A pirate walked into a bar and the bartender said. “It’s been a while since I last saw you. You look pretty beat up, what happened?”
“Nothing much. I’m just fine,” the pirate replies.
“But what about the wooden leg?” the bartender asks.
“Oh, I got that a while ago. My leg was blown off by a cannon ball, but I’m fine now.”
“And what about the hook?”
“Oh, that. I got my hand chopped off in a sword fight.”
“How’d you get the eye patch, then?”
“Well, a speck of dust got in my eye.”
“You lost your eye from a speck of dust?”
“Um, well you see, that was my first day with the hook.”
My Aunt used to tell me, “Apparently, we all come from dust and return to dust. So that’s why I never dust, it could be somebody I knew.” There are some great jokes about dust. But in a couple of minutes Fr. Fred or I will mark your forehead with ashes and tell you, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” And this is not funny at all. Did you know this is a quote? God told this to Adam after Adam and his wife had sinned and rebelled against God by doing what God told them not to do. God then expelled them both from the Garden of Eden. What is fascinating about this story is what Adam does directly after being told by God that he was dust and to dust he would return. Adam turns to his wife and changes her name.
You see we know her by her second name but her first name was Woman. That is, it was Mrs. Dirt. Adam’s name means man or human which means dirt or earth. And so he was Dirt and she was Mrs. Dirt or female dirt. But after God gives them this death sentence Adam turns to his wife and calls her Eve. Eve means the mother of all living. In light of what has just happened this is a remarkable action. Why does he do this? It is because of what God had spoken to snake and to his wife just moments earlier. God told them that someday a child would be born from the line of Adam and Eve that would crush the serpent’s head under his heel. So despite the fact that death is now in the world, and despite the fact that now they have lost their position as regents of the world, and despite the fact that their relationship with God has been destroyed, there is hope that one day Someone will come to help them find their way back to God and they would be restored and reconciled to God. Someday Someone will help them be restored to the place from which they have fallen as rulers on earth. Someday Someone will deliver them from death.
And so Adam, believing what God has told them turns to his wife and says, “You are no longer Mrs. Dirt—no, now you are Mother of the Living. It will be through you that this someone will come the one who will save us, save our children.”
And so many thousands of years later it happened. Jesus was born. And through him and his work on the cross we now can have a restored relationship with God. Though him we now can now begin to exercise self-control over our own bodies and begin the journey to becoming regents once more. And finally through him we now can have victory over death.
Our epistle reading today is from 2 Corinthians chapter 5 beginning in verse 20. But if we were to look at verse one of this chapter we would read, “For we know that if this earthly tent is destroyed we have an eternal building made by God.” Our earthly bodies are in fact made from the dust of the earth and it has been ordained that all our bodies will return to the earth. We are all going to die; none of us get out of here alive. Yet, yet we have reason to hope. Why? Because God has promised us life through Jesus, that is why we have the expectation of life after our bodies fail us.
This then brings us to our gospel readings. Jesus tells us to beware, to be careful not to practice our piety before others to be seen by them. Be careful not to practice your fasting, your prayers your charitable giving so that others see what you are doing. Why? Is it because we ought not to fast, or pray, or give? Of course not, Jesus says to be careful when we do these things because these activities are impressive and people can be impressed. Jesus tells us that if we are going to do these things so that others will see what we are doing and be impressed, then we should not expect God to reward us for these actions. But, should we do these actions? Absolutely! We are to fast; we are to pray; we are to give. But we are to give, pray, and fast with the right motivations. We are to do these acts of piety to please God, not to impress others. And when we do this, God will in fact reward us.
Jesus tells us that wherever our treasures are, that is where are hearts will be. So the question is, “Where is your treasure?” What is it that you value the most? What is it that you want the most?
The fact is for some people what is most important is what others think. So for these people their behavior is predicated on how others will think about them if they do or do not do certain things. And certainly we do need to be concerned about other’s feelings. But other’s feelings and thoughts about us should not be what is the most important.
For some people what is most important is having money or things. For these people having large bank account or have great stuff is what is most important. It may be a house, a car, a boat, clothes, jewelry, or electronics. It could be anything, and certainly having any of these things is not wrong, but we should not make these things, whatever they are or however expensive they may be as the most important.
People, position, fame, pleasure and experiences are also things that people pursue thinking that these will bring them ultimate satisfaction. But these are unable to give it. There is an ache in our hearts that only God can ease.
It comes back to what we lost in the Garden of Eden. What we lost there are those things that are the most important. Those are the treasures we need to yearn for in our hearts. But first and foremost and this is the foundation upon which the others rest, we need to have a relationship with God; so let us remove all those things that might come between us and our God. Secondly we need to be able to control ourselves; so let us exercise self-control over ourselves and those things that we may tend do in excess. And these are the two top issues; pursuing God and developing self-control, with which we deal during Lent aren’t they?
Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return is no joke, but may we remember that this pronouncement of death was followed by the promise of life; life through Jesus! Amen