Download or listen to Lenten Midweek II, “From Dust” (Genesis 3:1-21)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There was nothing wrong with the created dirt and dust and earth. God does not produce or make evil. There was no lesser god who created physical stuff. God Himself bent down and scooped up dirt and molded a man out of the dust of the earth. Unlike every other created thing, which God spoke into existence, man alone was a hands-on project. It is said of the man alone that God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature (Genesis 2:7). God takes His own earthly dust and forms it into His own personal creature, filled with His own breath and made in His own Image. And God saw the living dust and the dust was very good.
But that from which God made life soon became a sign of death. And since Adam, we have all been doing the same thing: taking the good things of God’s creation and turning them toward our own evil use of them. So the nakedness in which God formed Adam and Eve: it was good, and they were not ashamed—not in a voyeuristic, hedonistic way, but in a simple, created goodness way. We cannot get back there, no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves that our sexuality should be open and free. How much destruction, and how much shame has resulted from pretending that we still live in the freedom of the Garden? God created the husband and the wife without shame, and when sin entered the creation, the wall of shame was built not only between them and God, but between the husband and the wife. A good gift, distorted for our own ends, and so it continues on today, with far too many examples to list. Or the good gift of work, for which Adam and Eve were put in the Garden. What should have been joy to them, became a source of trouble and hard work. The good of work became the drudgery of a job, which we hurry through in order to get to the weekend. The fruit of the earth, or the fruit of artistic creation, or the fruit of labor in the various ways of serving our neighbors in our vocations—all of it has been distorted. Now work is either troublesome, getting in the way of what we would prefer to do for ourselves, or it is turned toward criminal or immoral enterprises, or it results in some product which is not good in itself, but which we have to convince people that they need, though they never needed, or even thought of it, before. Or the good gift of children, toward which end God blessed Adam and Eve and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.” What God gave as a blessing has become for us trouble, or a liability; children can be both an obstacle to self-fulfillment and a means to self-fulfillment. What other blessing and gift of God have we expended so much money, time, and technology figuring out a way to avoid receiving it? Whatever discussion Christians might have about contraceptives, they are the only drug that we take to avoid or get rid of something that God built into creation as a natural result of the marriage relationship.
These and many other good gifts of God’s creation, we have distorted and twisted to our own ends; the dust of the earth, created and filled with the very life of God, now bent toward rebellion and death. So it was that God said to the serpent: “on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life” (3:14). Besides the physical proximity to the dust, the serpent will consume the detritus of sin. And even in the new creation, when the lion and the lamb will lie down next to each other, Isaiah prophesies: “dust shall be the serpent’s food” (Isaiah 65:25). So it was that God said to the man: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (3:19). Moses, Solomon, and the psalmist all say it. Moses in Psalm 90 says, “You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of Adam’!” (Psalm 90:3) In Ecclesiastes, Solomon recognizes, “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (Ecclesiastes 3:20). And the psalmist says of God, “He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). Dust and ashes are the only end possible for this flesh in which we live. The end of man can be nothing other than a return to the dust from which we came. We bear the image of the man of dust.
But there is another Man, and although He has a body made from the same material as ours, He is from heaven. Though His Body is created like ours, He is also the eternal, uncreated Son of God. He is not made in the image of God; He is the Image itself. Into that first man, God put the breath of life, but in the second Man, the fullness of God dwells. Because He is a complete man, body and soul, there is no part of us that is not saved. And because He is fully God who is eternal, He is able, by His death to save us from our eternal death. “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:47-49). The same psalm that declares that God knows that we are dust also says, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:10-11). It is precisely because we are dust and because God despises nothing that He has made that He loved us into the new creation by the incarnation of His Son. He is so far from hating the physical stuff of His creation that He actually entered the dust of the earth and became a living creature Himself. This is how He loves you; not only how much He loves you, but the precise way He loves men and women, the dying children of dust. This is the story of Lent, the story of God and dust, and death and life. The story of the man of dust and the Man of heaven, and the victory of that second Man over the first man, even within our flesh. You are no longer merely dust, but the Spirit has fitted you with a new body, formed from the resurrected flesh of Christ. And it is in this body, the body of Jesus, to which you were joined at baptism, which you eat and drink in the Supper, that you will live into eternity. It is in this body that you are clothed with immortality, and in Him the perishable puts on the imperishable. And so His victory is yours, and then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. Mere dust is swallowed up in resurrection. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through the Man of heaven, Jesus Christ!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/11/14