Lent 5B (21-03-2021)

The following service was streamed live via Zoom  on March 21st 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-

“Die and become. Till thou hast learned this, thou art but a dull guest on this dark planet.”  (Goethe) 

 

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 2 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 – “Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing” (click here to listen)

OPENING SENTENCES

L: Come in.  Come into this place which we make special by our presence. 

R: Together we make it a holy place with our every act of worship.

L: In the name of God the creator who has made you in the divine image and delights in the diversity of creation,

R: In the name of God the liberator who breaks the bonds of oppression,

L: In the name of God, the love-maker who rejoices in true love wherever it is found,

R: We are welcome.

PRAYER OF AWARENESS

L: God our parent, you hold our life within you. Help us so to receive your tenderness and respond to your challenge that others may draw life from us. 

R:Let us worship God.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

Let us now take a moment to settle into the silence of this place. (Pause) May our silence grow profound as we are embraced by the spirit of our highest hopes.     (30 seconds silence)

TRUSTING GOD’S MERCY

Most mysterious and loving God, we come before you, not as those who are great practitioners of Christ’s method, but as those who have sincerely admired him, yearned to be like him, yet have only applied his truth in fragmentary ways. We admit to each other and to you, God.

We have grabbed at life and hoarded it for ourselves, rather than sharing and losing it in the cause of the Gospel.

We have sought the shabby glory of this world’s praise and have badly compromised our faith in this mad pursuit.

We have tried to nullify our anxieties by surrounding ourselves with possessions, but have reaped only deep discontents.

We have trodden over the lives of others in our hurry to get what and where we want, but have ended up missing out on much love.

Every now and then we have dared to be bold in faith, hope and love, and have briefly tasted the greater joy of Christ, only to slip back again into a no-risk policy of self preservation.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness, according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sins. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit with in me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Through the grace of Christ Jesus, we pray. Amen!

PSALM 51 from Australian Psalms by Rev. Bruce Prewer

In your dependable love, Lord, I find healing;
your unconditional acceptance removes my shame.
I want to be washed clean; to be made like new again.
Excuses for my sins are no good;
my failure to love stands out a mile.
Worst of all, my lovelessness hurts you;
what I fail to do for others adds to hour pain.
When I think of your suffering, I quite justly feel most miserable.
But you don’t hold it against me;
you help me recover from my shame.
Lord, I want to be remade deep down;
the current of life in me needs transforming.
Lord, my feelings need purifying;
my attitudes and ideas must be reshaped.
Above all things, Lord, don’t ever leave me;
nor remove you saving spirit from me.
Help me to delight in you more than anything else;
in the liberty you give, may I stand up straight.

THE ASSURANCE from Jeremiah 31:31-34

31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel …: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” And so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us./ Thanks be to God!

FROM THE GOSPELS John 12:20-33

The text below comes from The Message version, and as you read it, note that verse 25 contains the so-called ‘Great Paradox’, which is repeated six times in the four gospels, but in words that render it a little less paradoxical.

20-21 There were some Greeks in town who had come up to worship at the Feast. They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee: “Sir, we want to see Jesus. Can you help us?”

22-23 Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip together told Jesus. Jesus answered, “Time’s up. The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.24-25 “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.

26 “If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honour and reward anyone who serves me.

27-28 “Right now I am shaken. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’”

A voice came out of the sky: “I have glorified it, and I’ll glorify it again.”

29 The listening crowd said, “Thunder!”
Others said, “An angel spoke to him!”

30-33 Jesus said, “The voice didn’t come for me but for you. At this moment the world is in crisis. Now Satan, the ruler of this world, will be thrown out. And I, as I am lifted up from the earth, will attract everyone to me and gather them around me.” He put it this way to show how he was going to be put to death.

FROM THE WIDER WORLD – “Unless a Grain Falls”

Let this be admitted plainly:
I shrink from being buried alive in Christ’s mission.
Where is hope to be found in grain shoved underground?
Why was this Jesus so uncompromising, blunt,
leaving no other choice
when the world seems full of options not so dull?
I want to seize life and enjoy it’s favours savouring its pleasures
without worrying much about the results of such.     

