Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed,
Or the golden bowl is broken,
Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain,
Or the wheel broken at the well.
Then the dust will return to the earth as it was,
And the spirit will return to God who gave it. “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “All is vanity.”
–Ecclesiastes 12: 6-8 NKJV
Lent is right around the corner. For many of us, this is going to spur talk of “What are you giving up for Lent?” I think this is a fascinating practice, honestly. This year, I’m going to try to give up Coke. Ah! That murky brown liquid is like life blood to me!
But I want to take the thought a little further. Pastor Gary is going to be using a book for Lent called “The God We Can Know,” by Rob Fuquay. I read the first chapter tonight, and he posed this question:
“What do you have that can’t be turned to ashes?”
I thought about it quite a bit.
We’re surrounded by stuff. All of this stuff competes for our attentions, desires, and energy. We think about it as an integral part of our modern lives. So I wondered, “what do I have that can’t be turned to ashes?”
Some of my most precious possessions are my books. If you’re reading this, or you have a blog here on WordPress or other sites, you’re probably a fan of the written word yourself. I love all kinds of books. These days I find myself reading mostly non-fiction. I love to read about history, especially the Civil War and World War II. I also enjoy books on faith, religion, spirituality, and comparative religions. Recently I found several books on sale from Nook and Kindle that I purchased on my tablet. My summer should be set!
But all the joy, all the wisdom held by those precious books….ashes in just a spark and flame.
Some of my other treasured possessions are my collection of soccer scarves:
That’s just a few them. At last count I had over twenty of them, mostly accrued over the last 5-6 years. I don’t even want to think about how much money they’ve cost me! But to a die hard soccer fan, a scarf is a special thing. In the United States we even wear them during the summer when it’s 90+ degrees outside. They show support for our favorite club, they are a symbol of our love and passion. They reflect part of our identity.
A flame can incinerate those scarves in mere minutes.
For most of us, our homes are the bedrock, the foundation of our physical security. They provide the shelter that we need to survive. They give us a place to store all of our STUFF. They give us a place where we can be ourselves, and be at peace.
A flame can turn our homes to ashes faster than we care to think.
And finally of course…our bodies. They’re both durable and fragile all at the same time. We put our bodies through so much, and there are certainly incredible stories of survival in some of the worst circumstances humans can imagine. Think of people who are lost in the wilderness and have to survive. Even more striking, think about the people who actually survived the horrors of Nazi camps during the Holocaust.
As many of those survivors saw first hand, our bodies…our lives can turned to ashes far too quickly.
Despite our best laid plans. Despite our very good intentions. It can, and does happen.
What do you have that can’t be turned to ashes?
As the verses above say: bowls can be broken, pitchers can be shattered, wheels can be destroyed. Dust will always return to the earth, spirit will return to God.
Vanity of all vanities, indeed.
But Christ offers a chance at something that cannot be turned to ashes. He offers us a foundation that can’t be shaken, that cannot be moved. I’m not talking about some eschatological or metaphysical life after death, where you pray a magic prayer and you get to go to heaven.
I’m talking about the Good Life, here and now.
I’m talking about a life in Christ called to service and love of others. I’m talking about the moment you give a hungry person something to eat, and she looks up at you with warmth, love, and gratitude.
I’m talking about the time you spend sitting and talking to a shut in, or someone who is stuck in a hospital, tucked away where most of us forget they even exist.
I’m talking about the time you let a friend in deep agony cry on your shoulders and be present with them in that moment, letting them know they are not alone.
The hottest fires of death and hell cannot turn LOVE to ashes.
And we love because, in grace, Christ first loved us.