ORDER OF SERVICE FOR SUNDAY, MARCH 14, 2021

FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT / PIE DAY

Due to copyright limitations, we are unable to print the words to the songs.  However, our musicians have chosen music to fit the scriptures.  We invite you to look up the words in your worship book and ponder them.  If you do not have a worship book, ponder the words to one of your favourite hymns and listen for God’s voice. Those who have internet may find the songs on YouTube.

PIE DAYPIE = Public. Intentional. Explicit. These are the standards we hold ourselves and our welcome to when we become affirming, welcoming, or inclusive communities. March 14 is a chance to serve some pie and roll out the PIE by celebrating the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ and Two Spirit people in faith communities and beyond across Canada.

 

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

“When we struggle for human rights, for freedom, for dignity, when we feel that it is a ministry of the church to concern itself for those who are hungry, for those who have no schools, for those who are deprived, we are not departing from God’s promise. He comes to free us from sin, and the church knows that sin’s consequences are all such injustices and abuses. The church knows it is saving the world when it undertakes to speak also of such things.”

— Oscar Romero

BEFORE WE WORSHIP, WE REFLECT…

     The fourth of the Old Testament promises providing a baptismal lens this Lent is the promise God makes to Moses: those who look on the bronze serpent will live. In today’s gospel Jesus says he will be lifted up on the cross like the serpent, so that those who look to him in faith will live. When we receive the sign of the cross in baptism, that cross becomes the sign we can look to in faith for healing, for restored relationship to God, for hope when we are dying.

     Our world and our lives include darkness and sin, evil and brokenness. But God’s love for us and for the world is complete, passionate, and sacrificial. God is not willing to settle for part of the world, or for some of us. Instead of condemning all that is not pleasing, God gave God’s own son, lifted up on the cross, so that all might have the possibility of eternal life. The light of God’s love shining down from the cross demonstrates the totality of God’s love and proclaims God’s desire to transform the dark places in this world into places of light, healing, and salvation.

CALL TO WORSHIP

It is in God that we live, and move, and have our being.

And so, in every moment of every day, we dance with God, and God dances with all creation.

We don’t often notice that we’re dancing,

but sometimes, every once in a while, God’s music and movement breaks through, and we know!

When we gather together, as community of faith,

we gather to help one another become open to the presence of God;

we gather to help one another be intentional in that relationship;

we gather to help one another, and in helping one another, we worship God.

CHILDREN’S SONG  MV 145     Draw The Circle Wide

CENTERING PRAYER

God of the smooth road, God of the rough places, God of the wilderness paths, thank you. Thank you for calling us out when we want to wrap ourselves up and hide. Thank you for giving us safe space when everything is just too much. Thank you for blessing all creation with your presence, and with your love. Open our hearts, we pray—open our minds— open our souls and, by your grace, fill them with your abundant love; not only so that we would be changed, not only so that we would be blessed, but so that we can be blessing and people of transformation, in your world. In Jesus’ name we ask it. Amen.

A NEW CREED

We are not alone; we live in God’s world.

We believe in God:  who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh, to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit.

We trust in God.

We are called to be the Church:  to celebrate God’s presence, to live with respect in Creation, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.  We are not alone.  Thanks be to God.

CHILDREN’S TIME

     Have you ever heard the phrase, “in a nutshell”?  What that means is a person shortens what they are saying into only a few sentences – stating just the facts, and then says, “That’s it in a nutshell.”  An example would be if, when you were really young, you asked your parents, “Why is the sky blue?”; rather than giving a long, big-worded scientific explanation of Rayleigh scattering, the atmosphere and wavelengths to a 4-year-old, they simply said, “Because God made it that way.  That’s it in a nutshell.”  I am sure you have eaten peanuts in the shell, and sunflower seeds, so you know how small a nutshell is, depending upon the nut.

     Today, in our Gospel reading from John, we hear a popular verse:  John 3:16: 16“For God so loved the world that God gave the only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Someone once said that this verse from the Gospel of John is like the entire good news about Jesus in a nutshell.  In this one sentence we learn that God loves the world, that God gave Jesus to the world to die for us and overcome sin and death and because of that, we have eternal life.  That’s it, the entire life and ministry of Jesus in a nutshell.

     When sharing your faith with others, when inviting others to follow Jesus, you don’t need to use a lot of words – just these:  Jesus loves you.  Jesus died for you.  You are forgiven.  Follow Jesus.  That’s it, in a nutshell.

MISSION & SERVICE

Through Mission & Service, your gifts help community ministries respond to growing homelessness and poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic.

     Brenda was close to nine months pregnant and living in a tent. She and her partner Gail couldn’t find housing they could afford. In Hamilton, Ontario, the waiting list for subsidized housing is long – for some, over 10 years. With no other options, Brenda and Gail moved into a homeless encampment. They started to go to Wesley Urban Ministries, an outreach ministry of The United Church of Canada. There, they accessed meals, showers, and housing support. Wesley staff found a place for them to live temporarily. During this time, Brenda gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. 

