Thursday, 26 March 2020

Order of Service for March 29th 2020 - Marsden Road Uniting

Sunday 29th March 2020
Marsden Road Uniting Church

                               It's Hard Getting God...,
Sunday 29th March 2020
Lent 5 Sunday in the year of Matthew 9.30 am

Hymn 84: Give to our God immortal praise
                  (Tune - Lasst Uns Erfreuen)
Hymn 242: Lord of the dance
                  (Tune – Lord of the Dance)
Hymn 210: O for a thousand tongues to sing
                  (Tune – Lyngham)
Hymn 684: Love will be our Lenten calling
                   (Tune - Picardy)
Hymn 777: May the Grace of Christ our Saviour
                  (Tune – Benjamin M Culli)

The First Reading:                 Ezekiel 37:1-14             NEB page 647
The Gospel Reading:            John 11:23-45.             NEB page 822

Gathering God’s People

Acknowledgement of First Peoples

We acknowledge the first people who have cared for this Land, where we worship, the Wallumedgal. 
May our worship join with the voices of the First Peoples of this Land.

Call to Worship - (Mary J Scifres, Abingdon 2016)
     In the midst of life, we are in death. But in the face of death, God’s Spirit comes to bring us life. Can dry bones live? Can life emerge from death? Only God knows. And yet, Christ promises just such a miracle through the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit, come.

     All who are dwindling and dying . . .
     come forth to new life.
     All who are lying in darkness and despair . . .
     come out into the light.
     All who feel separated and alone . . .
     come to the presence of God, whose Spirit finds us here.

Hymn 84: Give to our God immortal praise
                  (Tune - Lasst Uns Erfreuen)

1 Give to our God immortal praise;
   mercy and truth are all his ways:
   wonders of grace to God belong;
   repeat his mercies in your song.

2 Give to the Lord of lords renown;
   the King of kings with glory crown:
   his mercies ever shall endure,
   when lords and kings are known no more.

3 He built the earth, he spread the sky,
   and fixed the starry lights on high:
   wonders of grace to God belong;
   repeat his mercies in your song.

4 He fills the sun with morning light;
   he bids the moon direct the night:
   his mercies ever shall endure,
   when suns and moons shall shine no more.

5 He sent his Son with pow'r to save
   from guilt and darkness and the grave:
   wonders of grace to God belong;
   repeat his mercies in your song.

6 Through this vain world he guides our feet,
   and leads us to his heavenly seat:
   his mercies ever shall endure,
   when this vain world shall be no more.

Give to Our God Immortal Praise
Isaac Watts, 1719. Ralph Harrison, 1784

Opening prayer

     Come, Holy Spirit. Breathe new life into our lives and our worship. Create new possibilities, in our imaginations and in our dreams. Send the promise of your hope into our depression and our despair. Expand our hearts and our minds, as we enter your presence this day. Amen.

A Prayer of Confession

God of new life and emerging possibilities forgive us when death and despair occupy our focus. Embolden our faith when your future feels out of reach. Strengthen our courage, that we might come forth into the light and life of your promises. In hope and trust, we pray. Amen.

Declaration of Forgiveness 

In God’s love, there is hope. In Christ’s forgiveness, there is peace. In the Spirit’s power, we are renewed and brought forth into life!
Thanks, be to God!

The Peace

Come out of your seats to share signs of new life and hope. Join one another in sharing signs of Christ’s peace.
Peace be with you!
And also, with you!

A Word with The Young People –

Has anyone ever had to perform mouth to mouth resuscitation – If you have been a member of the local Ambulance, St John’s Ambulance person a lifesaver   etc. you may have practiced this but never had to use it.  If you have, think about your experience - especially how you felt when the person began to breathe on their own and you knew that the person being resuscitated was going to live.

In all my years in Ambulance and the Medical area I have never had to myself, but I am told it is like a miracle when the person begins to breathe.

When people are physically saved by receiving a person’s breath or oxygen into their lungs, they are restored to be an active human person again.  Our reading today from the Old Testament tells us how God can breathe ‘new’ life into even dry bones so that they have life.  It’s a story that says that God can bring to life what appears to be totally life-less.  The Spirit of God dwells in us and so we are alive in a very special way - in ways that help us be more loving, more caring, more like Jesus. 

When we are alive in that special way - our hearts dance with joy - our next hymn tells how Jesus is Lord of that dance and how he gives us a life that’ll never, never die.

Offering Prayer

With these gifts, mighty God, bring forth new life and renewed hope. Work in us and through, that our lives and our gifts may become signs of life and hope for all to see. Amen

Hymn 242: Lord of the dance
                  (Tune – Lord of the Dance)

I danced in the morning when the world was begun,
and I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun,
and I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth,
at Bethlehem I had my birth.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
and I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
and I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

I danced for the scribe and the pharisee,
but they would not dance and they wouldn't follow me.
I danced for the fishermen, for James and John -
they came with me and the dance went on.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
and I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
and I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame;
the holy people said it was a shame.
they whipped and they stripped and they hung me on high,
and they left me there on a Cross to die.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
and I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
and I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black;
it's hard to dance with the devil on your back.
They buried my body and they thought I'd gone,
but I am the Dance, and I still go on.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
and I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
and I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

They cut me down and I leapt up high;
I am the life that'll never, never die;
I'll live in you if you'll live in me -
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
and I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
and I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

Words © 1963 by Stainer & Bell Ltd. (admin. by Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188).
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

                                                  The Service of the Word

The First Reading:                 Ezekiel 37:1-14             NEB page 647
The Gospel Reading:            John 11:23-45.             NEB page 822

Readings from NRSV Translation:

Ezekiel 37:1-14

1 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ 4 Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord .’7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus, says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 11 Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.

