February 14, 2024- Again the journey begins

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Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the forty-day journey toward Easter. It is traditionally a time of reflection and penitence, of looking to the cross as our Savior’s destination, and also our own. “Whoever seeks to save their life will lose it,” Jesus says, “but whoever loses their life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it.” 

It is a tall order. That type of all-consuming, demanding discipleship seems unlikely to bring people to the pews in droves. And yet the willingness to let go of material possessions, power, or even loyalty to one’s own brings with it a freedom that saves and restores. For we know the journey to the cross is also a journey to lasting life.

For many, Lent is a time of giving up or taking on something of importance that (hopefully!) helps us grow in faith and discipline. If we give up chocolate, it’s not because we hope we’ll lose a few pounds by Easter, but because every time we miss the sweetness, it brings to mind Christ’s loving sacrifice. If we add in a moment for prayer, creativity, or service, it’s not so that we can check one more thing off of an admirable to-do list, but because we hope and believe those things will draw us closer to the divine. We are practicing in small ways the fullness of what is required: giving up everything for God’s sake.

I will confess to you what I have confessed to my colleagues: I’m not picking up or putting down anything for Lent this year. I’m having enough difficulties wrangling routines; another disruption—even with the best of intentions—is not going to lead in a fruitful or holy direction. Instead, (and not just because it’s Lent) I’m leaning into this life stage which requires an openness to learning, correction, and trying (again). But it’s not just for parents of young children. Below are a couple of opportunities I commend to you that may challenge some assumptions and impact our ways of being in the world.

So whether we are in a season to take on, give up, or receive some needed correction, may God bless the journey that leads us to confront life’s pain for a fuller, freer joy.

Ableism and the church: webinar. The New England Conference UMC’s Pre-Lenten gathering this year focused on deepening our understanding of ableism and its impacts, especially in the church. Let by Dr. Lisa and Rev. Justin Hancock, this webinar is worth each of its 100 minutes and comes highly recommended by your pastor. 

Christians Engaging with Artificial Intelligence: The 2024 Annual Meeting of the Vermont Conference UCC will happen at First Congregational Church, Essex Junction this year with keynotes focusing on AI. The meeting will run from 3:00 pm Friday, April 19 to 5:00 pm on Saturday, April 20, with opportunities to join online or in person. Given its proximity to UCU, it would be lovely to have at least one lay delegate from UCU attend this meeting. Please speak with Pastor Jen if you’re interested in representing the church and/or attending the lectures on this important topic, which will have great implications for congregational life, likely sooner than we think.

Lenten study opportunities. The book selected for this year’s Lenten studies is Savior: What the Bible Says about the Cross by Magrey DeVega. The study explores atonement theology—how we understand Christ’s saving act through his death and resurrection. Sessions will be offered on Sundays after church with Pastor Jen (11:30), and Wednesday mornings via Zoom with Tracie Wright and Women in the Word (8:00 am). To sign up and receive materials, please contact Jen (pastor@ucu.church) or Tracie (cheerful45@live.com). Jen is willing to offer hybrid (Zoom and in-person) sessions if there’s a desire. Please be in touch; we begin this Sunday/next Wednesday with the introduction and chapter 1.