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Worship Guide

In Psalm 6, David admits his need to be rescued and cries out to God, and as he does he finds God who is ready to save. That's the invitation to us on Ash Wednesday. As we hear these words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," we are making an honest assessment about our lives and our world. We are admitting our need to be rescued and as we do, we too, just like King David, will find our God ready to save.

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    Our Scripture reading comes to us from Psalm 6. 

    To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments; according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.

    1 O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,

        nor discipline me in your wrath.

    2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;

        heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.

    3 My soul also is greatly troubled.

        But you, O Lord—how long?

    4 Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;

        save me for the sake of your steadfast love.

    5 For in death there is no remembrance of you;

        in Sheol who will give you praise?

    6 I am weary with my moaning;

        every night I flood my bed with tears;

        I drench my couch with my weeping.

    7 My eye wastes away because of grief;

        it grows weak because of all my foes.

    8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil,

        for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.

    9 The Lord has heard my plea;

        the Lord accepts my prayer.

    10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;

        they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.

    This is the word of the Lord. It's absolutely true, and it's given to us in love. 

    I was in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn two weeks ago, and I was filled with great nostalgia. I'm not going to lie, and also a little bit of pride, because I stumbled across a landmark for me, which highlighted one of my great parenting moments in my 14 years of parenting. It was outside a pizza parlor, when one of my sons, Jacob who was 5-years-old at the time, and we had finished eating. I was probably talking to the other kids. We were waiting for someone, and this pizza parlor had a ramp and some guardrails, and Jacob was climbing on it. I was a little bit distracted, and it was pretty high up. You can think of scaffolding, like that first rung of scaffolding level, and Jacob lost his footing, and he fell. I was able to almost with no look just grab him with one arm before he hit the concrete and gently put him down. You don't seem that impressed? This was an amazing feat. But you're in good company because I relay this story to my family and no one remembers. They were like, wait, what Dad, what happened? Was it really that high up? In my head it was, and there's no landmark there. I've asked them to put a little plaque, but they keep turning me down. The part of the reason that I was able to grab my son was because in that stage of life, when the kids are little, parents are always on high alert. Even when I was not fully paying attention, I still had a vague sense of what was going on. My kids at that age were always in need of rescue as all kids are, when they are younger. They also knew how to cry out and ask for help. 

    It occurred to me this week when thinking through this Psalm and reflecting on Ash Wednesday, that something along the way, that something in us, somewhere along the way, we lose the ability, or maybe the interest, in learning how and knowing how to cry for help. We lose the desire to be rescued. When a child cries out for help, they're acknowledging their own need, their own inability to save themselves, but also relying on the strength and the ability of another. Somewhere along the way, we tend to lose both of those perspectives—our need of rescue and our reliance and strength on another to save us. In fact, I think this is how we view our progression, maturation, and success in life. The less help you need, the less you need to be rescued, the better off you're doing, the better off you're able to navigate your life, the better off your life has become, which makes Ash Wednesday, a very strange day, and a very strange service because what we're doing as we sit here on a Wednesday night with ashes on our foreheads, is crying out for help. Whether you realize it or not, whether you know it or not, whether that's why you came or not, that's what we are doing. I bet if you walk out of here, some of your neighbors are going to understand what the ashes on your head are. Some of them, though, are going to think, whatever is going on there. That's a cry for help. They are in need of help, and they would be right. This is a cry for help. Here in Psalm 6, David is crying out for God to save him. What this song shows us is that God hears David's cry. I want you to see that David is willing to make an honest assessment of his life that he needs to be rescued, and as he does, and when he does, he finds a God who is ready to save. That's the invitation for us. If we're willing to make an honest assessment of our lives, we too will find a God who is ready and able to save us. 

    Listen again to as David gets an honest assessment of his predicament in v.1-3,

    1 O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,

        nor discipline me in your wrath.

    2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;

        heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.

    3 My soul also is greatly troubled.

        But you, O Lord—how long?

    David in asking God not to rebuke him or discipline him is confessing that he has made a total mess of things.He needs to be rescued not first and foremost from his enemies (although he does need to be rescued from his enemies), but first and foremost, he needs to be rescued from himself. David is feeling the weight of his brokenness and of his sin. He is languishing physically, his bones are troubled and his soul is also greatly troubled. He is a complete mess. Listen again to how he describes his emotional state.

