COCU20B.Lent 2B

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
God promises Abram and Sarai that they will be parents of many nations, that they will be blessed with many descendants and that kings will come from them. Therefore God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, and Sarai’s name to Sarah – Princess.
Psalm 22:23-31
God is praised and celebrated because God cares and provides for the oppressed, and all nations will come to worship God, both poor and prosperous, healthy and those close to death.
Romans 4:13-25
Abraham did not receive God’s promise through obeying the law, but through faith, and this faith was considered to be his righteousness – his approval by God. In the same way, when we place our faith in Christ, who died and was raised, it is considered our righteousness – our approval by God.
Mark 8: 31-38
Jesus predicts his death, but Peter objects. Jesus, then reprimands Peter, and tells all his followers that they must take up their crosses and follow him, not trying to save their lives, but willingly giving them up for the sake of the Gospel.

The Lectionary this week challenges what we understand by the word “faith”. What becomes clear here is that faith is not about some intellectual assent to certain propositions. Rather, faith is about the losing of our lives for the sake of the Gospel, which includes both the purpose to which we devote our lives, and the practices by which we seek to live out that purpose.
(Summaries of readings by John van der Laar, Sacredise)

Opening prayer: Faith that carries the cross
It is too easy, God
for faith to become an escape
– a way to avoid the pain of being human and alive;
or a path to success
– a way to pursuade the universe to give us the things we want;
or a system of control
– a way to bend others to our will
But the faith you offer is different, Jesus,
more dangerous and compelling;
It’s the faith that carries the cross,
that embraces death
and lays itself down for the sake of others;
It’s the only faith that can lead us to resurrecton
to life renewed and overflowing.
We praise you for this faith, God,
and open our hearts to receive it. Amen.
(Source: John van der Laar, Sacredise)

Call to Worship
(based on readings including Psalm 22 and Mark 8:31-38)
We come to worship this day from different places.
O God, do not be far from us.
We come to worship this morning for different reasons.
O God, do not be far from us.
We experience the presence of the Spirit in different ways.
O God, do not be far from us.
We hear Jesus’ words with different ears.
O God, do not be far from us.
“Deny yourselves.”
O God, do not be far from us.
“Take up your cross.”
O God, do not be far from us.
“Follow me.”
O God,
we thank you for drawing near to us
in this place,
in our lives.
(Source: Joanna Harader, Spacious Faith)

Prayer of confession/Prayers of who we are
(This prayer could form a reflective ‘prayers of who we are’, followed by silence and Words of Assurance)
No dying today

You keep talking about dying, Jesus;
about how life is found
not by white-knuckled clinging;
but by a prodigal losing.
We nod and smile, and ponder the deep significance of these words,
and then, with a slow sigh of relief,
we go back to our life-preservers;
our safe, protected worlds;
our well-sheltered, comfortable spirituality;
and we turn our eyes away from those who reach out to us,
those we could touch with Your life,
if only we would take the risk.
What were you thinking, Jesus?
Surely faith is about finding life,
not laying it down?
Surely we need to follow You in order to be sure
that life doesn’t end when we die?
There’ll be no dying today, Jesus – not if we can help it.
And if your promise is to be believed;
no dying at all – ever.
If only we could keep away the images of those others,
the different, the lonely, the misunderstood, and the forgotten,
the hungry, the abused, the least;
the ones in whose eyes we glimpse, in unguarded moments,
the outline of your face;
the ones in whose silence we hear a sound,
not unlike your voice,
inviting us to carry a cross.
A silence is kept, followed by words of assurance.
Source: John van der Laar, Sacredise)

The following prayer could also be used for a Prayer of Confession. It is inspired by Mark 8:35 – 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.
Simply invite people to sit with their hands open, as if releasing something precious. Allow silence to conclude.
Blessing in the Round
This blessing
cannot help it;
it’s the way
it was designed.
Lay it down
and it rises again.
Release it
and it returns.
Give it away
and it makes a path
back to you.
There is no explaining
how it delights
in reappearing
when you have ceased
to hold it,
no hiding the sly smile
it wears
when it shows up
at your door,
no mistaking the wonder
when it circles back around
just at the moment
you thought you had
spent it completely,
had poured it out
with abandon
where you saw
the deepest thirst for it,
had put it entirely
in the hands
of those desperate
in their hunger.
But here it is,
the perfect circle of it
pressing into your hand
that curls around it
and then lets go,
and releasing
and receiving again
like the breath
that does not belong to us
but sets us in motion.
(Source: Jan Richardson, The Painted Prayerbook)

