Sunday March 21st – Lent 5
Acknowledging the Territory
As we gather this morning let us remember that we gather on lands that are, by law, the unceded territories of the Mi’kmaq people. We gratefully acknowledge this and respectfully honour their traditions and spirituality.
Time of Quiet Centering
As we begin our worship together, let us take a moment of silence to prepare ourselves to enter this sacred time.
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, as we continue on this Lenten journey that we began 5 weeks ago, we approach the most difficult part. Soon we must prepare for the steep climb that leads through Jerusalem to the hill beyond. It will be difficult. But we have with us all that we need to face what lies ahead. But how will we remember all the lessons we have learned along the way? How will we take those lessons into the last and most difficult part of the journey? Like a blank journal, we need to be open to receive the lessons learned. We need to be ready to take them inside and hold on to them. We need to trust that, even if the page seems blank and empty now, they will someday be filled. As the light continues to give way to the dark, we trust what God has already written on our hearts, and we await what is yet to be written. Place Blank Journal on table and extinguish the fifth Lenten candle.
Call to Worship *written by John Moses Gathering Lent/Easter 2018 pg 32 Used with Permission
We are very near the time of letting go,
when the grain of wheat falls into the ground.
We fear the falling, the losing;
we don’t want to think about it.
And yet, in the soil, there is mystery:
life lost and kept for eternity.
We are very near now to the time of letting go. Let us worship God.
Opening Prayer (in unison)
The end of our Lenten journey is now in sight, O God. We can see clearly what lies ahead; the pain, the sorrow and the dying. But we also know the rest of the story. We know that your love is greater and more powerful than even death, and we know that that great and powerful love is given to each one of us. As we gather here to worship you today, renew and revive that love within us so that it may sustain us throughout the rest of our journey. Amen.
Gift of Music
Although our Hebrew Scripture reading is a relatively short passage, it contains a powerful promise, the promise of a New covenant that will not consist of written rules and regulations but will be kept within our hearts, a symbol of love.
Our Psalm reading picks up the message of Jeremiah when it pleads with God to “Put a new heart in me”.
The letter to the Hebrew, written to the people who traditionally followed the Jewish faith, often uses the image of Jesus as the ultimate high priest in order to tie the Jewish and Christian faiths together and affirm that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah.
Although theologically, the Gospel According to John is not my favorite, there is within this Gospel a kind of poetry that does not tend to be as prevalent within the other Gospels. The section you are about to hear uses the image of a grain of wheat to reflect the hope of resurrection and it is perhaps, one of the most beautiful images of the resurrection promise.
Remembering With Your Heart
During my sabbatical in the fall of 2019, I kept a daily journal. In fact, I actually had 3 separate journals. I had one during my time at the Zen Mountain Monastery and the time I spent studying and visiting with family and friends, and I actually kept 2 journals while I was in Israel and Palestine, one that I could safely show the Israeli authorities if I was question about my activities during my visit, and one that included my thoughts and reactions to some of the things I saw and experienced while traveling in Palestine.
I kept a record of the experiences I had each day. These journals contain the details that I might otherwise have forgotten, but the truth is that there are many of those experiences I really didn’t need to write down at all because they as vivid today as the day they happened. They are etched into my brain, or perhaps in the words of Jeremiah, written on my heart.
When things are written on our hearts, we generally do not forget them. They are things that have made a lasting impact on us and they remain with us. Sometimes we remember them even when we would rather not. They have affected us and perhaps even changed us, to the point where they have become part of who we are.
I think this is what Jeremiah is talking about when he says, “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts … None of them will have to teach a neighbor to know the LORD, because all will know me, from the least to the greatest.”
Jeremiah is telling the people that it is not the laws that are written on scrolls that matter, but the inner knowledge and understanding of the Divine that is part of who we are and how we live. It is written on our hearts. It is that spark of the Divine that cannot be defined or explained. It is simply felt.
But how is it that something becomes written on our heart? How is it that a lesson, an experience or a memory can change from being something that we simply remember with our mind to becoming something we that is part of our very heart and soul?
