COCU20C.Lent 2C

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18: Abram’s faith leads him into relationship with God (righteousness) and God makes a covenant with Abram, promising him that he will have a son to be his heir, and descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Psalm 27: A song of assurance for God’s protection and care, expressing the longing to live in God’s sanctuary and find refuge there. In addition, the psalmist asks for God’s mercy and rescue from his enemies.

Philippians 3:17-4:1: Paul’s encouragement for believers to stay true for the sake of Christ, and to remember their heavenly priorities, following his example of faithfulness.

Luke 13:31-35: Jesus is warned that Herod wants to kill him, and dismisses this as his face is set toward Jerusalem. Then he laments over the city which fails to heed the prophets.

See Components of Worship – Generic on home page (COCU Year C Index) for links to general worship resources that may be used to prepare worship this week. 

‘Go to’ websites: Textweek and Singing from the Lectionary

Sermon on Herod the Fox by Adam Ericksen after the NZ shootings, 15th March 2019

Call to Worship (based on Psalm 27)
God is my light, my hope, my all in all: whom shall I fear?
God is the stronghold of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing I asked of God: let me live in the shelter of you, 

in the beauty of your realm, in the wonder of your house.
We seek your face, God! Do not turn aside!
Teach us your way, God, show us your path through all that life brings.
We shall see the blessing of God: come, Holy Spirit!

Gathering prayer: Be still
We are made for more.
More than work, worry, and doing.
We are made for the Sabbath.
To be present with the divine spirit of hope, truth, and love.
Just as the creating One rested, we too rest.
We too must rejuvenate and reboot.
Trust enough to let go.
To let go of control,
to let go of anxiety,
and the way of the world.
Be present. Be with. Be still. Amen.
(Source: Tim Graves, Liturgy Bits)

Gathering Meditation
Our greatest enemy is fear
Fear that we are not good enough
Fear that we have not worked hard enough
Fear that we will not live long enough
To see the goodness of God in our lives.
Grasping fear
That even what we have
Will be taken away.
And sometimes it is taken away.
Sometimes, we do lose
What we thought we could not live without
And are surprised when life goes on.
It is then that we discover
God, who is always faithful
God, who can always be trusted
Knows us better than we know ourselves.
(Source: UMC Discipleship)

Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Luke 13.34
Gather me, Mother Christ.
I am your wayward child,
impetuous and free,
defiantly lonesome,
wholly at risk without you.
Never mind my rebelliousness,
my fear of your fierce adoration,
how I disbelieve
how deeply I need your love
and how deeply you give it.
Gather me in, Mother Christ,
with all your little ones, all of them.
Embrace me, hold me, long and gentle,
for I am tired and afraid
and will run no more.
I am willing.
Gather me in.
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)

Call to prayer
When confidence in our way of life is shaken,
to whom do we turn for comfort?
We look to friends, we cling to loved ones,
we grope for answers in familiar, sacred places.
How shall we find strength to recover?
Where do we find heart and hope to go on?
Our hope is in God alone,
the Shepherd of our Souls, our sheltering Fortress
(Source: Life in Liturgy)

God, we are too well aware that life brings us pains, doubts, uncertainties.
We remember that Abram was filled with questioning,
the early church surrounded by threats,
Jesus himself confronted with fearful powers.
In the midst of that awareness,
we call upon you, our everlasting refuge.
Remember your people, God.
We long for a way through the frights of the world;
we pray for your support.
Come, Holy One; come, Spirit of Life.
Come into this holy place and this holy hour,
and fill us again with assurance of your grace.
We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.
(Source: John A. Nelson, UCC Worship Ways)

Call to Worship
Today, God comes to us,
to gather us in worship:
to wait in silence for the Word,
to sit at the Table of grace.
Tomorrow, the Word of God comes,
calling us to go forth to serve:
to bring hope to those who have none,
to love all tossed aside by indifference.
The next day, and the next day,
the Holy Spirit will come:
so we might discover the gift of peace,
and offer it to our broken world.
(Source: Thom Shuman, Lectionary Liturgies)

