nothing from me. I had in my Pocket a handful of Copper Money, three or four silver Dollars, and five Pistoles in Gold. As he proceeded I began to soften, and concluded to give the Coppers. Another Stroke of his Oratory made me asham’d of that, and determin’d to give the Silver; and he finish’d so admirably, that I empti’d my Pocket wholly into the collector’s Dish, Gold and all. (Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964], 177)

Is this not one clear picture of the way God works—a rustling in the heart? Is this not a graphic illustration of our storyteller when he says, “The hearts of the people were stirred”?

Finally, the story proclaims this important truth: “There is enough to do what God wants us to do.” Notice that these words come from the craftsmen, the artisans. These are not the words of Moses. Moses was a learner in this situation.

One of my favorite phrases is “abundance of enough.” That is the nature of God’s blessing. God does not often give us everything we want; but God does give us everything we need. Probably not a lot of cushion! Probably not a surplus! But God will supply an abundance of enough. Some eternal principles are at work in this story. We hear a simple promise from the author of faith. If we stand on the promise and use theologically appropriate methods, the gifts will be present.

—Brian K. Bauknight


comments powered by Disqus