     Tragically, because Brenda and Gail don’t have stable housing, their baby was put in temporary custody. Housing workers at Wesley are working hard to help them get settled and reunite their family. “Despite all their hardships, they remain motivated. They show up for appointments and keep a positive outlook. We will not give up on them,” says a housing worker.  

     Your Mission & Service gifts support Wesley’s Day Centre where 100 homeless people find help each day. When the city deemed it an essential service, Wesley expanded its hours.  

     “Only 13 people are allowed inside at any given time during lockdown. Everyone is really good about coming in, getting warm, having a meal, and leaving so others can come in,” says Andrea Buttars, the director of resource development and social enterprise. Buttars says that during the pandemic, clients have had difficulty meeting practical needs. “Our clients have had a hard time finding bathrooms or having a shower because malls and libraries are closed. We are renting a trailer that has showers and washrooms in it,” she says.  

     Now that so many work from home, people are moving into the area from bigger centres. “That has a trickle down effect. We used to say that we had a housing quality problem. Now, we have a housing shortage problem, too,” she says. 

     As the pandemic strains social support networks, Wesley continues to step up. “We are committed to keep essential programs open and to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Research has found that the homeless are five times more likely to die of COVID-19,” says Buttars. “Through Mission & Service, the United Church helps us serve people who are very much at risk right now.” 

     Your generosity through Mission & Service helps support Wesley Urban Ministries and other community ministries as they respond to growing homelessness and economic stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you.

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION

Gracious God, may your messages and preaching come to us through your Holy Spirit’s power, so that our faith might not rest on the articulation of words by our pastor or the acumen of the human mind, but upon Your power and presence.  Help us never to depend upon our own might or power, but always upon Your Spirit.  May You, the God of all hope, fill us with all joy and peace as we trust in you, and in your holy Son, the Lord Jesus, Messiah of all people. Amen.

                                                  ~ Posted on Leonard Sweet’s Preach the Story. https://preachthestory.com/resources/

Readings and Psalm

First Reading: Numbers 21:4-9

Though God provides food and water for the Israelites in the wilderness, they whine and grumble. They forget about the salvation they experienced in the exodus. God punishes them for their sin, but when they repent God also provides a means of healing: a bronze serpent lifted up on a pole.

4From Mount Hor [the Israelites] set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” 6Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

  • Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

You deliver your people from their distress. (Ps. 107:19)

1Give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good,
  for God’s mercy endures forever.
2Let the redeemed of the Lord proclaim
  that God redeemed them from the hand of the foe,
3gathering them in from the lands;
  from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
17Some were fools and took rebellious paths;
  through their sins they were afflicted.
18They loathed all manner of food
  and drew near to death’s door.
19Then in their trouble they cried to the Lord
  and you delivered them from their distress. R
20You sent forth your word and healed them
  and rescued them from the grave.
21Let them give thanks to you, Lord, for your steadfast love
  and your wonderful works for all people.
22Let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving
  and tell of your deeds with shouts of joy. R

  • Second Reading: Ephesians 2:1-10

While we were dead in our sinfulness, God acted to make us alive as a gift of grace in Christ Jesus. We are saved not by what we do but by grace through faith. Thus our good works are really a reflection of God’s grace at work in our lives.

1You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

  • Gospel: John 3:14-21

To explain the salvation of God to the religious leader, Nicodemus, Jesus refers to the scripture passage quoted in today’s first reading. Just as those who looked upon the bronze serpent were healed, so people will be saved when they behold Christ lifted up on the cross.

[Jesus said:] 14“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

     16“For God so loved the world that God gave the only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

     17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

SERMON

Hilda Doherty was a senior citizen who decided to attend university to achieve her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.  Her husband, being of Irish descent, had planned a summer trip to Ireland.  When classes resumed in the fall, I asked Hilda about their time away.

“Oh, it was awful!  The weather was horrible!  It just kept raining and being cloudy and cold.  It was a real downer!”  And then, to fully condemn the experience she delivered the death blow, “And the food was terrible!”

The Israelites have met opposition in their attempt to enter the land of Canaan and so they set out to go around the land of Edom, a longer way to their goal.  The people “become impatient.”  The word literally means “their spirit became short.”  They were at the end of their rope. They were discouraged. They protested against God and against Moses.  In typical human fashion they also blamed the food.  It was “worthless.”  The food, which was the gift of God, did not seem sufficient to the Israelites to sustain them.  The sin of the Israelites then was their despair, their refusal to trust in the power of God to take them forward, and their desire to turn back to Egypt. 

I realize this is gross generalization, yet from what I have experienced I am aware that people want instant fixes; we don’t want to suffer in any way, we don’t want to have to know what the other person is experiencing, we just don’t want to hear about it.  We’re bored, and yet there are so many in our world needing our help that we really have no reason to be bored. 

One Saturday, years ago, I was listening to Paul Harvey and his “page 1…”  He closed his program with a “page” to his grandson.  Maybe some of you heard it.  Paul’s words of wisdom to his grandson included the following:

“I hope no one buys you a brand-new car on your sixteenth birthday.  I hope that if you ever talk back to your mother that you will learn what a bar of Lux soap tastes like.  I hope that if someone gives you a computer that you will still do math in your head.  I hope you grow up with scrapes on your knees, having learned that when you fall down, you can also get back up.  I hope that you will cheat at something, and get caught, and reap the consequences of your actions.  I hope that someone will betray you so that you will learn how important trustworthiness is and respect it in your relationships.  I hope that when you go camping that there is nothing but outhouses with Eaton’s catalogues.”  Paul Harvey, it appears, understood the loss of patience in our youth.  Perhaps there is something to the reality of having oppression in our lives.  At least oppression increases our awareness of, and need for, God.

