A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Tied to God’s Story of Welcome Advent 1 year A December 8, 2019

This sermon was preached on Dec. 1, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.

The texts were:

Isaiah 2: 1-5
Psalm 122
Matthew 24: 36-44

 

A couple of weeks ago I read a story about a young woman, 23, who’s father had died four years earlier. When he was alive, she used to call or text him every day about her day. When he died, she continued these nightly texts. How she had been diagnosed and beat cancer, how she went to college, about her first job, apartment, ups and downs of her life. Of course, she never had a reply and she assumed that these texts were just going to digital void. But these texts made her feel that she was still connecting to her dad, tied into his love that she had known from him while he was alive. On the fourth anniversary of his death, she sent her usual daily update but with a note of how much after four years, she still loved and missed him. But on this night, she received a reply…her texts had not been going into a void but to a man who had been given her dads cell phone number not long after his death. This man had lost a daughter about the same time that this young woman had lost her dad. He began to wait and watch for those nightly texts not knowing if they would continue to come or not. He never responded until that anniversary text, and he doesn’t know why. But he texted her “sweetheart, I’m so sorry that your dad died and that you miss him. My daughter died a few years ago too. If she were still alive today, I would want her to be like you. You are amazing.” They connected in real life, and the man said that the nightly texts are what kept him alive when he felt that he couldn’t go on without his daughter.

He and this young woman, though strangers, were tied together, connected into something bigger than their grief. They both felt left behind and lonely from the deaths of their loved ones and were trying to make sense of a senseless situation. And while, they still didn’t have pat answers, one thing was clear, that they had needed each other and this young woman who thought that she was only sending messages into nothingness, was tying someone into a bigger story of love, connection and welcome. And on the night the man texted back, he included her into a bigger story as well. There is no such thing as strangers or outsiders, only people who don’t realize that they are connected to one another yet for purpose, affirmation and walking together, even if the path isn’t always clear.

I love this story so much as it exemplifies the heart of the good news from God as we enter into the Advent season. We wait and watch for messages from God about Jesus coming to us-returning to finish what was begun at creation. But we don’t like the unknown and waiting much as humans and we grow impatient. In our current culture of immediate gratification, and with all our technology and learning, we think that we should be able to predict an exact time and place. We also want to know who will be included in the coming of God’s kingdom-some people? Which people? Why? Our need to know everything, to think that we can play God and should be on par with God isn’t new, it’s as old as the story from the garden of the first people wanting to know what God knows about right and wrong.

Jesus reminds us that we aren’t God, and that’s a good thing. We don’t know when Jesus will return, not even Jesus knew that when he was with the disciples here on earth. Partially, I think because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter when Jesus will come again because we should always be living with purpose and with mission for God’s work, not to ensure that we are not “left behind” but because we already are left behind. All the cultural appropriation of the “end times” throughout history has been based on fear of not making the cut, of not being good enough, of not being included. But Jesus says that’s not how any of this works. The person left in the field and the woman left grinding meal, aren’t excluded from God’s promises, not at all, they are left to continue the work of connecting more and more people into God’s welcome of love, grace and mercy. God needs people, needs us, to reveal these promises all over the world. Maybe through text messages, or maybe in person, merely by our presence.

Isaiah points to the reality that all people will come to God’s house and will be welcomed! No one is left out, all will learn the ways of God’s peace and mercy for the sake of living lives of praise, joy and gratitude for the work that God has put before us all. All people are tied to this story. We may not understand this story fully on this side of the kingdom, and the good news is that we don’t have to. Being tied to God’s story of welcome means that we can let go of knowing all the details when, who and why, and we can focus on being that light in the void, the people who keep awake, not for worrying about ourselves, but keeping awake to see whom God is including and so we can too. Being awake allows us to see people for whom they really are: beloved by God made in God’s image. We can learn from God to love all people-which is more than only tolerance and acceptance but is about relationships. We are to learn peace from God, which is to move beyond our fears of those different from us and work side by side with people for the good of all creation.

