March 10, 2019 Remember Dust
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
In our circuit we have a retired pastor who outlined a sermon series for Lent based on the biblical idea of ‘remembering’. He is Rv.Dr.Larry Harvala, he lives over in Osage(past Park Rapids) He has been a parish pastor, the ND district president, a seminary professor, and is now serving as our district congregational care counselor. We’re going to make use of his outline during these Sundays of Lent, and -maybe- for Holy Week. His series title is: ‘A Lent to Remember.’
This last Wednesday was ‘Ash Wednesday’. The historic symbolism for God’s people is simple, and probably over 4000 years old: Ashes are black & dirty; they remind us of the blackness of our sin. Lent is the church season of repentance from the blackness of our sin; &the season of recognizing the deep, dark price paid to redeem our soul. Each Sunday we will use the key word, remember, and we’ll focus on something God remembers, or something God causes us to remember.
There’s a big difference between God’s remembering and our remembering. When we remember something, it can be like one person saying, “Hey, you forgot my birthday” and another replying, “No. I remembered; I just didn’t do anything about it.” When God remembers, he DOES something about it. God remembers to act graciously toward us.
So, when God causes us to remember something, he also causes us to DO something. Mainly, He causes us to ‘believe.’ And ‘receiving’ is believing. God causes us to receive =by faith= his gracious gifts. So, for these Sundays, we pray God’s Spirit to cause us to remember the way God remembers == with action.
Today, our text is from Psalm 103, vs.13-14. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.” Traditionally, when ashes are applied on Ash Wednesday, it’s with these words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We don’t always remember that we are dust. So we don’t do anything about it. But God remembers we are dust, and he does something about it. He “shows compassion to those who fear him.”
God “knows our frame.” God knows exactly how we are made because God crafted us by hand. Everything else was created by God saying, “let there be” and the power of his Word brought that thing into existence. But the peak & crown of God’s creation =human life= was different. Gen 2:7: “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” At the end of that day,
“God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (v31). Being made from dust was “very good.”
But then sin came, & spoiled that ‘good.’ An yet, even from that ruined condition,
Ps.139 gives praise to God because people are still “fearfully and wonderfully made.” When you think of those two things, “dust” and “wonderfully made,” try to picture in your mind the works of art made by Andrew Clemens of McGregor, Iowa, in the 1870s. Almost of dust, they’re made of sand, in a bottle. He arranged the different colored grains of sand with such detail that they looked like a picture painted on the outside of the bottle.
To get such fine lines, at times he placed one grain of sand at a time thru the neck of the bottle; *can you imagine the difficulty & patience? One of these pieces of sand-art took over 2 years to make. Faces & designs were almost as clear as a photo. He did more than 70 of them; some valued at $50K. Sadly, some have been ruined because of shaking.
People are like sand = like dust. But people are dust that God has appraised at high value. Sometimes God’s people forgot that their value came from God, from his creating hand, from his wonderful design, & eternal purpose. Both in the O & N Testaments, people began with God, but then tried to live without God, separate from his word, worship & obeying him.
They turned to other gods; things they create for themselves, that make sense to their little minds. Science & technology are huge false gods today. But people could never escape the fact that they were dust; Gen.3:19: ‘dust you are, and to dust you shall return.’ God made us a work-of-art, but we will all be shaken. And yet, that’s not the last word.
God Remembers That People Are Dust So That He Shows Compassion.
*What about us? *Do we remember both those 2 things? = we are dust, and we are wonderfully made. *Do we remember that those are 2 truths for every day of our life === for which our Maker deserves praise & thanksgiving?
Or *do we forget, and act like we are pretty good on our own, without Him? So says Gal.6:3, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”
We get offended when we’re told that -over millions of years- we just ‘evolved’ from some lower form of animal; that is offensive because it’s not true. But the truth isn’t very flattering either: we came from ‘dirt’. We are both dust and remarkably made. If we ever forget either of these, our old nature will get us in trouble. And then we won’t be properly grateful, we won’t be thoughtful & wise, and we won’t be doing the right things == the things our Maker wants us to do. So, this is why it is a good, biblical & spirit-filled tradition of Christ’s Church to observe ashes; we are dust, but we also have a marvelous Creator.
Death is the great equalizer; whether we are /strong or weak, /rich or poor, /healthy or sick, /considered famous & important or nameless & useless, it’s the Lord who gives human life, and the Lord who takes it away.
So, God remembered that people were dust; but they were his dust. As Creator, all people belong to him; even those who don’t want to believe it. A wage from our sin is forgetfulness; we forget Him. So God has compassion, as a father deals with his child. God remembers that his people are very fragile; He doesn’t shake them up, and pour them out, & start over again. As he remembers us, he comes to us and speaks truth to us.
The Creator speaks to his creatures so we will realize our nature: we are helpless apart from him. God moved Abraham to know this. In Gen.18, Abraham prays, “I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I ~ who am but dust and ashes.” In Joshua 7, when the whole country ‘broke faith’ with God, and were defeated in battle, “they put dust on their heads” in sorrow & repentance. One of the most faithful men ever, Job, was not spared the world’s trouble; and his friends came to him and “tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven.” (Job 2)
No matter what our trouble is, when it comes, God remembers his people & reminds us of our nature. When God has caused us to remember that we were dust, he causes us to DO something: to repent. He remembers to move us to repent, so that we will receive the greatest gift & greatest miracle ever: forgiveness. \
It’s also in Ps.103 that we hear those words: ‘as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.’ When God moves us to remember that we are dust, God gives forgiveness for us to receive. Says Ps.113, “He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap.”
What we hear in the OT, we see in-the-flesh == in Jesus. In Mt.9: “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” In Mt 14: “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Compassion for God is not a feeling, it’s an action. Jesus remembered that people were dust, saw their great need, and did something about it. That compassion of God took Jesus all the way to death; even the death of our cross.
Finally, as God remembers, he has various ways to cause us to remember that we are dust, so that we will cry out to him = a cry of faith. When times of trouble and great need come, God wants us to use Abraham’s words, “I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.” This is why God chose Abraham to be the Father of the Faith.
So, we say: “O Lord, I’m only dust & ashes, but please hear my prayer.” And so, we ask God to be gracious toward us, and have compassion on us, because even though we are sinful, by His Word & by his gift of faith, we come to the one who knows our frame; fragile, yet wonderfully made. So, God handles his valuable dust very carefully. When things shake & threaten God’s work of dust-art, he is gentle & compassionate, slow to anger; He washes us in his promise, and says that we are new creations in Christ Jesus.
And even tho we are being handed over to death every day, yet we are more than conquerors thru Him who loved us at the cross. The Spirit says in 2Cor.4, this is the gift of his grace, which we have in jars of clay. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; /perplexed, but not driven to despair; /persecuted, but not forsaken; /struck down, but not destroyed; /always carrying in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (that’s 2Cor.4)
‘So we do not lose heart,’ says Paul. ‘Tho our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.’ Because God remembers that we are dust, and has compassion on us, so that everyone baptized into Christ is =at the same time= temporal and eternal.
Those of you my age know a song from 1977 by a group named ‘Kansas’ called
“dust in the wind.” ‘All we are is dust in the wind.’ It’s such a haunting truth that the song still gets played; even my kids have heard & know that song.
Fine: we are dust. But praise The Triune God; we are His dust. The cross is the sign of the holy blood that God used to redeemed us back from our death, so that -even now- we have new life in Christ. Wonderful and redeemed dust.