    6 I am weary with my moaning;

        every night I flood my bed with tears;

        I drench my couch with my weeping.

    7 My eye wastes away because of grief;

        it grows weak because of all my foes.

    The Psalm is so emotionally raw, and it is filled with desperation. The question I find myself asking, and what I really want to know is, what's happening? What's going on with David's life that it would get this bad, that would have caused him this much grief? We can certainly guess and certainly commentators and theologians forever have speculated in hopes of giving some context that might help us understand what's going on in David's life. Many think and they're probably right that this Psalm links back to Psalm 3 which has its preface that this was when Absalom, David’s son, was trying to kill him. That'll do it. That'll bring him to grieve. But really, we don't know the circumstances surrounding the Psalm, and this cause of David's grief. We really don't know the specifics, and you might be thinking, as I often do, wouldn't it be nice, if we just got a little bit more clarity, wouldn’t that help us out? But I actually think the fact that this Psalm doesn't give us the specifics of his circumstances, is because it's actually making a larger point for us. Beneath any circumstance that might cause David's grief, is a deeper reality that David is broken. David has sinned against God, and he needs to be rescued. This is not based on any one circumstance. It's not based on any one specific situation. This is the reality of being human. Whether you're a king in the ancient Near East, set apart by God himself, or you are a person living in New York City in 2022. This isn't just David's reality, because he screwed up one time, a long, long time ago. This is our reality as well. 

    Psalm 6, and Ash Wednesday, wants us to own this reality that we need to be rescued. Not just on that bad day, or not just when you get a piece of bad news, or when things for a season aren't really breaking your way, but every moment of every day. You might have noticed, in this preface to the Psalm, that it doesn't give us any situational specifics, but it does have this note “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments; according to The Sheminith.” I don't know what a Sheminith is. It's probably a musical instruction, like how fast to play this song, but that preface reminds us that we're not just over hearing David at the bottom of a dark place. This Psalm, with all of its raw emotional language, was to be put to music and to be sung. That's what Israel did on their pilgrimages to Jerusalem or in the years after in exile. They would take up this song, and they would sing it, which meant this—that no matter what their circumstances were, they had a song like this, teaching them and reminding them that they needed to be rescued. But it was also putting words to their anguish, putting words to their grief, helping them express sorrow because they couldn't put the words to their sorrow, so this Psalm would do it for them. In the same way we are to take up the song. We are to be people who turn to the songs, oftentimes to help narrate our joy and our hope, but here in Psalm 6, to give words to our grief, so that we would have the courage to make an honest assessment about ourselves and our lives and to know that we need to be rescued. No matter who you are, no matter how together and successful you might be, you need to be rescued. By putting it in a Psalm and by putting music to it, and leaving out the details of David's predicament, we have a declaration that this is our reality, not for a few of us, but for all of us. We are all in need of rescue. 

    Here tonight, this is what all of us are doing. By sitting here with ashes on our foreheads, having heard these daunting words, remember your ashes. Remember you’re dust and into dust you shall return. We're hearing an honest assessment about our lives, our reality and our frailty. The ashes on your head are actually a public declaration that we need to be rescued. We need help. 

    In v.8, the Psalm takes a pretty dramatic turn. David says, 

    8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil,

        for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.

    9 The Lord has heard my plea;

        the Lord accepts my prayer.

    10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;

        they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.

    What a turnaround. Somehow, David has moved from deep grief, soaking his bed with tears, to now confidence that God has heard his prayers. Here again, the question is, what happened? Don't you want to know? How did David get to this place, knowing that God heard his prayers? How did David know that God would rescue him? I'd love to know that. Was it a sign? Was it a voice? Did God strike down his enemies in front of him? Did he send him some help of some other kind that was so clear to David that then he knew that God was going to rescue him? Again, we don't know. David doesn't tell us, and the reality is the circumstances they actually might not have changed. Again, the lack of details here is actually really important. It's key for us because in leaving out the details, David focuses our attention, not in the circumstances that prove that God heard his prayers, but in the very character of God. David remembers that God hears the prayers of his people. He remembers that God has an attentive ear tuned in to the cries of the world. That's what David notes. That's David's God. That's why David can be this vulnerable, and this honest with his own life, because he knows he has a God that rescues. 