War, hatred, divisions, borders, fear are not of God. When Isaiah sees people streaming to the house of the Lord, it means that people will cross geo-political human made boundaries, people will gather with different customs, food, thoughts and rituals. And God will gather them all, judge them, not with anger but with love and trust. God’s judgment of love and peace transforms weapons of war to instruments of cultivating newness, life and growth. God brings life from death and destruction. Our personal weapons may not be ones of guns, swords or tanks but we wield weapons of war and hate with our words, our actions, or inaction and even the bible, the story of God’s unending love, has been used for division and destruction. Keeping awake allows us to see and learn to turn our words to compassion, our actions to peace and inclusion, our scriptures to welcome, wholeness and love. We then can see what God sees, humanity and creation bound together in the God’s promises for peace, abundant life and love forever. We can see that our purpose is to share God’s welcome even when we can’t see the outcome, even when we don’t have all the answers, or can’t understand God’s timing. God sees that we can walk together in the light of Jesus who illuminates our path and reveals that we are all tied to God’s story of welcome forever.

I’m going to invite the children forward to talk some more about this. You wondered when I was going to do the children’s sermon, didn’t you? It’s like our bible story today! What are some of your favorite stories, either books or on tv or a movie? What makes those stories good? There are all kinds of reasons, but often times, really great stories, pull us in and make us a part of the story somehow. We’ve been talking about that this morning and how the bible is God’s love story to us, and how God wants to welcome us and everyone into this story. And when we are a part of this story, it’s so good that we will want to share it with everyone we meet! That’s part of our work here in our lives, to share the story, not just with words, but with actions. It’s sometimes hard to remember that we are tied to God’s story though, isn’t it. We can worry that maybe we’re not part of God’s story or worry that someone else isn’t. But we just heard that we don’t have to worry about that-everyone is included-even if they haven’t heard the story yet. To help us remember this I have these blue ribbons. We use the color of blue in Advent to remember the night sky when Jesus was born and it represented royalty in Jesus’ time-and we know that Jesus is a special kind of king. So we have these blue ribbons that we are going to tie on our wrists to remind us that we are tied and welcomed into God’s story of love and peace for the whole world. I’m going to have you help me hand these out to everyone here and we will tie them on one another and offer this blessing: +You are tied and welcomed into God’s story forever+

 

Peace: It’s not what you think A sermon on Luke 12: 49-56 Pentecost 10 Year C August 23, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on August 18, 2019 in Holladay, UT.

Children’s sermon: Blessing of the Backpacks: Invite the children, adults, anyone forward who would like a tag. What time of year is it? School time! How did we know that it is school time? Stores have school supplies, you get a letter or email from your school or teacher, summer has gone on a long time and the weather should start to cool off soon, all signs that it’s time for something new! Now, it’s hard to say good-bye to summer, more time with friends and family, and more time for fun and vacations. But it’s time to go back, summer changes into fall. And we have a way to mark this change, we have these tags to go on your bags this morning. One side says “peace be upon you” and the other side has the name of our church. What do you think it means to wish someone peace? Yes, it can mean those things! So what’s weird is that Jesus says this morning that he didn’t come to bring peace to the earth, but division! What Jesus? Jesus often confuses me…Do you think that means that Jesus wants us to fight? NO! Here’s what Jesus knows, that peace is hard. And God’s peace doesn’t mean letting other people be mean to you, take things from you, say unkind things, call you names, and not saying no, just to get along. Peace doesn’t mean doing what other people want you to do, just to make them like you. Peace doesn’t mean letting everyone have their own way and keeping everything exactly the same so that everyone is comfortable. No, Jesus didn’t come for *that* kind of peace, but the kind of peace that is actually naming things in the world that harm other people and trying to change it. Jesus’ peace means change. Peace is being excited about all the new things that you will learn this year. Jesus’ peace is looking for where God is changing the world and us! Right now, you all are still physically growing, getting taller, stronger-and even adults, we grow too! We learn new things, see all the ways God is working for change/peace in the world and it causes us to change too! This tag can remind us to look for God’s peace, God’s change that changes the world so that everyone is whole, everyone is safe, everyone is loved! Let’s pray: God of peace, we are so excited for a new school year! You are with us always as we learn new things, meet new people, grow and change. Thank you for teachers, school admins, custodians and our friends at school. Thank you for a world that is always changing through your love and may we care for your creation and your people. Amen.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been trained that keeping the peace is very important. I’ve been conditioned that I shouldn’t rock the boat with my opinion if it might cause someone to disagree, that I should strive to make everyone comfortable and happy, so no one feels uneasy. But then we discover that is impossible. Not speaking up can leave someone feeling uneasy if hurtful statements are left unchecked. Making everyone comfortable, turns out, is not possible, as everyone has a different definition of comfortable and ease. So we run from situation to situation, person to person, attempting to put out the fires of discontent, only to have hot spots smolder and spark back up over time. It’s exhausting isn’t it? And we also discover in this pursuit of false peace, that it’s not honest. In order to keep this level of peace, of status quo, we end up being untrue to someone, and it’s usually ourselves.

