Christ Lutheran Community Church
March 6, 2019 Worship Sermon - "We Are Stardust"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Psalm 51:1-17, Joel 2:1-2, 12-17, 2 Corinthians 5:20b--6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
I am a child of the 1960s. My generation was one that decided that we weren’t going to make the mistakes of our parents’ generation: we were going to make love not war; we were going to value the quality of life rather than the quantity of money; we are going to care about the environment and heal the earth. One of the theme songs of my generation was a song by Joni Mitchell called “Woodstock.” It was about a three-day festival in upstate New York, where half a million people of my generation gathered to celebrate love and music. The refrain of the song “Woodstock” went like this: we are stardust, we are golden, we are billion-year-old carbon, and we got to get ourselves back to the garden.
This year is the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock; and looking back on that time from a very different period of my life, I realize that only half of Joni Mitchell’s song is true. It’s true, we are stardust. It’s amazing to think that the atoms in your body are over five billion years old. They were created out an exploding star even billions of years before that. The atoms in your body may have once been a part of the body of a dinosaur. Or maybe they were a part of the body of a Native American who lived in this land thousands of years ago. And after our bodies have died and returned to the earth, who knows where those atoms will end up… perhaps in the leaf of a tree growing high on a mountaintop. We are stardust. So let the billion-year-old carbon that we will soon trace upon your forehead remind you of that truth.
It’s the second half of Joni Mitchell’s song that I’m no longer quite so sure about… the part about us getting ourselves back to the Garden. The Garden that Joni Mitchell was referring to was the Garden of Eden. My generation was going to turn away from the greed and the violence of our parents’ generation and return to a world unmarred by sin. Fifty years later, I think I can say with confidence, we didn’t succeed. If anything, my generation only made things worse. Climate change, corporate greed, mass-shootings. We haven’t been able to get ourselves back to the Garden. And even if we could, I’m inclined to think that we would make the same mistake that our ancient ancestors, Adam and Eve, made when they were in the Garden. Our generation is no better than our parents’. And that’s why, when we receive ashes, we hear the same words that God spoke to our ancient ancestors, you are dust an unto dust you shall return. The ashes on your forehead are in the shape of a cross, the symbol of humanity’s sin. Let those cross shaped ashes remind you of our failure to be the kind of people that we know, deep down, we need to be.
But that cross is not only a symbol of human failure; it’s a symbol of divine love. God loved you – and all humanity – so much, that God became human like us. God became a body made of the same kind of stardust that you are made of. God became a body that can suffer and break down and die just like your body. On the cross, the body of God was torn apart and laid in a grave to return to the dust, just like you and I will return to the dust.
But we know that the cross is not the end of the story. We could not get ourselves back to the Garden; but God can. After God raised Jesus from death, he appeared to Mary Magdalene. Where? In the Garden.
Lent is a journey through the wilderness to the Garden. But we’re not going back to the Garden of Eden, the Garden of human sin and death. God is leading us forward to the Garden of the Resurrection. God is leading us to Garden of Life with the Risen Christ.
On the night of the Easter Vigil, when we have concluded our journey through wilderness of Lent, we will arrive at the Garden of Life. At the Easter Vigil, the dust that you now carry upon your forehead will be replaced with water, living water to remind you that God is able to turn billion-year-old carbon into living flesh.
Christ Lutheran Community Church