March 14 2021
WELCOME AND ANNOUNCEMENTS
Let me remind you quickly of our protocols for everyone’s safety.
Attendance was taken by ushers as you entered
Offerings may be placed in the plate by the doors.
The bulletins were placed specifically for social distancing, one household per pew. Please sit exactly where you found your bulletin.
Please keep your masks on and remain seated through the whole service.
There will be no singing but songs will be played, and no physical contact.
You may read along silently,
The office and the rest of the building remain closed, but you can contact Karla during her office hours.
March 14th will be the annual congregational meeting at 9am
March 21st will be a Session Meeting right after Church
WORDS OF WORSHIP
L: O give thanks to the Lord for he is good.
P: Snow melts, birds sing, buds burst forth and the air is crisp and sweet.
L: God’s steadfast love endures forever.
P: We feel God’s presence in springtime gifts and in his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
L: Let the redeemed of the Lord proclaim God’s glory.
P: God is good. His love endures and pours forth this day
Let us worship our God of grace and our God of goodness.
We pause this day to consider our lives against the backdrop of your amazing love and grace, O Lord.us to be honest with ourselves and with you .Allow us to hear the words of life that have become so familiar that perhaps they have lost the sparkling abundance of their meaning .you did so love this world that you sent your Son so that all who believe might receive the gift of eternal life .we glimpse that gift in new ways this day. Amen.
Hymn God of Grace and God of Glory 420
CONFESSION AND PARDON
In the wilderness the people grumbled to Moses about the dangers they encountered and the manna which had grown monotonous. Nicodemus grumbled that Jesus’ words made no sense.
Yet God bent low in both of these situations to hear and address the needs of his people. Let us come to God with confidence that we, too, can know the joy of God’s touch upon our lives, God’s gift of grace upon our soul. Please pray with me.
Prayer of Confession Hear the prayers, Lord God, of your grumbling servants. We can relate to those ex-slaves wandering in the wilderness. We, too, are working at shedding chains of bondage--to the norms of our world that seem so right and sensible, to security and comfort that has often become a false idol. We want to truly believe and to receive your gift of eternal life. But, it’s hard; we resent it when our expectations are not met. You ask us to trust ourselves into your care. Help us, Lord, to look to you for truth and love so that we can experience new hope and new opportunities for all. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
L: Jesus reminds us that God so loved the world--
P:The world-- that’s us!
L: God sent his only Son so that we can believe and receive the gift of eternal life Christ is lifted on the cross to take away our sins. Let us claim this gift.
P: We are the forgiven people of Christ.
ALL: Praise be to God!
Peace of ChristSong of praise Gloria Patri 579
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
O God, giver of all good gifts, we come now to hear of your grace and love. Help us to open our hearts as scripture is read and proclaimed. Help us to accept the truth of your blessings and to know the blessing of your truth. Amen.
Numbers 21: 4-9
4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.
John 3: 14-21
14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
SERMON Lifted Up for ALL
Lifted up for ALL!
It’s a beautiful, crisp October day, and your college football team is playing its archrival. A traveling trophy is on the line, and the excitement in the air is buzzing with electricity. The band is playing, cheerleaders are out in front warming up the home crowd, the teams are about to take the field. You look to your right and there are three people holding up signs that collectively read, “John 3:16.” ---familiar image isn’t it?
Or how about this? You are driving on a two-lane state highway in a rolling Midwest county where you pass a beautifully kept farmstead. At the edge of the property in front of a vibrantly green field of corn waving in the light breeze is a large sign that reads, “JOHN 3: 16”
We’ve all seen these signs. Maybe you’ve held up such a sign yourself! It’s an affirmation of our faith, for sure. It encapsulates much of our understanding of our God’s plan in sending his Son, Jesus Christ into our world. FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY SON, SO THAT EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM MAY NOT PERISH, BUT MAY HAVE ETERNAL LIFE.
This single passage says a lot. 1. God loved. 2. Jesus is God’s Son. 3. God sent him for the benefit of the world. 4. Everyone who believes is given eternal life.
