Sunday 28th February 2021
A Covenant Worth Our Lives,
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 - (Abingdon Worship Annual 2018)
God’s voice calls to us, naming us in holy love. Christ’s voice chastens us, correcting us when we lose our way. The Spirit’s voice sounds within us, drawing us back to the paths of righteousness. God’s voice heals us, naming us as God’s own.
From generation to generation, God names us and claims us.
Let heaven and earth praise God’s holy name.
From our earliest steps, Christ guides our wayward feet. Let all who draw breath come back to the Lord.
From death to life, the Spirit sets us free.
Let the faithful rejoice in God’s holy covenant.
From generation to generation, God names us and claims us.
Let heaven and earth praise God’s holy name.
Hymn TIS 052: Let us sing to the God of salvation
(Tune – Sing Hosanna)
Spirit of the ages, as you called to Abram and Sarai, renaming them according to your purposes, call to us this day. Open our ears to the sound of your voice, that we may respond to your call and pick up our cross to follow you. Name us anew this day, and raise us to newness of life, that we may be children of your promise, people of your covenant, and disciples of your grace. Amen.
Prayer of Confession
God above every name, when our vision dims, and we prefer human thoughts to your thoughts, heal our eyes of faith.
Grace above every grace, when our suffering closes us off from the joy on the other side of suffering, grant us your strength to follow Christ in hope and promise.
Wisdom of the ages, when we seek to save our lives in destructive ways, love us back onto the right paths and restore us to life.
In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
Declaration of Forgiveness
By saying no to ourselves, and picking up our cross to follow Christ, we find ourselves. By saying yes to the good news of God’s Spirit working within us, we find faith and wholeness. God’s promises are sure, God’s love eternal.
Thanks, be to God!
Let all who would become Christ’s followers deny themselves and follow Christ in love and grace. Let all who seek freedom pick up their cross and follow him, even when the road is long. On this journey, let us turn to one another and share signs of grace and peace.
Peace be with you!
And also, with you!
(You may like to exchange a sign of peace with those around you.)
A Word with the Children/Young People
Theme - Discipleship is not easy
Object - A deck of cards and perhaps a book on magic tricks.
Scripture - Mark 8:31,34
I have a really cool card trick to show you this morning. (Shuffle the cards a couple of times.) First, I need a helper. (Choose a helper and continue.) I want you to pick a card out of this deck. Don't show it to me, but you can show everyone else. I'll cover my eyes so I can't see it. Now, I want you to carefully slide that card right into the middle of the deck.
Don't let me see it! Now, this is the amazing part. I am going to snap my fingers, and the card that you selected will move from the middle of the deck to the top of the deck. Are you ready? (Snap!) Here it is! Here is your card right on top. (Pick up the card and show it to your helper.)
That is your card, isn't it? It isn't? Well, I don't understand what happened. I bought this book to teach me how to do this trick and it didn't work. It said I should let you choose a card and put it in the middle of the deck and when I snapped my fingers it would move to the top. Oh, there was a bunch of other stuff I was supposed to do, but that stuff was all too complicated. I skipped over that part. It is supposed to be a magic trick, so I thought it would work at the snap of my fingers.
That was pretty foolish of me, wasn't it? Well, sometimes we think life should be that easy too, don't we? We think that everything should happen at the snap of a finger. When life is hard, we look for the easy way out.
That isn't anything new. People were like that in Jesus' day too. One day Jesus was talking to his disciples and he was telling them all he was going to have to suffer to save the world from sin. He told them how he was going to be made fun of, beaten, crucified, and buried, but that he would rise again on the third day. That was what his Father had sent him to do.
Peter had other ideas. He knew that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and that wasn't what he wanted for Jesus. There had to be an easier way. Well, it is true. There was an easier way. Jesus had the power. He could have taken the easy way out. He could have set up his kingdom right here on earth with the snap of his fingers. But that was not God's plan.
Jesus turned to Peter and scolded him. "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus said to Peter. "You don't have your mind on the things of God, you have your mind on the things of men!"
Jesus wasn't interested in taking the easy way out and he doesn't want us looking for the easy way out either. He said, "If anyone would follow me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
Being a disciple of Jesus is not easy. It doesn't happen with the snap of our fingers. It isn't easy, but the reward is great!