Prayer of the Day
Today, you are on your way,
Reckoner of the righteous,
gathering your children into your arms
and offering them to us as precious gifts,
so, through our sisters and brothers,
we might be blessed.
Tomorrow, you are on your way,
Pilgrim of the Passion,
looking back to see if
we will dare to follow you,
imitating your every act
of compassion and justice.
The next day, you will be on your way,
Spirit with confidence in us,
transforming our humiliation
into grace,
sheltering fear-filled people
under the wings of your peace.
Today, tomorrow, and the next day,
we will seek to be faithful,
God in Community, Holy in one. Amen
(Source: Thom Shuman, Lectionary Liturgies)

Prayer (inspired by Psalm 27)
O God, you promise to hide me in your shelter in the day of trouble,
and to conceal me in the corner of your tent.
When I am overwhelmed
by my own needs and the needs of the world,
I know that I can come and hide with you.
When changing the world seems too much
and the needs of others weigh upon me,
I know that you will give me space to think and rest.
When life just feels too much and the anxiety in me is great,
you offer me solace and a space to be.
And when you make me ready, I will follow you.
When you gather my courage, I will go where you lead me.
With your love inspiring me, I will speak and act in your name. Amen.
(Source: Susan Durber, Christian Aid website)

Prayer of Confession
We hear the call to trust in God always,
But honestly, some days our stresses and doubts
are even more real to us than God, and trust is elusive.
We remember how Abram dared to believe in God’s promises,
But belief like that is hard to come by. We are often inclined to think,
“God helps those who help themselves,”
instead of daring to rely on the word of our Creator.
When the world seems filled with dangers, we can be quick to protect ourselves,
And we forget the wisdom of scripture, which reminds us that we find traces of evil both outside and inside of ourselves.
With God’s help, we confront our fears and struggles,
and we call upon a power greater than our own to resist their pull.
Hear us, Holy One, as we confess our frailty and failings.
Silent prayers of confession

Words of Assurance
Though fear should beset us; though danger cause us to close up our doors;
though troubles assail and lead us away from the ways of grace;
only one thing is necessary:
just turn back to God’s promise of grace.
Remember that God is reaching out with loving arms,
and let yourself be held.
Only ask for forgiveness, and it is ours:
know that in this moment we have asked and in Christ Jesus, we are forgiven.
Thanks be to God! Amen.
(Source: John A. Nelson, UCC Worship Ways)

Call to Reconciliation
Join me in imitating all who have gone before us, who trusted that if they spoke of their misdeeds and hollow hearts, God would not only hear them, but forgive them. Let us pray together. 
Offered a feast at grace’s table, God of the covenant,
we choose to gorge ourselves on the empty calories of greed.
Invited to live in your house,
we move into death’s fear-infested boarding house.
Though you promise to be with us,
we toss you aside, chasing after those who will abandon us at the first chance.
But you will not let the foxes of foolishness devour us, Mothering God, but will gather us under the shelter of your love. You do so in order to give us that peace which heals us, that wonder which surprises us, and that faith which enables us to let go of the present to walk into the covenant of grace made possible through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Silence is kept
Assurance of Pardon 
God does not abandon us. Like a border collie, God gathers us up, leading us to that shelter of love and life.
Today, tomorrow, and the next day, God’s grace rests upon us and gives us hope and mercy. Thanks be to God! We are forgiven. Amen.
(Source: Thom Shuman, Lectionary Liturgies)

Prayer of Dedication
God of all goodness, we thank you for your blessings:
more numerous than the stars;
more bountiful than the greatest of harvests;
more steady than the beat of our hearts.
Here we dedicate our gifts
and rededicate ourselves to your vision of hope and wholeness.
May all that we do and all that we give be pleasing to you,
and a testimony to your loving purposes.
We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.
(Source: John A. Nelson, UCC Worship Ways)

Offertory Prayer
O God, we thank you for your great generosity. All that we are and all that we have is a gift from you. Help us to serve one another and so reflect your spirit and goodness. Accept these offerings and grant that the cause to which they are devoted may prosper under your guidance.
(Source: Life in Liturgy)

Prayer of Dedication/Offering
As you have blessed us beyond all expectation and need, we would join in imitating you, by offering gifts which will bring hope, healing, and help to those who struggle in this life. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
(Source: Thom Shuman, Lectionary Liturgies)

(could be used as part of Prayers for others)
They said, “Herod wants to kill you.”

