Lent 3C (20-03-2022)

This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on March 20th at 10:30am

Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use for those who are not ready to return to public gatherings.   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.


“In His will is our peace.” (Dante)



Blessed is our God always, now and for ever and to the ages of ages.  Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.


L:       O God, you are my God, and I long for you.

Mn:   My whole being desires you;

Wm: like a dry, worn-out and waterless land, my soul is thirsty for you.

L:        Let me see you in the sanctuary;

Mn:    let me see how mighty and glorious you are.

Wn:  Your constant love is better than life itself,

L:        and so I will praise you.

Mn:   I will give you thanks as long as I live;

Wn:  I will raise my hands to you in prayer.

L:       My soul will feast and be satisfied,

Mn:   and I will sing glad songs of praise to you.

All:   And we will sing glad songs of praise to you.


Holy Friend, lover of us all, assist us to worship you with unfeigned sincerity. Thrust aside anything counterfeit in us, and overcome any fears that we may inhibit us. Help us to trust your hospitality and to worship you as children who are greatly loved and treasured.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!

HYMN 125 – “The God of Abraham Praise” (click here to listen)      


     Meditation -“Resting in the Grace of the World” by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


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


God of generosity and grace, we come to you trusting in your promise of life.  You offer so much and we are so slow to accept or even to believe that there isn’t a catch somewhere. Gracious God, help us to trust your promise of life.

We glory in our independence, running in circles and getting nowhere.  You offer so much  and we are so slow to accept, preferring to go it alone. Gracious God, help us to trust your promise of life.

We want  to change the world, but keep putting it off until tomorrow.  You offer so much and we are so slow to accept, believing it’s all up to us. Gracious God, help us to trust your promise of life.

Generous God, help us to learn your ways. Gracious God, help us to trust your promise of life.

THE ASSURANCE   (Is.55:3,7)

L: “Listen now, my people, and come to me; come to me, and you will have life!…Return to the Lord,…for he will abundantly pardon.”   And so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us;

R: Thanks be to God!

FROM THE GOSPELS – Luke 13:1-9

13 1-5 About that time some people came up and told him about the Galileans Pilate had killed while they were at worship, mixing their blood with the blood of the sacrifices on the altar. Jesus responded, “Do you think those murdered Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you, too, will die. And those eighteen in Jerusalem the other day, the ones crushed and killed when the Tower of Siloam collapsed and fell on them, do you think they were worse citizens than all other Jerusalemites? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you, too, will die.”

6-7 Then he told them a story: “A man had an apple tree planted in his front yard. He came to it expecting to find apples, but there weren’t any. He said to his gardener, ‘What’s going on here? For three years now I’ve come to this tree expecting apples and not one apple have I found. Chop it down! Why waste good ground with it any longer?’

8-9 “The gardener said, ‘Let’s give it another year. I’ll dig around it and fertilise, and maybe it will produce next year; if it doesn’t, then chop it down.’”

FROM THE EPISTLES1 Corinthians 10:1-5

10 1-5 Remember our history, friends, and be warned. All our ancestors were led by the providential Cloud and taken miraculously through the Sea. They went through the waters, in a baptism like ours, as Moses led them from enslaving death to salvation life. They all ate and drank identical food and drink, meals provided daily by God. They drank from the Rock, God’s fountain for them that stayed with them wherever they were. And the Rock was Christ. But just experiencing God’s wonder and grace didn’t seem to mean much—most of them were defeated by temptation during the hard times in the desert, and God was not pleased.


Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.”

So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!”

And he said, “Here I am.”

Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Moreover He said, “I am the God of your father: the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.

And the Lord said: “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites. Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

12 So He said, “I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

13 Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?”

14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” 15 Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’

HYMN 182 “Bring Many Names” (click here to listen)      


     Part 1

I want to talk with you this morning about the four-letter word that gives me more trouble than any other:  It is this one: YHWH.  Since ancient Hebrew had no vowels, the exact pronunciation is a matter of educated guessing, but today most scholars favour Yahweh in preference to the older Jehovah.  In most Bibles it is loosely translated “God” or “The Lord”.