Bless us this day, Eternal God, that we may be a blessing to a world in need. Bless our gifts and our offerings in your name, that they may light the way home for those who have wandered far and lost their way. As these gifts go forth to do your work, may they help others hear you call their names and bring them peace. Amen
Hymn TIS 412: God sends us his Spirit to befriend
(Tune – Natomah)
The Service of the Word
The First Reading: Romans 4:13-25
The Gospel Reading: Mark 8:31-38
After the final reading the reader will say For the Word of the Lord
Please respond by saying Thanks be to God.
Readings: NRSV Translation
Romans 4: 13-25
13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17 as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations’, according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be.’ 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 Therefore his faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ 23 Now the words, ‘it was reckoned to him’, were written not for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
Preaching of the Word - A Covenant Worth Our Lives,
We human beings love our rules. The security that comes from knowing how things should be done comforts us in our chaotic world. God understands this about us, and so God comes to us in terms of covenant. In our lesson from Genesis, God provides a clear agreement that Abraham can refer to and rely on to know that God will come through on God’s promises. God willingly limits Godself out of love, knowing that making this clear and concrete covenant, promising to be our God forever and make our descendants fruitful, will bring us comfort and security.
Where we get into trouble is in thinking that our ideas about rules and regulations should govern God. Once we understand that God will always be faithful to us and care for us, we start to think we know better than God who God should be and how God should act. Consider Peter’s action in our gospel story today. At first, his boldness is shocking – how did he have the audacity to take Jesus aside and rebuke him? But when we examine our hearts, we might realize that we, too, have sometimes wanted to take Jesus aside and rebuke him.
Peter acts this way because he doesn’t like what Jesus is saying. How often have we felt that way ourselves? How often have we wanted to explain the realities of a harsh world to a Jesus who seems naïve and unrealistic in his expectations of us? What do you mean, sell everything we have and give it to the poor to follow you, Jesus? How can you expect us to “be perfect as your heavenly Parent is perfect”? It’s simply not realistic to “give to everyone who asks of you.”
The truth is that our human instinct is to remake Christ in our own image, rather than letting ourselves be transformed into Christ’s image. We want to dictate the terms of the covenant, but Jesus makes it clear that that impulse is from the darkness within us, and he will name it and call us out on it. Just a few short verses ago, Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah. Peter got it right! He knew the truth about Jesus and was not afraid to proclaim it. And yet barely a moment later, he has made such a mistake that Jesus is saying that evil is acting through him.
What we can learn from this is the truth that even after – perhaps especially after – our mountaintop experiences of revelation, we still have so very much to learn. Even as we gain more and more knowledge of Jesus and enter deeper and deeper into relationship with him, the mystery of his full nature grows at the same pace. Just because we know him doesn’t mean we get to tell him what to do, a lesson that Peter learned in this moment and that we will learn over and over again.
This gospel lesson is full of truths that are hard to hear. Peter’s expectations are dashed by what Jesus says. He and the other disciples have witnessed Jesus’ power – it was very natural for them to assume that Jesus would bring about the fullness of God’s covenant promises by overthrowing Rome and restoring the throne of Israel. Now Jesus tells them that he knows he will be defeated, arrested and killed – and he fully intends to let it happen.
This is a bitter, painful discovery for Peter and the others. It feels like a betrayal. “Jesus, you have the power of almighty God at your disposal. Rather than rescuing us from oppression, you’re going to give in and give up and let the Romans win again?”
This “gospel” Good News is the worst news imaginable.
What Peter doesn’t understand in this moment is that rather than betraying God’s covenant with Israel, Jesus is simultaneously fulfilling it and rewriting it. The original covenant promise to Abraham in our lesson from Genesis set for today which we haven’t read, was for many fruitful descendants, all of whom would be loved and protected by God. It was a covenant promising a future of life. Jesus is inviting us to a covenant of life also – but it is by following a very different path than we would expect. Jesus promises life to us if we have the courage to face death. Jesus promises that if we give our lives wholeheartedly to him and thereby to serving our neighbours, we will have rich and abundant life flowing through us, welling up to eternal life.
It is an enticing invitation – but a scary one. To know that Jesus is entering death willingly and expects us to do the same would give anyone pause. And while we know that one day, we will all confront literal, physical death, there are many other deaths awaiting us. We will face the death of our pride, the death of our comfortable ideas about what God is calling us to do and be, perhaps the death of our financial security and the death of our ambition and slavery to success. The covenant to which we are invited has very high stakes, and the urge to take Jesus aside and rebuke him as Peter did starts to make more and more sense.
