Sermon,  Sermons

Ashes, Dust and Ādāmāh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

The earth and all that is created came into being through the Word – Jesus. Humankind were Created/birthed from the earth (ādāmāh). The first adam, the first person (ha ādām) came from this mother earth. From the torso – “side-middle opening” vs. rib (not attested elsewhere) the place of the womb, birthed the second person. Did we forget from where we came? The ashes remind us, we were birthed from the dirt that covers the entire earth—we are of the same substance—and cannot be separated, and are whole only when (w)holey together.

“‘And yet even now,’ says the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart…’” –Joel 2:12

            Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Church’s observance of the Lenten season—six weeks that are set apart for the purpose of drawing closer to God and seeking God with greater intensity. Unfortunately, the Lenten season often gets reduced to the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” This is a fine question, but it can only take us so far. The real question of the Lenten season is, “How will I repent and return to God with all my heart?”

This begs an even deeper question: “Where in my life have I gotten away from God, and what are the disciplines that will enable me to find my way back?”

            Ash Wednesday initiates this season in which we are called to be as honest as we are able about the ways we have “left” God and slipped into spiritual mediocrity. “You desire truth in the inward being,” Psalm 51 points out,“Therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.” God, give me wisdom, insight, help me recognize how I leave You.

You are dust and will return to dust. This passage in Joel is often indicated to remind us of what we’re made of – as an act of humility, perhaps, to put me in my place. I also see it as an invitation. See ha ādāmāh above. Remembering who I am, where I’ve come from. And what of this dust, dirt, soil?

            Soil is not just dirt. Soil is the raked-through, penetrated and turned over remnants of dormant, decaying plants, the excrement of creatures nourished by those long dead flora above ground and the tiniest creatures that excavate, channeling through it. The quality of the soil determines the health of the plants that may sprout from it.

            What is in your soil? Is it compost composed of nutrients and clean water? Or are there foreign objects: cast off foil or plastics or gadgets no longer up-to-date? Or weeds that go to seed and choke out what longs to grow in you? (e.g., distractions, image, place in the friend-hierarchy)

            Joel: return with your whole heart, Rend your heart, not your clothes – because aren’t we sometimes more concerned with appearance.

Isaiah says don’t fast in appearance (just coming to church/bible studies) – rather, do justice/righteousness – because God gives you new name: builder/repairer; making things right in the world  . . .

            This is your new name – because, after all, you are where God dwells – where the name of the Lord indwells – Shekinah

            The Israelites in exile were stripped of identity and asked to put on a happy face (sing songs from their homeland). It was excruciating.

Perhaps you are struggling with identity, feel pain on inside while forced to present best self? Perhaps others are struggling, but you can’t know because they don’t feel safe sharing. Do you feel safe sharing yourself?

This is the time to be seeking wisdom, listening, make space for the indwelling God – and dwell with God.

A way to hear wisdom, see who you are, what is keeping you from God, in secret heart:

Photo project.

            Image with word or that represents the word.

            Receive my text as daily reminder to center [60 seconds] and/or take your own pics.

            Take pics and send to me for word/prayer text.

            Send snap to friend who reminds you of the word of the day.

With selfie, you present your best, edited self. Others compare, and you compare to others.

Picture: Someone who looks/seems different is really, just like you and me.

Notice. Listen. See. Really see into yourself, into others. Use the photo project in a creative way, set a chime on your phone to remind you?

Ashes: Ash Wednesday is an invitation to consider incorporation into the union of the body with the Body of Christ – entering into the suffering, the wound, the drama unfolding, continuous opening/receiving – into whom/which we enter, through whom we are endlessly born. (Julian of Norwich)

            The use of ashes as a sign of mortality and repentance has a long history in Jewish and Christian worship. Historically, ashes signified purification and sorrow for sins. (UMC BoD) When you are marked with the ashes, receive them with the invitation to notice the soil you are in, notice how it is being cared for.

Watch this video—a visual liturgy—about how Katrina victims were stripped of everything. As you receive the ashes.

Blessing for Ash Wednesday

So let the ashes come
as beginning
and not as end;
the first sign
but not the final.
Let them rest upon you
as invocation and invitation,
and let them take you
the way that ashes know
to go.
May they mark you
with the memory of fire
and of the life
that came before the burning:
the life that rises and returns
and finds its way again.
See what shimmers
amid their darkness,
what endures
within their dust.
See how they draw us
toward the mystery
that will consume
but not destroy,
that will blossom
from the blazing,
that will scorch us
with its joy.
~ written by Jan L. Richardson, and posted on The Painted Prayerbook.