Lent 3B (07-03-2021)

The following service was streamed live via Zoom  on March 7th at 10:30am.

The entire text for the service is printed below for home use by those who are not ready to return to public gatherings or who are otherwise not able to be at church on the day.   Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions.  If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church. 

There  are also links to YouTube files for music and, should you rather listen than read, sound files for some of the text, including the sermon .  [I’m sorry about the commercials that sometimes come with YouTube clips. Be sure to click on the “Skip Ad” box if and when it appears in the lower right of the YouTube clip]   When a YouTube clip has finished, simply click on the ‘back’ button of  your browser to return to this page. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.

-oOo-

”Live by the commandments; do not die by them.” (The Talmud)

CALL TO CELEBRATION

It is God, in the dawning: in the renewal, in the arrival, in the new day. Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.

LIGHTING OF THE LENTEN CANDLES  
(Those who are using the lenten candles at home should light 4 of the 6 candles plus the Christ candle.)

May the light of these candles remind us of the possibility for everyone to achieve truth and goodness in our lives, if we only seek it  

HYMN 102 “Praise to the Living God” (Click here to listen)

OPENING SENTENCES

L: Something awakened us this morning: perhaps day’s dawning, the smell of brewing coffee, the sounds of the alarm on the shelf or a newspaper thudding at the door.

R: And now we gather with awakened spirits to worship with others the Creator of this day.

L:  Something moved us this morning. We left behind a sufficiency of sleep or a restless night, we engaged in feeding and dressing, we left our homes for here.

R: And now we gather in this place to worship the God who moves among us and to follow the Spirit that leads us into deeds of love.  May ours be a faith that is both awake and moving as we serve our God.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

We thank you, most loving God, for the opportunity offered by this time in your house of love.  Do not allow us to be like spectators, but draw us into the soul of the music, prayers, psalms, and Bible readings, and let us be ready to hear within yet beyond the sermon that Living Word which surpasses all human sentences as the sunrise surpasses a candle. Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation – “Homecoming” (Ps.26) by Bruce Prewer

When the Lord gave us liberty,
it was a dream come true.
Laughter filled our mouths,
our tongues sang for joy.
Others could not help but exclaim: ‘God is at work in them!’
Certainly God is at work in us,
and we celebrate it!
Like outback rivers after rain, flood us, Lord, with life.
May we who have sown many tears now reap the songs of joy.
Those who leave home weeping, carrying the seeds of sadness,
will return home laughing, with a harvest of happiness!

     Silence

Let us open ourselves to the sacred silence of this place. May the strength of silence support our courage to endure, and open to us creative channels of the spirit.       (Please maintain at least 30 seconds silence)

PRAYERS OF CONFESSION

L: Honestly God, when it comes to putting faith into practice, we are not very smart, yet not as stupid as we sometimes pretend.

R: We are not particularly good, but not as hopeless as we sometimes may fear. We are not remarkably loving but not as insensitive as our words and deeds might suggest. We have bad days on which we look back with disappointment and considerable frustration. We have better days when we can gratefully look back at the light and love we have shared. We are what we are, yet also we are what your saving grace is making of us.

L: We thank you for your forgiveness which expunges our shame, for your word of love that reconstitutes our confidence, for your belief in us which enhances our gifts for use in your service, and for your joy which replaces a sense of duty with a rush of delight. Please, saving God, continue your healing work in us. Through Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen!

THE ASSURANCE

L: My fellow disciples, in the cross of Christ we, by faith, dare lay claim on the gift of salvation; that liberation and healing which God bestows.  You are I are set free by abounding grace. Let us use this liberty to the glory of God as we employ the love we have been shown, for the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God!

FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Exodus 20:1-17

The people of Israel are at last free from Egyptian slavery, but not left to their own devices.  The ten commandments form the core of the Torah, usually defined as ‘law’.  However, our limited notions of law require us to inquire further into what the Torah is. For Israel, Torah was not so much the rules that were to be followed, as the way that was to be walked; so it is perhaps bettered translated as “The Way” or, more literally, “the finger pointing the way.” It is not given as a universal set of rules.  Torah is what is expected of God’s people, who are to be a witness to what God intends the world to look like.

