Let’s get dirty — sermon for Ash Wednesday, 2013

Since when did dirt become the same, become synonymous with bad–dirty thoughts, words, deeds? When a cop is bad, they’re dirty. When we don’t want to get involved–we don’t want to get our hands dirty. The word smut which we use to talk about the worst things like porn, is just the name for a small flake of dirt like the ash from an engine or coal.
I ask again how did dirt get to be so bad? It wasn’t always so. Just ask a child. The dirt is the earth’s play doh, it is monsters and armies, it is mud pies and smiles.
Ask a gardener like I’ve been trying to become. Dirt is good, it is the womb full of nutrients, the place that holds the water where the seed can grow to become cucumbers, and tomatoes, melons, and the food we need. Dirt is the place of creation as God in the 2nd story of creation in Genesis chapter 2. We are told God forms us out of dirt. So how did dirt get to be so bad?
Somewhere along the way, dirt becomes the enemy we want to keep at bay. We want it to stay in it’s proper place–to stay put in the garden, in the pot, in the yard, along the sidewalk. It is not socially acceptable on our clothes, in the carpet, in our air, underneath our fingernails,and on our skin.
That’s the problem with today–tonight we take the dirt, the ashes of old dried palm leaves, take this dirt and wear it on our skin, not even on our knees as if we’d been hard at work, but on our heads as if we’d tripped head-on, face first into the mire and the murk.
Which we surely have done. The dirt we wear, the ashes on our foreheads show to all the world that we have indeed fallen. And that is why it make us uncomfortable. It is the admitting that we are falling out of our pristine palaces of purity. No matter how much we pretend we haven’t fallen, we have. Fallen into gossip, run head long into hate, fallen into the welcoming arms of greed and fear.
We have fallen into the mire of life. We can’t keep our hands from getting dirty in the workings of this world. Our sin clings to us, get’s in and underneath our fingernails, in each and every crack and wrinkle, it gets into our eyes, it smells and is every just like the dirt and ash. Sin, like death, like dirt and dust is unavoidable and inevitable. Tonight we get to admit it, let our guard down, stop pretending we’re perfect, this dirt cleanses us from the great sin of self-righteousness. And we receive, simply receive the release of God’s love, freeing us to live today and tomorrow, not in fear of dirt, not in fear of sin,not in fear of the stuff of
life, but embracing it, getting our hands dirty in this God’s world, falling deeper and deeper into love with it, with one another, and with the God who claims us. The God who isn’t afraid of a bit of dirt, isn’t ashamed of us, but reaches out to touch, to hold, to mark us with the mark of a life well worn with love, the cross of life. Come, come remember, admit, be at peace that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Amen.
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