You are Not the Most Important Person in the World

This week begins the Lenten Season and we will begin this penitential season with the imposition of Ashes. Some of you may think, oh, that sounds like something only the Catholics should do. Well, no, first it is biblical, but it is also properly in our United Methodist Book of Worship. Theologically this is a very proper way to begin the penitential season of Lent with these words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

This sounds so countercultural today. After all, we live in a society of enlightenment and self-entitlement. We are told we deserve everything we have and even more! We are told we deserve an easy life! We are told that we are good and the center of the whole universe revolves around me! Over and over in our society, through commercials and jingles, through television shows and movies, even through announcements from politicians… we are told that we deserve more and better!

Guess what: this is not biblical. Rather, the story of creation clearly indicates that you and I were made from the dust of the ground; and to that dust we will return, whether we like it or not! And when that day comes, if anyone says we deserve better or more, it won’t matter one bit!

Lent is a season of penitence and self-denial. The call is for us to get right with God because for way too long we’ve thought much too highly about ourselves. We need to be knocked down about four or eight pegs and realize the universe does not revolve around me.

It always amazes me when I see a self-righteous, self-acclaimed Christian who only thinks their agenda or their needs are the most critical. Is this what Jesus did? Didn’t he shift attention away from himself and toward God? Didn’t he teach us to humble ourselves before the Lord and before others? What must some people think of us?

Humility goes a long way, but it appears to be long-forgotten. People in our society are not being taught to be humble–we are being taught to being selfish and selfish to a fault! It is time we listen to the words of Lent: “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

I heard a great story back in seminary that I need to share here:

There are two accounts of Creation recorded in the beginning of Genesis. The first account is Genesis 1:1 through Genesis 2:3 and records how each day God created something different and said it was good. Then, on the sixth day, God created man and woman in God’s own image, and said that was very good! And, of course, on the seventh day, God rested.┬áThe second account of Creation begins with Genesis 2:4 and here we learn that man was made out of the dust of the ground.

Why does Genesis contain two different accounts of Creation and why are the accounts so different? Why couldn’t they be joined together in one, nice flowing, easy to read story instead of two very different accounts? Which one do you like better: that God made you in God’s own image or that God made you out of the dust of the ground. So how can we explain these two different accounts of Creation as recorded in Genesis?

Our Old Testament professor in seminary, Dr. Don Gowan, was a great teacher and scholar. He didn’t believe all the hype of many of the so-called critical theologians when it came to interpreting the Bible. On some of the more debated issues, he would agree with a few and disagree with a few more. And so, when it came to this dilemma on our second day of class that semester, he said this about the two accounts of creation.

The source that most likely wrote Genesis 2-3 was ascribed to the early years of the Monarchy (and not everyone agrees with this), perhaps in the time of Solomon. If this is true, then this account was written during a time of national success. If so, then it was very appropriate for such a time , “since it presents a realistic picture of divinely-given potential, temptations, and the devastating effects of becoming one’s own god. So the message was “You are made out of the dust of the ground, and to that dust you will return!”

Genesis 1 is dated in the time of the Babylonian exile. If this is true, then it was written at a time when all was lost, and when the effects of sin did not need to be pointed out by anybody. So the message was “You are created in the very image of God!”

Then, Dr. Gowan relayed this story to us:

“A Hasidic teacher, Rabbi Bunam, summed up the need for both messages in this saying, ‘A man should carry two stones in his pocket. On one should be inscribed, ‘I am but dust and ashes.’ On the other, ‘For my sake was the world created.’ And he should use each stone as he needs it.'”

These days, I think people need to use the side which reads, “I am but dust and ashes.” I do not mean this only for this season of Lent, but for a society, a culture in our church today, and some church members who think way to highly of themselves!