The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

Ash to Ash, Dust to Dust -- A Sermon on Ash Wednesday

Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.

Each year on Ash Wednesday, we read the same scripture--Psalm 51, 2 Corinthians 5, and Matthew 6. If you’re in church each year--or more than one service per day, like in some parishes--you start to get pretty familiar with the words. But then, every once in awhile, something different jumps off the page.

This weekend, as I was preparing to preach to you, I noticed--seemingly for the first time--the deep joy present in these texts! I’m sure you all, looking at this season of sin and sacrifice, are like, “Excuse me? Joy?”

In Psalm 51, it is written: “let me hear joy and gladness” (v 8); “restore to me the joy of your salvation” (v 12); my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance” (v 14); my mouth will proclaim your praise” (v 15). The psalmist’s prayer is for a clean heart, a repentant spirit, a return to the joy of the Lord! Happy Ash Wednesday! But not exclusively.

In the letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul is realistic about the trials and tribulations of the Christian life. Afflictions! Hardships! Calamities! But, also, knowledge! Patience! Kindness!

In that paradox, Ash Wednesday emerges as a thin place. Thin places are an illustration that an incredible artist and author named Jan Richardson introduced me to. She writes that thin places are where, “the veil between worlds becomes transparent, and heaven and earth meet ... places where the lay of the land evokes an awareness of the sacred. These spaces are haunted by the holy. Time runs differently here…”

In the thin place of Ash Wednesday, we glimpse the fullness of faith: life and death, joy and suffering, saint and sinner. As a Lutheran, I feel at home in this both/and of a day and season.

Yes, Ash Wednesday invites us into the deep reflection of our Lenten journey. Our state of sin is acknowledged: remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Ash to ash, dust to dust, birth to death, God is with you.

The water and the Word are still present, here! The promises of our baptism are not complicated by admission of our mortality--they are revealed!

You are dust of the earth, dear ones! God our Creator breathed life into you! Jesus, our Redeemer, put on this flesh and liberated our people! The Spirit moves in and among you! You, and all the beloved, are alive in the grace of God--and you will die in it.

This season of Lent can be a dreary one, if you so choose. Sitting for 40 days in the muck of your sin is a righteous practice. But telling the truth about who and whose you are is a radical act in this world. We live in a culture of lies and half-truths and miracle cures and self-help and self-loathing. We do that every day. That’s not Lent.

For these six weeks, permit yourself to be fully human. Listen quietly to the voice of God. Make a joyful noise to the Lord! Fast and pray and give alms. Rejoice in the the truth of your salvation.

Live. Die. Live again.


Repent! -- A Sermon in the Wilderness

Do Not Be Afraid -- A Sermon on Jeremiah and Jesus and You