Once upon a time, an astute church member asked why we read this gospel on Ash
Wednesday, the day we smudge piety all over our face.
It’s not exactly praying in secret.
I think the intent is not to showcase our piety, but our mortality and true identity.
It is not to show the world how faithful we are—if that’s why we do it, we too are
hypocrites who have fallen into the same trap Jesus warned about—but to show
the world who we really are and how faithful God is.
We are dust, and to dust we shall return.
We are space dust: we are in the universe, and the universe is in us.
We’re made of the same stuff; human beings and the rest of creation are in this together.
We are also earth dust: we humans come from and return to the humus, and when we remember this, we are humble.
The people Jesus calls the actors—the hypocrites—are pretending to be something else.
They are distinguishing themselves by their pious efforts and religious theatrics as
holier than thou, better than you.
Thank goodness social media came along to help us overcome this temptation.
Perhaps our greatest, most basic, most widespread sin is self-absorption, which
comes out in so many different ways: chasing the approval or praise of others, disregarding others, comparing ourselves to others (body image, net worth, social behavior, child’s percentile, circle of friends, intelligence, athletic prowess, resume...what measuring sticks do you use?)...
It comes out in stereotyping others but expecting understanding for ourselves (among
other double standards), in unconcern for the suffering of others which can be dismissed with the lazy lie that others get what they deserve but I’m the victim of other people’s mistakes.
“Well, pastor, in my case it’s true...” okay, but why do we feel the need to defend
ourselves at all?
Martin Luther would say it is because we sinners are in curvatus se – curved in on self.
At the center of the word sin is the real problem, the letter I.
When I am the center of things, my world becomes pathetic and small.
When I am the center of things, I quickly becomes Idol.
And it is amazing how long we can go on living like this, so every year, God gives us the
gift of Lent.
You are dust, like everyone else.
You will die, like everyone else.
You are mine, like everyone else.
You are beloved and unique, fearfully and wonderfully made, like everyone else.
Get over yourself.
When you do, there is so much more to discover and appreciate and enjoy.
When you curve out to creation, the world and the heart of the God who made it open up
and stretch out.
There is so much more that God wants for us than we tend to settle for ourselves.
C.S. Lewis preached,
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of
the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our
desires not too strong, but too weak.
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when
infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who want to go on making mud
pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is mean by the offer of a holiday
at the sea.
We are far too easily pleased. (The Weight of Glory, 1942)
Lent interrupts our half-heartedness with a warning that is really a promise.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Where is your life headed?
The grave, the ground, the dust – with everyone else.
You are headed back to God, who shapes and breathes dust into wonders.
You are headed back to who you truly are.
You are headed home to the hands of God.
Remembering that clarifies everything else along the way.