And God spoke all these words, saying:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

“You shall have no other gods before Me.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

12 “Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.”

FROM THE GOSPELS – John 2:13-20

13-14 When the Passover Feast, celebrated each spring by the Jews, was about to take place, Jesus traveled up to Jerusalem. He found the Temple teeming with people selling cattle and sheep and doves. The loan sharks were also there in full strength. 15-17 Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather and chased them out of the Temple, stampeding the sheep and cattle, upending the tables of the loan sharks, spilling coins left and right. He told the dove merchants, “Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!” 

That’s when his disciples remembered the Scripture, “Zeal for your house consumes me.” 18-19 But the Jews were upset. They asked, “What credentials can you present to justify this?” 

Jesus answered, “Tear down this Temple and in three days I’ll put it back together.”20-22 

They were indignant: “It took forty-six years to build this Temple, and you’re going to rebuild it in three days?” But Jesus was talking about his body as the Temple. Later, after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered he had said this. They then put two and two together and believed both what was written in Scripture and what Jesus had said.

HYMN 428-“Help Us, O Lord, to Learn the Truths”(Click here to listen)

CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “The Law Will Set You Free”  

     Part 1           

“And God spoke all these words, saying ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.’”  (Ex.20:1) 

A business man, notorious for his ruthlessness, announced to Mark Twain, “Before I die, I mean to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I will climb Mt. Sinai and read the 10 commandments aloud at the top.” 

“I have a better idea,” said Twain. “You could stay home in Boston and keep them.”

In one recent study among high school students in the U.S., 65% said they would cheat on an important exam; 53% said they would lie to protect a friend who had vandalised property; 41% usually go unpunished by parents if they are caught doing something wrong; 47% say the most believable authority in matters of truth is their own experience, with parents and religion far behind, and science and the media barely on the map.

The picture of our age grows clear. Today, too many of us have convinced ourselves we are the first generation ever to have lived on the earth. Therefore, we can’t trust our lives to the old ways and the old rules, and so we make up the rules as we go.

‘Don’t trust the old rules,’ is the rule of the modern generation, which I think includes almost everyone gathered here, but even more so the post-modernists, which includes most of our children, and certainly our grandchildren.  The thinking goes: ‘our parents were wrong on so many issues; maybe they were wrong about everything.’  The world is changing so fast and presenting us with so many fresh and new situations, we believe that we have to reinvent the wheel, morally speaking, every morning.

But is it true the past has nothing to teach us? Is it true that we are the first generation to feel envy or lust or revenge or greed?  Is there nothing to learn from the moral triumphs and tragedies of those who have gone before us?

The story is told that President Abraham Lincoln, when dealing with a cantankerous committee, asked, “How many legs would a sheep have if you called its tail a leg?”  The committee answered, “Five.”  “No,” responded Lincoln,  “Four!  Because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.” Alas, most of us have not demonstrated the irrelevance of the old rules, but rather their importance.  As G.K. Chesterton once said, “If a person comes to the edge of a cliff and keeps on walking, he will not break the law of gravity; he will prove it.”  It is not that we are breaking the rules.  Our sad lives are testimonial to the continuing validity of the rules.

On this Sunday in Lent, we pause to visit some old, familiar friends: the 10 Commandments.  Note that they are not called the 10 suggestions, but, let’s face it: there is something in us that doesn’t like to be told what to do. By popular definition, laws are a restriction of our individual prerogative to do as we please; a barrier around our God-given freedom.

We often have experienced laws as bad, not because a given law is necessarily bad, but because of the legalistic attitude of some people, particularly those in authority to enforce it.  We all know people who treat the law as black and white; something to be obeyed to the letter in every situation whether or not it is fair or just.  In our reading from John this morning, Jesus had discovered just such a corruption of the law.  Trading in temple was sanctioned by the law – for good reason, as it turns out – but, in practice the law was being used to rip off the people. Note that, in this case, Jesus acted against this law.

     Part 2

The 10 commandments have suffered similarly at the hands of those who have distorted their meaning, on both sides of the church door.  Most of you have been going to church long enough to have heard the legalistic moralism which passes for preaching in some places.  You should…you ought…you must…you need to…and, of course, the proverbial ‘thou shalt not.’  These phrases pepper the sermons of the moralists. Law is laid on the congregation as the way to Christian faith and life, but much of it has little or nothing to do with the Bible’s understanding of the place of law in the gospel.

