An Ash Wednesday message from Rev. Doug Cue

An Ash Wednesday message from Rev. Doug Cue
Artwork by Jasmine Calderon who is a 17-year-old senior at Johnston High School. She is the daughter of David and Rev. LaTonya Calderon.

February 22, 2023

By: Rev. Doug Cue
Superintendent, Golden Valley District

Today we observe the ashes.  Ashes are burned.  They are spent.  They are black and they are grey.  Ashes are also universal…all things when put to the fire, given enough heat, will turn to ash.  Not only are ashes universal…they are a reminder, a painful reminder, that in this world all things are temporary…including us.
In the book of Genesis, God tells Adam… you are dust, and to dust you shall return…(Genesis 3:19b).  Friends,there’s no mixed message here. This is humbling, humbling because…Ash Wednesday asks us to evaluate our lives in a way that is very different than the way we usually evaluate them.  Generally…when I evaluate my life (and may I include “when we evaluate our lives”)…we reflect on areas like physical growth, emotional growth, or spiritual growth…the health of our marriage, or the performance at our job.  Ash Wednesday makes us consider a different scale, reminding us, that one way or another, all things are reduced to dust.
A little more than a month ago, I had a birthday.  I am guessing that as a male in the United States, my average life span, is likely to be in the vicinity of 75 years or so.  Last month I turned 61.  In my head, I know I am only 1 year older than I was last year at this time.  But in my heart, I know I am only 4 years away from 65, and only 9 years from 70.  Oh my!  Statistically speaking, there’s a pretty good chance that over 3/4 of my life is in the rear-view mirror.  OH MY!
Every year on Ash Wednesday, as I prepare for the season of Lent, those ashes force me to ask myself…”How do I feel about that?”.  Given that I’m over 3/4 of the way through my run…have I built the kind of marriage, been the kind of father, the kind of pastor, the kind of friend…that’s appropriate to this stage in my life?  Given where I am on this journey…am I the kind of disciple I want to be, the kind of disciple God is calling me to be?  Is my spiritual life as developed as I might hope?
When I was a kid, I imagined that I would have a whole lot more figured out by now.  I assumed that I would be…wonderfully settled and secure, confident and competent in whatever my hands had found to do, that family life would be straightforward, that I would be comfortably nestled into the groove of life, that my faith would be impregnably secure…etc…etc...etc…  BUT, of course, life doesn’t exactly work that way…does it?  It’s a bit more, oh, I don’t know, dustier than that.  At this stage in my life…at this stage in your life…at this stage in our lives…are we where we want to be?  Because the not so hidden implication is…our opportunities to be those things don’t go on forever.
Those are the kind of questions Ash Wednesday raises for me.  Too often we live like we have all the time in the world to get things right, like what I do today is no big deal because there is always tomorrow.  Ash Wednesday reminds us… you are dust, and to dust you shall return…(Genesis 3:19b).
A number of years ago, there was movie that came out with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.  It was called the Bucket List.  Story about two terminally ill guys who were gonna squeeze in all they could in their lives…before their lives ran out.  Good movie.  There is a scene in the movie, they are at the site of the pyramids in Egypt (remember, it’s called “The Bucket List”), where Morgan Freeman asks Jack Nicholson two poignant questions from the movie.  He talks about ancient Egyptian funeral customs and practices and shares that the ancient Egyptians believed they would be asked two questions after death. They thought that if you gave the right answers, you would be allowed to enter into heaven.  The two questions…
(1) Have you found joy in your life? 
(2) Has your life brought joy to others?
I think there’s truth to the notion that when we come face to face with the temporary nature of life, we should ask those questions…Have you found joy in your life?  Has your life brought joy to others?…have we used this gift of life as God intended. 
How would you live if you knew that your days were numbered?  
Would you be more kind? —More loving?
Would you treat your friends differently? —Your enemies? 
Would you make more time for family? 
Would you say…I’m sorry…to the people that you’ve hurt? 
Would you say…You’re forgiven…to those who hurt you?
Would you be more mindful of suffering in the world? 
Would you want to share a little bit more of what you have…with those who have nothing? 
What would you do?  How would you live?  What kinds of things would be on your list?
The ashes remind us to ask those questions…they remind us that we are dust, and to dust we shall return…that life is precious, that life is fleeting, that life is short.  They remind us that the season of Lent calls us to honestly look at where we are, at whatever stage of life we are, and to do so in relation to where God would have us be.  To identify the gap…and figure out what to do about it.
(1) Have you found joy in your life? 
(2) Has your life brought joy to others?          
…and…if not
                        …If you have found no joy in your life;
                        …If your life brings no joy to others…
…perhaps the journey, the purpose, the question…for the next 40 days is…why not?
…you are dust, and to dust you shall return…(Genesis 3:19b).
Thanks be to God.  AMEN.