By Pastor Paula Burchill
If you have seen anyone walking around with a smudge of black on their forehead, it’s because today is Ash Wednesday. Those are ashes, and when they were placed, they were made in the shape of a cross, along with the words, “remember you are dust…and to dust you shall return.”
We do this ancient ritual because it reminds us that we are sinners. We mess up all the time, but despite that, God loves us immensely. God loves us so much that he was willing to take all of our sin upon himself and die on the cross.
Sometimes, though, as I look at the world, I wonder if most people believe they are stuck in sin. I see a paradox, because on the one hand, we seem to revel in seeing those people who blatantly are selfish and self-centered. We just need to look at the popularity of reality TV and many YouTube stars to see that. But on the other hand, we are so surprised when someone we idolize fails us.
One of my kids loves Cam Newton, quarterback of the Carolina Panthers, who just lost to the Broncos in the Super Bowl. Cam is quite a character. When I was a kid, I would have called him a great big show off. When he scores a touchdown, he dances and celebrates and he told people if they don’t like it, they should keep him out of the end zone. Well, Denver kept him out of the end zone. And at the end of the game, when all the players were interviewed, Cam sulked.
He had his sweatshirt pulled as far down over his face as it would go and he answered the questions with a word or two before storming out of the press conference. Now, I think that I likely can’t imagine how hard it would be to be peppered with questions about the worst day of my life. But his team mates managed it. Cam said he isn’t good loser and anyone who is a good loser is just a loser.
My kid was devastated with the loss, but even more so, he was so hurt with how Cam acted in the interview. As I sat with him and the tears were flowing, I found that I had to talk to him about sin.
I told him how we have to remember that our sports heroes are people. And people are not perfect. We all make mistakes. We all fall short. We all are not good team mates at times and are sore losers. It doesn’t mean we aren’t good people, too. We are all just both all the time—good and bad, blessed and broken, saint and sinner.
So that is why I make my kids go to Ash Wednesday services each year—I’m hoping that message will sink in. I hope they will forgive themselves when they make mistakes. And even more importantly, I hope they will forgive the people in their lives—family, friends, teachers, colleagues, neighbors, heroes.
But most important of all, I hope that the message that they are forgiven and loved children of God will sink in so deeply, that it will be central to how they see themselves in this world.
We are all dust, and to dust we shall return. But on the other side will be Jesus–welcoming us home.