One of the very respected biblical scholars in Australia, the Rev. Prof. Robert Anderson, was a member of my congregation in Red Hill, and he maintained that the most important question facing the church in this or any other era was the meaning of G-O-D.  I also ran into the Rev. Dr. John Bodycomb a few years ago, and he, too, expressed his belief that, unless the church comes to grips with G-O-D, it will be dead in twenty years; and his opinion was the informed one of a sociologist who has come to that view through his research.  Yet, Dr. Bodycomb found nothing but disinterest, and even roadblocks, as he tried to make the discussion of the meaning of G-O-D in modern consciousness an issue for the Uniting Church.

It may sound strange that the church would shy away from discussing God, but I have found that when it comes to matters of faith, many people feel threatened; as though their faith is too fragile to withstand questioning of long-held beliefs.  And what is more central to one’s faith than God?  

Of course, the topic is too big to deal with in detail in a sermon, but perhaps I can lead you into an exploration of what today’s readings have to offer about God.  Let’s begin with Moses:  

He was going about his everyday business of shepherding when he noticed this unusual bush.  That is the first thing to note about God: we don’t have to go out of our way to find God.  God finds us and calls out to us in the midst of our everyday activity.  Don’t get distracted by the burning bush question.  Whether historical truth or mythological truth, in the story the burning bush serves as a sign of God’s mystery.  It is a symbol of the impossible in our midst; indeed it proclaims the kingdom of God in our midst, and calls us out to be part of that kingdom.  

It is not surprising Moses resisted.  Against Pharaoh and the Egyptian army, it would not appear that one shepherd had much hope.  But this leads us to the second thing our scripture says about God:  God calls us and sends us out to do the seemingly impossible.  It seems impossible because the nature of God is to create that which has not been before.

Moses then tries to find a good reason – any reason – not to go.  We’re not sure if Moses really needs to know God’s name to give him credibility with the people or if it is just another way of stalling.  In fact, the people never do ask Moses God’s name.  However, God takes Moses seriously and, in answering Moses, God says two important things and omits another.

First, God does affirm Moses in his role as prophet and liberator.  Second, even while maintaining to be the same God of Moses’ ancestors, by offering a new revelation, God seems to establish a new relationship, and tells the people that new things are going to happen.

What God doesn’t do is give Moses a straight answer.  God does not tell Moses God’s name.  He gives him two statements to work with.  The first is reassuring: “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”  In other words God is saying, “I am the God I have always been.”  

The second statement is rather cryptic, “I am who I am.”  Prof. Anderson told me that the Hebrew is more accurately rendered “I will be who I will be,” or even “I am who I am becoming.”  God disconcertingly refuses to be defined or locked into a set pattern. but leaves the options open, and does not promise to be the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, as we so often like to believe.  So whatever faith is, it is not built upon a firm knowledge of who or what God is.  Anyone who has tried to create an image of  God from people’s experience of God as set down in the Bible will realise the impossibility of making sense of it.

     Part 2

Do we worship a God of mercy who forgives everything and always gives people another chance, as Paul records in our reading from Corinthians today, or is it the God of judgment, of which there are ample references in the Bible,  who threatens vengeance upon those who are disobedient?  Is God the unapproachable Other, beyond our comprehension, before whom we are transfixed with awe, or is our God one we can bargain with and who can be swayed with a clever argument as Abraham did in Genesis 18.  God is who God is and will be who God will be.  If there is any constancy to God in the Bible it lies in the promise of God’s constant presence, as God continues to be the God of our ancestors.

The last thing I want to say about God does not come out of an English translation, but is inherent in the Hebrew words.  If we want to know God, and know who and what God is, we must walk with God wherever God chooses to send us.

