Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
Ash Wednesday (February 25, 2009, revised from 2005)
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Our text for this Ash Wednesday is from St. Matthew chapter six, as well as Genesis chapter 3. We focus on the phrase also from the liturgy: you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Out of the dust of the ground God formed man and woman, Adam and Eve. They were dust, a part of God’s creation, to be sure, but nothing without the breath of God put into them by His voice and Word. But with that Word and power of God, they were alive, living souls, the very crown of God’s creation.
Their life was found in God and each other. God, who makes all things by the Word of His mouth, breathes life itself into them over and over again. With God, they are alive, full of Him and all of His creative gifts. But without them, they are nothing. Their life is bound to His life, for that is the way God made them.
Satan, of course, sought to rip them away from their life. He tempted them to believe that they could be gods all by themselves, and without the One who draws us all into Himself. So when God made the promise of the Messiah to come from the Seed of the woman, he also laid a curse:
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat of it’:
“Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”
God laid this curse on the ground so that every waking day of our lives, every time you strain your back in pain, every time your hands writhe in arthritic pain, every time you have to fight and scrape to get by, make things work, and just hold things together, that all of this points you to the reality of your life: you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Confess your sins. Recognize yourself in the dust of the earth. You are dust. Your sins show that to you. They show the world that you are not perfect like you might think. You aren’t even “pretty good, all things considered.” You are dust, and the whole world is cursed so that you will see yourself as you really are before God. That is the Law, and it speaks loud and clear this day to us all.
But we thank God for this Law. Why? Because it is only when a doctor tells you the bad news that you are able to start thinking about healing. In order to be healed, you must know you are sick. God comes to you this day with words of both Law and words of hope.
The ashes on our foreheads remind us that we are dust. But that is not the end, dear friends. That is not the end at all. It is when you are in the dust, at the bottom of the heap, that God begins his work. For remember those great words again from Genesis:
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (Genesis 2:7).
God can only do His work of recreating you in His image when you recognize you are dust. For God takes the dust of the ground and creates life. Our Lord Jesus Christ because dust of the ground, he became one of us in the womb of His mother, Mary. And because He became as we are, we too may become as He is, holy and righteous, perfect in every way. But it can only happen by His Word and work. For it is not our doing, but God’s work that makes things right that are so very wrong. This is what St. Peter talks about in our epistle for tonight when he writes:
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
This night we begin the journey of Lent, the journey of dust. But God will take your hurting soul, full of the curse of the earth, and bring you out, just as God will bring our Lord Jesus through His journey as well. God does His best work out of nothing, working in the dust. Come, confess your sins, God will absolve you, and the breath of God’s life will come into you once again.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting. Amen.