Being true to who we are is difficult as we have a world trying to make us into something else. People around us have expectations, rightly or wrongly, of how we are to act, think and be. Especially, when we layer the word “Christian” on top of those definitions. That word has become a loaded one in our country and in the world in the last 30 years. And just like the word “peace,” it doesn’t mean what people think it means. It doesn’t mean judgment, exclusion, self-righteousness, being perfect, having it all together and it doesn’t mean status quo. Being a Christian literally means being one who follows Christ and attempts to model their life after Christ’s example. Being a Christian, means we give ourselves over to Christ’s life-changing work in us and in the world. It means that we look for where God is changing the world, upending status quo and transforming hearts and minds. And as Lutheran Christians, we add that we are always reforming. We are part of a tradition that calls for everything to be reexamined and reformed for the sake of our neighbor to experience the gospel of Jesus Christ in their lives. Just like peace, it is hard, and forces us to reexamine who we really are in our daily lives and what that means for our relationships and how we live. We listen for God’ voice, that voice that calls us to authenticity, vulnerability, risk, openness and seeing each other as Christ. And we discover, that God’s voice will often be antithetical to the world’s voice of Christianity or peace.

We get some insight into what this journey in following Jesus and listening for God’ voice might be like in our Luke and Hebrews passages today. This gospel text is one of the most challenging in the four gospels, maybe the NT, as Jesus upends our ideas of why Jesus came. We tend to think of Jesus coming as a little sweet baby with an angelic choir singing “peace on earth, goodwill to all.” Idyllic, comfortable, sweet and easy. We love to dwell in that pastoral scene hoping that it will never end and will stay the same forever. But Jesus is clear that is not what the reign of God looks like.  From the beginning of Luke’s gospel, Mary sings the Magnificat, a manifesto of political change where the powerful are knocked off thrones, the lowly ones lifted up, the rich are sent away empty, the hungry fed, the proud are scattered and a poor, nobody Jewish girl from a backwater town will be called blessed for all generations to come. At Jesus’ presentation in the temple Simeon proclaimed that Jesus will be opposed, and a sword will pierce Mary’s heart. As Jesus began his ministry, he read from Isaiah and proclaimed the release of the captives, sight to the blind and the oppressed with go free. He called disciples who left family businesses as well as walked away from family. Jesus broke sabbath laws by healing, he broke purity laws by cleansing lepers, he took on demons. His actions did anything but kept worldly peace, Jesus was true to who he was, God’s son, and to his purpose, bringing change that would bring healing, wholeness and hope to all people, not just those at the top. God’s kingdom coming means nothing will be the same.

Jesus’ coming, God’s word made flesh, isn’t about comfort and maintaining systems. Jesus came to bring God’s peace to the earth-peace that enacts change and justice for the sake of wholeness in the world. The irony, is that when status quo is disrupted and people whom the world had silenced have a voice, divisions do occur. When oppression of people of different colors, economic status, religions, genders is no longer tolerated and people speak up, it’s uncomfortable indeed. When people on the outside are brought to the center and given leadership, it’s unsettling. When people begin to live as God created them and not in societal norms, it’s challenging to our held beliefs. But Jesus says that change is inevitable, how can we not see it? The weather changes and we see the storm and wind coming, we see how fire transforms objects, but why can’t we see the changes and transformations that God is up to?

It’s fine for some changes to happen, particularly if they don’t affect us. But Jesus is clear that God’s kingdom comes-to spark the fire of the Holy Spirit that is in us-to change our hearts, our minds and our lives. What is not truly divine in us will be burned away, leaving in each of us and in all creation, God’s goodness, God’s divine image. In God’s kingdom, nothing stays the same, even if it means that mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, in-laws disagree and are divided on what it means to follow Jesus and be changed by the peace that he brings. This kind of division won’t feel good and we will want to avoid it at all costs. But when Jesus’ peace is upon us, drawing us into God’s transformations, we become part of God’s work and we can let go of trying to keep a false peace. We can go toward the discomfort of divisions as we also live in the faith and witness of those who have gone before us, those who risked and brought God’s change and healing into the world. We trust in God’s protection into this death to false peace and being resurrected into the promises of abundant and full life in transforming peace. This is the race that is before us as Christians in the 21st century. It’s hard, challenging and moves us beyond ourselves. And the fire of the Holy Spirit is in us, with us and sparking us daily to live in the God’s true radical love, hope and mercy that breaks all systems of oppression, heals the broken and brings us into community with one another and God. We rise up with God, together, deeply loved, never alone, part of God’s transforming and life-altering work in creation. Thanks be to God!