If any want to become my followers,let them deny themselves
and take up their cross and follow me. Mark 8.34

Crucified One,
give me grace to enter the wound of the world,
to accompany those who suffer,
to willingly suffer for others’ sake,
not for the purpose that I meet you there,
which gives me joy,
but that I meet them there –
not that they may be a means to my joy,
but that I be a means to theirs.
Help me trust that you are with me on the cross
not for my sake but for theirs.
Let your love in me overwhelm my fear
and transform my selfishness.
Give me true self-giving love,
which is the only joy. Amen.
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)

Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me – Mark 8.34
Abandon the illusion you’re a self-contained individual.
Be a part of this wounded world,
and find yourself with Christ.

Set aside your own desires,
give yourself fully for others;
be the hands and heart of Jesus.

Renounce self-protection,
accept your brokenness,
and reach out for love.

Let go of your own plans.
Join in the healing of the world.
You will not be alone.

Follow your soul, not your ego.
Follow it right into people’s suffering.
Follow it right into the heart of God.

Pour yourself out;
let the world pour in;
then you are one with the Beloved.
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)

Prayer reflection (inspired by Romans 4.18 where Paul writes that, “Hoping against hope…” Abraham continued to believe the promise of God)
Hope nonetheless.
Hope despite.
Hope regardless.
Hope still.
Hope where we had ceased to hope.
Hope amid what threatens hope.
Hope with those who feed our hope.
Hope beyond what we had hoped.
Hope that draws us past our limits.
Hope that defies expectations.
Hope that questions what we have known.
Hope that makes a way where there is none.
Hope that takes us past our fear.
Hope that calls us into life.
Hope that holds us beyond death.
Hope that blesses those to come.
(Source: Jan Richardson, The Painted Prayerbook)

Prayers for illumination here

Reflections on the Gospel: Weekly Seeds Lent B – Kate Huey – UCC

Reflecting on El Shaddai
God appears to Abram when he is 99 years old in Genesis 17:1 and says to him, “I am [El Shaddai]; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” God continues on in the theme of blessings through children in the rest of chapter 17, changing Abram (“respected parent”) to Abraham (“progenitor of a multitude”) and Sarai (a name for a barren mountain in the area) to Sarah (“noblewoman”).
Through the ages, translators and scholars have only guessed at the meaning of El Shaddai. El Shaddai is usually rendered as “God Almighty,” assuming that the root “shad” must refer to the Hebrew word shadad meaning “to violently destroy” or to a word in the Akkadian language, shaddu, meaning “mountain.” There are a few verses in the post-patriarchal period for which the judging, destroying meaning of Shaddai would fit (e.g. Is. 13:6; Joel 1:15). However, as you’ll see, the early use of El Shaddai and Shaddai fully employed the word shad which means “breast” in Hebrew.
Old Testament scholars, like David Biale, have answered affirmatively that El Shaddai is indeed the God with breasts. Shad for a woman’s breast is used multiple times in the Bible (Gen. 49:25; Job 3:12; Psalm 22:9; Song 1:13; 4:5; 7:3, 7, 8; 8:1, 8, 10; Isa. 28:9; Lam 4:3; Ezek. 16:7; 23:3 and others). The ending –ai is the way of making a Hebrew word plural possessive (“my breasts”). With El referring to God-as-power, the essential meaning of El Shaddai is “the divine power of my breasts.” David Biale notes in “The God with Breasts: El Shaddai,” “…all of the passages using El Shaddai in Genesis, with one exception, are fertility blessings.” The blessings of the breast, in fact. In ancient times, breast milk nourished babies and children until they were three-years old. Mothers could feed their babies by breast-milk even when other food was scarce. It ensured the survival of people groups, such as the Israelites. (See my post, Divine Breasts, for more about the gift of breast milk).
(Source: Susan Harrison, The Mother God Experiment website)

