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February 14, 2024

Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Psalm 51:1-17

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21


“Home is Where the Heart Is”

Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

 grace and peace to you from the one who calls us home. Amen

 

This Lent

we are exploring stories of Wilderness Wandering and Coming Home

 and we start with the stark reminders

 that no matter where we are on our journey

 we are mortal and we are sinners.

 

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

 

But paired with this ashy reality check

comes a call and a promise,

 a call to return to God,

and a promise that there is a place for us in God’s heart.

 

It’s a saying that’s been cross stitched on countless pillows

and painted on many a cute sign

and yet it still rings true: “Home is where the heart is”

 

 our home is God’s heart

 and God wants us to come home,

 but not because we have to

but because we want to

 because our hearts have found a home in God.

 

And so the journey home to God

is first and foremost a journey of the heart.

 

But how do we make this journey?

This is a question that has been asked down the ages,

and along the way rituals for worship

have been suggested (some by God)

 

or other spiritual practices

whether it is sacrifice, prayer, worship, almsgiving,

singing praise or lament,

aimed at helping us live our lives toward God

and these all have some merit

 but what matters more than these acts of devotion

is the intention behind them, where our hearts lie.

It is not the acts in and of themselves that make God happy

but the change in our heart that they help bring about.

 

Something we often forget about.

This is a common theme among the prophets,

speaking to a people who have gotten so caught up in the rituals

that they have forgotten the purpose behind them.

 

We heard God’s call in the words of the prophet Joel

 “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.”

And yes, Joel goes on to call for a fast and assembly of the congregation

 but only in service of this call to return to the Lord

 who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

 

We hear a similar theme from our psalmist

who cries out “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. For you take no delight in sacrifice, or I would give it. You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a troubled and broken heart, O God, you will not despise.”

 

 Even the most perfect act of worship

 will not move God

 if it comes from any place or intention beside the heart.

 

 Jesus points this out to his disciples in our gospel for this evening

warning them “beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

 

In other words,

 if the only reason you’re praying

 is so that others see how good or religious you are,

you’re focused on the wrong thing-

 what others think rather than God.

 

But note it’s the intention Jesus warns against

not the acts of piety themselves,

 those he does encourage

if done for the sake of relationship with God

 concluding "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

 

Home is where the heart is

and yet despite our best intentions,

our hearts wander,

and eventually we are brought back to the twin reminders of Ash Wednesday,

 we are mortal and we are sinners.

 

Which ultimately means, we need God’s help.

We pray with the psalmist “Have mercy on me, O God, According to your steadfast love; in your great compassion blot out my offenses. Wash me through and through from my wickedness, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my offenses, and my sin is ever before me.”

 

And in God’s mercy,

God sent us Christ.

As Paul says who “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

 

Our hope is Christ

and so we do our best to turn our hearts to him,

and we trust that when we fall short

 he will carry us the rest of the way.

 

As I was writing this sermon,

the strains of the old hymn Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (ELW 807)

 started running through my head,

 and so I revisited it

and found in the words the perfect prayer for this Ash Wednesday.

 

Let us pray,

Come, thou Fount of ev'ry blessing,

tune my heart to sing thy grace;

streams of mercy, never ceasing,

call for songs of loudest praise.

While the hope of endless glory

fills my heart with joy and love,

teach me ever to adore thee;

may I still thy goodness prove.

 

2          Here I raise my Ebenezer:

"Hither by thy help I've come";

and I hope, by thy good pleasure,

safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,

wand'ring from the fold of God;

he, to rescue me from danger,

interposed his precious blood.

 

3          Oh, to grace how great a debtor

daily I'm constrained to be;

let that grace now like a fetter

bind my wand'ring heart to thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;

prone to leave the God I love.

Here's my heart, oh, take and seal it;

seal it for thy courts above.

Amen

 

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