John 11:23-45

23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24 Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ 25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ 27 ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’ 28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. ‘The Teacher is here,’ she said, ‘and is asking for you.’ 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him.30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. 32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.34 ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ 37 But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’ 38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.39 ‘Take away the stone,’ he said. ‘But, Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.’ 40 Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’ 45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
For the Word of the Lord:
Thanks be to God

Preaching of the Word

It's Hard Getting God..., – John 11: 23-45

        It's hard getting God to obey us. After all we're the ones on the scene. We know what we need, or our congregation needs, or what we need as individuals. God should listen to us and take our advice. If God would only be here when needed, there would be no tragedy in our lives. That’s very true for us now as we face a major upheaval in our lives with the out fall from Covid-19. We want God to sort this out quick time and we know what God needs to do.

        I heard once of a popular doctor who was told that his best friend is dying. The doctor had a wonderful reputation for his healing skills. But he delays going to see his friend, and the friend dies. When the doctor arrives to console the relatives, his friend's practical and blunt sister says, "Where on earth were you when we needed you? You could have saved his life, but you had better things to do!"

        Our Gospel reading for today gives us a glimpse into our Lord's private life. Jesus made friends with Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. Word came that Lazarus had died. For reasons we can only guess, Jesus delayed going to see Mary and Martha. When he finally arrived, Lazarus has been dead for some while. Martha, the ever-practical sister, said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

        Martha was on the scene. She knew what could have been done. That simple statement contained both faith and reproach. "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." The statement reminds us that Martha believed Jesus could and would have healed his friend Lazarus. Because she believed she could also complain about Jesus' tardiness.

        Moments of grief may well produce the same partnership between faith and reproach in us. Someone we love dies. Surely our Lord would have done something to stop this tragedy? Where was he? It's not that we doubt. Either we don't understand, or we try to understand by grasping at unsatisfactory answers. "It was her time," we say, as if God sits around leisurely selecting at random those to die. If God is really like that, one wouldn't really like to have God as a friend!

        It's always good to ask a simple question when we say that God does something or other: "If a human did that sort of thing could she or he be admired?"

        Living in a congregation where only the faithful few attend worship can also be a grief experience. When a congregation member dies, or leaves the area, we try to make sense of our dilemma. "Why doesn't God do something about this situation?" we pray as we attend the quarterly Church Council meeting at which we discuss the fact that fewer people have to manage all the jobs, and funds dwindle while prices rise.

        In the first lesson today, we hear the familiar story of "Them dry bones. O hear the word of the Lord," as the old folk song puts it. Just before the verses we read this day, Ezekiel expresses confidence that Israel will come back into its own one day. Now that offers us hope at this time in our history. We too are promised that Gods beloved will come back into its own.

        Faced with the dichotomy between belief in God and confusion about why God didn't seem to do much to help the people, Ezekiel still believes. He is given a vision. He finds himself in a valley of dry bones. God tells Ezekiel to prophesy and to bid the wind blow life into the bones. God says, "Mortal, these bones are the whole House of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off for ever.'" Then Ezekiel speaks for God and says: "O my people, I will open your graves and bring you up from them and restore you to the land of Israel."

        Now for the final thread to weave together what the lessons have to say to us on this fifth Sunday in Lent. St. Paul in Romans 8:1-11 (which I haven’t written out in the readings for this service, but we can look at in our own Bibles) alludes to a dreadful institution: slavery. Slavery was widely practiced in the Roman Empire. We sometimes forget that it was practiced in this country not many years ago. While there are no slaves today, men and women of all ethnic backgrounds still find themselves tied to badly paying jobs, to hopeless relationships, to squalid living conditions because they lack the economic resources and the education, or "know-how," to break free. It is terrible to have no options.

        Slaves belonged to their owners and were to be obedient. As many slaves became Christians in Apostolic times, and some of them became deacons, priests, and bishops, slavery was a familiar institution to the early Christians. St. Paul points out that a slave must be obedient to something or other. Christians, like slaves, can be obedient to the things that bring life, or to the things that kill.

        Those people today who struggle with the power of addiction know the truth of this. It's not enough, for most, to walk away from addiction. Loving and supporting friends, groups like AA, and above all God's healing grace are constantly and always needed. It's so much easier to be enslaved even if we know that we may well kill ourselves in the process.