He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me,
‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow,
and on the third day I finish my work.’” – Luke 13.31-32
Crucified and Risen One,
give me your courage to hope in the face of evil.
Give me your patience to serve under stress.
Give me your faith to work for justice
in the face of threat and opposition.
Give me your pluck to persevere when it is hard.
Give me your love, for love itself changes the world.
May I meet fear with healing and hate with love,
side by side with you, who die and rise daily with me. Amen.
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)

Prayers for others: Breathe life (based on Psalm 27)
(includes a sung response eg Christopher Willcock’s Do not be afraid I am with you, or John Bell’s Don’t be afraid, or Taize O Lord hear my prayer)

In all the places folk
are assailed by evildoers,
feel devoured by adversaries and foes;
in all the places folk
are found in war zones,
battlefields, overcome
by the violence of the world. 
May your song comfort and encourage:
sung response
In all the places folk
are fearful, despairing,
lonely, searching for belonging;
in all the places folk
yearn for refuge,
release, shelter, peace. 
May your song comfort and encourage:
sung response
In all the places folk
long to sing, to shout for joy,
but find their voices stifled,
their song muted;
in all the places folk
lift their voices for help,
for dignity, for respect
for their humanity.
May your song comfort and encourage:
sung response
In all the world
may the song of God breathe life,
renewing, restoring, life. Amen.
(Source: Sarah Agnew, Pray the Story)

Listen carefully (Luke 13:31–35)
the fox can have his den,
his thieving paws their gold,
for now.
the city can have her children,
her walls their stones,
for now.
for, now I work my way to you,
and then you’ll have me, too.
But, for now, I have my work to do,
to gather the willing, and then –
then the fox will steal my life,
the city will cast her stones;
then at last you will see
me: and now, your house is safe,
until –
until the time that comes
is here; until you shout a blessing
upon the one who comes,
he comes, in the name of the Lord,
he comes, for now,
he comes: for you!
(Source: Sarah Agnew, Pray the Story)

God is our light, our hope, our all in all:
Blessed be God, now and forever!
Christ is our home, our life, our joy:
Blessed be God, now and forever!
Our worship concludes; our service continues.
Blessed be God, now and forever! Amen. 
(Source: John A. Nelson, UCC Worship Ways)

Psalm 27
You are my light and my help
Whom should I fear?
You are the fortress of my life
Whom should I dread?
When the narrow ones gather their strength to devour me
It is they who stumble and fall
Even if a royal army were camped outside my gate
My heart would not fear
And when they struck out with terrible weapons
against me
Even then I’d trust
One thing I ask for, one thing I hope – 
To live in your house
All the days of my life
To behold your loveliness
Every morning in the light of your temple dawn
Til on a doomful day
You secure me in your precincts
Conceal me within the folds of your covering tent
Place me high and safe upon a rock
My head lifted above the engulfing waves
With the joy of my heart
I will sacrifice
Within that billowing shelter
Singing and playing my abandonment to you
Hear my voice when I raise it up
Be gracious – answer me –
Speaking with your voice my heart sang.
Seek my presence.
I will.
Do not hide your glowing face from me
Do not reject me in anger because of my shortcomings
You have always been for me
Don’t cast me off now, don’t walk away
My helper, my friend
My mother and father forsake me
But you take me up
Show me the way!
Guide my steps on the clear path
Against the ever-present cliffs and thickets
Protect me from the noise of desire and hatefulness
From false words and shouted accusations
If I did not have faith in your rightness That it would bloom in this living land –
It is unthinkable
I wait only for you
With strength and good courage – 
I wait only for you
(Source: Norman Fischer from Opening to You: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms)

LUKE 13:31-35
A triangulated relationship,
Herod, Jesus, ‘some Pharisees’,
persecutor, victim, rescuer;
or so we might think.

This prophet will not be drawn:
so much to do
so little time in which to do it
and neither Herod
nor these ‘rescuers’
will be so easily rid of him.

