Ash Wednesday Sermon: Isaiah 58:1-12

This evening I had an opportunity to share the Ash Wednesday sermon at our church in Edmond, Oklahoma. The sermon text I chose was Isaiah 58:1-12.

1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Here is an audio recording of the sermon, which ran just under 20 minutes. I recorded this with iTalk Recorder on my iPhone, which displays elapsed time, so I used this to make sure I didn’t run over the suggested 15-20 minute time limit for the meditation. After transferring the file to my laptop tonight, I uploaded it to Auphonic to normalize and compress it into a 32 kbps mp3 file.

The most powerful part of the service for me was participating with our three pastors in the “imputing of ashes.” As church attendees came forward to receive communion, we first marked a cross on their forehead with ashes from a small bowl. I have been very moved as a participant in this service in past years, but it was even more moving to help lead it. Young and old, people I knew and did not know, I said “From ashes you came, and from ashes you shall return.” A sobering but important reminder of our own mortality, and our universal need for God and the saving grace of his son, Jesus Christ.

Praise to God and thanks to God for his blessings, love, and grace. Praise and thanks to God for the opportunity to be a part of our church community of faith.

penance by Sarah Korf, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Sarah Korf