22 February 2023
Sermon By: Rev. Dr. Robin A. Reed, Rector
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Anglican Cycle of Prayer
The Diocese of Pretoria – The Anglican Church of Southern Africa
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
We are dust and to dust we will return: this is God’s promise and blessing.
A little boy once asked his mother…What are we made of before we are born? His mother, impressed with his curiosity answered…We are made of dust and ashes. Hmm the little boy wondered…Well, what are we made of after we die? And his mother replied….We are made of ashes and dust. Well said the little boy thoughtfully you need to look at the dust under my bed because I think someone is either coming or going.
Today is Ash Wednesday, a day celebrated since the 11th century which marks the beginning of the season of Lent, the 40 days to prepare our hearts for Easter. Ash Wednesday is a day of penance, a day to reflect back upon the last year, become aware of our ever lingering sins, to ask God for forgiveness and to begin a season of reflection and renewal.
Just like the dust under the boy’s bed we have dusty parts either dying to sin or coming to new life in Christ and in the Christian journey we are called to let go of our old life and let God transform us into new creations...
As theologian C. S. Lewis once wrote “Die [to your self] before you [physically ]die, because there is no chance afterwards”.
Celebrating Ash Wednesday reminds us dying to our own selves with God’s grace calls us to let go, to let go of our desire to please others, need to control, wanting our own way and ultimately with God’ mercy to create a space in our hearts to develop a closer relationship with Jesus Christ, to embody abundant and new life in Him.
I don’t know about you, but Ash Wednesday tends to feel a bit threatening for me at times but tends to open my eyes to how small and short lived my life is and how long and broad and deep and wide God’s life is…eternal! Ash Wednesday’s words are powerful words, realistic words that cannot be disregarded, denied, or ignored - We are mortal. We were born. We will die.
And if hearing those words, remember you are but dust and to dust you shall return aren’t enough a cross of ashes burned from last year’s Palm Sunday palms is rubbed on our foreheads our fate is clearly marked and visible.
In our Gospel lesson Jesus takes our understanding a step further and explains that dust and ashes are the final destination for not just our bodies, but also much of what we value living for. That moths, rust, and thieves can…. and…. will reduce to dust every earthly goal, dream, value every treasure we hold dear. And we all know and remember the photo of the hearse pulling a U-Haul we can’t take our stuff with us.
Jesus preaches this absolute truth which the world tries to hide and deny and we too often do our best to ignore. Dust and ashes are the final return on virtually every investment we make -
what a powerful truth!
Do you remember the first time you realized your own mortality, that you will die at some point? This news can be grim, devastating, humbling. But in spite of this grim reality there is Good news. Yes you and I will all die at some point AND we can rest assured we were created by God and for God and the dust from which we came was not just from a dust bunny under the bed. We are holy dust chosen by God our bodies molded by God’s very own hands, the breath of life breathed into us by God ... God himself.
And as our Collect infers today God loves all God has made and forgives all who ask for forgiveness. Being made from dust may seem like an earthly threat but being made from holy dust is a heavenly blessing. God’s grace and power were with us when we first were created and continue on as our lives take shape. What may seem like a threat “you are dust” becomes a promise if we pay attention for our dust is holy, cherished by God,
The ashes placed upon our foreheads in the form of a cross, connect us both to Good Friday AND Easter morning so we, too, can embrace the good news that as we have risen from dust in this mortal life and will rise from the death of dust to eternal life in Christ, we will return to dust WITH Christ in new bodies, healed bodies, whole bodies.
Dust and ashes, which can feel like a threat today, point us to the power and love of God in the beginning and at the end. And as we live between the dust and dust we are called to repent and to return to Christ, our Risen Lord. Repent literally means turning around and moving in a new direction, a changed direction. God calls us to repent not centered in either our fear what will happen if I don’t or we don’t turn around or our guilt what do others think I should do?
God calls and invites us in Lent and on Ash Wednesday to respond to God’s divine love and to be centered and anchored more fully in God’s love in the heart of our creation, love in the heart of our creator, love seen most fully upon the Cross.
Under the warm divine embrace of God’s love God transform us, as dust and ashes, into symbols of hope, messengers of God’s love and servants to our neighbors. Repentance, or turning, is not something we can think ourselves into or pay lip service to and have magically happen. Repentance depends upon concrete action one day at a time, one step at a time as God invites and guides us into a new way of being. The season of Lent give us that time and space to live and to move and to have our being to make time, to sit and pray with God, to open our eyes to see where we are saying yes and where we are saying no shutting God and others out to God’s invitation to be fully alive in God.
The Good news is that we can be reassured that even if it feels as if we are stuck or too jaded to move God will continue to invite us and forgive us when we can ask to turn around again to embrace God’s path for us.
Both Jesus in the Gospel lesson and Holy Scripture and Tradition teach us that the ancient disciplines of prayer, fasting and giving of our time, talent and treasure are powerful steps to obey God’s call to turn back to God and to deepen our spiritual relationship with God.
Jesus commands these three practices prayer, fasting, and alms giving be done but be done privately we don’t need to draw attention to our devotion to God because that makes it about US or impressing others and not about pleasing God.
So this Lent pay it forward trust that your Lord and Savior who lovingly created you out of holy dust sees and celebrates this day and throughout Lent your time and presence with Him and over time our Lord will open space in your heart to be filled with kindness and generosity toward your very self which then God guides you shine toward others.
So, I invite you this day and each day in Lent to remember you are dust… holy dust….and rejoice… God is with you and with all of us from the very beginning to the very end, and every moment in between. Give God and yourself the gift of time of prayer, fasting, and alms giving this Lent. Join with your St. Francis family in our Lenten offerings and come home to God embrace yourself as holy dust be a promise and a blessing.
Thanks to the Rev. James Liggett for his guidance in this sermon