 

Wrestling with the Gods Love Sermon on Genesis 32:22-31 July 10, 2016

*You can watch at http://www.bethanylive.org

 

I’m wrestling this week with the simple fact that there has been an awful lot of law in the world in the past few weeks. By “law” I mean events that seemingly violate the Great Commandment from Jesus of “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” There has been much that has the potential to drive us to despair, hopelessness and weariness. It seems that there is more that divides us than unites us. It seems that this week in particular has been difficult. I’m simply heartbroken at all of the loss of life on all accounts. I’m also aware of the complexity of all of these events and my own complicity in systems of privilege, power, and security. I pray and hope for the world to be different and yet, that means a huge change in how I experience my day to day existence and that complexity can be paralyzing and frightening.

Evident in all of this brokenness and violence is the reality that we view all of these events through our very human lens of either/or. Either you agree that all Muslims are terrorists or you don’t. Either you are pro-police officers or not. Either you support LBGTQI rights or you don’t. Either you are pro #blacklivesmatter or you not. Not to invoke an inappropriate metaphor, but we see the world as black and white, yes or no, in or out, win or lose, us or them. Social media and mainstream media help to perpetuate this type of thinking in our culture and we get caught in the loop that this is the way the world works and are the only choices that we have. And once we supposedly make that choice it means a certain type of behavior and mindset. If there is an “us” then “them” must be feared and mitigated.

But this is not the reality of the kingdom of God. God is not about either/or but what I have learned as the “third way” or “both/and.” In the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, Jesus is ushering in “third way” thinking. Jesus is pointing out that those whom many would assume might not be a part of what God is doing in the world because they are not what the world would declare as people of power, privilege and authority are exactly who God proclaims as included in God’s kingdom. Jesus declares that there is not an “us or them” paradigm, only one people in the kingdom of God.

Jesus is also turning on its head what it means to be blessed. We throw that word around and connect it to our own good fortune and comfortableness. We’re blessed with material possessions, vocations, health, family, and the list goes on and on of all of the ways that we think we’re blessed. But Jesus doesn’t connect blessedness with any of these comforts of the world. You see, the promise from God isn’t that we would be “blessed” with any of those things, as a matter of fact, all of that, possessions, vocation and health are all temporary, not guaranteed and certainly not signs of God’s kingdom. We worry about losing wealth, status and health and live in the false dichotomy and fear of scarcity or abundance and not the reality that there is only abundance in God’s kingdom and enough to go around for us all.

 But God breaks this either/or as well with what being blessed is really about: What God actually promises is that God is always with you and will call you by name-beloved child of God. God’s blessings of love and grace surround you and me and all of us no matter what and these blessings flow abundantly. Jesus declares that God’s way, the third way, is not that some are in and others out, some are valued more than others, and some lives are worth more than others, but that God’s blessing reaches all, gathers us all and redeems us all regardless of what the world says.

I’ve been pondering this reality, this third way, a lot this week. To live in the both/and of the blessing and love of Christ is not an easy endeavor. It means real sacrifice and yes, pain. It means giving up this either/or worldview and stepping out into the realm of faith, God’s invitation into a life focused on serving my neighbor and not myself. It also means that stepping into this reality of the incarnation of Jesus Christ is God’s way of abolishing either/or requires something of me. As Lutherans we get itchy about anything that smacks of “works righteousness” but I think we miss the boat when we sit comfortably with the notion of “Christ died for me and I don’t have to do anything to earn it.” That is true that the gifts of God are free but that fact that the tomb is empty is life altering, transformative and yes, a painful experience. The empty tomb propelled the women to run. To run and proclaim all that they had seen, even though they didn’t understand, except they knew that now everything is different. The tomb empties all that we know about how the world works, even the reality of death. We’re decentered and put out of joint by God’s reality that when the kingdom of God comes near, we can’t stay the same or in the same place-we have places to go and people to serve. The kingdom of God means that we can’t put everyone and every event into neat little categories because the death and resurrection of Jesus annihilates and defies categories. No longer does death mean death, no longer is the end really the end, no longer is anyone excluded, no longer are we on our own to figure stuff out, no longer is there us or them, no longer are we separated from love, no longer can we be silent, no longer can we accept comfortableness at the expense of others.

