Sacred Soil


What the creator can do with dust
February 15, 2018, 6:08 pm
Filed under: Sermons

FromAsh2Like you, I was raised to understand that insulting people is bad. You don’t call people names or talk about folks behind their backs. If you can’t say anything nice… And that includes the insistence that it would be bad to call people dirt, or dust.

But there are days, those days when people don’t listen to their mothers. Days when people call us names, treat us like dirt. Tell us we are nothing but dust. Act as if our very presence would make the whole world unclean. That even our breath might sully things.

Like the day I was spit at as I held hands with my wife.
Like my friend who gets followed around at the grocery store.
Like my neighbor who’s been here forever who gets told to go back where she came from.

And then there are those days, where the small things, the personal things can’t seem to move right. That our wheels are clogged with grief, pain, or the simple desire for meaningful work. To feel like we matter.

And it’s tempting, tempting to believe it. Tempting to believe that we are dirt. That we are bound by the ick and the muck of this world, and that we might just wither and float away on a gusty wind. Days where we are bound in the mud, unable to see ahead of ourselves, so covered in it that we unable to find our own skin.

Which is why we gather tonight. Why in a few moments I will trace a cross of ash on your forehead and tell you, O mortal you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

These most hopeful words: O Mortal, you are dust. Beautiful dust.

The power of dust is so beautifully captured in this poem Jan Richardson wrote for Ash Wednesday—My favorite line is this: “Did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?”

Oh what the Holy One can do with dust.

From our very beginnings we were formed of the dust of this ground. Even the name Adam, Adamah, means earth. Dirt. Dust. Our God formed us from the sacred dust of the ground, breathing life into our being. Breathing hope. Breathing possibility. Not in spite of the dirt. But because of it.

We are dust. We are a people who know what it is to be the ground, to float on the wind. We are a people who know what it is to be parched, dried out. Sifted. Refined.

We are dust—the mud of our ancestors, the earth of possibility. The seed bed of new life. The sacred soil of hope. We are beautiful dirt. God’s own beloved and mortal beings.

But O what the Holy one can do with dust.

And so today as we mark the cross, we do so with our feet rooted deep. Nourished by the waters of life. We claim the dust, the beautiful dust of our being. Not with shame—as if we had something to hide. Or fear. For we will meet all the name callers with our heads held high, with the dignity of the stars. For they are dust too.

And we will claim the dust, not with pompous righteousness, as if our dirt doesn’t stink. We will claim the dust knowing that we will fail, that will die. And nothing we claim as our own makes us better than anything else, that nothing will protect us from our mortality.

But O what the holy one can do with dust. For we know, washed in the fountain of life, death will never have the final word.

Which is why we stand here today, marked with the cross of Christ. For we do know what God can do with dust. With us. With these hands. These hearts. These hopes. Mortal though we are.

Amen.