Acknowledging the Territory
As we gather this morning let us remember with gratitude that we gather on lands that are, by law, the unceded territories of the Mi’kmaq people. We acknowledge this and we commit ourselves to honour their traditions and their spirituality.
Time of Quiet Centering
As we prepare to worship together, let us take a moment of silence to prepare ourselves to enter this sacred time, allowing all our cares and concerns to be set aside, and allow the calm and the peace of the Divine to wash over us.
Service of Lenten Candles
During the season of Advent we light candles as we prepare to receive the Light of Christ at Christmas. During Lent we extinguish candles as we prepare for the day that Light was snuffed out.
Today begins a journey. Some of us begin this journey with excitement, some with trepidation. It is a journey that will lead us through difficult terrain full of shadows, worry and fear. It is a journey that will lead us through the stories of our past into our future. It is a journey we must prepare for as we take the first steps on a path that we will walk together. So what should we take on this journey? We take a water bottle, so that the effort we put into this journey will not drain us. Just as water replenishes our bodies on a difficult journey, so God replenishes our souls. And so as we take these first steps on our journey, we extinguish our first candle knowing that we don’t need to fear the difficult path ahead because we know God will provide what we need for the journey.
Water Bottle is placed on table and the first Lenten candle is extinguished.
Call to Worship
Our Lenten Journey begins.
We walk it with determination.
Our Lenten Journey begins.
We walk it with integrity.
Our Lenten Journey begins.
We walk it with humility.
Our Lenten Journey begins.
We walk it with confidence knowing we are not walking alone.
And so as we walk this Lenten Journey that leads to the cross we will not be afraid, because we walk in the footsteps of the one who has walked this road before us.
We walk it with Christ.
Opening Prayer (in unison)
Divine Guide, we stand here at the beginning of a journey. A journey we have been on before. A journey we will take again. A journey we know we must take, as Jesus did. A journey that leads us through shadow to resurrection. It is a journey that is made possible because we do this together. And so as we gather together in worship this day, we recommit ourselves to the journey that lies ahead, knowing we travel it with you. Amen.
Gift of Music
Following the flood, God makes a covenant promise to Noah and all his descendants that the earth would never again be destroyed by flood. But that promise was also made to all creatures of the earth and it marked with a rainbow.
Psalm 25 offers us a prayer of trust and a plea for guidance.
1 Peter 3:18-22
In the first letter of Peter, the author compares the saving of Noah through the waters of the flood with the saving offered to us through Christ and through baptism.
The gospel according to Mark begins, not with a birth story, but with John the Baptist and with the story of the baptism and temptation of Jesus and the beginning of his ministry.
The Covenant of Water
Today we begin our Lenten Journey with water. Water is essential to our survival. We need water for our own consumption, but we also need water to grow the crops and livestock we depend on. Water is one of the fundamental elements of life. Without water we cannot survive.
But too much water can be devastating. Excess rain can cause crops to be washed away or to rot before they can mature and be harvested. Floods can destroy not only crops and livestock but entire communities claiming the lives of anyone unfortunate enough to get caught in them. Water has a power in our lives that is, in many ways, unequaled by any other force.
Water is also very symbolic especially within religious traditions. The immense power of water is seen as reflecting the immense power of the Divine, power that can nurture but that can also destroy. But at the same time, both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures originate from a part of the world where water is often scarce and so God’s abundant blessings are often talked about in relation to water. Our dependence on water is compared to our dependence on God.
And so, it is within this symbolism of water that our Lenten journey begins. The story of the great flood and of the ark that saved humanity from total and complete annihilation is one of those foundational stories that is present not only in our Judeo-Christian tradition but in many other ancient religions and traditions. It is a story of ultimate power and ultimate destruction.
But within the story there is also ultimate redemption. Despite the corruption and self-centeredness of the human race, the Divine power that exists beyond all things, is never willing to completely give up on us. No matter how hopeless things may seem, there is always Divine Hope.