As humans we, too, often find fault with the “food” which the Lord offers us in life.  We complain to God that life has become too complex.  If only we could go back to a simpler time when morals, ethics, and just choices in general were clearer.  Is it really possible to endure the pain, suffering and confusion which seem to be our lot?

 

The judgment of God came upon the Israelites in the form of “fiery serpents.”  The Hebrew word for “fiery” is seraphim and presumably refers to the inflammation caused by the serpent’s bite.  The serpents bit the people, causing the death of many.  The good news is that this judgment produced a change in the people.  I don’t know about you but being chased by poisonous snakes across the desert would certainly cause me to repent, let alone stop whining!!  The Israelites recognized their sin in that they had “spoken against God” and against Moses, and they ask Moses to pray that God would take away the serpents.

Their prayer was answered, but not exactly in the way that they had asked.  The serpents were not removed, rather Moses was instructed to make an image of a serpent and place it on a pole.  Whenever anyone was bitten, that person was to look at the serpent and “they shall live.”  The judgment was not removed, yet a means of redemption was offered.  The serpent no longer had the power to kill, and while still being the vehicle of God’s judgment, it also became a means of freedom and life.  This scripture reading gives us an opportunity to reflect on the cross as the vehicle of God’s judgment, which is also the means of redemption and life.  The cross does not remove human pain and suffering, it does allow us to see them in a new way.  In the light of the cross we see that pain and suffering cannot destroy life ultimately.

Let us sign ourselves with the cross that we might learn more deeply the commitments it invites us to make; vertically to God, horizontally to our neighbour.  A colleague of mine says the following every time he crosses himself: “Baptized, loved, forgiven, accepted child of God.”  In the sacrament of Baptism, the cross was traced over us as a sign of our being claimed for Christ.  To be marked with the sign of the cross is to be marked not for death but for everlasting life.  Our Christian life starts with our being introduced to the cross, a sign of life.  The cross is traced over us in other ritual anointings and with ashes at the beginning of Lent.  Most especially the cross is traced over us in times of crisis or spiritual need.  It is these times that shape us and mould us to Christ.  Through those many experiences of the cross we too are lifted up to Jesus who draws us to himself. 

It is the cross that sets us apart and sets us free.  May it continue to triumph in our world and in our lives.  Amen.

 

HYMN OF THE MONTH     MV 84  In You There Is A Refuge  

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

Relying on the promises of God, we pray boldly for the church, the world, and all in need.

You sent your Son that the world might be saved through him. Inspire the witness of the church throughout the world. Empower missionaries, Bible translators, and ministries of service in your name. Bless our partners in ministry.  Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

From east to west your steadfast love is shown. Nourish seas and deserts, wilderness areas and cities. Give water to thirsty lands; nurture spring growth that feeds hungry creatures; bless farmers as they prepare for the growing season. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

You sustained your people in the wilderness. Give courage to all who lead in times of crisis and scarce resources. Prosper the work of those who aid victims of famine and drought. Bring peace in places where scarce resources cause violence. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

Your mercy endures forever. Deliver all who cry to you, especially those who are hungry or without homes. Give life in places where death seems triumphant; give healing to those who are sick and comfort to those who mourn. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

By grace we have been saved. Fill this congregation to overflowing with that grace, that we show mercy to others. Nourish any in our midst who are hungry, especially children, and bless our ministries of feeding and shelter, we pray for food banks, soup kitchens, the Urban, and all inner-city ministries who offer not just food for the body, but food for the soul. Give us patience and courage when the way seems long. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

We remember especially… Eileen and Bob Clow, Lil Schieman, the family of David Anderson, Mike Froese, the family of Brian Pettapiece, the family of Kanyon Redsky, Brooke Alexiuk, Tracy Skoglund, Carolyn, Douglas, Debbie, Dwayne; Matthew Grossman, Lorraine & Walter Pokrant; for all those infected with the corona virus, or whose loved ones have died because of it.  We pray for healing and wholeness, and we ask that we would be a part of the solution, loving God, turning our prayer from words to actions.  Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

Your Son was lifted up that whoever believes might have eternal life. We praise you for all who have died in Christ. Bring us with all the saints into the fullness of your promises. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

We entrust ourselves and all our prayers to you, O faithful God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

BENEDICTION

Let’s go into the world as people of gratitude.

Let’s go into the world as people of hope.

Let’s go into the world as people of joyfulness.

Let’s go into the world ready to share Christ’s love!

And let us go knowing this:  we are never, ever alone.

The peace of Christ holds us, the love of the Creator enfolds us,

and the wings of the Holy Spirit carry us, today and always.  Amen.

SENDING SONG  WOV 641  Thy Holy Wings   

 

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