I think there are a number of ways that a lesson or a memory becomes part of us. One of the most fundamental way is through relationship. When a memory is connected to the relationship we have with a specific individual, it tends to be much stronger. In one of our last evening debriefing sessions as we prepared to leave Palestine, we were asked what one specific memory we would take home with us. Almost every single person talked about the people; the people we had met in the refugee camp, the children we had met at the Bedouin village, the family we met in Hebron, the Nassar family whose farm we visited, and the many, various people who met with us to share their personal stories. Memories become part of us when we associate them with people to whom we feel a connection.
In Jeremiah, when the Lord promises to write the laws on the hearts of the people, it is through relationship that this happens. That relationship is described by Jeremiah in the words, “I was like a husband to them”. This is an intimate and loving relationship. It means that the laws are not simply a set of rules to be obeyed, but rather, a way of living in relationship with God.
Obedience to the law that is written on our hearts is not about doing what is right because we fear punishment. It is about relationship. It is about a deep appreciation of the love of the Divine and a deep desire to live in a way that will express the love we feel in return and that will therefore strengthen and nurture the relationship we have with the Divine.
The passage from the Gospel of John also reflects the importance of relationship. It is because of their relationship with Phillip that Greeks, who are gentiles rather than Jews, are comfortable expressing their desire to meet Jesus. If they had been complete strangers, these gentiles would probably not have felt comfortable approaching Phillip. As well, they have obviously witnessed Phillip’s relationship with Jesus and have been impacted by it. So they approached Phillip asking for an introduction, perhaps seeking their own relationship with Jesus.
But there are also other ways that lessons and idea can become part of us, can become written on our heart. I’m sure you can all think of a favorite teacher you had when you were in school. What was it that made that teacher special? I doubt very much that any of you would name a teacher who simply stood up at the front of the class, lecturing you on facts or quotations or formulas and expected you to memorize them They are probably the teachers who brought the subject to life by used stories or demonstrations to catch your attention and ignite your imagination.
That’s the kind of teacher Jesus was. He often taught using images or parables. He told story and used the examples of everyday life and experiences to make a lesson relatable and therefore memorable. This was also what he was doing in our Gospel reading from this morning.
Jesus had already tried to explain to his disciples what lay ahead of them. He had tried to explain, that the path he was on would eventually lead him to his death. They had heard him say it before and they had also heard his promise that his death would not be the end. But no matter how many times they had heard it they didn’t seem to understand. Perhaps, because it was something they did not really what to hear in the first place, the lesson had not made a lasting impact. They had listened, but they had not understood. The lesson may have touched their minds and they may, at some level, have continued to think about it, but it had not really sunk in. It had not touched their hearts.
“A grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies.” OK, so they knew this. They saw it every day in the fields they passed through. “If it does die, then it produces many grains.” They knew that to. But what did that have to do with anything? What was Jesus trying to say? I’m not sure the disciples would have understood immediately, but the image would almost certainly have stuck in their minds, perhaps even touched their hearts. The time would certainly come when they would remember these words and they would understand. It would all make sense.
By the time the Gospel According to John was written the people reading it would certainly have understood. Jesus would die, but rather than his death being the end, it would only be the beginning. Like that one grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies, only to be reborn in fresh green shoots that will produce many grains of wheat, Jesus would be resurrected and his life, death and resurrection would produce an abundance of new life, too great to be counted.
This image of resurrection being like the grain that grows only after the first kernel dies, is perhaps, for me at least, one of the strongest images of resurrection. Resurrection is not about “coming back to life”. It is about much more. It is about the wonder of how one small insignificant kernel of wheat can give birth to an entire plant, which in turn can produce enough kernels of wheat to fill an entire field. It’s about how one life, a life that at the time seemed totally insignificant could, through his death and resurrection change the entire world. For me, this is the resurrection promise that is written on my heart.
So, if everything that we really need to know is written on our hearts rather than being written down as rules or facts, why do we need to take a journal with us on our Lenten Journey and why does it need to be a blank journal? Well, perhaps when it comes to our Lenten Journey, our journal might represent our heart. If this is the case, I think there are some interesting connections for us to think about.
First of all, a journal is no good to anyone unless you are willing to open it up. The same is true of our hearts. To open up your heart is to risk pain. If you close your heart, you cannot feel the deep pain that is part of the Lenten season. But if you are not willing to feel the pain, you will also not be able to experience the even deeper joy that comes with Easter.