This transformation of all that we know, means that we might walk with a limp in the eyes of the world because we’re learning to walk in a new way with God. It means that we value the life of our brothers and sisters more than our own, more than our comfort, more than our security, more than the status quo, more than our privilege, more than our power. This limp will slow us down so that we can listen, learn, educate ourselves and change our day to day words and behaviors to value all of our neighbors. This limp will make us seem weak in the eyes of the world, but it will allow us to walk beside those who are limping under the strain of oppression, fear and hate. It’s painful to walk with a limp, it’s slow, it’s tedious and yet, as Paul writes, it’s in this limping that we find our strength. Our strength is the love of Christ that comes to us like no other love that the world can offer. Not with strings, conditions, rewards, or demanding reciprocation, but with openness, mercy, and the power to make us new in love so that we can respond to the need of our neighbor for such love. This isn’t sappy “Kum by yah” love-it’s love that’s strong enough to wrestle and stay in the relationship, even when it’s hard and it hurts. This is love from Christ that says, “I love you too much to let you stay the same.”

Walking with Christ means walking in the way of embracing the tension of this third way. When the world demands a yes or a no, we offer love for all people. When the world demands an in or an out, we offer love that includes all people. When the world demands black or white, we offer love that values diversity and all whom God has created in God’s very own image. We offer this unconditional love to those who suffer in Orlando, Syria, Istanbul, Iraq, to the families of Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, the Dallas police officers: Michael Krol, Brent Thompson, Michael Smith, Patrick Zamarripa, Lorne Ahrens. (*post sermon addendum: I didn’t realize the Dallas shooter, Micah Johnson, had also been killed. I would have mentioned him as well.)  When violence erupts again, and it will, we offer not just words of love but actions that reveal that God is at work in the world, through the world for the sake of the world.

This will not be easy, simple or a once and for all endeavor. It’s a journey, a process and the way that we live as life long disciples of Jesus Christ. But Jesus promises to be on the road with us, opening up the scriptures time and again to reveal the new thing that God is up to in our midst, even when we don’t see it, or don’t want to see. But Jesus will time and again, drown our preoccupation with self in the waters of baptism and will reveal in bread and wine that all are part of the body of Christ-he begged us to break the bread in remembrance of him, which is not about nostalgia but about literally be “re-membered” put back together as one humanity at the table of abundance where there is room for all. It means sitting with those whom you may not like, be afraid of or even disapprove. It means sitting with those whom don’t like you, are afraid of you or disapprove of you. It means sitting in the tension of God’s love truly being for all-the tension of the both/and of God’s third way for the world. God’s way of radical wholeness, peace, justice, mercy and love. Amen.

 

Divine Dust Ash Wednesday, February 10, 2016, Year C February 11, 2016

False and True Worship

58 Shout out, do not hold back!
    Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
    and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
    they delight to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
    Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
    and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
    will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
    and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
    to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator[a] shall go before you,
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
    and satisfy your needs in parched places,
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to live in.

 

Maybe these phrases resonate with you tonight: “I don’t know how much more studying I can do, I’m so burned out.” “I’m exhausted from arguing with my teenaged daughter. I’m burned out on the fights.” “My supervisor just keeps piling on the requirements without allowing enough time or resources for the project. I’m burned out on her not listening.” “I can’t listen to any more political commercials. I’m burned out on the nonsense.” “I keep going back to drinking, gambling, overeating. I’m burned out on trying to change.” “I’m never going to be as good as my friend, colleague, classmate, neighbor. I’m burned out on not feeling good enough.” “I don’t know if I can make it one more day without my husband, wife, mother, father, child. I’m burned out on being sad.”

“I’m burned out.” It’s become a phrase that we throw around with our friends, family and colleagues pretty casually. Sometimes we use it as a badge of honor in relation to our busy and so obviously important schedules. Being burned out means that we’re so vital in whatever little kingdom we inhabit and so of course all of our resources are simply not only crucial but must be depleted. Otherwise, nothing will get done, right?