But here’s what I notice. Many people seem to take this passage either at a surface level, not digging any deeper than the top level of meaning OR they use it as a club against others whom they perceive don’t believe in Jesus or who believe in inferior ways.
So today, let’s spend some time digging into these passages just a little deeper.
To begin with, this most quoted passage arises from the story of Nicodemus, the Pharisee who sneaks into the house where Jesus is staying to test the things he has been seeing and hearing about this travelling rabbi. In other words, to see for himself if this Jesus might be the Messiah sent by God but at the same time not risking his standing in the community. But he has great difficulty understanding this “Kingdom of God” that Jesus comes to offer. It’s a kingdom that is radically different from the law-based order in which Nicodemus has been schooled. It comes when we allow God to present to us a completely new paradigm for faith.
Nicodemus expect the locus to be on humans who earn God’s favor and thus salvation. Pretty straight forward. God’s gifts for people who deserve them. But Jesus is pointing to something radically different, and Nicodemus can’t get his head around it. “God so loved the world that he gave.” No earning anything. No deserved blessings. No power or goodness that comes from what we do or who we are.
In fact, Jesus lifts up an Old Testament story to illustrate. Those Hebrew slaves who had been led out of bondage. They had been protected, given manna to eat. They’d drank sweet water that poured out of a rock. They were led by a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. They had a leader who was intimately connected to God, and they’d even been given the law as a tool to live godly lives. Do you think they earned those gifts? All of the people? Each and every one? Do you think that there was no quarreling over position or chores or even too much noise in camp? Do you think everyone was on board with this moving from place to place in the wilderness? Do you think that wives didn’t complain about their husbands or that fathers didn’t become angry with their children –or wives? Of course not. They were human. They doubted, were afraid. They jostled for position and advantage, they carried petty grudges and blew up in anger at times. And at the point of this story they were grumbling to Moses and God.
God said, “Let’s show them how good they have things.” Enter serpents—poisonous serpents who bit several of the people, and many died.
The people immediately recognized the error of their ways and asked Moses to pray for them. (They didn’t have much confidence in their own ability to pray, I guess.) And God heard those prayers and told Moses to create a bronze serpent and put it on a pole so that anyone who looked upon the serpent would be saved. EVERYONE. Not just the godly ones. Not just the ones who followed all the rules. Not just the ones who were truly sorry for their grumbling or who understood this faith thing. EVERYONE who looked upon the serpent lived.
Sometimes it feels like those who most point to the JOHN 3:16 passage want to use it as a litmus test. “Do you believe?” they seem to ask. “Do you believe in the right way? Can you say the right words when asked?” If so, you are saved, and if not, “Sorry Dude, you’re on the naughty list and you’re going to perish.”
But doesn’t that diminish the part of the passage where it says, God so loved THE WORLD? There were no qualifications offered, no, “but first you must….” No reservations. It’s a no-holds-barred-love that is poured out for all, even to Nicodemus who probably didn’t deserve it. Even to us. That kingdom that Jesus is talking about becomes ours just for allowing ourselves to glimpse upon this Son of God who was lifted up –same as with the bronze serpent. He was lifted up for us, for you and for me and for that other person who doesn’t deserve it, not at all. We can’t earn it. We don’t even totally understand it. But it’s God’s amazing gift, none the less.
When we glimpse upon it, God offers a new reality that we can’t discover on our own. It’s called ETERNAL LIFE. I’m not talking about rewards for good people when we die, or streets paved in gold. I’m talking about a lived reality that happens right here, right now. It’s a new way of seeing things such that beauty and goodness and love sparkle around us like the sun on newly fallen snow.
There’s no room in this passage to pat ourselves on the back for being among the saved. There’s no room to look down our noses at others who either don’t know God or who know God by a different name and who haven’t yet met Jesus. This passage doesn’t speak to that. It speaks only to us, inviting us to gaze upon a savior on a cross and to allow God to give us the gift of life that takes hold of our lives to transform us right now.
Will we instantly understand scripture after this? Of course not.
Will we understand what we are to do in any given situation? Nope.
Will we be free of doubts or difficult questions? Huh-uh.