In the biblical story we read in our Hebrew Scriptures, God chooses one righteous man, Noah, and directs him to save all the creatures of the earth. God promises that if Noah will follow the instructions he is given, that not only he, but his entire family will be saved. Noah obeys and the arc sets sail. It rains for 40 days and 40 nights until all the world is flooded. Eventually the rain stops, the flood subsides and the ark lands on dry ground.
The plan seems to have worked out exactly as “God” originally intended. But when I read the passage that we heard this morning, I sometimes think I hear an underlying whisper of remorse. “I promise that never again will all living beings be destroyed by a flood; never again will a flood destroy the earth.”
Even at the apex of God’s anger and destructive power, there is compassion and hope. God makes a covenant not just with Noah and his descendants, but with “all living beings on earth”. This is not a contractual agreement that can be broken if one party doesn’t live up to their part of the bargain. This is a Divine covenant, a promise made by God with no strings attached. God even offers a visible sign of that covenant, in the form of a rainbow. It is a reminder, not of the anger and destructive power of the flood, but of the compassion and care of the God who promises, “never again”.
But there is another covenant of water that we hear about today. It is mentioned in both the gospel and epistle reading. It is the covenant of baptism.
As Jesus comes up out of the water after being baptized in the River Jordan, a voice speaks to him saying, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.” For Jesus, this is the affirmation he needs to confirm that he is indeed on the right path. It offers him the assurance that he is not alone. Once he has been claimed by that voice, he is able to go forward and face the temptation he must overcome before beginning his ministry. That voice, that promise that “You are my own dear Son”, is a covenant, an unbreakable promise, between Jesus and God.
And that covenant remains strong and unbroken throughout Jesus entire life. God continues to claim Jesus as “my own dear Son” and continues to guide, strengthen and walk with Jesus. It is this assurance, this certainty that once God has made a covenant with him, it cannot be broken, it is this assurance, that allows Jesus to walk the journey that we talk about today, the Lenten Journey that leads to the cross.
But in the first letter of Peter, we are reminded that this covenant of water is not just for Noah or for Jesus. It is also for us. The author of 1st Peter talks about how God saved Noah and his family through the waters of the great flood. He talks about the story of Noah as being “a symbol pointing to baptism”. He also makes the statement that it is through that same baptism that we are promised that we too are “saved.”
But what is this baptism that we are talking about here? Are we talking strictly about the Sacrament of Baptism as it is practiced in the Christian Church? Are we saying that only those who have undergone the Sacrament of Christian Baptism are “saved”? Or are we perhaps, talking about something more?
In both Matthew and Luke’s telling of the baptism of Jesus, John tells those who come to him to be baptized with water that there is someone far greater than him who will come and will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
The baptism that John speaks of here is not about washing away sins or cleaning the outside. It is about being ignited by the Holy Spirit. It is about being touched and claimed by that same Divine power as touched and claimed Jesus. It is not about baptism of water but baptism of the Spirit.
And I believe this type of baptism is more than a simple act or symbol. It is a covenant, a promise, and a commitment. The Divine touches our lives, and in that touch promises to remain with us throughout our lives, no matter what happens. And this covenant, this commitment from the Divine, does not depend on whether or not we have had the water from a baptismal font sprinkled on our heads. It does not depend on whether we show up for church ever Sunday or whether we always behave the way we should. This covenant is God’s promise and commitment to always be with us, no matter what, no strings attached. God promises to be with us and lead us whether we follow or not.
But when we do choose to follow, when we choose to live our lives by the principles and example we have seen lived out in the life of Christ, then we are making our own commit, our own covenant with God.
Throughout Lent we are called to explore, to reaffirm and to strengthen this commitment, this covenant we have made to follow the way of Christ. We are called to ask ourselves if we are on the right path. And we are called to remember how Jesus walked the path that was laid out for him, with determination, with commitment, with grace and with love.
