Summary: ASH WEDNESDAY MESSAGE: We resist the "allness" of sin. David shows us that we must acknowledge it as our own, and that it has to do with our relationship to God, not just breaking rules. We have an even greater resource for our broken hearts than he had
His words were uttered in a commanding tone. It was clear that he was displeased. And to his displeasure he added a twist, as he said to his young son, “I said shovel all the snow off all the walks. What part of ‘all’ do you not understand?” And if, as a twelve-year-old who had soon grown tired of pushing a measly ten or so inches of partly cloudy off the steps, the porches, the driveway, and the sidewalks, I was not motivated to finish all of the work for the 50-cent reward that was promised … if that was not enough motivation, then the anger in my father’s voice and the implications of his question were quite sufficient. “What part of ‘all’ do you not understand?”
There can be no mistaking the “allness” of “all”, can there? All means all; it means everything, the whole, without omission. There can be no mistaking its meaning. And yet in our immaturity we persist in hoping that “all” somehow excludes this corner or that; that “all” means something other than totally my responsibility.
And so when the Bible says, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” our peculiar method of interpreting that is to hedge on the allness of all. All, but some more than others. All, but not too much for me. All, yes, but not anything that really matters. I have not killed anyone, I have not stolen my neighbor’s possessions, I have not cursed or dishonored my parents. All, but not really all all. We hedge our bets on the allness of all.
But there it is, in bold letters, from the pen of the apostle, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” All have sinned; the allness of all.
Pastor Joel suggested an intriguing theme for tonight. I can see he’s been reading nursery rhymes again. We have no children’s sermon this evening, but he’s been in the kiddie lit, for I recognized the theme, "Ashes, ashes, we all fall down." I think the rhyme goes something like this, "Ring around the rosey, a pocketful of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down." Or, the inerrant version, which I learned as a child, making sneezing sounds, "A-tishoo, a-tishoo, we all fall down." However you sing it, we did all fall down. It was the way the game was played, and when we did our "ashes" or our "atishoos" we collapsed giggling, on the ground. We all fell down. Ashes, ashes, we all fell down.
One explanation of this little nursery ditty is that it refers to the plague that hit London with such ferocity in the 17th Century. Perhaps it refers to the fact that the disease was so contagious that if you were in a group where someone sneezed, likely before long all in the group would fall down and die. I don’t know about that; but I do know that there is a contagion more powerful than the plague; that there is a disease more virulent than AIDS and more deadly than H1N1. There is a sickness that infects us all, and from which all will die. It’s called sin. As in all have sinned. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down. We are of a fallen race.
Our problem, however, brothers and sisters, is that nobody wants to hear that and nobody wants to acknowledge how deep that goes. The word "sin" we have relegated to the lurid reports of prominent people and their sexual shenanigans, or we have learned to laugh at its dropping off the lips of fundamentalist preachers, capable of giving the word at least two syllables: "See-yun." We have trivialized the notion of sin; but that itself is a witness to precisely how deep that sin goes. We do not want to see the allness of sin. All have sinned; ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
David, the King of Israel, is our guide tonight as we consider what must be done with this awful truth. The 51st psalm is generally recognized as springing out of the king’s illicit affair with Bathsheba, compounded by David’s putting her husband in harm’s way to get rid of him. It was messy, seamy stuff, and it began to leak out. It was whispered around the streets of Jerusalem; did you hear? Do you know?
David had every reason to push his sin under the royal carpets, because the confidence of his people would be shaken if the truth were to come out. David had every reason to deny his sinful style of life, for there was already rebellion brewing in the heart of at least one of his sons. David needed to cover up this sin.
But he could not. He could not because Nathan the prophet saw through the sham and the shame and pronounced, "You are the man." You are the one who stole and plundered and killed. And David, once caught, issued no press releases, hid behind no attorneys, put out no excuses. David fell on his face and cried out, from the depths of his being, "Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me."