God wants our ashes

 1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory. Isaiah 61:1-3 (NRSV)

2018 has already become a year for great growth and reflection and as we enter into sacred times for Christian believers, I have been reading and meditating on the text above. I was drawn to the word ashes. It is a known fact that ashes present themselves as a grayish white powdery residue left only when something has been ignited and burned. Ashes are also known as the substance or residue after the combustion or explosion. As I reflected I wondered what one does with the remains of the meeting that exploded in our lives, the idea that ignited at one point and time and then burned? What do we do with the remains of that explosive person’s words, or even what do we do with the remains of the passion on the inside of us that "combusted"?

Sometimes it seems that all that remains are ashes. And much like dust these ashes disappear into the winds of our lives as change comes and blows it away. When natural disasters happen and all that remains are ashes or when death occurs, and ashes remain we must learn how to handle them. God continues to invite us to contemplate on what we are doing with the ashes that remain during this Lenten season.

As Christians, we know and believe that we are called by God, anointed by God, and appointed by God. I believe that it is in our obedience to God that we receive the strength to do as Isaiah prophesied that we would do. Dear brothers and sisters it is while we are bringing the good news to the oppressed, and binding up the brokenhearted, that our greatest combustions happen. When those mishaps and troubles come it is then when the ashes of our lives are created.

In the midst of proclaiming liberty to the captive community and while the Spirit is using us to help release those who are prisoners of the past, prisoners to tradition, prisoners to comfortable status quo, the prisoners of racism, prisoners of sexism, and prisoners of classism, that ashes are created.

Despite the ashes we must still proclaim the favor of the Lord and believe in God’s promise to render beauty for the ashes that our lives have created. We must trust and believe that the ashes left by deferred dreams, rejection and disappointment, financial denials and even divorce will all be exchanged for beauty. There is encouragement to be found in understanding that the ashes become an ornament in the landscape of our lives. Romans reminds us that all things, yes including the things that produced the ashes in the first place, work together for your good. We will have a beautiful life, but we must first endure the processes that produce the ashes.

So today the real question to ask ourselves is what are we doing with the ashes that remain in our lives as we wait on our exchange? History shows us that among the ancient Hebrews the practice was to sprinkle with or sit in ashes was a mark or token of grief, humiliation, or penitence. In addition to that practice, ashes on the head was one of the ordinary signs of mourning for the dead, as seen when the children of Israel were assembled under Nehemiah with fasting, and with sackcloth, and earth (ashes) upon them. Clearly there are obvious options from this historical context for dealing with our ashes. We can wear our ashes to remind ourselves and those around us of our current condition. We could wallow in our ashes as those bemoaning and belaboring the pains of ministry, past mistakes, and failures. We could even find ourselves making idols of our ashes by memorializing our moments of pain and grief in ministry and in life and miss the opportunity to testify of the greatness to come.

When we look a little closer to the text we can discover another and more promising option that God offers to us, where our ashes are concerned. We can "give God our ashes" and God will give to us beauty or garland. God speaks of giving us a crown, diadem or turban or garland and people of God this is an encouraging truth because it releases us from the stigmas of shame and rejection. We do not have to hide our ashes from God, on the contrary God wants our ashes. God wants to get the glory through those painful situations in our lives and ministry. God promises that if we give them to Him that He will give back to us, something beautiful.

Maybe before today you didn’t have the strength to release the ashes to God, but my prayer is that throughout this season of Lenten we will all be reminded that the Spirit of the Lord is upon us. God wants our ashes, so let us release them into His mighty yet caring hands knowing that God will glory in them and receive the glory through them.


Pastor Julie