Ash Wednesday February 14, 2018
Just a Little Ash? Is it really just a little ash?
Each Ash Wednesday I am reminded of the words of the committal part of the Funeral service which go “Therefore we commit this body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”
A form of those words are spoken by God for the very first time in the garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God says to them – “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
“Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.” This is a stark reminder of from where we came and to where, all other factors being equal, we shall return.
We are by nature and deed – a walking, talking, thinking, doing package of dust and ashes. There is not much value in dust and ashes. Gardeners know that it can be used to help grow plants; and a few products can be made from ash – but basically it is worthless.
In fact it is often less than worthless – it is a hindrance, a liability and could be a health issue. You can’t make it pretty by painting it, or smell good by spraying perfume on it. Dust is dust, ashes are ashes – and the plain fact is they both are largely to be avoided.
And that is us too.
When all is said and done – our virtue and our morality are like rags upon us; our virtue is but a spray of perfume upon thoughts and feelings and deeds that are best buried and forgotten.
So why do we bother tonight smearing ashes on our foreheads? Why do we gather and remember what we are on this chilly winter night?
Well – the answer is that while we gather to remember who we are, we also gather to remember who God is – and what God has done for us in and through Jesus Christ. We gather – because – all other factors are not equal.
God has given us a way out of our plight of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” It is the way of the Cross. The death of Jesus was God’s way of placing a sign of infinite value upon that which would otherwise be worthless.
Tonight it is for us to know and realize that God has chosen to give us some other life than that which leads to the dust heap and the ash pit. And all that God asks of us in this is that we accept the mercy, accept the forgiveness, and accept the grace that God continues to bestow on us every day of our lives.
We do this best by remembering who we truly are: we are sinners who are redeemed and made right by God through Jesus Christ.
God asks of us that we try to be humble, to be thankful, to be faithful, and to be compassionate; all of which are based on God’s love.
We are called to do this instead of being motivated by thoughts of human praise or reward, but instead we try to show a righteousness that is based on God’s goodness – instead of being motivated by thoughts of demonstrating our virtue.
God is committed to us and always will be – and has given to us a sign of that commitment – the cross.
Tonight we have come to take upon ourselves that sign – we come to recommit ourselves to God and the way that God’s Son, Jesus, has shown us through his life, his death, and his resurrection.
We come to remember the words of the committal service, the words that do not stop with “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”, but continue on to say “trusting in God’s great mercy by which we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
These words we should always remember – for we are born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ; a hope that comes to us because of the compassion, the grace and the love of God for all of creation; a hope that comes because God has acted in and through Jesus to open the way to new life to all who repent and believe in the good news that Jesus proclaimed.
Listen once more to these words from the prophet Joel, “Return to the LORD your God, for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and God relents from punishing.”
It’s not just a little ash!
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory.
@Rev. Tim Wolbrecht, February, 2018
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, in the SoundCloud window below, CLICK (or double-Click) the red button with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “Sermon Ash Wednesday” name of the sermon.