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Sermon illustrations

Dust

Created from the Same Dust

Across all barriers of land and language, wealth and poverty, knowledge and ignorance, we are one, created from the same dust, subject to the same laws, and destined for the same end. With this compassion you can say, “In the face of the oppressed I recognize my own face, and in the hands of the oppressors I recognize my own hands. Their flesh is my flesh, their blood is my blood, their pain is my pain, their smile is my smile.”

Taken from Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands, Ave Maria Press.

A Dual Identity

Some of my favorite heroes have a dual identity: Clark Kent is Superman; Bruce Wayne is Batman; Peter Parker is Spider-Man. The list goes on and on. You and I also have a dual identity, though, unlike the comic book heroes, our dual identity isn’t secret. It’s plainly revealed in Scripture, beginning in Genesis 2:7.

The first aspect of our dual identity is the earthly, material one. The NRSV says that “the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground.” This is an accurate rendering of the Hebrew original, though it misses a crucial play on words. “Man” in Hebrew, is adam (which can mean “humankind,” “male person,” or the name “Adam”). “Ground” is adamah. So God created the man (adam) from the ground (adamah). The earth is not only the place in which we work. It is also a part of us. We belong to the earth. We are made of dust.

Yet this is not the whole story. God not only fashioned us from the earth as a potter makes a pot out of clay. Genesis 2:7 also says that God “breathed into [the man’s] nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” The word for breath here (neshamah) is reserved in the Bible for God and human beings. In other words, God breathed into the man, not just any old air, but rather God’s own breath, the breath that gives life. The man, though formed from the dust, is also a receptacle of the divine life.

Thus, human beings have an essential material identity and an essential immaterial identity. We are a combination of dust and God’s breath. We are both natural and, in a sense, supernatural.

Taken from Mark D. Roberts, Life for Leaders, a Devotional Resource of the DePree Leadership Center at Fuller Theological Seminary

Dust and Creation

Contrast the creation of the first man according to Genesis 2 with the creation of the first human beings according to Mesopotamian tradition. Both start with dust or clay, but then the accounts vary.

In the Mesopotamian creation account, Enuma Elish, humanity’s dust is mixed with the blood of a demon god killed for his treachery against the second generation of gods. Humans are demons from the time they’re born. According to Atrahasis, the second ingredient is the spit of the gods, a far cry from the glorious breath of the biblical Creator!

The creation process according to Mesopotamian tradition fits well with the overall low view of humanity professed by that culture. According to Atrahasis, humans were created with the express purpose of relieving the lesser gods from the arduous labor of digging irrigation ditches.

By contrast, the Genesis account teaches that human beings, male and female, were created in the image of God to rule over every living thing that has the breath of life in it (Genesis 1:30).

Tremper Longman III, Immanuel in Our Place, P&R Publishing.

Image and Dust

Our defining narrative says that we’re made “in the image of God,”[i] but also: we’re made “from the dust.”[ii]

Image and dust.

To be made in the image of God means that we’re rife with potential. We have the Divine’s capacity in our DNA. We’re like God. We were created to “image” his behavior, to rule like he does, to gather up the raw materials of our planet and reshape them into a world for human beings to flourish and thrive.

But that’s only half the story.

We’re also made from the dirt, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”: we’re the original biodegradable containers. Which means we’re born with limitations. We’re not God. We’re mortal, not immortal. Finite, not infinite.

Image and dust.

Potential and limitations.

One of the key tasks of our apprenticeship to Jesus is living into both our potential and our limitations.

There’s a lot of talk right now about reaching your full poten­tial, and I’m all for it. Step out. Risk it all. Have faith. Chase the dream God put in your heart. Become the Technicolor version of who you were made to be.

But again, that’s only half the story.

Adapted from The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World. Copyright © 2019 by John Mark Comer. Used by permission of WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

[i] Genesis 1v27.

[ii] Genesis 2v7.

Sitting Down in the Dust

Few stories are more deserving of documentaries and a movie than the story of Mama Heidi. After missionary Heidi Baker and her husband earned their PhDs, God told Heidi, “Sit in the dust.” She had no idea what that meant, but she prayed to be led. And God led her to a dump in Mozambique where she did what she was told and sat in the dust and dirt and there discovered her mission. Eventually she became a leading force in Mozambique for getting some seven thousand orphans adopted and ordaining six thousand pastors in the bush.  

Leonard Sweet, The Bad Habits of Jesus: Showing us the Way to Live Right In a World Gone Wrong, Tyndale House Publishers.

Two Notes in your Pockets

I’m reminded of something a rabbi said that stuck with me the past 20 years.

This rabbi—she said how on the life journey we need to carry in our pockets two reminder notes. In one pocket the reminder note reads: You, like all beings, are a spark of the Divine. You are made in the image of the Sacred. You are filled with, and reflect Light. In the other pocket the reminder note reads: You are grass. You are dust of the earth. Like flowers of the field, you are here today, and gone tomorrow.

Rev. Dr. Catherine Quehl-Engel

We Are Dust

At the beginning of this season of Lent, on this Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that we are dust and to dust we will return. We are reminded of human fragility and failure. We are reminded that we are human, humus, from the soil of the earth. Though, we are God’s creation, we are dingy and dirty and dusty and are often in need of cleansing. We are. Not someone else, but we are. I am in need. I need deliverance. I need freedom.

Taken from Luke A. Powery, Were you There? Reflections on the Spirituals, Westminster John Knox Press, 2019, p.4.

See also Illustrations on DeathLife

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Dust. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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