Reading for Ash Wednesday:
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
If you could find Quasar 3C 273 in your backyard telescope, you would be looking at a point of light that started heading our way more than one and a half billion years ago. To give you some perspective, that ray of sunlight you noticed today took only 8 minutes and 20 seconds to travel from the surface of the sun. But here’s something else: by comparison, the star we know as our sun is a newborn, a baby.
Hundreds of thousands of stars flared up, lived out their lives, and burned out long before our Milky Way galaxy ever delivered its first star and before our star and its solar system, and this planet we call home came into being.
And it’s not just the light that is headed our way.
In her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us every atom on earth comes from the cosmos: hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, iron. Each of us and everything we love has come from the furnace of the stars. The lead in your pencil might as well read “Made in Orion” as “Made in China.” All the basic building blocks of everything from Mount Rainier to these wooden beams above to the salad you had for lunch to the bones under your skin to the palm ash that shapes this evening liturgy arrived here by a process full of unfathomable, life-giving grace.
If you cannot imagine eternal life any other way, start with this ash. Start with the carbon that bonds with calcium and makes this ash such a great fertilizer to sweeten your garden. You see, every atom of carbon that ever existed is still around here somewhere. It may have spent some time as a rock before it took residence swimming in the deep mystery of the ocean. Perhaps it aspired to live in the atmosphere for a time before moving into the bones of a human body and then to a palm tree whose branches were harvested for our Palm Sunday celebration last year and then sat and dried until the youth group burned them last Wednesday to give us this ash.
No matter whether your body ends up buried in the earth or incinerated in a crematorium fire, the carbon within you will go on living, perhaps joining with a couple of oxygen atoms for a time, or taking up with some nitrogen or hydrogen the next. Perhaps at some later time it will find its way to another solar system as a result of some cataclysmic event that happens long after we, whatever we are, are gone.
You are not a job to be done. You are a wonder. You are a creation of beauty. You are the stuff of the stars. You are God’s delight as glorious as a field in spring awash in purple, as bright as the sun. Do you believe this?
Consider the words of the Apostle Paul:
Perhaps you are treated as an imposter. You are true.
Do you feel unknown? You are known.
Are you dying? You are alive.
Are you filled with sorrow? Rejoice.
Do you have nothing? You possess everything.
You are God’s delight. Do you believe this? What would it look like for you to allow this season of lengthening to lengthen your understanding of this? Would you be willing to rest for a while in this claim of God’s delight in you? Would you give it 40 days? Let it become a habit? Consider the lilies. God clothes them in splendor.
Give yourself to the color purple and to the One who created it and you, and live.
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St. Andrew Sermons