I’m reminded of Victor Hugo’s story, Les Miserables, which takes place in 18th century France. The hero, like many others, was put in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to save the life of a starving child. It is true that the law says “Thou shalt not steal,” and the hero was wrong. But who is more wrong: the man who steals to feed the starving, or the society that allows a person to starve?  At its best, the law guides us along the best path, but when it is interpreted legalistically, it can become diabolical.

Far from restricting the freedom of the individual, the 10 commandments are a gift from God to keep us truly free. When you look at our behaviour as modern people, supposedly doing as we please, you have to wonder if we are really free. Jerked around by our economy, slavishly trying to ‘keep up with the Jones,’ our strings pulled by our hormones, our insecurities, other people’s opinions of us, we are not half as free and uninhibited as we may think. The issue is not, will I follow the rules or not, but which rules will I follow? Will those rules be destructive or life-giving? Even when we are supposedly doing as we please, we are still following somebody’s rules, still being dragged through life by someone’s set of values.

The commandments are set in the context of a covenant in which God promises us life, and the commandments are indicative of God’s part of that covenant: to lead us to life. They are practical, basic, everyday trustworthy guides to life. They evolved in all cultures, not just the Judeo-Christian culture, because humanity, in its weakness does not seem to exist in a natural state of peace and love, and must be led.  

From the beginning the law was set in the context of forgiveness. We take a wrong path, we reap the consequences of our decisions, and that’s the way of life, but God gives us a clue to a better way. Isn’t that what God’s forgiveness is? You made a mistake there, friend, so have another chance, but try my way next time.

Israel saw the law this way, as gift pointing the way to freedom and life, and so the law is celebrated. God is the loving mother who gently, yet wisely, guides her children in the right paths. Think of those times in your growing up years when you were so sure of yourself, only to be knocked down. Then you reached out to a parent, or a teacher or a mate, for advice, and that advice was given lovingly, without smugness.

God has not left us alone. We are not the first generation to have ever lived. We are not left to conjure up life for ourselves, out of nothing, in each generation. In a world which often appears nonsensical, chaotic, threatening and illogical, there is an order to life shown in the law of God. Life is more predictable than it first appears and we don’t have to think it all up for ourselves. We are shown the way.  In fact, that’s what Torah, the Hebrew name for the commandments, means: “This is the way.”

When we look over our lives and honestly consider our situation – individually and collectively – lots of us conclude that we have lost our way. The human wreckage from our mistakes is all around us as each generation has disregarded history in order to try to reinvent the moral and ethical wheel. The 10 commandments are part of God’s law which show us the way.  And as Maimonides said, “The Torah is truth, and the purpose of knowing it is to live by it.”

THE DESCENDING DARKNESS

LENT IS A TIME FOR MAKING TIME…I can only make time if I stop.  I find it hard to stop.  I prefer to get there speeding along the highways, not stopping.  And then I sometimes have the feeling that I’ve rushed past the views.  I find it hard to stop and enjoy them.  (Please extinguish one of the lenten candles)

HYMN 643 – “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light”
(click here to listen)

PRAYERS FOR OTHERS

L: Holy Friend, let your blessing fall upon us and upon all those for whom we pray and seek to aid; for without your blessing our prayers are null and our deeds are void.

We pray for the people we take for granted; family, friends, good neighbours and loyal workmates. For the producers and preparers of our bread, meat and fruits; those who maintain power, gas and water supplies; all who drive busses, trains, trams, taxis and those who pilot planes; people who deliver our mail, collect our garbage, mend our roads, and give us weather forecasts. Loving God, hear our prayer.

R: Gracious God, bless your people and encourage any who are forgotten, neglected, misused or whose duties have become too heavy to bear.

L: We pray for people we may recognise and admire; fire fighters, ambulance officers, nurses, surgeons and therapists; radio announcers, writers, film personalities, musicians and sports stars;  and those intrepid souls who fight corruption in high places, or the many who serve as volunteers abroad in dangerous circumstances. Loving God, hear our prayer.

