2 Corinthians 5:20=6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
It’s a story in 12 words,
12 words within which
lie the whole scope of the human life,
that we start as dust and end as dust
and that we do well to remember that while we are living in between.
As humans we tell stories to make sense of our lives,
now if this 12 word story were the only one we told,
it would be horribly depressing,
but it’s not,
it’s one story among many that we tell about life,
and it has a place among all those stories
as they all come together to reveal the truth about life.
This Lent we will be focusing on telling stories of faith,
and thinking about story telling and meaning making,
I was reminded of a Ted Talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie from 2009
Titled “The Danger of a Single Story”,
you can still find it online and watch it for yourself.
And in this Ted Talk
Chimamanda talks about the power that the stories we tell
have to shape our reality and understanding
both of ourselves and others,
she shares about how as a child
the books she had access to were British or American in origin
and so when she as a child
started writing her own stories
all of her characters were blond haired and blue eyed
and ate strange things that she had never tasted before
and it wasn’t until she found books by Africans
that she realized that people that looked like her
could be in stories too
and do things that she was familiar with,
that was the danger of a single perspective,
the danger of a single story
that people, even ourselves, get left out of the picture.
She also talks about a boy that worked for her family growing up,
and all her mother told her about the boy
was that he and his family were poor.
So she was surprised when they went and visited his home
and saw a beautiful basket made by the boys’ brother,
the single story of poverty that she had
didn’t include hard work.
Having only one story is dangerous
because we come to believe that it’s the only way to think about something,
this holds true for the stories we tell about others and ourselves,
but also for the stories we tell of God and faith in God
And of course not all stories
are ones we wish to think about or tell all the time,
but these uncomfortable stories,
the ones that remind us of our mortality
and the ways in which we fail to love God and neighbor
must be told as well
because they are a part of life
that’s what Lent is for,
it is a time set aside to tell stories
that we might otherwise shy away from
but which reveal important truths,
namely that ultimate power rests with God
Which is why we start with the story of Ash Wednesday,
remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,
we rarely tell the story of life this way
but it holds out to us a truth
that we need to understand,
a truth that we tend to forget
or even intentionally ignore,
the truth that our time is finite
and whatever we do,
we all end up the same,
We like to tell other stories about life,
most often we are the main characters,
the ones in control of our own actions and destinies,
we are the heroes and others are the villains
And yet the story of Ash Wednesday
takes us and points us to the one who originally took that dust
formed it into a shape
and breathed life into it,
God, creator of heaven and earth,
the only one with the power to make dust more than dust.
This story re-centers us,
prepares us for the stories to come,
the stories of life where God is the hero,
and God has the power to shape the future of all people
these stories return us to God.
In a moment we will confess our sins,
Luther defined sin as being curved in on one’s self,
navel gazing as it were.
In our readings for tonight
we are warned against this inward turn.
In our first reading God calls out to the people,
who even in their repentance
are focusing more on themselves
than the reason for their need to repent.
“Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers...such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.” God tells the people through the prophet,
Instead, God says “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually…”
The story the people had been telling themselves
was that whatever ill they were experiencing
was the fault of God
and God turns it around on them,
shows them that their own actions
are at least causing some of the harm
and the solution is focus less on themselves
and more on their neighbors,
to change the story being told about what God wants.
Jesus in our gospel reading
points out the hypocrites,
their actions are driven by the kind of story they want others to tell about them,
that they are religious,
not that they actually wish to become closer to God.
If you wish to become closer to God, Jesus says,
the only one who needs to know what you’re doing
it doesn’t matter what story others tell of you
but what story God tells of you.
Those human stories will fade,
God’s story lasts forever.
Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return
The season and stories of Lent
call us back to focus on God
and the stories God has to tell,
stories where God works through the people that go unnoticed,
who are left out of the stories of the world,
stories where God is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,
stories where dust filled with life is treasured by God.
Tonight we hear a short story,
and are invited into a time
where we reflect on all the stories
between the dusty beginning and endings.
So as you go out this evening
marked with the Ashy cross on your forehead,
consider the stories you tell.
Of yourself, of others, of God,
What stories will you seek out this Lent?
Your old favorites or something new?
Stories where you are the hero?
or where God is at the center?
And as you go
remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.