        We want to do something about those who are enslaved. We want to do something about churches and missions that seem to be dying. We want to ensure our survival through this current Pandemic that is isolating many of us from the community which gives us strength. We want to stop our friends and loved ones from dying. We constantly say to God, "If you had been here on time, you could have stopped this happening." We want to give God the answers. We are full of wonderful suggestions and if we are lucky, we get another committee formed, another pressure group recognised, and even some more legislation adopted by our human committees!

        The root problem is that we have not been let in on the whole story. Before Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, he said, as an aside: "Loving parent, I thank you for having heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." Out of the tragedy and sorrow of a friend's death comes good. It was not good that Lazarus died. Lazarus didn't die so that people might believe in Jesus. Death and life, evil and good, darkness and light are not each a separate thing. Good is merely evil put back on its feet again. Life is the positive end of death.

        Before we rush into situations blaming God for not turning up on time, we have to realize that we don't ever quite get the whole story. Instead of blaming God or suggesting that God has been absent, we need to believe that God and God's purpose are always at work. God does not will evil or tragedy. Yet God's love works good even at moments of personal or institutional despair.

        Asking for a vision may seem counter-cultural to us, but it is when we accept that God is at work and then seek to become part of God's solution, rather than part of our own problem, that miracles occur. Despite the destruction of Israel, Ezekiel hands things over to God and is given a vision of a restored, renewed, and living Israel. For all her grumbling, Martha handed over to Jesus and Lazarus came out of the tomb. When we are "enslaved to God," that is when we hand ourselves over to God's love and forgiveness, we find holiness and life.

        So in our prayers today let us ask God to give us the gift of loving God's purposes and promises, that our wills may be fixed on the essential and eternal Good which is always there, even when the world around us seems to be coming unglued.

Hymn 210: O for a thousand tongues to sing
                  (Tune – Lyngham)

1.  Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and king,
The triumphs of His grace!

2.  Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease—
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.

3.  He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

4.  He speaks, and, listening to His voice,
New life the dead receive,
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
The humble poor believe.

5.  Hear Him, you deaf; His praise, you dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
You blind, behold your Saviour come,
And leap, you lame, for joy

6.  My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad,
The honours of your name.

Thomas Jarman 1776 -1861
Charles Wesley 1707 - 1788

Intercessory Prayers  

(A suggested Intercession with your own petitions is below from “Prayers for All Seasons: Based on the RCL Year A. Wood Lake Publishing Inc. Kindle Edition. However, if you so desire you can use your own.)

God of light, we give thanks for the physical light and warmth that brighten our lives: the sun that rises and sets and offers us day and night; the moon that waxes and wanes and notes the passage of time; the stars that illuminate the sky and by which we measure space and mark the seasons.
Thank you for the gift of seeing, for the beauty we sense with our eyes; for the insights we perceive as we listen and learn; for the ability to reason and think ahead.
God of darkness, we give thanks for times and places where rest and growth can happen: the night time when we can sleep and be refreshed; the earth where seeds lie dormant and animals hibernate undisturbed; the womb where new life can grow in safety.
God of darkness and light, we confess that: We have sometimes ignored the insights we should have heeded or used our perspective for selfish gains. We have tried to force growth when we should have respected the darkness or chosen to stay in a comfortable place when we could have exposed our lives to the gentle scrutiny of your love.
We own that sometimes life has seemed like a deep ravine and we could not find your presence near us. We seek assurance of your goodness and mercy, wherever we may be on life’s journey.
For while we do see good and hopeful change, we also witness violence and dysfunction whereby the most innocent and vulnerable continue to be forgotten, abused, or treated as of no account. In your goodness and mercy, hear the prayers of our hearts: Change us, O God. Create within the desire and capacity for a love that can gently hold yet let go, that encounters all others with deep respect, and is concerned with others’ well-being above personal interest.
In your goodness and mercy, hear the prayers of our hearts: we are alive to your imaginings for a new world and ready to make a creative difference.


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. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.

Hymn 684: Love will be our Lenten calling
                   (Tune - Picardy)

1.  Love will be our Lenten calling,
love to shake and shatter sin,
waking every closed, cold spirit,
stirring new life deep within,
till the quickened heart remembers
what our Easter birth can mean.

2.  Peace will be our Lenten living
as we turn for home again,
longing for the words of pardon,
stripping off old grief and pain,
till we stand, restored and joyful,
with the Church on Easter day.

3.  Truth will be our Lenten learning:
hear the Crucified One call!
Shadowed by the Saviour’s passion,
images and idols fall,
and, in Easter’s holy splendour,
God alone is all in all.


        Let those who were languishing and dying rejoice.
       We go forth with the promise of life.
        Let those who have lain in the shadows of despair take heart.
        We go forth with the promise of light.
        Let those who have known the separation of loneliness feel union in life with the Spirit.
        We go forth revived by the Spirit to proclaim the glory of God.

        May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Hymn 777: May the Grace of Christ our Saviour
                  (Tune – Benjamin M Culli)

1 May the grace of Christ our Saviour
   and the Father's boundless love,
   with the Holy Spirit's favour,
   rest upon us from above.

2 Thus may we abide in union
   with each other and the Lord,
   and possess, in sweet communion,
   joys which earth cannot afford.

John Newton 1725-1807