Hyok Kim
February 14, 2018
Hyok Kim

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Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; Psalm 103:8-18


“Happy Valentine’s Day!” Yes, it is Valentine’s Day. Also, it is Ash Wednesday. So, “Happy Ash Wednesday!” But, …. It is a little weird. Right? Happy Valentine’s Day! Yes, it is OK. But, Happy Ash Wednesday? It seems not OK. Valentine’s Day, is the day of celebration of romance and romantic love. Lovers confess and express their love for each other, sending flowers, greeting cards, or heart shaped chocolates or cookies. And mom and dad give some sweets and presents to their children. The shopping mall is filled with the word, L.O.V.E. and lots of winged Cupid fly around every store in the mall. Restaurants are crowded with the people who are about to confess or affirm their love for one another. It is so Happy Valentine’s Day. It is the day of love. But, what about Ash Wednesday? If I say to someone, “Happy Ash Wednesday,” or “Happy Ashes’ Day,” then, their response will be, “What? Ashes! And Happy? What’s wrong with you?” Then, what are we going to celebrate this Ash Wednesday? Is it the day of celebration of our sin, or our meaningless life? Or, is it the day for showing off our piety or just for practicing one of religious traditions or duties? Are the ashes, that we are receiving today, the same mark on Cain, who killed his brother? Yes, God put a mark on him to warn anyone who met him not to kill him, and then, he was kicked out of the Lord’s presence. Are the ashes the same thing that Cain received? Is it the day telling the beginning of the most dismal and gloomy season? No, it’ s not. Instead, I would like to say, Ash Wednesday is also the day of love, remembering God’s love for us, and confessing and expressing our love to God, and practicing our love to God and to our neighbor.    



Today, we are about to begin our journey of Lent. We stand or kneel before God, and be still, and be humble before God to receive the ashes. And we will hear the following words, “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” “Then, the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). The narrative of God’s creation tells us that, without God’s life-giving breath, dust is just a dust. However, he breathed his breath of life into the dust, then the dust was not a dust anymore. Now the dust became filled with God’s life-giving breath, and walked with God in his garden. In the Psalm for today, King David is singing, “For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). God remembers that he gave his life-giving breath into the man formed out of the dust of the ground. God knows, without his Spirit, the life-giving breath that was moving over the water in the beginning, the dust is a dust. The breath of life is God’s love, and with the love the dust became a human being. “Remember, you are dust” means, “Remember, you are my beloved ones whom I gave my breath of life. I breathed my life-giving spirit into you. And, remember, I am in You.”    



One day, God was walking in the garden, and he called to the man and said, “Where are you?” And the man said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (Gen. 3:9-10). He was afraid. His nakedness had not been a problem to God. But he hid himself. He wanted to be like God. He wanted to do like God. He wanted to decide “What is good, what is evil” as God did (Gen. 3:4-5). He wanted to see whatever he wanted to see. The serpent said, “when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” However, he could see only his nakedness, his frailty, his vulnerability. Then, he hid himself from the presence of God. He did not embrace his nakedness. He was afraid that he was naked. Today, just as God called to the man in the garden, he calls to us, “Where are you?” “Where do you come from?” “Where are you going?” “But, remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). “And, remember, I know how you were made, and I remember that you are dust” (Psalm 103:14). “You are dust.” However, it does not mean, human is just a clay figure that is going to be scattered in the water. It does not mean, human is just a cloud of dust that is going to be disseminated in the air. It does not mean, humans are just the actor who after finishing their lines must be disappeared from the stage. “We are dust.” Because without his love, without his life-giving Spirit, we are just a dust. Without string, a Kite is just a paper swept away by the wind.    



In Today’s Psalm, King David is singing, “Our days are like the grass; we flourish like a flower of the field; When the wind goes over it, it is gone, and its place shall know it no more.” “But the merciful goodness of the Lord endures forever on those who fear him, and his righteousness on children’s children; On those who keep his covenant and remember his commandments and do them” (Psalm 103:15-18). He gives thanks to God who “is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” and God “will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever,” and “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:8-10). Because, “he knows how we were made” (103:14). We must remember that God knows and remembers how fragile, how weak, and how vulnerable we are. As father and mother have compassion for their children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. He knows how his children were made, and he remembers how his children are fragile and weak and vulnerable. The ashes are not just a sign of humiliation. The ashes are not just a sign of despair and hopelessness and debasement. The ashes are not just a sign telling “there is no exit,” or “you are horrible person,” or “your life is meaningless and you are so useless.” But, the ashes are a sign of God’s love for his creature, and God’s graciousness, and God’s faithfulness for human beings. The ashes are a sign of God’s life-giving Spirit. And the ashes are a sign of God’s remembrance of human beings who are dust. God remembers, we are vulnerable and fragile creature depending on God’s gift of life-giving breath, God’s life-giving spirit. So, the ashes, are not only a sign that we must remember we are dust depending on God, but also a sign that we must remember that God remembers we his creatures are dust depending on his love and his gift.    



We are not just a dust living a moment, but a transformed dust living eternity in Christ. We are living in continuity of moments with breathing in and breathing out through the Spirit of life given to us. And, in every moment, we live eternity in Christ who promises the eternal life with God. Now, we begin our journey following Jesus who suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried because of his love for his people, and we will come to the Easter morning which is the culmination of God’s love for us. In being marked by ashes, we remember, we are dust, and to dust we shall return. With the ashes, we begin the journey of the Lent with the Lord who not only remembers that we are dust, but also came to us to breathe his eternal life-giving breath. In fasting, we remember, all humans are God’s creature who is hungry for God’s gift, and share God’s gift with one another. In alms-giving, we remember, we are God’s creature who are given God’s life-giving breath, and remember God’s self-giving life for us, and we practice and live out God’s self-giving life among the people. And, in praying, we remember, we are God’s creature who need the deep and intimate communion with God, and pray and call for those in need to God who will answer and respond.

“Can this dust live?” Yes, breathing the breath of life, giving the Spirit of life, God made the man begin to live. “Can these bones live?” Yes, breathing into dry bones and dead bodies, God brought them back to life (Ezekiel 37). That is the meaning of Ash Wednesday, and that is what the season of Lent is about.

Dear friends in Christ, let us today join the life-giving journey of our Lord, and walk together the way of his divine love.