An Ashes Perspective

February 17th, 2021 by Carl Buffington

Mammon thinks it rules. 

Money

Money and the lust for it, and the power of it, sure seems to be king in our world.  Listen to what is important news:

“Elon Musk passed Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as richest man in the world last week.  Musk’s net worth this week stood at $183.8 billion, $1.4 billion ahead of Bezos.” 

Makes you want to say “Alleluia” doesn’t it?  Except in Lent, of course.

Money Hand Over Fist

This world is all about money.  (That’s not to say it can’t be put to good use.  I heard an interview with Bill Gates this week where he shared about the billions of dollars, and almost as many hours, he was investing in a solution for global warming.)

But just about anywhere you look, there are businesses that have profited hand over fist during the pandemic.  (Many have also crashed.) And when you look a bit deeper, often the money doesn’t find a way to trickle down - it’s the old song, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer...”

Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down

One way to deal with Mammon, the money god, is from an ‘ashes perspective’ i.e. remembering that we are dust.  I will get to that, but remember for now that there are ‘no pockets in a shroud.’

Speaking of old songs, I suspect we have all heard,  “Ring around the rosie, pocket full of posies, ashes ashes, we all fall down.” 

The song has been said to reference the Bubonic or Black Plague of the mid 14th century which killed over 25 million, a third of the population of Europe. 

And, the truth is, the stats are still 10 out of 10, or 100%, that all of us die, and “ashes ashes we all fall down.”  Sooner or later, even those vaccinated, will “all fall down,” if not from  COVID, then something else.

the stats are still 10 out of 10, or 100%, that all of us die

It’s a sobering thought and can help us get a perspective on what really matters in our time on the planet earth.  It’s an ashes perspective. 

Here’s a quote from Rich Mullins:

“Death is something we ought to befriend.  According to the Christian Faith, death is not the end but the beginning of life.” 

Death is something we ought to befriend. According to the Christian Faith, death is not the end but the beginning of life.-1

Choose Your Treasure Bank

What are, in fact, matters of consequence from our God’s perspective? These may not be what matters to the world.

We could listen to what Jesus said:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

What are treasures we can store up in heaven?

What are treasures we can store up in heaven?

Here’s a quote from Pastor Rick Warren:

Living to create an earthly legacy is a short sighted goal.  A wiser use of time is to build an eternal legacy.  You weren’t put on earth to be remembered.  You were put here to prepare for eternity. The church’s mission is to prepare us for that day.” 

And you remember the story Jesus told about the farmer who built bigger and bigger barns to store all his stuff, and Jesus then says he died the next day. 

Barn

Crying Alleluia in the Dust

This past Saturday I read these words from the Prayer Book’s Commendation for Fr. John Cox:

“...For so you did ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

Why do we make our cry Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia?

Here’s a quote from Rich Mullins:

“In the end the size of our bank accounts and waistlines won’t matter... Live like you’ll die tomorrow and die knowing you’ll live forever.”

Or, try this out for an answer:

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

That’s why we make our cry Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia - even in Lent.

Life After Dust

If you attend an Ash Wednesday service, the liturgy again reminds us that we are dust:

“Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes maybe to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

(As the ashes are imposed:)

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Imposition of the Ashes

That's Jesus! Are We Listening?

As much as Mammon wants to reign, it’s only for this world that it can dominate our hearts.  Again, Jesus:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

We need to lay up treasures in heaven!

There are some who are set free from Mammon’s grip. They serve one Master only.

There are some who are set free from Mammon’s grip.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

That’s Jesus! Are we listening?

An Ashes Perspective Brings Freedom

I believe it’s those who have an ashes perspective that are truly free.  To me this means these people realize that life doesn’t end with death.  As Brennan Manning often said, “We have checked into the hotel earth overnight on our way to the Heavenly Jerusalem.”

And what’s more, how we live in the here and now, has an impact on how we will live in the there and then.  That should help our perspective.

Again, listen to Jesus:

“So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?

True riches?  What does he mean?  What are true riches? 

Jesus said we would be accountable for every deed done and every word uttered.  So how we spend our money, and time, and talents seems to matter to our God as well. 

Awed Out of Our Socks

Socks

One last thought about an “Ashes Perspective.”  Knowing that death isn’t the end but the beginning of life we can be awed out of our socks remembering that on the one hand, our God knows the hairs on our heads, every sparrow that falls, and on the other hand, He put this whole universe thing together. 

Go to NASA.gov and peruse the photos from the Hubble Space Telescope from the past 30 years. 

stars in the sky

Space

It may allow a moment of insignificance to slip into our hearts, but someone also said, “A shot of AWE can also boost feelings of connectedness with other people.” 

We need that these days.

It’s an ashes perspective that keeps Mammon from ruling our hearts. 

It’s an ashes perspective that gives us a promise and hope for what’s more to come in our Lord’s Kingdom.

Want to hear more from Carl?  Check his articles, "Why the Scars?" and "How to Embrace Every Moment."  Or listen to his sermon Why the Transfiguration Matters.

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Related

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February 24, 2021 In Lent, Grow Closer to God, Articles

About this author:

Carl Buffington

Carl Buffington

Carl Buffington is a bishop in Anglican Mission International (AMI). He has been in ministry for over forty years. He lives in Florida with his wife Barb and their lively golden retriever, Sammy.

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