Will we be given exactly the right words when we are asked to explain our faith to others? Probably not, at least not always.
Will we be able to avoid sin and live godly lives? No, not without a lot of prayer and a lot of forgiveness from God --and even with that we will fail a lot.
But here is what we can expect. That this kernel of hope and joy and love will continue to grow within us. It will call us into communion with God and with others who are also growing in faith. It will open doors to new possibilities that we couldn’t otherwise imagine. It will allow us to see goodness and beauty instead of just fear and darkness. It will offer us courage to risk ourselves for God’s love to others. It will allow us to feel God’s presence in the darkness of our lives. In other words, we will be changed, given an eternal life that shines a new light of God’s love upon our world.
Maybe we’ll even be a part of that life-giving love. Like in Houston, Texas-- a few weeks ago when a devastating cold snap hit Texas with subfreezing temps. It taxed the power grid to the point they had to shut it down. Thousands were left to try to keep themselves warm and fed in long days of brutal, unrelenting, and dangerous cold. But there were people who stepped up to offer help.
James McIngvale was one of those. He was called Mattress Mack because he owned 2 large furniture showrooms. He opened his showrooms as warming and feeding sites so people could get out of the cold and have a hot meal in comfort. They could come in, sit on one of his couches, even spend the night sleeping there to keep them safe. Did some of them come with dirty feet and get his furniture a bit grimy? Most likely. Did anyone spill a cup of coffee on upholstered furniture? Probably. Was there the risk that someone would slip a knick-knack from a display rack in his or her pocket as they left? Maybe. But Mack understood that all of that was a minimal risk compared with the good that would come of his generosity. He said, “It was my obligation to help because I could.” He didn’t speak about this being an outgrowth of his faith, but doesn’t it have all the earmarks of an act of faith?
That’s the meaning of JOHN 3:16. That we both receive these amazing gifts of Jesus Christ—even though we don’t deserve them, AND we find ways to offer that gift forward in ways that bless our world.
God lifted up his Son for you and for me—because he loved us. Let us receive this love. Let us delight in it, but let’s don’t assume we have earned it. Then, let’s live it forward so our world might be blessed.
Praise be to God. AMEN.
Hymn: My Faith Looks up to Thee 383
AFFIRMATION Apostle’s Creed, Ecumenical Version
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven,
He is seated on the right hand of the Father,
And he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
COMMUNION WITH PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION AND THANKSGIVING AND THE LORD’S PRAYER
Holy Communion Liturgy (in the pews)
INVITATION TO THE LORD’S SUPPER
THE GREAT THANKSGIVING
L: God who offers us life and hope and forgiveness, we praise you, Lord.
P: We offer our joyful thanks for your gift of life. You, in Christ, were obedient unto death on the cross for us. Help us to remember that we can’t do it ourselves. We need you!
L: We need your strength and your wisdom, your love and your guidance, your salvation and your unending grace.
P: You offer all these things to your people You call us just as you called
disciples long ago.
L: With those disciples you sat to share your last meal on earth. You used that meal to offer to them, and to all of us, participation in your life and in your death. You took the bread and broke it
P: Calling for us to remember not only the unleavened bread that the Hebrew slaves ate as they fled from Egypt
L: But also you, our Bread of life,
P: Your body broken on a cross for us.
L: You poured out the cup
P: Calling for us to share in the drinking of it.
P: But it is also the power in your blood to offer to us the new covenant
in which God writes his laws upon our hearts.
L: As we eat this banquet, your body broken, your life-blood poured out, we know ourselves to be the children of the living God.
P: We are freed from bondage to We are lifted to you by the power of your Holy Spirit.
L: Thank you, Lord Jesus. Be our host in this banquet of life.
P: Come Lord Jesus into our hearts and our lives. Amen.
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Communion will be served in the pews today. Both wafer and juice are in the cup holder in front of you. When directed please, remove the top plastic piece and remove the wafer. Then when directed, remove the foil and drink the juice. So we can take it together, you may either place the empty cup in the holder before you or dispose of them in the trash as you leave.
PRAYER AFTER COMMUNION
Hymn O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go 384
CHARGE & BLESSING