Sermon for Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020 – “What God Does with Dust”

Ash Wednesday
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Get out there and show ‘em what you’re made of.

I overheard someone say that recently and I immediately thought about Ash Wednesday. (This is one of the occupational hazards of being a preacher.)

Of course, that phrase – show ‘em what you’re made of – is meant to inspire a team or rally the troops. Show ‘em your courage, your strength, your talent – show ‘em you’re made of sterner stuff.

Yet when I heard it, this close to Ash Wednesday, I thought: You mean show ‘em I’m made of dust?

On Ash Wednesday, we’re reminded that we are made of dust. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Remember that you are a fragile, frail, mortal and that you will die.

Remember that you are vulnerable, broken and totally dependent on God.

This message probably won’t whip us into a frenzy of athletic prowess. It won’t inspire foot stomping or fist bumps. Yet facing the truth that we are made of dust is actually quite liberating. We are dust. We can let go of all our pretense, all our attempts to spruce ourselves up. We humans spend so much time trying to look like we’ve got it all together. We spend so much energy trying to compensate for what we lack, trying to prove ourselves, trying to hide our vulnerabilities. This wears us out and sucks our souls dry. Yet, facing the truth that we are made of dust is actually quite liberating.

On Ash Wednesday God calls us to stop. Quit trying to cover. Lay down all pretense. Remember, you are dust. And, remember what God can do with dust. Out of the dust, out of the dirt, God formed us and all that exists. We carry within us the dust of the brilliant, distant stars. Dust is fertile ground for God’s work. Dirt is a garden, a sanctuary, for the Holy One to bring life.

The knowledge that we are dust is unsettling and humbling. Yet it is also so very grounding and life-giving. Our lives do not depend upon our own frail courage, strength and talent, on our ability to tidy things up. Our lives depend upon God who brings life from dust, from dirt, from death. Our lives depend upon God who promises to bring new life for you, for me.

The dusty cross that will be placed upon our foreheads tonight makes these promises of God visible.[1] A cross is first placed upon our foreheads at our baptism along with the proclamation, Child of God, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. The cross marked on our forehead at baptism says that “every bit of our dust is claimed and loved by God.”

That baptismal cross stays on our dusty bodies forever. We are marked by the promises of God, they “stick to our dust and hold us in hope.” Yet we can’t always see this. We don’t always remember that we are marked by the cross of Christ forever. The dust tonight makes that cross visible. It makes apparent the promises of God that are bound to us. It reveals that God’s promises always stick.

Get out there and show ‘em what you are made of. We are made of dust and the promises of God.

Marked with the cross of Christ, we show the glory of God who brings dust to life.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

  1. Insights from Zeittlow, Amy. Commentary on Ash Wednesday for the Christian Century. All quotes come from this article.