It seems impossible, doesn’t it? It seems as farfetched to imagine ourselves brave enough to follow Jesus into death, to lose our lives to save them, as he says, as it did for Abraham and Sarah to have children in their old age. This covenant to which we are invited, this covenant that takes this strange and frightening path of cross-carrying and death, is only possible under one condition. We cannot make it on hard work or determination or power or strength.
Our lesson from Romans tells us what we need to enter into this covenant:
“It depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed. … Hoping against hope, [Abraham] believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations.’ … He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead. … No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”
Faith is the only bridge through death on the cross to the new life of resurrection with Jesus. But it is not a fairy-tale faith that closes its eyes and hopes for the best, blindly wishing for a happy ending. It is a faith that takes stock of the very real cost of discipleship to which Jesus calls us, the price up to and including our very lives, and deems it a worthy gift to the Christ who withheld nothing from us.
Some of us, including many of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world, may pay that cost of discipleship with their literal, physical lives. But most of us will not go out in a blaze of martyred glory. Most of us will carry the cross one small step at a time, one spiritual discipline at a time, one act of generosity or sacrifice or love at a time.
However, we carry the cross, the giving of our lives willingly to follow Jesus will manifest in one perhaps unexpected cost: the risk of being changed. When Abram and Sarai committed to God’s covenant with them, they were changed at such a fundamental level that they could no longer be known by their former names. The man and woman who were God’s covenant partners had to be known as Abraham and Sarah, names that echoed their former selves but were profoundly transformed, just like their lives and their souls.
This is the risk we take when we sign on to Jesus’ covenant of life, the journey with and through the cross and its transforming power, the road through death to resurrection. We will emerge on the other side with the building blocks of our souls familiar to us, but the temple of grace into which they have been built strange and new and glorious. We can finally let go of our urge to rebuke Jesus, to remake him to be like we think he should be, like ourselves, because we know through faith that he will remake us to be like him.
That’s a covenant promise worth our very lives.
Hymn TIS 657: God of Freedom, God of Justice
(Tune - Picardy)
Intercessory Prayers - Lent 2 Sunday – Year B –
God of promise and hope, we bring to you our prayers believing that with you all things are possible; hear the prayers we offer.
You promised to make Abraham the father of nations and through Sarah and Hagar your promise came to birth hear our prayers for the nations of the world.
We pray for peace among nations, especially Israel, Palestine and the Middle East; for an end to violence, cruelty and oppression; for just and responsible sharing of the resources of the world; for the leaders of nations and all with responsibility of government; for all who commit their lives to the pursuit of justice; for all who work for the preservation of the earth. God of hope, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
You promised a Messiah to bring salvation to your people, and through the obedience of Mary your promise came to birth hear our prayers for your holy, catholic church. We pray for a servant church where your gospel is proclaimed in deed and in word; for all leaders of churches, theologians and teachers; for those who take the gospel to distant or dangerous places; for all whose witness is met with apathy, ridicule or persecution; for unity and trust between Christians of different traditions; for understanding and respect between Muslims, Jews and Christians. God of hope, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
You promised to send a Comforter to your people, and in the coming of the Holy Spirit your promise was fulfilled: hear our prayers for all who are in pain or distress.
We pray for relief, comfort and healing for your suffering people; for the poor, the hungry and the homeless; for the lonely, the forgotten and the unwanted; for all who grieve the loss of loved ones; for the sick and those who care for them; for the dying and those who watch with them. God of hope, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
You promised that from death would come new life and in the resurrection of your Son your promise was fulfilled: remember, we pray, your faithful servants of every age.
We give you thanks for all who have received and believed your promises; for those whom we love who have gone to your heavenly presence. Inspire us with the faith of Abraham, the trust of Sarah, the courage of H agar, the obedience of Mary and the lives of all your saints and fill us with your grace, that in us and through us your promises may be fulfilled. God of hope and promise, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.
The Lord's Prayer
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. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from
evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever.
Hymn TIS 456: Your hand, O God, has guided...
(Tune – Thornbury)
Hear the voice of God calling your name.
We will follow where God leads us.
Hear the voice of Christ claiming you as his own.
We will live as brothers and sisters in faith.
Hear the voice of the Spirit sending you forth.
We will go where the Spirit sends us.
Go forth, called, named, and claimed by God.
Hymn TIS 779: May the feet of God walk with you
(Tune – Aubrey)