    I wonder if this is why oftentimes, we don't cry out like this. Our lives and our language aren't marked by this kind of vulnerability before God because deep down, we just don't believe that God's gonna come through. That he really won't rescue us. We spent years kidding ourselves, that we can manage life on our own. That we can get through this, and when things have gone wrong, and things get really bad in some way, somehow, we're going to be able to fix it ourselves. Or maybe you've done this. Maybe you've tried. Maybe you've cried out like this. Maybe you've tried to be honest. You've tried crying out to God for years for God to rescue, rescue you from your boredom, rescue from your sin, rescue from your addiction, rescue you from your loneliness, or your grief, or your depression, or from your physical pain, or your mental or emotional anguish. And there's been nothing. It doesn't seem like the circumstances ever change. You can't catch a break. It's something like this over and over again, and you are left with little to no evidence that God ever hears your cry to be rescued, and will never actually rescue you. Maybe you've come here tonight, just wondering, what's the point? Fine, put ashes on my head. Tell me I'm dust. That's my reality. Maybe that'll work. 

    This is why it's so important to keep the Psalms in front of us. To take them on our lips, to bury them in our hearts and to let them narrate your life because if all we are ever doing is trying to judge our circumstances, as the measure of whether God is rescuing us, we're going to miss out on the reality that in fact, God is always rescuing us. He is always there, and he will always hear our prayers and our cries because that is what God does. It's who God is, and David knew that. David had these glimpses. He had the stories of Genesis. He knew the Exodus story. God had made promises. God made a covenant with David himself. He knew that God was a God who rescued even if David couldn't always see it. But David, with all that proof, with all that in front, even as David met with God, David only got a glimpse of what we can see even more clearly. 

    We take up the Psalm, knowing that this psalm belonged to a greater David. It belonged to a greater king. This Psalm belonged to Jesus as well. Jesus has heard these cries of anguish. He cried these cries of anguish. Jesus has wept at these tears of grief. Jesus has cried out to be rescued by his Heavenly father on the cross. Unlike David, this King Jesus suffered not for his own sins, but for the sins of his people, the sins of his enemies, and he did it so that he could rescue us. In Jesus, you have a savior, who has experienced the full weight of David's grief, who understands the fact that we need to be rescued. He was cut down in the prime of his life despised, rejected by his own, unjustly condemned to a shameful criminal death. He lived this song. He prayed this song. He took these words on for himself. Jesus is the proof. Jesus is the proof that God always hears your cries. In Jesus, we have the promise that even if we can't make sense of our circumstances, even if our lives don't make complete sense to us, we know that we have been rescued. It's his death, it's his resurrection that assures us of that. He has promised us that even now we are being rescued. Even now, with the world as chaotic as it is and so hard to understand as it is, even now, Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God, the Father interceding on our behalf. He hears your cries. He has promised us that we will be rescued when he comes again to make all things new. When he comes again, to finish what he started, that's what God has done in and through His Son, Jesus. That is the hope that that Psalm brings for us. This is our hope. 

    The reality is I love rescuing my kids. I love it, but oftentimes, there were many, many times, when I missed. I was distracted, maybe I wasn't paying attention to falls off the couch. I was looking at my phone. They were playing with sharp knives in the kitchen, and I was distracted. I was looking at my phone, and so the kids would fall time and time again. The reality is, I missed it. I missed their cries for help all the time, but I want you to understand something this evening. God is never distracted. He never turns his ear away from your cries for help. He is always present interceding on your behalf. Psalm 6, and what we do here tonight reminds us that this is the God, that we have a God, who rescues us. Remember that you’re ashes and to ashes you will return. That is our cry for help tonight. I want you to know that is not the end of the story. That is only the beginning of the story, the end of that story that ends on Easter Sunday in the resurrection. That is the greatest story that has ever been told, and I want you to know it is absolutely true. Remember you’re ashes and to ashes you will return. It's only the beginning. That is the way we move towards a God who rescues us. 

    Let's pray. 

    Oh God, we thank you that in and through your Son Jesus, you give us Psalms like Psalm 6 that invite us to give ourselves fully, to give words to our anguish, to our grief, to our confusion, yet at the same time, gives us this hope that you are a God who rescues. As we come to this table, would you stir our hearts and our minds as you feed us and as you nourish us that yes, we are mortal but in you there is hope of eternal life. Not because of anything we've done but because of your life and your death and your resurrection. We pray this all in Jesus' mighty name. Amen.