Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Ash Wednesday - 2/6

God Embraces Us As We Are

Ash Wednesday
February 6, 2008
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Bethany Lutheran Church

The rumors you may have heard are indeed true. That is, on my occasional day off, I can sometimes be found in my apartment reading the latest month’s edition of GQ magazine, Gentlemen’s Quarterly, or brushing up my knowledge with a book that resides on my coffee table entitled, “A Well Dressed Gentleman’s Pocket Guide.” Both resources provide me with excellent fashion tips. I spend roughly twenty minutes a day on my hair with half a dozen or so products. My favorite clothing preference is a freshly pressed dress shirt, a power tie, a suit, and great shoes. Am I vain? Maybe, but I like to look good.

I like to look good, but on this day I am no more than dust – black and gray dust that may just as well have been gathered from the fireplace ash. And looking out upon all of you, I see dust. And in just a little while, we will each hear those words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

In college and seminary, I was occasionally met with the judgmental comment that I am suit. The term “yuppy” might perhaps be more familiar to you. That is, a young urban professional. I make my confession before you now that I am indeed a suit. I like wearing them and I know a community of other suit people. In addition to being a good looking garment of clothing, the suit is also sometimes used as a garment of power. Each one, having been specially tailored, can help a person’s posture throughout any meeting or desk job. Additionally, it provides a boost of self confidence and sometimes helps to mask insecurities. But there is a lot more hidden behind the person in this suit.

If you have ever been to the campus of Northern Michigan University, you will have likely discovered that almost every building is named after someone, and such is the case at most institutions of higher living. These attempts to immortalize a person’s name may last for some time and it may bring the large donor a sense of pride and honor, but over time, everything that was ever known about that person is forgotten. Their basic character and demeanor, even the clothes they wore and what they looked like, is forgotten. A few details about the person’s life may in fact remain deep within the archives, but it is often no more than a little paper and ink.

There was once a young man named Mick who wore all black clothing, usually including a cape. His nose and ears were adorned with earrings of various shapes and sizes. His eyes occasionally were highlighted with black eye shadow. He was, what the subculture commonly calls, a Goth. He was one of those individuals that common people often stare upon thinking that he perhaps was not right in the head. They would talk behind his back claiming that he did not look right and that perhaps there was something psychologically wrong with him. Yet, what very few of the common people actually knew about him was that he regularly visited the local orphanage to play with the children there – children who did not get very many visitors – children who had no parents or any place to call home. The children loved Mick. They loved him for who he was, not for what he looked like. And although there was no building ever to be named after Mick, the memory of him lived on in those orphans whom he visited day after day.

Things are not always what they seem. Most people are quick to recognize the obvious. Commercial after commercial, advertisement after advertisement, we are shown and told what we need to look, feel, and smell better. Through it all, our society has taught us that there are certain ways a person should look and certain ways that a person should feel. If someone does not fit into that mold, we are, myself included, often quick to judge them, based on nothing more than their physical appearance.

Most people recognize the obvious. But it is God who recognizes that which is silent – our God, the one “from whom no secrets are hid.” God does not judge based upon our outward appearance, but rather knows that which lies deep within our hearts. God knows the depths of our faith as well as where it is weak or lacking. God knows the one who is a hypocrite from the one who is sincere. God knows who has stored up treasures in heaven through the actions of their heart.

We all have our own reasons for seeking approval from our fellow human sisters and brothers. Schools are full of name calling and bullying, directed toward those who do not fit into the mold. Places of business are full of people who believe that if only they could store up enough riches or buy that one car, that they could feel good about themselves. Places of worship are full of people who, like the hypocrites, believe that they will gain from the number of times their name is mentioned in the newsletter or on some donation plaque, people who love to be seen at every church event.

The gospel text on this night is the same one that is read year after year. When I was younger, it always seemed strange to me that the pastor would read those words about not showing off your piety, and then we would all proceed to be ashed. But the issue really is not whether or not to practice the piety of having ashes put on your forehead, the issue rather is about what you do with those ashes. We could leave here tonight comparing who got the better marking. We could leave here tonight and stop at the gas station or the grocery store with great big smiles on our faces announcing to the world that we have been good Christians in having received the ashes. We could leave here and seek the approval of our humans.

Or we could be silent and do nothing visible, except that which is visible only to God. For we do not ash our foreheads for one another to see, but as reminders to each of us, individually. The ashes are about our own mortality and they can remind us of the many ways we have failed ourselves, and the many ways we have failed others. The ashes are about our own death, a death that we each experienced when we were baptized. But in that baptism, in that death, we were made children of God, born to a live eternal. And so the ashes are also about our own relationship with God – a reminder to us of the cross of Christ under which we all live. When you come forward to receive your ashes, you may wish to kneel at the altar for five seconds or for five minutes, that is for you and God to decide and no one will think anything of either decision.

For we are all mere dust and ashes – we are all equal, regardless of our different looks or appearances, regardless of the great diversity that exists between us. No one is greater than any one else. And no one will be remembered on this earth forever, but all will be remembered by the God who loves us and made us his own when we were baptized.

Luke Smetters


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”


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