I Am the Gate: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

I Am the Gate: An Ash Wednesday Reflection
I Am the Gate. Photo by Tim Graves.
I Am the Gate. Photo by Tim Graves.

By the sweat of your face you will eat bread—until you return to the fertile land, since from it you were taken;  you are soil, to the soil you will return.” (Genesis 3:19 CEB)

On Ash Wednesday we recognize our human mortality. But sometimes we say ashes to ashes and dust to dust (or in this case soil to soil) to imply that we are dirt, that we are worthless. When we say that we came from dust and return to dust what we are really implying is that we are interconnected with the earth beneath our very feet.

We are part of the wholeness that God creates. To suggest that we are dust is to suggest that even the dust is worthy of the love of God. We are integrated into creation not separate from it.

***

Sin. We also focus on sin on Ash Wednesday but I think we misunderstand. We think of sin as something we’ve done wrong when sin is by definition not a mistake but a separateness from God. And so in this passage from John, Jesus offers us a way out of sin.

He is more than the image of the shepherd who cares for us and gives us personal salvation, though he is all that for Christians. Jesus is the signpost pointing us toward the One who loves ALL people, the One who loves each of you.

So Jesus spoke again, “I assure you that I am the gate of the sheep. (John 10:7 CEB)

Jesus is the gate. For his followers Jesus is the opening through the 12-foot concrete fence topped with barbed wire that we have constructed to separate ourselves from God. Jesus is the gate which swings wide so that we can find green grass and abundant, life-giving streams.

And, so, because Jesus points us toward God we do not have to sin. The promise of the shepherd means that we do not have to be distant from the One who loves.

Amen.

Crashing into Sin

I watched the movie Crash last evening. My wife’s comments after it was over were, “Well, that was depressing.” She was right and yet there were also tiny slivers of hope.

This movie begins at the scene of a multiple car crash in Los Angeles. We are then taken back to the day prior. The film builds very slowly as we meet characters from a variety of racial and ethnic groups: Americans of European and Middle Eastern descent, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, and Asian Americans. The characters display bigotry, hatred, anxiety, fears, hopes, and many of the worst aspects of human nature. Very few of the characters fully gain the viewers’ sympathy and, yet, none of the characters are without some redeeming character no matter how small.

Sin?
As I reflect on the film, the word to describe the actions in it I believe is sin. I define sin as a separation from God and from each other. Separation was plenty in this film. People judged one another based on skin color and actions. People used other people, killed other people, and molested other people but mostly they didn’t see each other or hear each other. It was not a complimentary view of humanity.

Hope.
And yet there were slivers of hope. One character that demeaned another in the worst possible way, refused to leave her to die after a car crash. Another character who seemed to have given up on his brother, made sure his elderly mother had groceries in her refrigerator, one carjacker displayed empathy for illegal aliens who were bound toward slavery. There was hope when the individuals however briefly opened their eyes and saw their fellow human beings.

So, what do I do with these film images that refuse to leave my head?

This film doesn’t reflect my view of humanity or life and, yet, it is hard to deny that there is truth in this film. What I didn’t see in this film were people who consistently choose to operate from a place of love. I know lots of those people. Typically, they are people of faith; they are Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims. In this blog, I will periodically highlight individuals in my life who exude the love of God or Allah or Jehovah or who seek the peace of enlightenment. Some of these people I have known for years; with some I only had brief encounters. In each of these human beings I can feel the Spirit in them.