It’s easy to be distracted. FaceBook, the news, work problems, ferrying children to the soccer game or to the horse show, doctor’s appointments, chores, cooking…
You know how it goes. And somewhere in the midst of it, you think “Gee, I’ve completely forgotten about God.” So you put it on your calendar: Church. Sunday. 10:30 am. Or you say “I’m going to pray every night before I go to bed, just like my mama taught me.” Or you vow to spend some time reading Scripture daily…
…and then you do it once, maybe twice, and the distractions get in the way again, and the vow withers into a dry little mote of dust, and blows away.
Dust. Inconsquential. Ephemeral. Almost nonexistent, until it isn’t.
Ever get a piece of dust in your eye? Hurts like a son-of-a-gun, and it’s a bear to get it out.
Dust. Light as a feather, or even less, until you’ve got a whole house to clean, and you wield that duster like a sword, but by the time you’ve finished the whole house, your arm aches and your back hurts, and the danged dust bunnies under the bed have actually replicated between the time you cleaned under the bed ten minutes ago and this moment when you’ve gone back in the bedroom to look for the Advil.
Dust. Useless, annoying, troublesome, endless dust.
Ah, endless dust.
Dust, just like us.
Way back at the beginning, when God was fashioning the world, the method used to make a human – remember his name was Adam, that first one, which isn’t a name, it simply means human – was to take a handful of dirt - which, in that weird and wonderful sort of wordplay we see in the Bible, is called Adamah in Hebrew. Then God squished it together and shaped it and pinch it and formed it until the adamah became an adam. I presume it was sort of damp, at least, otherwise it wouldn’t hold together. You couldn’t have a human without some moisture to hold the dust together.
And the corollary to that is that once the moisture dries up, the dirt, the adamah, returns to that featherlight dissipated dust.
The Adam, at some point, no longer lived. The humus that made the humanoid dried out and blew away, dust so light it could fly away to the four corners of the earth. The man began as dust, but at some point he died and became no longer Adam, no longer the protagonist of the first of the great primeval stories of relationship between Creator God and that which God created, simply…dust.
And this was the pattern that has continued to this present day in the year of our Lord 2014 in this church in this place. We were formed of the most basic of elements as a carbon-based life form, shaped by God in our mothers’ womb as the psalmist sings, and at some point, when our time of life on earth is done, we will return to the earth, to the dust. We will become dust in communion with all the other dust that is the raw material of the planet. We begin, as Adam did, as dust. We end, as Adam did, as dust.
And thus we have this rite of remembrance of how we all begin and end. In a bit, I will mark each of you with that dust – ashes – with a cross on your forehead and say “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
It is right to acknowledge what the beginning and our ending is. We are ephemeral as dust, impermanent, finite. But that limitation is also our strength – it forces us to focus on recreating and reinventing our relationship with our creator, because we don’t have forever to get it right. We only have now, however long our now is.
And if now is all we have, it is right to take forty days to strip away all the distractions that cause us to put God in a secondary position. It is right that we practice ways of restoring God to where our Creator belongs – at the center of our existence. It is right that we remember that our beginnings and our endings are too close to defer the work of prayer, of worship, of service, of study.
The ashes will fade in a few hours, or until you wash them before bed. They are dust, and dust is, after all, ephemeral. But remember the look of them on your forehead. Remember the feel of my finger as I mark the cross there. Remember that God is with you, and desires your love more than anything, and you cannot wait another moment to get back into the rhythm of conversation with your Creator.
You are dust. You were made of dust and at some point you will be no more than dust again. But in the meantime, however long you are here, remember who shaped you and formed you. Spend this Lenten season reaching out to your Creator and saying, “yes, I remember you.” Remember, and keep a holy Lent.