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“Ashes to Life; Dust to Redemption”

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“Ashes to Life; Dust to Redemption”


            ​A minister was visiting a family and one of the children had a burning question to ask. Like a good student the child raised her hand during the discussion and when she got the minister’s attention she asked, “Is it true that we all came from dust and we all return to dust?” The pastor answered carefully because he could see how serious she was. He said, “Yes, the Bible tells us that God made us out of the dust of the earth and when we die, our bodies return to dust.” Then the child looked shocked and exclaimed, “Well, somebody is either coming or going under my bed.”

            ​The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. Those of you who were able to be at the service will recall that, as Pastor Earl and I imposed your ashes, we said, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.” The fact that we are nothing but ashes and dust is part of the theme of this season of the Christian year. This theme is perhaps the most important part of Lent. We don’t like to think of those things. We would rather accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. But, Lent makes us look at our own sinfulness and the frailty of life. Without God we are as lifeless as the dust of the earth and we are as dead as the rocks beneath our feet.

            ​The Hebrew Reading this morning is about God making a covenant with Abraham and Sarah. We are told that Abraham was 99 years old. Abraham was so old that Paul says in Romans that Abraham considered his own body to be as good as dead. Sarah was a bit younger, but still no spring chicken (whatever that means). She was probably, scholars tell us, in her late 80s. The two of them had reached that point in their lives when most people sit in rocking chairs on their front porches and spend their time keeping track of how many great grandchildren they have. The problem was they had never had any children. Sarah was barren and much too old to bear children — or so they thought.

            ​Then God came to Abraham to make a covenant with him. God said, “I’ll make you a deal: You keep your nose clean and I will make your family into a great nation.” But how — he had no family? There was Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Sarah’s servant. He could produce descendants. But God said, “No, I’m going to bless your wife Sarah and she will bear a child and be the mother of nations.” Surely God was kidding! Could a hundred-year-old man and a ninety-year-old woman have a baby? And Abraham laughed until he was rolling on the ground.

​            The lifeless womb of Sarah was a reality. The physical reality is that a 90-year-old woman cannot bear children. Life could not be produced from a couple that old. But, God decided to make Abraham a nation that would follow the Almighty who can do all things. God decided to take something lifeless and create life. It is inconceivable to we human beings. But, it is God’s way of doing things.

            ​Thousands of years later Peter was sitting with the disciples listening to Jesus. And as they were sitting there Jesus began to tell them that he would suffer. He would be rejected by the religious establishment and be handed over to the Romans who would execute him. But then, three days later, he would rise again. He said it very plainly so they could understand well.

            ​But Peter pulled him aside, “No Lord, you have it all wrong. You are the Messiah the anointed one of God. Just a minute ago you asked me who I thought you were. I said you are the Messiah. I really believe that. You are supposed to go to Jerusalem and all the people will hail you as King. You will not die, you will live forever — Long live the King!”

            ​But Jesus said, “Peter, you have it all wrong. That is the world’s way. My way is different. My way is to bring life out of death — power out of humble sacrifice. You can’t participate in the empire of the world and follow me.”

            ​We live in a world where death is a reality. We don’t understand why things happen the way that they do. But there’s more than just physical death. There’s the lifelessness of our human condition without God; the misery of the world without God’s Kindom.

            ​These things are real. They cannot be denied or painted over. But that is what we try to do. Our culture attempts to live in a fantasy.

            ​We treat war as a political tool…or at worst, a necessary evil. When the reality is very different. War is war and real people get killed. Bombs meant for a bridge or communications tower fall on elementary schools, hospitals, and homes. We call that “collateral damage.” And, a piece of our collective soul dies.

            We see folks who are different from us, being maligned and ostracized. And, we try to pretend that is somehow ok. But, where any person is denied equality, every person experiences the loss of the same grace we all depend upon.

            It’s not easy to think about such things. We prefer to believe that everything is okay. The truth is that we come from dust and return to it.

            But, in the face of this reality, there is good news: God’s way is to bring life out of death. This is what our scripture lessons show us. God made the lifeless womb of Sarah bear a great nation. God used the death of Christ to give credence to the new way that Christ taught.

            God can take the dead and lifeless parts of our lives and our world and breathe new life into them too. But, if we deny that these lifeless parts exist, then no life can come out of them. If we go on living as if there are no consequences to our actions, then we cannot claim to follow Christ.

            The world’s way is to say “Life can only come where everything is okay.” But, God’s way is to bring life… even out of death! And we are invited to participate.

Thanks be to God, Amen!