Getting Down and Dirty
Growing up it seemed that we were always having to wash something. At meal times it was our hands. At bedtime it was taking a bath to get the day’s grime off. (We were really good at collecting Iowa’s good soil on our clothes and persons.) If we were dressing up to do somewhere, then the hair and face had to be washed. Mom was particular about washing up. She felt that soap was essential to the process. We tried, unsuccessfully, to convince her otherwise. And we were no more successful at faking it. Cleanliness being next to Godliness just did not resonate with our young lifestyle choices. Being well connected with the dust out of which God created Adam made way more sense. As a result we heard “Go wash…with soap” a lot.
That makes Ash Wednesday confusing. On that day, we are supposed to get our faces dirty AND go out in public. Why? They ashes do a couple of things. They remind us of our significance. When Abraham was having a heart to heart conversation with God about the future of Sodom, he used the phrase “dust and ashes” to describe himself in comparison to God’s glory. He was nothing more than dust or ash to be brushed off without a thought. Yet, God was willing to listen to him. Wish I had known of that passage when Mom told to go wash. “Why, Mom? I am but dust and ash to begin with. Why deny who I am?” It might have sounded smart at the time, but I imagine I would have had time to rethink that as I sat in my room waiting for Dad to get home to provide a tactile lesson on the difference of smart and wise. For all the times we do think we are so intelligent, so knowing, so powerful and capable, the ashes remind us who we are. It is a reminder for humility, not insignificance. There is a difference.
The color of the ashes also reminds us we are not God. In spite of how we can impact lives, the environment, and creation on this planet and beyond, we are mortal beings with great but finite potentials. In western culture black is the color of mourning associated with death. It is another humble reminder that, unlike and infinite God, we and our best achievements are bound by the limits of time and space.
The Bible uses ashes in yet another way. To show remorse, repentance, and to reconcile a wrong committed, one would cover themselves in ashes. When we choose to put ashes on our face, we are humbling acknowledging our need to change our lives. To stop doing those things that separate us and others from walking with God. To commit to doing those things that reconcile the breeches in relationships. To mend what has been broken and through the death to self, find new life for all. When we came into the house with sweaty, dirt smudge faces, there was none of that. We felt delight in what we had been doing, not remorse. Given the chance, we’d be right back at it. The dirt was a badge of honor. No wonder Mom told us to go wash. On Ash Wednesday as we smudge our face or our hand with a sooty cross, there is not only the call to repent, the reminder of our humble status, but of forgiving grace, and love that is greater than even death that claims us and draws us in to new life.
Pastor Dave Crow
Holy Grounds With Pastor Dave
January Newsletter Article
Here we go again! In our hopes for this year to be a better year, we will make promises to ourselves and others that we really, really want to keep. But we and they know we won't. Why? Because the jump from the real to the ideal is too great to make. We may want it to be doable so much that we will fling ourselves off the brink of sanity into a frenzy of exercise and diets, of disciples and new habits. All in the hopes that the spirit and will are stronger than the flesh. But alas, it isn't. Jesus pointed that out to his sleepy disciples in the garden oh, so long ago.1 Jesus' answer then was prayer. Could prayer really get me out of bed and walking at 6am? Could prayer reduce the urge for late night bowls of ice cream or a slightly larger cut of cake. Hmmm. What would I have to lose? I don't believe making God or Jesus responsible for my choices is the answer. But prayer can do something pretty amazing. It can keep me attune to what God is doing in my life and in the world. That awareness can awaken a desire to be part of the unfolding of God's kingdom. Participation in that unfolding may get me up and moving and doing to the extent that stiff joints limber up and enough energy is expended in meeting the needs of the world that extra pounds are exchanged for making a difference in the world. Maybe, if I bolster it in earnest prayer. That awareness may help shift priorities and desires enough that effort goes into feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for the forgotten and oppressed instead of being a couch potato in search of a snack. Maybe, if it is my earnest prayer. That awareness may stir and awaken the Christ in me to seek the Christ in you that the body of Christ finds new life in our community and beyond. That would be my New Year’s prayer. May your new year’s resolutions, hopes, dreams, and plans unfold to reveal God at work in and through you.
Pastor Dave Crow
1Stay alert and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.” Common English Bible. (2011). (Mt 26:41). Nashville, TN: Common English Bible.
Holy Grounds With Pastor Dave
December Newsletter Article
It was always an exciting time! We'd make a special trip downtown with the whole family in tow. Once the car was parked, we'd make our way to the department stores. I remember standing mesmerized at the window of the Armstrong's store in downtown Cedar Rapids watching the animated Christmas displays of elves, Santa, and the latest, newest toys. Later we would be in line at the Linndale Mall to sit on Santa's lap. It promised to be the most magical, wonderful time of the year. There was something about the promise of new and better things that lent itself to feeling joy and hope. It was the time of the holiday spirit.
In the life of the church we build on that same excitement, anticipation, joy and hope. A new beginning is about to unfold that holds the promise of a new heaven and new earth where there will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore and God will wipe away the tears from every eye. Death will be no more. We decorate with signs and symbols of this wondrous gift of love. We string lights to remind us of The Light. Gifts are given and exchanged in honor of God's gift of self. Or at least that's what we claim.
But that is not the experience for everyone. For some, for many, all the wonders that are heralds of joy are reminders of what is not. The joy and laughter of families gathered are empty echoes of a voice that is no longer heard. Expressions of love only highlight empty arms with no one to embrace. Tables with mounds of food along with family and friends gathered around to share in the plenty emphasize the absence of what is essential. And those lights only create and make obvious the shadows. For some, for many, the holiday spirit is one of desperate, quiet, aloneness.
There is a gentle word of hope even in a blue Christmas. While we want to jump to the celebration of the birth of a child and a weird baby shower put on by three guys, that is not the only message given that first Christmas. Along with angel songs and shepherd oohs & aahs, there is the quiet desperation of a couple from out of town trying to find a place to stay. There is desperate hope of a mother giving birth a long way from family in a less than ideal setting. There is a confused first-time father. The quiet hope is found in a name for a baby: Emmanuel, God with us.
Whether your Christmas is a white one or a blue one; whether your Christmas is filled with excited squeals and laughter or quiet silence; whether your Christmas is filled with family and friends or memories, It is a day of Emmanuel: God with us.
Pastor Dave Crow