Dust on the Pews

How many of us have ever dusted a rug?  I’m not talking about running the vacuum over it, but instead hanging the rug outside and beating the dust out of it.  People who frequently learn about rug cleaning and maintenance have probably encountered the term “rug beating.” This cleaning technique was implemented in past decades, and some rug owners continue to do this either as tradition or as the only cleaning method that they know. Beating a rug involves, well, exactly what the words describe. The rug is hanged on a clothesline outside the house and is hit or beaten by a broom or a rug beater.

The primary purpose of rug beating is to remove dirt and grit embedded in the rug fibers. When a rug is not cleaned of grit, the debris stays between the fibers and works its way into the base of the rug and even further into the flooring underneath. This is the reason why regular cleaning and grit removal is necessary for rugs.

If you attend an Ash Wednesday worship service today you will most likely hear the phrase “dust to dust, ashes to ashes.”  God created humanity out the dirt and dust of the earth.  And in our death, this is exactly where our bodies return.  Likewise, the season of Lent is an opportunity to consider the dust buildup of sin in our lives.  Like a rug, over time, our sin builds up in the fibers of our hearts, weighing us down, hardening our hearts, and leaving us worn and weary.  There is just so much dust a heart can hold.

On Ash Wednesday, we offer up our lives for dust removal.  We come seeking the clean heart that David prayed for in Psalm 51:  “Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me.” We know we are dusty.  Every time we sit in a church pew, we bring the dust of our sinfulness and mortality with us.

David was dusty.  He had committed some serious sin.  He had committed adultery, murder, and coated it all in lies until the prophet Nathan called him out on it and caused David to see who he had become.  Psalm 51 is David’s prayer to God seeking forgiveness for what he had done and who he had become.  Everywhere you touched David’s life, dust flew up.  He knew he needed a cleaning and he needed it now.  David appealed to God’s mercy, compassion, grace, and forgiveness.  In many ways, David was asking God to beat the dust out of his life.  Now I guess it is good that rugs do not have a sense of feeling as we do when they are beaten.  If someone beat us with a broom, well we would feel it.  A rug doesn’t feel.

But what David knows is that God’s grace does not seek to tear him down, kick him while he is down, and then stomp him into the ground because of his sinfulness.  Even with his great sin, David knew he was still loved by God.

Rumi was a 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic.  Rumi once said this about rug beating.  “When someone beats a rug, the blows are not against the rug, but against the dust in it.” You see, sometimes in our lives we convince ourselves that our sin is so grave, and that we are so terribly dusty that there is no way that God could love us.  We’re simply too much of a mess.  And because of this dusty condition, we also convince ourselves that God must hate us, despise us, and look upon us with distain.  God is a mean and harsh judge who is ready to pour out his wrath upon us.

On this Ash Wednesday the Kingdom of God has come upon us.  God’s great battle with sin and death will be played out over the next 40 days as we follow Jesus to the cross and ultimately to an Easter resurrection.  It is  a kingdom of mercy, love, and grace.  A King who comes not to destroy the sinner, but to take up our sin, our dust, and place it upon himself.  As Paul would say, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  You might say, “while were still dusty, Christ died for us.” Jesus took the beating so we would not have to, and in his death, our dust is removed.  We are restored to the joy of God’s salvation.  This is God’s good news for all of us.

Thus, in Psalm 103 we read this promise: “He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.  For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far, he removes our transgressions from us.  As a father has compassion for his children,so, the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust.”

Our pews are dusty t because we have bring our dust to God’s sanctuary.  However, we are met not by a wrathful God, but by a gracious Lord.  So let us hear the words of the prophet Isaiah this Ash Wednesday, “Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead.”


Published by Dr. Philip W. Turner

Since 1991 I have had the joy of serving as Pastor of Pine Street Baptist Church in the community of Oregon Hill in Richmond, Virginia. The people I have met a long the way have inspired me in my daily ministry. I have truly been blessed.

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