Frederick Buechner always had a fascination with the OT reading, referring to it numerous times in many of his books.  Here is a passage called “Sarah,” originally from Peculiar Treasures and later published in Beyond Words:
Quantitatively speaking,  you don’t find all that much laughter in the Bible, but, qualitatively, there’s nothing quite like it to be found anywhere else. There are a couple of chapters in the book of Genesis that positively shake with it. Sarah was never going to see ninety again, and Abraham had already hit one hundred, and when the angel told them that the stork was on its way at last, they both of them almost collapsed. Abraham laughed “till he fell on his face” (Genesis 17:17), and Sarah stood cackling behind the tent door so the angel wouldn’t think she was being rude as the tears streamed down her cheeks. When the baby finally came, they even called him “Laughter” – which is what Isaac means in Hebrew – because obviously no other name would do.
Laughter gets mixed up with all sorts of things in the Bible and in the world too, things like sneering, irony, making fun of, and beating the competition hollow. It also gets mixed up with things like comedians and slipping on banana peels and having the soles of your feet tickled. There are times when you laugh to keep from crying, like when the old wino staggers home in a party hat, or even in the midst of crying, like when Charlie Chaplin boils his shoe for supper because he’s starving to death. But 100 percent, bonded, aged-in-the-wood laughter is something else again.
It’s the crazy parrot squawks that issue out of David as he spins like a top in front of the ark (2 Samuel 6:16-21). It’s what the Psalms are talking about where they say, “When the Lord had rescued Zion, then our mouth was filled with laughter” (126:1-2), or where they get so excited they yell out, “Let the floods clap their hands, let the hills sing for joy together!” because the Lord has come through at last (98:8). It’s what the Lord himself is talking about when he says that on the day he laid the cornerstone of the earth “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7), and it’s what the rafters ring with when the Prodigal comes home and his old crock of a father is so glad to see him he almost has a stroke and “they began to make merry” and kept on making merry till the cows came home (Luke 15:24). It’s what Jesus means when he stands in that crowd of cripples and loners and oddballs and factory rejects and says, “Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21). Nobody claims there’s a chuckle on every page, but laughter’s what the whole Bible is really about. Nobody who knows a hat from home plate claims that getting mixed up with God is all sweetness and light, but ultimately it’s what that’s all about too.
Sarah and her husband had had plenty of hard knocks in their time, and there were plenty more of them still to come, but at that moment when the angel told them they’d better start dipping into their old-age pensions for cash to build a nursery, the reason they laughed was that it suddenly dawned on them that the wildest dreams they’d ever had hadn’t been half wild enough.

From Frederick Buechner’s Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale.  San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1977, pp. 49-50.
“The place to start is with a woman laughing.  She is an old woman and, after a lifetime in the desert, her face is cracked and rutted like a six-month drought . . . She is laughing because she is pushing ninety-one hard and has just been told she is going to have a baby.  Even though it was an angel who told her, she can’t control herself, and her husband can’t control himself, either.  He keeps a straight face a few seconds longer than she does, but he ends by cracking up, too.  Even the angel is not unaffected.  He hides his mouth behind his golden scapular, but you can still see his eyes.  They are larkspur blue and brimming with something of which the laughter of the old woman and her husband is at best only a rough translation.  The old woman’s name is Sarah, of course, and the old man’s name is Abraham, and they are laughing at the idea of a baby’s being born in the geriatric ward and Medicare’s picking up the tab.  They are laughing because the angel not only seems to believe it but seems to expect them to believe it too.  They are laughing because with another part of themselves they know they do believe it . . . They are laughing at God and with God.”

Radical Gratitude resource – Lent 2B radical_gratitude Lent 2B

Thom Shuman weekly posting using RCL readings: Thom Shuman – Lent 2B




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Rev Sandy Boyce is a Uniting Church in Australia Minister (Deacon). This blog may be a help to people planning worship services.
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