Pardon Our Dust…an Ash Wednesday Sermon

Rev. Leah Grundset

February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday, Psalm 51

Pardon Our Dust: David

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return, but the steadfast love of God endures forever. Amen.

As many of you know, I just returned from a trip to Texas for a conference and to visit with some friends. I was hoping for warm weather and an escape from the snow that has started to plague many of us. And for one day- Texas was all I hoped for. I was in Marble Falls, a little town just outside of Austin that rests in the Texas Hill Country. My college roommate, Kelley and I were out shopping in the old downtown area. I had on a lightweight cotton shirt, jeans and no coat.

The sky was bright blue, stretching across the horizon as it only can in Texas. Clouds were puffy, few and far between. The car was actually warm when we got into it that morning. We went into one store, spent about 15 minutes looking around and walked back outside. But what we walked outside to was quite different from what we left. The weather had changed drastically.

The wind was whipping and the sky had darkened. It was cloudier, damper and the Texas dust began to swirl around us. We turned toward each other, shielding our eyes with our hands and asking, “where did all that dust come from?”

A new front had blown in across Texas that afternoon. That front, with the dust blowing reminded me kind of what Lent is like. For the season following Epiphany, we participated in a great love story and now it is Lent when we turn inward, we rediscover what that great Love Story has done to and for us.

We have gathered this evening, on Ash Wednesday to proclaim that a windstorm is coming and our dust is swirling—Lent is here. We are standing with one foot pointed toward Epiphany and the other foot, kicking the dust as we point ourselves toward Jerusalem, toward the cross.

Our Psalm for today is Psalm 51, which Pastor Edgar read in Spanish and we read together as the Psalm of Confession. Our tradition attributes this Psalm to David, the second king of Israel, the one in whom the people exalted and in whom they put their faith. David was lauded as the greatest king who ever lived. I think we even know him as “a man after God’s own heart.”

David has been represented in paintings, included in children’s bible stories and sculpted by Michelangelo in Florence. If you ever have a chance, go to the National Cathedral here in DC and follow David’s story on the gigantic tapestries hung around the choir. King David is well-known, but his personal doubts, his struggles and his sin are usually glossed over in our church tradition.

To put it bluntly—he committed acts that were unacceptable by any standards-ancient or modern. He picked out a woman while she was bathing and he was supposed to be at war, slept with her, then killed her husband when he found out she was pregnant. He had other wives too and their relationships were complicated. He let his kids down when they needed him. He struggled with running a government.

With a rap sheet like that, it is a curious thing that David is lauded as a great hero. Part of me wonders what it is about him that drew people to him. Maybe it’s because he is a prime example in the Bible where we see God’s grace and mercy abounding. We could sit around all day long and discuss David’s brokenness, his sin, his hurt, his humanity- his dust, if you will, but what is important for us on this, Ash Wednesday is the manner in which David cried out to God.

In the midst of his dust, he cries out to God, his Creator from his depths. He cries out for mercy. He cries out to his God who when creating humankind took a pile of dust and breathed life into it. His cries are familiar to that of anyone who is aching, crying out for the love of God to touch them. Our humanity cries out from our depths, not in despair and not in hopelessness, but in real, tangible pain and with an expectation of God hearing us. And God responds.

David prayed:

  • Have mercy on me, O God
  • Wash me
  • Cleanse me
  • Teach me
  • Purge me
  • Restore to me the joy of your salvation

David’s pleas, his deepest prayers are ones that we all know so well. In our dust, in the brokenness of our souls, we cry our to our Creator for mercy.

We are gathered here on Ash Wednesday as a redeemed community seeking the mercy of our great God. God meets us here, God forgives and God offers grace. Jesus lived life for us to see, drew lines in the dust of this world and came out of the dust of death to live a resurrected life. And Holy Spirit breathed life into those first disciples as the power and wind whipped around them and Holy Spirit breathes into us as we cry out for comfort.

So for these 40 days of Lent, we say, Pardon Our Dust. Pardon our humanity, pardon our brokenness. Pardon our despair, pardon our inwardness. Pardon our imperfections, but we remember that we are created in the image of God. These 40 days are a gift to us, a time to turn inward, to brush off some dusty places and to allow grace to settle on some of the painfully raw, painfully exposed ledges in our lives. Dust hasn’t even settled in some of these places because they are too fresh, too raw.

Our dust is all around us. Mine clings to me and yours clings to you. There is no need to get rid of it, just to acknowledge it as part of who we are created to be. In the brokenness of our hearts, where dust gathers, in the shadowed portions of our goodness that have been placed out of the light and in the acts which separate us from our Creator, we do cry out for mercy.

In a few moments, we will receive the dust- ashes on our hands or foreheads. They are reminders that we go out into this world as a marked people- ones who have come to know Jesus Christ and who now, boldly turn our hearts, our minds, our foreheads toward Jerusalem and the cross. So, pardon our dust…we are a work in progress. Amen.

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