This word ,”YHWH”, is not really a noun or a name; it is more like a verb.  In other words, it is not a passive, stand-alone word; it is an action word – not a being word, but a doing word.  God does reveal Godself to us, but only as God acts through us.  Herein lies judgment.  Judgment, as I have said on other occasions, comes from the Greek word, krino, for crisis: a moment of choice, or decision.  

If we, like those Israelites who gave up along the way because it was too hard, or like the Corinthians who thought they had it all together, stop moving as a people of God, then we judge ourselves and remove ourselves from God.  In a sense, we make God unreal.  Where there is no movement, no action, God cannot be revealed.  Where there is nothing dynamic in our ideas or our patterns of behaviour, then God will seem to be absent.   God is creation in action, something dynamic that, like light and like love, cannot exist for us in static form.  We can’t paint a picture of God; we can only do God.

Lest someone go away from here having heard me say that God doesn’t exist  by Godself and is only a function of human action, let me take a second shot at explaining myself.  Whatever or whoever God is, it is mystery. It may be stimulating and fun to speculate about the nature of Mystery, but ultimately futile.  All we can go on is our experience of this mystery, to which we give the symbol, G-O-D.   If this experience is to be more than just a fleeting moment; if we are to claim it and incorporate into our lives so that it makes a difference; if we are to make G-O-D real – then it will only be through our actions.  Light is real to us only when it is moving.  Love is real to us only when it is in action.  Likewise God is only real for human beings when God is in action in us and through us: loving, creating, becoming.  Otherwise, God is just a figment of human imagination – an idol with which we endeavour to satisfy our wants and needs and fears.   

Our readings today remind us that God is in our midst.  God seeks us out and, when we stop long enough to listen, calls us to do the work of creation;  we are called to do God – seemingly impossible stuff. But when we do DO God, a power is unleashed which brings the world into bloom.  Creation takes place, bringing newness into our consciousness, our companions, our church, our community; indeed the whole cosmos echoes with the sounds of creation which emanate from every little act of God in the actions of you and me.  Every faithful step against the fear of change, every obedient risk to help the new to be brought to birth,  every sacrifice of self for love  of the other makes God real. May someone make God more real for you this day.

HYMN 417 – “Loving Spirit” (click here to listen)      


Holy Friend, Healer and Liberator, we lift up before you those people who are at this very moment suffer from either accident, disease, their own folly, or the cruelty of others. Please have mercy on our race, O God. Forgive our human iniquities and heal our many diseases.

At this moment many fellow humans beings are crying out against the cruelty of captivity: Hostages and abducted children, prisoners of war and political detainees, and many mistakenly convicted.

At this moment many of our fellows are suffering physical and mental abuse: Battered wives and children, others beaten up by robbers, tortured for information, verbally abused and denigrated, left with untended wounds, threatened with the injury of loved ones, sexually molested  or slowly killed.

At this moment there are people who are traumatised by sudden injury: victims of industry or the highways, soldiers wounded in battle, civilians bombed or terrorised, those maimed by the carelessness of others, and some who for personal thrills have taken great risks and lost.

At this moment there are thousands who are in terror or despair because of natural disasters: Flood and house fire, cyclone and earthquake, avalanche or bushfire, drought or lightning strike, storm waves or volcanic eruption.

Holy Friend, help your church to do whatever we can to lessen the multiple sufferings of humanity, to rest our own pain and grief in your infinite mercy, and to not cease from anger, prayer and appropriate action while injustice and neglect exist anywhere on this planet. Please have mercy on our church, O God. Through Jesus, who taught us to pray, “Our Father…”


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 658 – “Here I Am, Lord”  (click here to listen)      


The God we worship is never confined to this holy time. So go and travel with the God who is found in ordinary and surprising places. Those who dodge growing pains will never arrive at their full spiritual height. As you prepare to end this sacred time, pray that you may have the courage to stretch once more toward the goals set by the Man of Nazareth. There is no shame in failing, but there is in not trying. 


May the love that gives to life its beauty,
the reverence that gives to life its sacredness,
and the purposes that give to life its deep significance,
be strong within each of you and lead you
into ever deepening relationships with all of life.

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