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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Gets in the way! A Word for Ash Wednesday

All this churchy lingo and vocabulary sometimes gets in the way!  The other day I was creating a blurb for our monthly newsletter to advertise

Used with permission of the artist ©2009 Darcy Falk check out her website for other great work http://darcyfalk.com

and educate folks about the upcoming Ash Wednesday service including the Imposition of Ashes.  “Imposition”?  It occurred to me that there might be a better word.  After all, how many of us are out there using that word every other day.  So, I did what I always do I pushed the little buttons on the computer to provide me with synonyms.  This is what I get: imposition = burden, nuisance, obligation, hassle, annoyance, bother.  What?  That can’t be right, so I checked it again, maybe I hadn’t pushed the right buttons.  And there it came again: imposition = burden, nuisance, obligation, hassle, annoyance, bother.  Then it hit me, “impose”.  I know that word.  I’ve used it: “I don’t mean to impose”.  Yep my computer thesaurus is correct.

Burden, nuisance, obligation, hassle, annoyance, bother.  Some folks would agree that’s what religion is all about.  Of course lots of us don’t want to hear that.  We like our religion that helps us, that gets us through the day.  There’s nothing wrong with faith as a crutch in this world.  But that’s only one piece of it.  The other is what is at the heart of Ash Wednesday.  The IMPOSITION of Ashes disrupts our daily denial of sin and death.   This is difficult and painful; it is very humbling. I think that’s why some folks may come to worship that night, but not step up.  It is uncomfortable to admit how badly we are broken.  How we are (as my 9 yr old son stated) dying every day.    But again, that’s only half of the picture.  The IMPOSITION of Ashes calls us to not give in to the fatalism of the moment.  We are called to graciously admit our human frailty and fatality, and we are called to live into the grace of God that abounds for us and for all.  Now that should really get in the way–the way we think, the way we  love, the way live.