Posted in Ash Wednesday, Dust

Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.  “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.   “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Ash Wednesday gives us the chance to question our priorities, our motivations, and our own sinfulness.  Dust to dust.

Here’s an old, cute story: 
A little boy came home from Sunday school and went into his room to change his clothes. When he emerged he asked his mother, “Is it true we come from dust?”     
“Yes, sweetie,” replied his mother, a knowledgeable and deeply religious woman. “That’s absolutely right.”
“Is it true that when we die we go back to the dust?”  
“Yes, dear, that’s right. Why all these questions?” 
The little boy ran into his room and came out all excited. 
“Mom, I just looked under my bed and there’s someone either coming or going!”

It doesn’t have to be scary.  There’s beauty in that the great God of the universe breathed us into life and then because he defeated sin and death, they no longer bind us, even if when we return to dust.  We know that we’re going to return to dust sooner or later.  It’s how we live our lives that matters.

You see Lent is a time in which we’re seeing our own mortality clearly in our failings, in our sins, but that only points us still more to the One who never fails us and scatters our sins from the east to the west.  Ann Voskamp says this about giving things up for Lent, “I can’t seem to follow through in giving things up for Lent. Which makes me want to just give up Lent.  Which makes me question Who I am following.  Which may precisely be the point of Lent.”  We can’t do it on our own strength, but Christ who strengthens us.  It’s not based on our goodness or effort or natural gifts and graces, it’s through nothing but the blood of Jesus.  He alone is worthy.  Not us in both our human frailty or one-upmanship.  That’s exactly what the passage in Matthew is warning against.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to give up something like chocolate, caffeine, social media, complaining or using what I call my football words or add in spiritual practices like a daily quiet time or writing things that you are thankful for or fasting a day a week strengthening your walk with Jesus.  Those are all great additions.  Giving things up is meant to symbolize when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days.  Adding things into your daily life that are spiritual disciplines allows us to grow closer with Jesus as a time of preparation before Easter.  Doing a short devotional first thing in the morning so that you can meditate on the Word you heard from the Lord throughout your day is an amazing thing.  It’s not going to hit you perfectly every time, but it’s amazing how God can work through words on a page or a song on the radio.  As with most things in life, what you put into it, is what you’ll get out of it.  It’s only a tool, a ritual, to draw us closer to Jesus when we’re deep in the wilderness of life. 

When your deep in the wilderness of life is exactly where Jesus meets us and says you don’t have to do anything, you don’t have to figure it out, you don’t have to bear the world’s burdens alone, come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. 

The artist and poet, Jan Richardson, writes in her poem “Blessing the Dust,”

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

I can’t help but think of the Ukrainians who are suffering as they round out another year of war. I can’t help but think of the one’s in this community who are suffering.  I can’t help but think of the people and ministries we will minister to on Saturday in our Volunteer Extravaganza during our Missions Possible Weekend and the communities they support, advocate for, and walk alongside.

Hear this Good News!  God can work wonders from dust.  God knit you in your mother’s womb.  As Hawk Nelson’s “Diamond” says, “God’s making diamonds out of dust.  God’s refining and in God’s timing, God’s making diamonds out of us.” Psalm 8:3-4 says, “When I look up at your skies, at what your fingers made — the moon and the stars that you set firmly in place — what are human beings that you think about them . . . that you pay attention to them?”  The Great God of the Universe calls each one of us by name and walks with us through the valleys and the mountaintops, sometimes cradling us in God’s mighty arms, sometimes nudging us forward to answer his call, but always our Emmanuel, God with us, is present with us on the bathroom floors, when bombs are going off around us, in the hospital rooms, everywhere, at all time.  May we practice a Holy Lent, trusting in God’s mercy and Jesus’ grace and forgiveness, as we prepare for Christ’s resurrection over these next 40 days.  To dust you come and to dust you will return.  Repent and believe in the Gospel. 

5 thoughts on “Ash Wednesday

  1. Thank you for sharing this with us. I loved the idea that someone is coming under my bed (there’s lots of raw material there) and the diamond analogy was new to me. I found it very heartening.

  2. Reflecting on our mortality or more poetically, “returning to dust,” can be a rather somber thought process until the Good News crashes through. “God has and will work wonders with dust!”

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