HYMN 382 – “Now the Green Blade Riseth” (click here to listen)

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS  – “Our Time Has Come”                     

     Part 1

In our society there is no shortage of evidence of broken relationships: the great diversity of life on this planet is shrinking at an alarming and dangerous rate; injustice, war and poverty are as widespread as ever, and the earth’s environment is, according to many scientists, dangerously close to a tipping point and, once tipped, no longer will be able to support life as it has for the last several billion years.  Although it is easy enough to identify actions that are required to repair all these broken relationships, the root cause, a spiritual emptiness in the human soul, defies the best will in the world to make the necessary changes.  To use a common religious expression, we are slaves to sin, and it is sucking the life out of us, our planet and those with whom we share it.   

I hate using the word, sin; it just carries too much unwanted baggage.  Though you are undoubtedly familiar with the word, the varieties of connotations that it has among you makes it so imprecise as to be almost useless.  But today I am going to use it anyway, and hope that I can define it well enough so it conveys the perilous reality in which we exist.  So we start from the premise that we are all sinners.

The defining characteristic of human sinfulness is that we seem to be incurably self-centred, in that we tend to assess the things that happen around us in terms of what they will do to us or for us. Such is the case whether the issue is the environment, income tax rates, the new neighbours who move next door, how we treat asylum seekers, political parties, monetary exchange rates, stock market fluctuations, medical costs, interest rates, or even the induction of a new minister to the congregation. Among the first thoughts most have is: “How will it affect me?…us?”

This same inveterate self-interest can be seen in matters of health and grief. We know that thousands of our fellow citizens fight cancer each year, but when we are diagnosed with cancer the question swiftly rises: “Why is this happening to me?”  Similarly with grief; it is not at all uncommon for a person who has just lost a loved one to cry out: ‘Why has God done this to me?” In some cases there is anger against the one who has died: “Why did you leave me like this? How could you go just when I needed you so much?”

Yes, even though we each have our better moments – and some clearly have more of these better moments than others – when we are taken above self-centredness and experience ourselves as embodiments of God, I think it is safe to assume we are all ‘sinners’ here in this congregation today. Self is at the centre of our lives most of the time. So much so that there are numerous piously-inclined people who will only entertain a brand of religion that will be like a personal chaplain to their ego, providing assurance of personal salvation.  And so we are ‘sinners’.

In moments of honest self-reflection, we recognise and admit this. We do it corporately in our prayers of confession in worship. We recognise what we have done, we face up to what we are. And, in doing so, we become open to grace. Like those tax collectors and other sinners in the Gospel stories; those people who had no illusions about their lack of goodness, in times of honesty we know we need help from the one source that has the power to come to our assistance: the God of grace.

     Part 2

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God announced a new covenant. This does not mean that the other covenants have been abrogated. We are still creatures of the earth (Gn. 9), who cling to God’s promises (Gn. 22), who are subject to God’s law (Ex. 20), and who are embraced by God’s mercy (Jer 31).  But this new covenant will be something quite different, something extraordinary. Written on our hearts, it will effect an interior transformation.

The evils of today, those we witness and those of which we are a part, require much more than simple external change. If we are honest, we will admit that we need radical interior transformation. Our self-absorption and unbridled pursuit of personal satisfaction, our arrogant sense of superiority, the hatred and desire for revenge that eats at our hearts can be remedied only at their roots. 

We are certainly in need of a new covenant commitment. The technical covenant formula in the Hebrew Scriptures, “I will be their God and they will be my people,” is comparable to the marriage formula, “I receive you as my spouse.” This language bespeaks loving intimacy. These words should make us step back in total amazement, for they imply that in the face of human infidelity, God reaches out to establish a covenant of the heart. Perhaps the failure of so many human commitments between couples, within families, at the workplace and even among nations clouds our eyes to the reality of God’s unbounded love. This is a remarkable covenant. When will it be established? “The days are coming, says the Lord.”

