2 Corinthians 5:20b - 6:10
20bWe entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
6As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
I have to admit, as much as I actually like Paul, this passage is not one of my favorites. How many times do we have to read that list to make sense of it? If you get there completely, let me know! It reads like a defensive laundry list of a schizophrenic ministry. And, why is it the lectionary for Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, the 40 days often described as penitential that precede the crucifixion and Easter. Yet, this scripture in verse two says – now is an acceptable time, Now is the day of salvation. There is a community church near my house that always puts out a sign the week of Ash Wednesday – it says ‘He is Risen’ I take great joy in poking fun at this that they have totally skipped over the whole penitence and crucifixion thing and jumped straight to the celebration the joy. Don’t they know how to do things decently and in order like us good Presbyterians?
Decently and in order, today we focus on ashes and reminding ourselves that we come from dust, that life is fleeting. And yet God makes something from that dust. That mere dust is everything.
One of the things that my family enjoys doing together is puzzles. You crack open the new box, and pour out the pieces. There is nothing quite like the smell of new puzzle and the cloud of dust that lifts from the newly opened cut pieces. The proper way, or so I was taught is to turn over all the pieces to see their colors and patterns. Then put together the puzzle edges. Once you have the frame, then you can begin to piece together the patterns matching each beautiful piece to its place in the grand scheme of things. If even one piece is missing, the picture won’t come together.
I find this fascinating that dust compressed together forms pieces that then come together in a beautiful picture. Reconciliation – is that coming together. We are dust that is valued by God. When we misbehave and try not to work together or to ignore our relationship with God, God has patience and pulls us back into the whole.
And, dust isn’t just a trivial puzzle. Remember the huge plume of dust that arose after the collapse of the Twin Towers? The impact of that dust is forever emblazoned on the memories of millions. It changed lives. The power of dust – a smudge you wipe off a child’s face or a force to be reckoned with. The Holy Spirit blowing through something mundane and bringing it to life.
I heard a new term a few years ago called an ear worm. An ear worm is when you hear certain combinations of words, they remind you of a song, slogan or ditty of some sort. For me one is about Jeremiah, and the other is Dust.
I can barely even talk about dust without singing the Kansas song, Dust in the Wind – All we are is dust in the wind…. But for me, this isn’t a forlorn song that some quick research led me to think. Rather than feeling that it is a negative that we are all just dust in the wind, this is a positive thing. Picture Elijah hiding in a cave, on the run: hearing the whisper of God, not in an earthquake, not in a turbulent storm but on the gentle breeze. A God who has the power to blow with a powerful storm yet cradles us in a soft gentle updraft.
However, much like Elijah, no matter how much we may seek to run, God actively desires to be reconciled with us. In the verses immediately before tonight’s scripture, God reconciled us to himself in Christ. And God has given us a ministry of reconciliation.
The scripture in Paul’s message to the Corinthians has a big charge – be the righteousness of God. I could spend the rest of my life studying what exactly that calls me to do. However, Paul then elaborates. If anything, this list stops me from studying myself and all the reasons why I am not adequate for the task. This list means all of us no matter what, God calls us to reconciliation.
We mark our foreheads with ashes and remind ourselves that the cross is not just pretty jewelry but a gruesome death. Today begins Lent, a season penitence. The word penitence comes to us through old French and Latin. Paenitere is thought to be the origin of the word with a nuance of not being enough. In Lent we remember that alone we are never enough. The grace and faith of Jesus Christ are our only hope.
People often give up food or things that they enjoy for the season of Lent. Fasting or making a new habit a part of our lives for these 40 days, helps to remember whose we are. But this sacrifice is not just to see how strong our own willpower is. We don’t do this just because it is trendy but as a first step to dig further into our faith, the scriptures. The cross on our foreheads claims us. It reminds us of the abundant gift of grace and life we have been given. Not only to look inward. But as the words from Isaiah told us:
6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Take the cross with you tonight remembering through this smudge of dust that God created is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Kansas had it right in their song – All we are is Dust in the Wind – dust scooped up by a Ruach, a breath of the Holy Spirit, blowing through the world in a revolution.
God offers us hope, God wants us to pull the pieces together. The Holy Spirit will blow through even the mere specks of dust uniting them into a glorious picture, making of us a whole. Maybe that community church with the sign that seems early has it right – now is the time for salvation, now is the time for going into the world as the church. Alone we are not enough. United to one another and God, we are reconciled, and we are the reconciling hands of Jesus Christ. Amen.