I want to tell you a little bit about the water bottle that I placed on the altar this morning. It was given to me by my daughter before I left on my trip to Israel and Palestine. It is called a “Life Straw”. The center part of that water bottle contains a special filtration system that will remove 99.9% of all bacterial and microbial contaminants. I can make even the most questionable water source safe to drink. This is the water bottle I want to have with me if I am going on a journey. No matter where I go, I know that I will need safe, clean drinking water. This “Life Straw” helps to ensure that I will have what I need.
So, what is it that we truly need as we set out on our own virtual journey through this season of Lent? We need to know that the God we worship is with us. We need to know that there will never be a time or a place where that Divine presences does not accompany us. We need to carry that Spirit with us, just as we would carry a water bottle on a difficult hike.
We need to know that, like a mighty flood, the Divine Power is strong enough to overcome any obstacle that blocks the path that we are called to walk. We need to know that it is even powerful enough to reshape the landscape of our lives. We also need to know that when the foundations of our lives wash out from beneath us, we will be offered an ‘ark’ to get us through the times of transition. And perhaps most important of all, we need to trust that the Divine Presence that promises to accompany us on the journey, will provide for us all the life-giving water we need.
And so today as we set out on this 40-day journey of self-examination, reflection, and commitment, we take with us the symbol of water; the waters of creation that unite us with all living creatures, the waters of the flood that remind us of the power and the compassion of the Divine, and the waters of baptism which affirm our commitment to this journey. So drink deeply of these waters, knowing they will sustain you throughout this and all the journeys you are called to take. Amen
Gift of Music
We Offer Our Gifts
We believe that God has called and continues to call each of us. One of the ways in which we answer is through the gifts that we offer back to God. Those gifts may be the offering that we place on the offering plates at the back of the church, they may be offerings we make through Par or through online donations, they may be donations we give to others beyond the walls of this church. Or they may be the offerings of our time, our abilities and our commitment. But whatever it is that we offer God this day, let us asks God’s blessing upon it.
Let us pray; Loving God, bless and grow these gifts that we offer you today for your purpose and your glory. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
And now let us take a moment now to offer our silent prayers for all those named in our prayer jar and all those in our thoughts, our minds and our hearts … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
God of light and darkness, through water and Word you shine your light into the darkness of our lives. Just when everything seems most uncertain and we cannot see the way ahead, your light guides us and shows us a way through.
When the challenges which surround us seem overwhelming and more than we can handle, you wash away our anxiety by your calming presence, and set us free from hopelessness.
When anger, resentment and self-righteousness threaten to build walls between ourselves and others and between us and you, you offer love and reconciliation, gently guiding us to new and better relationships. We pray for better relationships in our families, in our communities, in our country and in our world. Remind us of your call to be peacemakers and help us to do our part to mend damaged relationships with our indigenous communities, with those of different ethnic, religious or social backgrounds and with all those who, for whatever reason, have felt excluded or marginalized.
When suffering and illness, our own or that of others, threaten to drain all hope and joy from our lives, remind us that nothing can separate us from your love. Inspire us to trust in you love, to offer encouragement and hope to those who are ill or in pain, and to bring reassurance of your eternal love to all who need to hear your promise.
When we are tempted to see your love for us as a safe hiding place where we can shut out all the cares and concerns of our world, remind us that the love Jesus demonstrated for us was a passionate, active love that went where it was needed and demanded your justice, equality and peace. Help us to find the courage to follow his example.
As we commit ourselves to the Lenten Journey that lies ahead of us, remind us that you are the God of life and death, and that no matter what crosses may lie ahead for us, you will be there, guiding us and walking beside us.
As you shine your light into the darkness of our world and our lives, we ask you to receive these prayers and all the prayers of our hearts, in the name of the one who is your light, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Gift of Music
And so the journey begins. But it is a journey we take together and it is a journey we take with God. So step out boldly knowing that the Power who created you is with you, the one who came bearing Divine Light shows you the way, and the Spirit that surrounds and dwell within all things walks with you each step of the way. Go with God.