The sentiments of Psalm 51 might well be our response to God’s astounding offer of loving commitment: “Have mercy on me…wipe out my offence…create a clean heart in me.” Today we might say: Help me to accept what I find bothersome in others; heal me of my stubbornness, my selfishness and my pride; cleanse me of hatred for people of cultures that are foreign to me and of nations that might pose a threat.

God announces that the days are coming when all of this will happen, but deep down in our hearts, can we believe this? Are we doing anything to bring it about? But even in the face of our doubt, God declares: “The days are coming.”

As we turn to the Gospel, we, like the Greeks in the John’s story, want to see Jesus; we want to glimpse a hint of hope and be touched by his healing hand so that all of our infirmities pass away and the aching void in our souls is filled.  However, we only hear Jesus say, “The hour has come.” What does this mean? Our first assumption, having the advantage of hindsight, is that it is the hour of his death, which it is; and, as Jesus goes on to say, it is also the hour of his glorification. While this glorification may refer in part to the relationship that he enjoys with God, the reading suggests that it also has something to do with the new life that will spring from his death. 

To whom will this new life be offered? The words in Jeremiah are addressed to both Israel and Judah, the two separate kingdoms that made up the entire nation. God calls these separated people to “be my people.” The Gospel teaches us that this new covenant is not merely meant for the Jewish people. Greeks, representatives of the entire world, came to see Jesus. In other words, all women and men of integrity are to be invited to this covenant. Jesus declares: “I will draw everyone to myself.”

   Part 3

Is not this the Good News?  Today we hear of a new covenant, a clean heart, a grain of wheat pregnant with fruitfulness. These are all poetic ways of describing the new way of living into which we can step if we so choose. The disarray of so much of our lives makes us realise that we must choose a different way of living. But radical transformation does not come without a price. We know that Jesus suffered dearly, and he insists: “Whoever serves me must follow me.” And there is the rub!

Once again we hear those apparently paradoxical words of Jesus, recorded six times in the four gospels – clearly the key to the mystery, and the means by which life can be ours – “he who loves his life will lose it; he who hates his life will keep it safe for eternal life” or as it is conveyed in the other gospels, “He who would save his live will lose it, but he who loses his life will gain it.”

If I repeated these words, and only these words, every Sunday, I will have spoken all that you need to know for life.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Jesus is offering here a reward in some afterlife for those who die through self-giving, analogous to the promised reward in paradise that some Muslims believe Allah to be offering those who die honourably in the jihad.  Jesus does not want anyone to physically die; rather he wants us to live; but he knows that the fullness of life will be denied to those who live for themselves.

In his so-called Great Paradox, Jesus is saying that self-interest is the way to destruction, and that true life comes by a total focus on the other.   Don Cupitt, an Anglican theologian wrote a book on Christian ethics, which he entitled Solar EthicsWhy solar ethics?  What has the sun got to do with how a Christian should choose to act?  Because, says Cupitt, we must live as the sun lives.  It burns itself up in order to bring light and warmth that others may live. In doing so, the sun is being what it was created to be, i.e. it knows itself, and indeed, this is the only way it can be a sun.  By living in a totally self-giving, self-disinterested way, we, too, may become what we were created to be; may, at last, know who we  really are, and experience life as God created it to be lived – that life that in the Bible is called “eternal.”

This “hour’ of which Jesus speaks is not only his hour.  It is the hour that must come to all who would truly live.  God’s part has been accomplished, and it is our turn. Now that our Lenten journey is almost over, what have we learned from the readings of this season? In what ways are we willing to change so God’s creation is honoured and protected? Whom are we willing to help?  To forgive? To what extent are we willing to die to our own selfishness so that the fruits of the new covenant can be brought forward? The hour of decision has come;  my hour, your hour.