R: Gracious God, bless your people and encourage any who are forgotten, neglected, misused or whose duties have become too heavy to bear.

L: We pray for those people for whom some of us may have mixed feelings: some among the judges, politicians, journalists, police officers and traffic wardens; dieticians, physiotherapists, psychiatrists, school teachers and social welfare officers; employees, employers, unionists, managers and those who tell us it is time to retire. Loving God, hear our prayer.

R: Gracious God, bless your people and encourage any who are forgotten, neglected, misused or whose duties have become too heavy to bear.

L: We pray for those people who may annoy us a lot; pontificating social commentators,  wordy premiers and prime ministers, theoretical ethicists; dogmatic scientists, verbose clergy, environmentalists and economists; hair splitting lawyers, bureaucrats, tv interviewers, and religious zealots. Loving God, hear our prayer.

R: Gracious God, bless your people and encourage any who are forgotten, neglected, misused or whose duties have become too heavy to bear.

L: And now we pray for those particular people for whom we have special concern this day. We silently name them before you, loving God (…your own concerns…) Whatever their need or personal crisis, whatever their age, health, sins, faults or virtues,  we ask you to guide, guard, nurture, sustain them. Loving God, hear our prayer.

R: Gracious God, bless your people and encourage any who are forgotten, neglected, misused or whose duties have become too heavy to bear.

L: Holy Friend, thank you for listening to us.  Your love is already doing more than we can ever imagine. Use us, please, to be a part of your divine loving, and keep the vision before us as we follow the one who taught us to pray, “Our Father…”

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil.  For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.

CELEBRATING COMMUNITY with the EUCHARIST
(Under temporary UCA regulations, lay people are able to celebrate Holy Communion at home, blessing the elements as the minister does in church)

     Thanksgiving

L: In time beyond our dreaming, Creativity God hovered over the water, and was revealed in fire and storm and precious law. Likewise, humanity in this creative likeness evolved on the earth, along with earth’s minerals and waters, flowers and fruits, living creatures of grace and beauty!

R: We offer this our thanks and praise.

L: In the 40 days of Lent, we remember the love made manifest in the birth, life, and death of Jesus of Nazareth. In his healing acts and radical teachings we recall the words he spoke to call forth love, care and respect for one another. We are grateful for this assurance of love amidst human betrayal, care amidst hatred, respect amidst oppression. And so, with Elizabeth who prophesied your birth, Martha who confessed you as the Christ, and James and John who sought to follow in your way, we join with the whole universe:

R:  Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

     Bread and Wine

L: We remember at the end of a journey, among friends, gathered round a table long ago, our tradition says, Jesus took bread, and after offering a blessing, broke it:

R: ‘This bread is broken, as my body will be’. (Bread is broken)

L: He handed it to his friends, and invited them to eat:

R: ’Remember all that I have been to you’.

L: Long ago, Jesus poured a cup of wine, and after offering a blessing, gave it to his friends,

R: ’This wine is poured out, as my life will be.  (Cup is raised)

L: As you drink give thanks for all I have given’. Bread, the very stuff of life, in which is gathered up warm sun, rich Australian earth, gentle rain, human labour and knowledge and skill. Wine… fruit of the vine, nurtured, tended, harvested, and pressed out for us to drink. And in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the wine,  may we know your continuing Presence.

R: Heal us.  Renew us. Make us whole, fit for loving and caring in the world. Alleluia.  Amen.

     Communion 

Let us share this bread and wine as our tradition teaches us, knowing that our lives are forever changed by this and every breaking of bread.

     After Communion (All together)

In gratitude, in deep gratitude for this moment, this meal, these people, we give thanks for all that has been and all we are for each other.

HYMN 618 – “What Does the Lord Require?” (Click here to listen)

THE SENDING OUT

L: Time to go. Are you ready and willing? There are plenty of responsibilities out there waiting for you.

R: But more importantly God will be out there with us, sharing the load.

L: Remember that the wisdom of Christ may appear foolish, and the strength of God may seem like weakness,

R: but those who walk by faith will discover both true wisdom and inexhaustible strength.

BENEDICTION

The saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the providential love of God, and the embracing fellowship of the Holy Spirit, will be with you now and always. Amen!

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