Each and every one of us is here, in St. Alban’s church on Ash Wednesday, for a different reason. Maybe you feel that you “should go to church” on Ash Wednesday. Maybe this has been your home for many years. Maybe the Holy Spirit spoke to you and led you here. Maybe your parents dragged you here. Maybe you aren’t even sure why you’re here.
Regardless of why you are here, I know what you are here. Because all of us, no matter how rich or powerful, broke or powerless, are made of the same stuff – a little bit of dust.
“For the Lord himself knows whereof we are made, he remembers that we are but dust.” The Lord remembers that we are dust, but sometimes we forget that inconvenient truth. Being dusty means that we aren’t in this world forever; and that for the time we are here, being dusty means that we more often than not find ourselves in the dirt.
The Church isn’t composed of clean, pure, unsullied saints who shun the dirtiness of the world. The Church is composed of people like you and me, a little bit of sinner, a little bit of saint. We’re no social club, no group of miraculously clean people, it’s no gathering of the mighty. I know it isn’t, because I belong to the Church. We did not glitter like gold, but rather we blow away like dust. “Our days are like the grass, we flourish like a flower of the field; when the wind goes over us, we are gone, and known no more.”
For two thousand years, this dusty group of sinners called the Church has been asking itself this one question – is there anybody so dusty that God will not show compassion and mercy; is there anybody so sinful, so far on the outside, that they cannot be one of the Church? First, we asked if only Jews could be Christians. Well…no, we decided. God loves the entire world, Jews and Gentiles, male and female.
Then we asked if those who denied their faith during persecutions were too dusty. Could those who disowned Christ before the Roman Emperor be readmitted to the Christian community? Well…yes, they can, because Peter himself denied Jesus and yet was loved by the Lord.
Fast forward to the 1960s when it was people of other colors and races – could they too become part of the Church? Well…yes, of course because in Christ we are one. Now it’s questions about sexuality, legal status, apathy – can those people who are different from us also be part of the Chuch? Are they too dusty, are we too dusty to be called a Christian? I’ll let our history speak for itself – “as far as the east is from the west is as far as the Lord has removed our sins from us.”
No matter how much or how little we’ve sinned; if those sins happen to be particularly notorious or pedestrian, vile or inane; Christ and His church welcomes us back. Regardless of ethnicity, past history, criminal record, employment status, marital status, membership at the country club, length of time since you’ve been baptized – it doesn’t matter. If you recognize that you are dusty, then “Bless the Lord and forget not all his benefits. He will not always accuse us, nor will he keep his anger for ever.”
Remember, those ashes on your forehead will be in the sign of the cross. Because “the Lord has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.” “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness.”
We are not forgotten dust bound for an eternity of Ash Wednesdays, but redeemed dust, looking forward to that great Easter festival.