We also use this phrase to highlight our distaste and the repugnancy of whatever situation we are witnessing or are caught in. Politics, religion, money, taxes, are just a few venues in our lives where its seems that our capacity for engagement has a limit. We gaze out at the socio-economic-political landscape and what catches our sight is often less than hopeful, less than joyful, and less than secure. It’s difficult to near impossible to hear past the rhetoric and posturing of the political candidates to uncover anything of substance, anything that might be life-giving or anything that we might be able to grab on to for security and hope. We yearn for conversations of integrity, honesty and truth. We optimistically listen for what the future might bring for our children, grandchildren and even ourselves and then gut wrenchingly realize that perhaps we’re the only ones who are concerned for those who come after us. We begin to wonder that maybe change isn’t possible and this is the best that we can expect from our systems of government, education and yes, even the Church.

Or maybe you’ve used this phrase as a whisper of desperation for a relationship with a loved one or….yourself. When we’ve hit rock bottom and all we have left is the crippling knowledge that we are caught in a cycle that we alone, all by ourselves without any help, can’t break. When we’ve cried the last tear, because we’ve cried so hard, for so many days, that there is nothing left but long, dry, heaving sobs. When our hearts are not just broken, but shattered into so many pieces that we’re fairly sure that not only will it never go back together again but that there WILL be pieces forever missing. You’ve screamed the words in the car, in the woods or in the bathroom, “God, I’m burned out! I can’t do this anymore!”

God, we’re burned out. We’re depleted. We’re spent. Some days it seems that there is nothing left of our lives but ashes. Those dusty, dirty remnants of an object or thing that used to be, that used to be something of substance, of importance, of usefulness. Now, a pile of ashes, useless, easily scattered and easily blown away. What good are we as ashes and where is God when we are burned out, burned away to what feels like nothingness?

Isaiah writes, “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.” God hears us, listens to us, walks with us, cries with us, and sees us. God sees that we are burned out, that we are stuck in only going through the motions, that we spin our wheels and only send more dirt and muck flying up into the air, covering ourselves and those around us with the grimy specs of our attempts to take care of ourselves, go it alone, tricking others and ourselves into thinking that we have it all together, and that we can clean ourselves up at any time.

Ash Wednesday is the intersection of our dust, dirt, mess and fear of death and the reality of God’s promises for life . It’s when we admit not only our humanness and mortality but that we are being killed each day in millions of little and big ways. It’s when we run smack into the what it means when we pray “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from evil.” God promises to be our rescue. Not in a super hero sort of way swooping in at the last minute to take care of the bad guy or to fix a helpless situation and then dashing off until needed again. God’s rescue is on-going relationship with us each and every moment of our lives. God’s rescue involves a cross, suffering, death and then an empty tomb. God’s rescue is the promise to witnesses our ashes, the ashes that we keep hidden and secret from the rest of the world, and proclaim our beauty, love, and worth. God’s rescue is a return to our true identity as God’s very own children as well as a return to wholeness for all people as one people and creation.

God doesn’t see us as spent or used up but proclaims that we are created in God’s image, we are made from dust, dust that created the earth and all of the cosmos, divine dust. As divine dust creatures, it means that in baptism our lives and our deaths meet God’s promises for soaking love and for eternal life with God where sorrow and suffering is no more. We are showered with these promises so that we shower the dusty world with this life-quenching reality. There is enough in the river of life for all to be fed, clothed, housed and treated with justice and dignity. God’s justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an every-flowing stream (Amos 5: 24) and we are swept up in that tide. That tide that transforms us and the world, that tide that demands that we do not ignore God’s vision for wholeness but participate in radical justice and peace for the sake of our neighbor, who is also burned out on being pushed aside, transparent and scapegoated.

God takes our ashes and re-creates us, molds us, and enlivens us to shine with Christ’s light through our dust, to bring love and life into a world that is dying, dying to hear that brokenness is not the last word. Burn-out is not the last word. Oppression is not the last word. Death is not the last word. It is God who speaks the last word into our days spent in the messiness and chaos of life as God spoke the first words into the nothingness, chaos and dust and brought forth all of creation and life. God’s word always brings life; God’s word always brings hope; God’s word always whispers in your ear when you are screaming that you are burned out: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. I can do a lot with dust. You are mine, I see you, I love you and I am here.” Thanks be to God.