Let us pray: God of abundant mercies, like the seed that is buried in the earth and thereby lives more gloriously, give us the grace to be daily buried in the love of Christ. There may we find that fruitful life, which spent in loving others may glorify your name in all the world. Then may the earth know its Saviour, who with you in the unity of the Spirit are loved and worshipped, world without end.  Amen!

DESCENT INTO DARKNESS Lent is a time for self-examination

But, Lord, I self-examine all the time, comparing myself to others.  Sure, I may not be as perfect as some, but I’m better than most.  If everyone was as a good as I am, then your world would be having a lot less strife.  Besides the time spend in self-examination is time not spent doing your work in the world. I’m sure you’d rather have action than navel-gazing from your people, right?

(Please extinguish one of your candles)

HYMN 444 – “Dear Shepherd of Your People, Hear”(click here to listen)

A CELEBRATION OF FAITH

L: In response to the word reflected on, let us stand and share together a celebration of faith. 

We believe in a sacred power within and around us; a Divine Source that we call by many names and experience in many ways, that empowers and heals, that calls us forth.

R: We believe in our creativity.

L: Making and transforming beauty out of words and notes, images and colours, lines and pictures…and silence

R: We believe in doing justice.

L: Justice that compels and empowers us to risk whatever we must risk to create a climate in which all people can be who they are.

R: We believe in our dreams.

L: We experience the world as it is, in both its ugliness and beauty, and we see what it can become.

R: We believe in making peace.

L: A peace that is based on openness, honesty and compassion.

R: We believe in hope

L: We expect change to continue to occur in our world. We rely on our courage to continue to bring about these changes.

R: We believe in love.

L: A passionate love within and around us that laughs and cries, challenges and comforts, a healing love that perseveres.

R: We believe in potential.

L: We know who we are,
painful as that can be at times, yet we continue to call each other to become more of who we are.

R: We believe in celebrating.

L: We remember and we commemorate. We create rituals. We play and dance, and sing and love well.

R: We believe in our diversity.

L: We affirm our many shapes and sizes, colours and traditions, emotions and thoughts, differences and similarities.

R: We believe in life.

L: Life that wells up within and flows out of us like a streaming fountain.

R: We believe we are good and holy, a sacred part of all creation

WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS TO GOD

Most holy Friend, out of our poverty we seek your riches of mercy, for our loved ones and friends and neighbours, for strangers in other lands and also for our enemies. 

We ask you to bless those most dear to us, forgiving their sins, cherishing their good qualities, challenging their follies, nursing their ills, and encompassing them with your guiding light. 

We ask you to bless our colleagues at work or leisure, our kindly neighbours and some who may be more difficult, and those distant friends whom we have not seen for many years.

We ask you to bless those who serve us across counters or in medical consulting rooms, and those who remove our garbage, deliver our mail, and service our motor cars. 

We ask you to bless fellow members of this congregation, and those of other churches in our community, the laity and pastors, those of many talents or of few, the strong and the weak.

We ask you to bless the people who dislike us, any who go out of their way to make our lives miserable, and those international enemies who threaten our country and its citizens. 

We ask you to bless those people around world who are disliked and abused, exploited or oppressed, persecuted, imprisoned or forced to flee from their homeland.  Have mercy on us , O God, according to your steadfast love.

Have mercy on us , O God, according to your steadfast love. Please do for those whom we love those things that our even best efforts can never accomplish, and please do for our enemies as you would do for our friends. Through Christ Jesus our Saviour, 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.

HYMN 650 – “Brother, Sister, Let Me Serve You”(click here to listen)

WORD OF MISSION

L: Time has now come for us to leave this sacred place. As we do, may we embrace the challenges of our lives and our world with faith in the creative powers of life, with hope for the future of life in this world, with love for all others who share this life with us,

R: Let us go forward together in peace. Our worship in this sacred space has ended. Let our service begin.

BENEDICTION

And now the blessings of life be upon us, and upon this congregation. May the memories we gather here give us hope for the future. May the love that we share bring strength and joy to our hearts, and the peace of this community be with us until we meet again. Amen! 

An open, virtual door to the world