Sermon; Ash Wednesday 2018
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. So it was ordained from the beginning at our creation that all of us go down to the dust.
If we go back and look at the second creation story with Adam and Eve in the garden, you should notice something significant there. God created Adam and put him in the garden. And he said “You may eat from any tree in the garden, but you shall not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
Eventually Eve comes along, has a conversation with a serpent, and both she and Adam eat from the forbidden tree. God then lists out curses/consequences for their disobedience, and one of the things he says is,”You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Adam and Eve are then expelled from the garden because God is afraid they will next eat from the Tree of Life and live forever.
In other words, Paul and all those who thought that death only entered the world through Adam and Eve's disobedience got it wrong: death has always been part of the equation. For out of the dust were we taken. We are dust, and to dust shall we return.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
We are mortal. We are born, we live, and we die. Despite knowing this fact, despite knowing that 100 percent of people who were, or who will be, born will die, we try to ignore it. We put off doing what we should to prepare for that day. We create euphemisms to soften the words, “He/She died.” But the reality is that we all die.
Within that reality, though is uncertainty. Even though we all die, no one knows when we will die. That uncertainty has led to stories and movies along the lines of, “What if you knew how much time you had left?” One of the funnier movies was, “Last Holiday,” starring Queen Latifah. Her character learns she has a terminal brain disease and is given three weeks to live. The movie revolves around the, “What would you do?” theme.
What would we do if we were born with a tattoo showing how many days we would live? What would we do if our birth certificate came with a death certificate? Would we live differently? Would we live better? Would we live worse?
It's a fact that we will die. It's also a fact that we don't know when that will happen. But what if we took the idea of knowing when we will die and insert it into our uncertain lives? What if we took the best of what we would do given a limited time – more time with family, volunteer more, read more, pray more – and applied it right now?
Last week I was in Kingsville for the monthly Fresh Start program and the topic was discernment. It didn't just focus on discerning a call to ordained ministry, but on everything – discerning the direction of the parish, discerning personal goals, and the like.
During the discussion one person said, “This reminds me of a saying from the Sufi master Rumi. He said, 'Before anything passes through your lips, consider three things: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?'”
Today is Ash Wednesday. Today we are called to the observance of a holy Lent through a variety of actions and examinations. Today is the day when we attempt to empty ourselves of things selfish in nature and fill ourselves with things holy in nature. This is the time when we, like the bread and wine at Communion, make a substantial change in our nature which will bring us closer to the presence of Christ.
This Lent, what if we examined our lives and lived as if we knew just how limited our time on earth was? What if, this Lent, we vowed to evaluate our behaviors on whether or not it is true, necessary, and kind?
For all of us go down to the grave; ashes to ashes, dust to dust. With that in mind, will the changes we make and the life we live allow God to say, “Well done.”