Thursday, March 6, 2014

You are More than Dust: Ash Wednesday Sermon

How do you measure your worth?
   
Think about this question for just a moment or two.
   
How do you measure your worth?
   
Do you immediately think about your bank account?
   
Do you immediately think about your house and the items in it?
   
Do you immediately think about your family; your wife; your children?
   
Do you immediately think about yourself; your personhood; and your rights?
   
Do you think about that sign that was around for many, many years that said, “I know I’m somebody ‘cause God don’t make no junk!”
   
How do you measure your worth?
   
Do you think about the value you have to the company you work for?
   
Do you think about the history of your family and how deep your family’s roots run here or wherever you hail from?
   
Do you think about the things you have accomplished in life?  The trophies both real and imagined that you have gathered?
   
Do you think about the work you have done to help others?
   
What is your value?  Is it possible to measure?
   
On the one hand there are those who will tell you that you are more precious than anything in the world.  They will tell you that your value is tremendous.  They will tell you that you have certain rights, and that no one can take those rights away from you.  Most of us who grew up here in the U.S. have been told this over and over and over again.
   
But then, we fly straight into reality, and reality fails to match what we have been told.  Do you think I am making a false claim?  Do you think I am standing up here this evening to tell you lies?  “Prove it to me!” you may want to shout!  “Prove to me that I’m not valuable like I’ve been told.”
   
Fine.  I will, but please don’t shoot the messenger.
   
If you think you are so valuable, try to sway the next election on your own.  See if your vote really does make a difference.
   
If you think you are so valuable, go apply for a job, but try to do so without appealing to any degree you have or any experience you have.  Try getting that job simply because you are you.
   
If you think you are so valuable, dress in rags and then try to go to any business around and beg for a morsel to eat telling folks you are unable to pay.
   
If you think you are so valuable, go tell someone they are completely wrong in how they live their lives and that they should do what you tell them to do because, after all, you are valuable, and folks should listen to you.
   
If you think you are so valuable, try to contemplate just who will remember you 200 years from now.  Try to contemplate whether or not you will simply be a name on a gravestone or a name on a family tree.  Who will remember you after that amount of time has passed?
   
What gives you value?
   
My God, how we want to be valued.  We want to leave our mark.  We want others to see our accomplishments–to be more than just a name.  We work and we slave.  We give up our time.  We live vicariously through our children and grandchildren.  We invest in our families; in our work; we run our selves frazzled.  And for what?  What difference do we really make? 
   
The end result is much the same for many of us: stress, burnout, worry, fear of losing our jobs, our homes, our possessions, and our freedoms.  We become obsessed with doing everything, seeing everything, having everything or making sure our kids can have all the things we never did.  And all it ever earns us is a hole in the ground.  Six feet deep and three feet wide.  Or it earns us an urn full of ashes.  Eight inches by ten inches to be placed on a mantle and forgotten or simply scattered around.
   
“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
   
This is the reality each and every one of us face.  All our work.  All our striving after value.  All our attempts to make ourselves shine and look good.  All our attempts to have bigger houses and faster cars and multiple bank accounts and stock portfolios end in one thing: death.
   
And what will we be worth then?  What will our value be at that moment?
   
As your pastor, I wrestle with such things.  I am caught in a very vicarious position.  I know my job is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I know my job is to lead a people in being faithful to God.  To do this job faithfully means that sometimes a congregation will grow and sometimes it will not.  Sometimes people will accept the words I preach and sometimes they will not.  I know this, but it is difficult to put such a thing into practice?
   
Why?
   
I’ll tell you why.  Because I like to be liked.  I don’t like it when people disagree with me.  I don’t like it when people say that I am wrong or that my leadership needs tweaking.  I don’t like it when people stop attending church for one reason or another.  I want everyone to come and get a long and be happy.  I want a congregation to keep growing and growing and growing and adding programs and staff.  I know that oftentimes pastors are not judged on their faithfulness but on whether or not worship attendance keeps going up and whether or not offerings continue to be at a level where they keep the bills paid.  I know that pastors who are considered successful have huge followings on Facebook and on their blogs and they write books and they are invited to give lectures at congregations and conventions.  These are the pastors who have everything.  They are very much valued.  And if any of these things don’t happen, or if worship attendance declines or offerings slip, the easiest thing for a congregation to do is simply say, “It’s the pastor’s fault.”
   
I know this.  I know it very, very well.  And for the longest time, I thought it was my job to make a congregation grow.  I thought it was my job to make a congregation get along.  I thought it was my job to bring people in and make them stay.  My worth was tied to worship attendance and offering and seeing people in church on Sunday morning.
   
And I was stressed.  And I burned out.  And I got depressed.  And I’ve had to heal.
   
During Thanksgiving, my family and I traveled up to Arkansas to see my 94 year old grandfather.  He was extremely excited to see us, and we spent hours just sitting and talking.  Grandpa shared the stories of his time serving as a pastor in mostly rural congregations.  At no time did he ever preach at a mega-church or have several hundreds in worship.  But that didn’t seem to bother him.  In fact, I know it didn’t bother him because at a particularly crucial junction in our visit, Grandpa looked at me and said, “I didn’t accomplish much in the eyes of the world, but the Lord and I are on pretty good terms.”
   
And my eyes became teary.
   
In one fell swoop, Grandpa had cut me to the core and helped me see what was really important as a person of faith.  Not worship attendance.  Not building up a huge church.  Not making people get along.  None of these things impacted my value.  None.  The value I have comes from the Lord.
   
The value we all have comes from the Lord.
   
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that the world may be saved through Him.”
   
You are more than dust.  You are a child of God.  Turn to Him and you will truly find out how precious you really are.  You will understand why St. Paul writes, “...we are alive; ...as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”  For when you realize God has worked through Jesus Christ to redeem you, you will know that you have all you need. Amen.

1 comment:

ACB70 said...

Another great blog! Thank you