Transformation: Dust and Ashes 2018 0909

. 4 min read

#1 –
      Turn These Dust and Ashes into Praise,
      A New Perspective on Human Frailty
Sept 2018, Christ Mountain Top, Commune
the Psalm, Psalm 113 (6:00 pm only)
Genesis 2.7
Genesis 18.16-33, Job 42.1-6
Intro to series theme, EWWF song, transformation miracles
Groeschel, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust, sure hope this coffin doesn’t rust”
attended a small college … soccer losing streak
there are others whose entire life is defined by a losing streak – a breakdown
in their health, the loss of a job, personal grief, dwindling opportunity and
an increasingly uncertain future.  They
face reinforcing cycles of depression, and they have good reason to!
      Job, one of the most remarkable biblical
characters, was on a phenomenal “losing streak”.  Before the start of the streak, he was one of
the most successful men around – fabulously wealthy, with a big family that
adored him.  [Job-William Blake] But in one day, he lost a thousand oxen to
Sabean raiders, seven thousand sheep to a lightning storm, three thousand
camels to Chaldean raiders, all of his children in a whirlwind, and all but
four of his servants (the ones who lived to tell the tales).  Then, a few days later, he lost his health
and excruciating sores broke out all over his body.  When his three friends showed up to comfort
him, they finally decided that he must have done something to deserve all this
– and start an argument with Job. [Job-Phillip
      In the midst of this protracted debate
about the meaning of suffering (a bit long-winded for someone actually in the
middle of such pain), Job utters this remarkable line about how he feels and
what he believes God is doing to him: [click
for text]
      He grasps me by the collar,
      casts me into the mud,
      and I am reduced to dust and ashes
            Job 30:18-19
to ashes, and dust to dust
I feel like giving up
I’m rusted and weathered
holding together
covered with skin
it peels and it just won’t heal
      Creed, “Weathered”, Stapp & Tremonti
The expression “dust and ashes” (and the common phrase from funeral liturgies)
is an ancient Hebrew expression for being human – being scooped up out of the
dust and breathed upon with the breath of God. 
Sometimes we are much more aware of our frailty, our losing streaks, our
failures, our dirt than we are of anything good and godly about being human.

on the other hand, was on a winning streak. 
Of all the members of his family and city, he had been specially chosen
by God.  Though he’d seen his share of
close shaves, he always seemed to come out on top.  Recently, his nephew Lot and other citizens
of the cities among which he lived were taken captive in a war among
kings.  When Abraham heard of it, he
contacted his three allies (like him not kings but nomadic herdsmen) and their
households and staff rode into battle, defeated the armies of four cities, and
liberated all the captives (including nephew Lot).  And, to top it all off, he and his wife
Sarah, 99 and 89 years old, are visited by God (three angel beings) and
promised a son.
Now, Abraham is faced with one of his greatest tests to this point: God
stops by for a visit and lets him in on plans to destroy the very cities that
Abraham had delivered in battle.  And, he
has no way to get the news to Lot.  But
with all the confidence of a seasoned winner, he starts to bargain: “What if
there are fifty righteous people in the city? 
Won’t you find a way to forgive the city for the sake of those
fifty?”  In his second entreaty, Abraham
bargains the Lord down to 45 people:
for text]
      May I be so bold as to speak to the Lord,
      I who am but dust and ashes
            Genesis 18:27
I be so bold. . . .”  Ever felt
invincible?  Ever tested the limits of
your boldness?  The boys team I once coached
developed some “boldness”.  I told them “we
play against the ‘class of the division’,” a team that was unbeaten the
previous season.  And their response:
“They haven’t played us yet.”
      Winners feel powerful, winners take
initiative, winners think creatively, winners haven’t met a problem they can’t
solve, winners realize that “the whole is greater than the sum of its
parts”.  That is, who we are as human
beings is greater than our constituent elements of dust and ashes.
“Turn these dust and ashes into praise.” 
What is the difference between Abraham and Job?  One considers himself “reduced to dust and
ashes”, the other considers his status as “dust and ashes” worthy of bargaining
with God.  It is much more than winning
and losing … it is about personal pain.
      But – and this is one of the reasons I
love Job – even in the depth of pain, Job determines that this lump of dust,
this pile of ashes, is going to do the audacious thing and call God out.  Even though Job is blaming God for mismanaging
the universe, for screwing up Job’s personal life, and is using some colorful
language to emphasize his point, God the whirlwind shows up.
      And, when all is said and done, Job
changes his mind, [click for text] he
“repents concerning dust and ashes” (Job 42:6, as translated by most of today’s
best scholars).  He recognizes that,
deeper than the pain, hidden under the frailty, being dust and ashes, being
human, is glorious.  It is glorious not
because of what we’re made of, but because the one whose breath was breathed
into the first human form continues to breathe, to speak, to listen, in and
through and with us today.