Lenten Service 1                                                                               
Rev. Andrew Ratcliffe
Psalm 24:3-6 Sermon
5 & 12 March 2014 

Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
154 "Alas!  And Did My Saviour Bleed"
156 "Not All The Blood Of Beasts"
388 "Just As I Am"
556 "O God Be With Us" 

The Hands of LentDirty Hands

          Text:  "Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.  Such is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

            In the name of Jesus. Amen.

            Hands. As you were introduced to last week, our midweek series at St John Lutheran Church and here at Mighty Fortress centers around the Hands of Lent.  Hands.  You can tell an awful lot about a person if you take the time to analyze his or her hands.  Is the skin dry and cracked?  Those hands might not handle the cold and dryness of winter too well.  Smooth and soft?  Someone who takes the time to care for them.  Rough with dark lines from dirt and grease that’s been embedded in the cracks?  A hard worker with manual labor.  Calluses on the fingertips?  That individual might play their guitar on a regular basis.  You can learn an awful lot by looking at those hands.

            As Pastor Dan has printed for us on the bulletin cover, in Scripture there are many occurrences of the term “hand” and quite a few different uses for that one word.  Hands stand for strength, power, deliverance, rebellion, giving honor or sitting in a place of honor, sinister, blessing, possession, or even death.

            Throughout our Lenten season we are exploring the Hands of Lent, especially making use of this word’s appearance in the book of Psalms.  Most certainly this will take us through scenes of hands tearing bread and pouring wine, hands raising club and spear, hands carrying a convicted criminal’s means of execution, hands washed to supposedly say “I’m innocent,” hands that bind and swing the hammer, and hands outstretched bleeding for you.

            Last week you focused on “hurting hands.”  Tonight, we all entered God’s sanctuary with hands covered in crime, stained with sin, smeared with shame—we have “dirty hands.”  More and more today—in a good way—we are obsessed with cleaning our hands.  Why?  Because scientifically we know how dirty our hands can be, especially during this time of year.  Make a stop at the restroom?  You don’t leave before washing your hands (you’re not done until you’ve sung through the A-B-C’s!).  Kids come in from playing outside?  You probably have to remind them, but don’t touch anything; run to the bathroom first and wash those hands!  The Pastor or Communion assistants getting ready to distribute the Sacrament?  The bottle of hand sanitizer is readily available.  Visit the hospital and you have sanitizer dispensers at the entrance, the elevators, and every individual room.  Because of the germs, when we “share the peace” in church, some know they’re sick, or they try to refrain from catching germs, and they choose not to shake hands.  That’s fine!  It’s healthy.  It’s safe.  We do these things because we come into contact with so many people and so many things.  We do these things because we have dirty hands.

            But confronted with God’s Word, we realize that dirt goes so much deeper than just the surface of our skin.  It affects our mind.  It affects our heart.  It sinks to the soul.  What have these hands done?  What have these hands not done that they should have?  How have these hands betrayed?  How have these hands selfishly acted?  How have these hands… become so dirty?

            You might think it’s not such a big deal.  You might think it’s something you can overlook or hide.  Think again.  As we read it from the beginning, Psalm 24 begins, The earth is the Lords and the fullness thereof.  You’re not going to overlook it; God can see it!  There’s nowhere to hide; the earth is the Lord’s!  What does that mean we have to face?  Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?  And who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.

            Want to stand in God’s presence, stand as presentable before Him, stand by His side?  Your hands need to be clean.  Spotless.  Free of impurities.  But they’re not.  We have dirty hands.

            Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?  That’s what Lent is all about.  There is One who has ascended the hill of the Lord.  Psalm 24 continues, Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.  Who is this King of glory?  The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!  

            Though our hands are soiled with sin and dirty with the darkness of death, it is the King and Christ, Jesus, who ascends that hill—not of the Lord, but of Calvary. It is Jesus’ hands that are bruised by carrying the weight of wood. It is Jesus’ hands that are nailed down, broken and bloodied, extended as dirty for all to see.   Jesus ascended Calvary to dirty His hands with your sin, so your hands might be clean.  Look at your hands.  Take a hard look.  Washed and made new in Jesus, in baptismal waters, your hands are not dirty.  You are forgiven.  You are clean.

            The cry of this Lenten season is for you and me, recognizing the condition of our hands, to come clean, to come dropping all pretenses of our existence.  Take away the masks, the excuses… take them all away and “come clean.”  Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?  And who shall stand in His holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart.”  You are clean before the Lord, through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. You have received blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of your salvation.  In Jesus, your dirty hands are clean.  Amen.