Monday, February 6, 2012

Clean Hearts, New Spirits

Clean Hearts, New Spirits is our worship theme for Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2012. Our focus scripture is Psalm 51:1-17.

On Ash Wednesday we begin the journey that is Lent, a forty-day season before Easter (excluding Sundays). During this time, we follow the example of Jesus who was led by the Spirit to a forty day retreat into the wilderness just before he began his public ministry. There Jesus fasted and prayed in order to learn what God was calling him to do and to build the spiritual strength and integrity to accomplish it. In the same way, we now begin a period of reflection and prayer so that we can learn what it means for us to be Christ’s followers, discover what God is calling us to do, and be graced by God to grow in spiritual strength and integrity.

On Ash Wednesday we have the opportunity to be marked by ashes. Ashes are a symbol of our humble humanity and of our tie to an earth which is finite and fractured. Yet ashes are also a symbol of cleansing and rebirth and a sign that, in Christ, we are made new. As we receive ashes, God invites us to turn toward God (which is the meaning of repentance) in order to receive from God a clean heart and a new Spirit.

Here is a Call to Worship based on Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 and a Responsive Prayer of Confession based on Psalm 51:1-17. As always, please feel free to use or adapt anything in this post which is helpful to you.

**Call to Worship   From Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

L:   Blow the trumpet in Zion, sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
P:   A day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Truly the day of the Lord is great. Who can endure it?
L:   Yet, even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.
P:   Return to the Lord, your God, for God is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
   L:   Blow the trumpet in Zion: sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly; gather the people.
All:    Cleanse the congregation; weep tears of repentance.
          Pray, “Have mercy, O God, on your people.”

Responsive Prayer of Confession    From Psalm 51:1-17 
(Some wording from The New Revised Standard Version, The Message or the New Living Translation.)

L:  Have mercy on us, O God, according to your love.
     Blot out our misdeeds with your great compassion.
P: Scrub out the stain of our wrongdoings
     and wash away the guilt of our sins.
L:  For we recognize our rebellion; it haunts us day and night.
P: You are the One we’ve violated.
     You know exactly what we’ve done.
     You have all the facts before you.
     Whatever you decide to do is fair.
L:  We’ve been out of step with you our whole lives,
     conceived and born into a broken world.
P: What you seek is your truth at the center of our souls.
     So enter us and re-conceive us in the way you intend us to be.
L:  Create in us clean hearts, O God!
     Put a new and right Spirit within us!
     Don’t cast us away or take from us the breath of your life.
P: Restore to us the joy of your salvation!
     Blow the wind of your Spirit into our souls!
L:  You do not desire empty rituals, O God.
     You don’t want to hear us go through the motions,
     offering up repetitious prayers.
All: What we offer sincerely is our broken spirits.
     God, take our wounded and repentant hearts, 
     and make them whole with your love.

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