Secondly, keeping a journal requires commitment. I think almost everyone on the trip to Israel and Palestine had some sort of a journal with them. However, by the end of the third or fourth day, most of them had given up trying to keep it up to date. By then there was so much to remember and we were all exhausted.
I got into the habit of taking my journal with me everywhere we went and jotting things down in point form. Then each night I would write out in detail what I had noted and make a list of all the picture I had taken during the day. It was time consuming and I was often up far later than I would have liked. But if I were to take seriously the commitment I had made to keep as accurate a journal, I had to make the effort. And I can tell you it was well worth the effort.
Our Lenten Journey takes commitment if we are to truly explore all that we can learn along the way. It means that we must take time each day to think about what this journey means to us and what we hope to learn from it. It can be a very demanding process and at times very frustrating, but if we are willing to take the commitment seriously it can indeed be well worth the effort.
And thirdly, we cannot begin this journey with a full journal. If we start our Lenten Journey thinking that, because we have been down this path so many times before, we have nothing to learn from it, then our journal will be so full that we will have no room for new experiences. If there is no room for the new, the unexpected or the surprising things we might come across during our Lenten Journey, then we are closing our hearts to the possible encounters we might have with the Divine along the way.
So today, as we approach closer and closer to the end of our Lenten Journey, I encourage you to ask yourselves, “What has my Lenten experience this year written on my heart?” and “Is there still enough room left for the Divine to write new and perhaps surprising lessons for me today?” 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
The end of our Lenten Journey is in sight. The road has been rough. As he approached Jerusalem, Jesus must have felt tired and discouraged. There were those who had listened, those who had followed, but often, even they had not understood. And many others refused to listen and dismissed what he said.
Today, those who speak out for justice for the poor are often misunderstood and dismissed.
Today, those who stand up and protest with signs, letters, lobbying and marches are often misunderstood and dismissed.
Today, those who speak out against the abuse of the elderly, of women, children, racial minorities, and those of differing sexual and gender identities are often misunderstood and dismissed.
Today, those who speak out against bullying and the abuse of power are often misunderstood and dismissed.
Today those who speak out for environmental justice and the care and nurture of our planet are often misunderstood and dismissed.
Christ calls us to walk in solidarity with the misunderstood.
As Jesus approached Jerusalem he must have felt the wounded and hurt by the harsh words, the betrayal and the persecution he had suffered not only form his enemies but also at the hands of his friends.
Today, we think of those who are victims of smear campaigns and cyber bullying at the hand of social media or other social groups.
Today, we think of those who are ill but whose symptoms are not taken seriously by family, friends or medical professionals because of their life circumstances. Today, we think of those who are lonely and isolated, especially those whose mobility is limited by the Covid pandemic.
Today, we think of those who are alone and lonely because of the loss of a loved one or because of separation from friends and family.
Today, we think of those who are suffering from wounds and hurts, harsh words, betrayal and persecution that we have no idea about.
Christ calls us to walk in solidarity with those who are suffering.
As Jesus approached Jerusalem he knew his human life was coming to an end.
We think of all those who are coming to an ending.
We think of all those we know whose lives are near an end.
We think of all those world wide whose lives will be cut unnecessarily short because of terrorism and war, because of poverty and lack of access to health care, because of abuse and lack of care or because of hopelessness and suicide.
We think of those facing other endings, loss of employment, retirement, divorce or the end a relationship, children leaving home, or the end of a cherished dream.
Christ calls us to walk in solidarity with those who are facing an ending.
As Jesus approached Jerusalem he leaned on God to strengthen him, to uphold him and to walk with him.
In our own times of loneliness, travel with us, O God.
When nothing seems to go right and we feel like giving up, travel with us, O God.
When loved ones and friends let us down, travel with us, O God.
When we find ourselves travelling the wrong road, travel with us, O God.
The God who stands ready to show us the right way, the God of our endings as well as our beginnings, the God who walked with Christ, walks in solidarity with us today. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Gift of Music
The journey is not over. Even when this Season of Lent comes to an end, our journey does not. We continue to walk the path that is laid out before us, but as we go out from here today, we are reminded that we do not go alone. The God who created and is creating, goes with us. The Christ whose example we follow, shows us the way. And the Spirit that dwells within us and within all of creation, walks with us. So, as we go out from here today, we go with God.