February 18, 2010
Weight: 197 lbs
Weight lost: -9 lbs
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” Fire makes ashes. And how do we fight fire? With… water.
Specifically we fight fire with the waters of baptism. Fire burns and leaves behind only ashes and dust. But water cleanses and brings life and fresh new day.
I’ve held in my hands the ashes of a good man. Mr. Smith was a friend of mine. He was kind to his neighbors and faithful to his employers. But Mr. Smith is no longer with us. He died, and his body fell to ashes put in a box. This happens to people. The Psalmist says it this way, “All flesh is like grass here today, gone tomorrow.” “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. From dust you came, to dust you will return.” Mr. Smith burned down, and burned out.
Someday, this will be me, and you as well. Because just like Mr. Smith was, you and I are – on fire. Yes, the calories of the food I’ve eaten are burning as fuel units in me at this very moment. I can feel the heat coming through my skin. Yet when I look at your hands I see another reality. My body is mostly water, water that is on fire. Take out the water of life and what’s left? Ashes and dust. In the end I will extinguish myself.
Today is Ash Wednesday. The day we remember that life is a burnout. And so begins Lent. On the Church calendar (since the 6th century) Lent launches the 40 day grind toward Easter, the via de La Rosa – the way of the cross. It’s a time to reflect on our lives, examine our hearts for sin, and to know there is no remedy for death, except the remedy of death – his and ours in him. All our efforts, our portfolios, our self-improvements, our best intentions come to this… And they must. It’s either the cross, or this dustier end.
Because we all die, one way or the other. Either by fire, or by water… which is really a kind of holy fire. The water of Baptism, coming into Jesus as he dies, is a kind of fire.
God is fire, a holy fire. Moses found a fire that didn’t consume the bush. Abraham encountered God and he said: “I am nothing but dust and ashes.” Like Isaiah, when he saw God: “Wow, I’m history.” To see God’s perfection is to realize, we are dust.
Over the next 6 weeks we are going to face these brutal facts. Lent is our time to look into the pit and see the truth and tell the truth, to deliberate deliberately about the problem, the bad news, the dust and ashes. As Paul says, “The more I try to do what I want to do, the more I do what I do not want to do… Oh wretched man that I am…” I’m prone to pride, envy, anger, greed, sloth, lust, and gluttony. I sin, and I admit it. “Seven Deadly Syndromes…”
But my issue isn’t behavioral. It’s a condition. I’m not a sinner because I sin, I sin because I’m a sinner. The matter is organic in me, an unnatural condition that has become naturalized for me.
But God’s fire is water that dowses our burnout flame – normal life, bios, doomed to snuff. This is the miracle of Baptism. Death-burial-resurrection. We are re-hydrated with a new fire. The Holy Spirit burns a new kind of life in our bones – eternal life… that never consumes… Fire for fire, through water… that’s turned to wine…
As I examine myself to see the different expressions of sin, I can then experience a countering expression of God’s grace in Christ which forgives, cleanses, and breaks the power of sins, and of Sin itself.
“God, you created me to be holy and eternal and partnered with you forever. But I have fallen from that intention. I have failed. I have sinned, in thought and word and deed, in what I have done and in what I have not done. I am proud, and lustful, and self centered. I sin. I sin because Sin is in me. But today I admit this. I do not fool myself into thinking I can better myself by my own efforts. I need a deeper more serious remedy. I need you and your grace. I need to die in order to live. And you have provided the way for this to be. I trust in Jesus now, Jesus who has paid the price for my sin. I confess specifically my sins, and acknowledge the Sin that inclines me to my own destruction. As I confess this I take you at your word: that you forgive and cleanse me. In jesus.”