Monday, March 7, 2011

Ashes, faith, death and Life Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Faith is a matter of death and life not piety or public actions that appear faithful. It's more common to think about faith as a matter of life and death; but faith in Christ, the ashes on our heads will remind us, is about living while we are already good as dead and living again after our bodies have returned back to the dust. Gerhard Forde wrote of faith as a matter of death first and then life.

I was talking about being dust a little while ago with our 7 year old daughters. They joked with me when I said, "We are only dust and water mixed together." They reply, "We don't look like dust or act like dust." I looked at my hand and their's too, “But we were dust in the beginning when God made us and that's what our bodies we'll be again in the end.” We are dust and we will always be dust except for God's good and gracious will.

Faith is the gift that allows us, who are dust, to trust God totally and completely. Faith is trusting in the Father who already knows your needs before you ask him.

οιδεν γαρ ο πατηρ υμων ων χρείαν έχετε προ του υμας αιτη σαι αυτόν.Matthew Black, The Greek New Testament, (electronic ed. of the 3rd ed. (Corrected); Federal Republic of Germany: United Bible Societies, 1997, c1982), Matthew 6:8.

Ash Wednesday is a day for you and me, as dusty people, to see the new life we've been given in Jesus death and rising. We have faith and hope even in the ashes.

My favorite place in the sanctuary at church to sit with somebody going through a trial in life is next to the windows of the cross and resurrection. We live in that space between the cross and the day when we will fully experience the risen life with Christ. This Wednesday we remember what Jesus has done for each of us in our sin and ashes. Today we will have the Ashes on our heads as reminders that we are dust and that we are going to return to the dust. Ashes could be put on our heads any day of the year. The truth is the same, we are dust and to dust we shall return.

We will turn back to dust; except for the will of God that says we should go on. Tonight we know full well that every material thing that we invest time and money into is just dust; but tomorrow we might go and live like our lives and the things we do and the things we care about will go on forever. Tonight we know that we in our bodies are just dust; and tomorrow we might forget and search in vain for a way to stay young or rich or powerful even at the expense of others.

So many families have gathered in this sanctuary to say goodbye to someone they love. So many know the hard truth because they've bid a spouse, parent, friend, or child good-bye. We see the truth in coffins and urns in this sanctuary. We are dust.

One of my favorite Ash Wednesday memories is of putting ashes on the head of a wonderful man called Duke who was followed right afterward by a not quite year old child. Duke was one of the key characters in the kitchen on Wednesday nights at church. As a neighbor Duke is a good soul. I'd stop by to visit him and Bev while walking our dog. Duke would pass me a can of beer and insist that I sit down. If the girls and I were walking together they'd get an orange pop or grape soda to split. You could spot Duke pretty easy. Bald head, a huge smile, and a hearty laugh. He was and is full of life. And on Ash Wednesday every year Duke would walk up to me and pull his hand back over his bald head just like teenagers with big bangs and say, “Father John, don't mess up my hair.”

Ash Wednesday, some say, is supposed to be somber. But not with Duke. He would just smile holding his hand over his bald head waiting for me to start laughing. This Ash Wednesday let us remember what is truly in God's heart:
  • God meets us today in our mortality and loves us. He knows we are dust and loves us.
  • God meets us in our sin and in our imperfection as as each of us is and loves us totally. We can do nothing to earn God's love because his love for us is complete and total.
  • God meets us now, even if we aren't ready He is.
  • Jesus meets us in our sin and shame and the holes from the the nails that set us free are still there in his hands.
For all that I say thanks be to God. AMEN

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