Tomorrow begins the season of Lent - the forty days of journey to the death of Jesus on the cross for our redemption and the triumph of Christ in the resurrection for our salvation. Historically, this has always been a time for Christians to follow Christ to the cross and beyond in quiet contemplation, Spirit-filled prayer and renewed faithfulness. When I first glanced at the calendar and saw that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day coincided, I thought the collision of the two a bad happenstance. The ultimate sacrificial death appeared to clash with the essence of romantic love. However, as the day draws closer, I find myself reflecting on the conjunction of the two. At the core, they go together. What did Jesus say? “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). What greater intent and higher good is there than that romantic love should lead to life-giving commitment? It is in this “Holy Spirit” that I urge us come to Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. May the true depth of self-giving love propel us far beyond a one-day celebration with flowers, chocolate and maybe a meal out. Taken together, they call us to the heights of holy, which is to say great, living. This is the right and proper beginning of our journey to the cross and beyond. Below, I have included an important Lenten message from Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the Council of Bishops. I commend it to you and invite you to join with the bishops of the church, including myself, in a time of prayer, fasting and sharing with others. Together, let us turn to the cross and beyond. -Bishop Mike Lowry Resident Bishop of the Central Texas Conference, The Fort Worth Episcopal Area February 13, 2018
2018 Lenten Message from the Council of Bishops Monday, February 12, 2018Dear Friends, On behalf of the entire Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church, I greet you as we enter the Lenten Season – a season of reflection and preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ triumphant resurrection on Easter. The pattern of our Lenten journey was set by Jesus during his 40 days of solitude, fasting, prayer and testing in the Judean desert. This was an essential period of preparation for Jesus’ public ministry. But, the goal of our Lenten journey was revealed by Jesus when he first foretold his disciples of his death and resurrection. Mark’s Gospel has Jesus saying: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). What does it mean to lose one’s life for the sake of the gospel? It means to live the same purposeful life Jesus lived. It means to deny our preferences for the sake of Jesus’ kingdom purposes. It means to set aside our self-interest so that others may have a more abundant life. It means we are saved in order to participate in the salvation of others. It means our hearts will break for the very situations that break the heart of God. Our beloved United Methodist Church is in a season of Lent. We are in an intense season of prayer, discernment and exploring what it means to lose one’s life for the sake of the gospel. The Commission on a Way Forward and the Council of Bishops have entered a critical time of reflection, prayer and fasting as we seek to listen deeply and expectantly to the Holy Spirit. We are confident God’s Spirit will guide the Commission and the Council in discerning where God is leading our church and how, through Christ’s grace, we will continue to do ministry and make disciples throughout the world. We invite all United Methodists to join us in this Lenten reflection by focusing on the mission that Jesus Christ gave us at the end of his earthly ministry after he triumphantly overcame sin, hatred and death to give birth to a church grounded in the new covenant of love. Please join us in these Lenten disciplines of surrendering our lives to the way of the cross.
- Take at least 30 minutes every day in Lent to pray, offering God your requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving. Pray for the members of the Commission on a Way Forward. Pray for your bishops. Pray for the church and pray for the whole world. 1 John 5:14-15 reminds that we should have bold confidence that “if we ask anything according to God’s will, God hears us. And if we know that God hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of God.”
- Take time to fast, whether it is from food or from some activity. Take the example of Jesus who withdrew to the desert to fast from food and pray for 40 days before starting his public ministry. Our fasting brings us closer to God and enhances our prayers. In whatever we decide to do, we must remember as Romans 14:17 tells us: “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
- Take time to reflect on your spiritual gifts and resources that God has blessed you with and share them with others. Donate your time or money saved by fasting to your local church for missions and ministries that benefit your local community directly. Offer your service for acts of compassion and advocacy. Take the example of the first Christians who “were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45).