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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sermon: Ashes to Ashes

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl
Ash Wednesday

Ten years ago this past January the church, to which my parents and sisters belong, was burned to the ground. South Santiago Lutheran Church, rural Clear Water, MN was reduced to ashes by an arson’s fire.

In the ashes of that building were two bowls that my mom had at church from a church potluck which she was going to pick up after worship the day after the fire. One of those bowls was her favorite lost in the ashes. At the time oldest niece was in confirmation, also in the ashes was her confirmation quiz on the Ten Commandments and her confirmation folder with her sermon notes. She assured the pastor that she had at least twenty sermon notes burned to ashes in the fire.

A few things were saved out of the ashes. The church’s bell that used to be house in the steeple high above the church, which rang to call worshippers. A couple trays for communion, which held the blood of Christ twice a month for many years. And an altar cross, which was taken out of the ashes and cleaned up to be used again. This cross has been on that altar for 95 years, and now this cross is on the altar in their new building.

At the light of a match this church was reduced to ashes. Who knew that this church which had stood for 95 years would be reduced to ashes in no time. As I reflect on it the church was kindling wood standing in the form of a three window country church for as long as I can remember. But it still amazes me that at the light of a match a building can be reduced to ashes. At the light of a match, things can change quickly.

I think about our lives too, how quickly things can change. How quickly we experience euphoric highs of success, of accomplishment, of pride. And how quickly we can be reduced to the ashes of divorce, death, job loss, long term illness, depression.

Words ring in my head “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Over the years I have said these words at many funerals as I put sand from the earth, upon a casket in the form of a cross. An elderly woman who taught Sunday School until she was 70, a middle aged man found burned up in his car, a father who left behind his young adult son as a orphan, a baby who just couldn’t fight her illness, a 17 year old taken by Leukemia, a mother with young children.

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” How quickly life can change.

We take time on this day to reflect on our lives. To reflect over the past year. We see how quickly life can change. We see the difference a year make in our lives and the lives of others. We reflect that we do not know what each day holds. We reflect on our relationship with God.

Lent is the season of reflection, repentance, preparation, and renewal. It is a time to open our hearts anew and refresh our commitment to God.

We have begun that journey tonight by begin reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return, we do that not because we need a downer, but because it reminds us that we are not in control. Ultimately, it is God who is in control, not us.

In the ashes of our life it is God who calls us, it is Jesus who walks with us, and it is the spirit who guides us.

The ashes will not have the last word. God will have the final word in the resurrection of our bodies by Jesus Christ.

Until that day we reflect tonight on the words “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” that we belong to God and our lives need to be grounded in him.

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