They’ve dispatched his kind before
but Jerusalem the unpeaceful,
that clutch of frightened chickens,
will have to wait
until Jesus enters on a donkey.
(Source: Jeff Shrowder, 2013, The Billabong)

cluck, cluck
surely you meant an eagle, majestic and soaring above mountaintops, with an inscrutable eye on all below;
or maybe it was a stork, bringing good luck (even a baby?) to the house it visits;
perhaps a nightingale, singing to cheer our solitude;
an owl, imbuing us with wisdom;
the wild goose whose dignity belies its free spirit . . .
but a chicken?
squawking, clucking, scrabbling around in the dirt for food, gawkily flapping her wings, while scrabbling about to protect her chicks who are doing everything they can to get away from her . . .
. . . that’s your image of God?
(Source: Thom M. Shuman)

Stardust and Promise (inspired by Genesis 15: 10-18)
Once there was a traveller who had seen many things in his days for he was an old traveller and was settling down to retire. He had seen all he wanted to see but he was a disappointed man. Even though he had seen many lands, even though he had seen his wealth grow, he had no children and this disappointed him.
But just when he was about to slip into being a sad old man he was turned towards the night sky and God said, ‘I dare you, if you can, count the stars.’
And Abraham went silent. “I am an old man. I can hardly see the stars to count them and I am old enough as it is! How old do you think I’d be by the time I counted even a small portion of the stars?”
And God said “My childless friend, those stars have names, each a name of one of your children for you will have more children in generations to come than there are stars in the sky.”
Abraham, who had been holding his breath, breathed again, a great sign of faith. He realised he was not going to be settling down after all and from that day on, whenever night came, you could hear him counting quietly to himself.
And here we are, made of stardust and promise. Abram’s children and still counting.
(Source: Roddy Hamilton, Mucky Paws)

Prayer for others
O God, you know us better than we know ourselves. You know what we are able to bear, and you know what would destroy us (1 Corinthians 10:13). We pray for all who face danger on this day both in our community and in the communities of our world. We pray for people standing in lines for food and water, for people without permanent housing, and for those who have been tragically bereaved. We pray for the unemployed, the underemployed and for those in fear of losing their jobs. We pray for all who stand bravely for Christ on this day and for all who wait patiently on your promises. Remind all who struggle that they are not forsaken and that their faith in you is not misplaced. Open our hearts to respond to the needs of a hurting world. Make us your hands and feet and walk us into places where people need you most. May we follow the path of Jesus, wherever it needs to take us so that you might be glorified on this earth.
(Source: UMC Discipleship)

Looking up – Stars (a reflection)
1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. One septillion in the American counting system, 1 quadrillion in the European – it is a rough estimate of just how many stars there might be. [1] Admittedly, it is probably a gross underestimate. The simple question that asks how many stars are in existence baffles even the most astute 21st century scientific minds, let alone one man in antiquity having a conversation with God under the night sky.
Last week, we looked to the land, the tilled earth, and the fruits that came from it, to ground us in our journey toward the heart of God in this Lenten season. We encountered a promise of story, identity, and at last, celebration. This week, we turn our gaze upward, aspiring to imitate our Creator, the source of our promise, our dreams, and our guiding star along our Lenten pathway.
Just as far as the stars are from us, God’s promise seems very far off from Abram. Abram yearns for something closer and more concrete – the solid weight of a newborn heir in his arms or the firm ground beneath his feet in a place he could call finally call home. Perhaps star-gazing wasn’t enough for this paragon of faith. Perhaps, with Abram, we know we are in good company when we question and impatiently demand that we see proof of God’s promises kept.
Humans are meant for stargazing. From the earliest civilizations, humanity tended to look to the sky for answers to all sorts of questions. People have marked celestial movements with great enthusiasm, and sometimes, with great fear. Perhaps if they looked up at the night sky, they would find their place in the grand scheme of things. Or perhaps they believed that if they understood this one thing, then all the rest of their questions would melt away. Life would make sense. The orderly beauty of the night sky is undeniable. It is like a living dream.
When we look up at the night sky, we see the same stars that Abram did that night that he asked tough questions of God, the same stars that the magi did as they read the sky in search of a new king who would free his people, the same stars that made the psalmist break out in song and claim that God had a name for each one of them (Psalm 147:4). What happens, though, when God and God’s promises seem as distant as the stars themselves? What happens when a family who has prayed for years for a child asks with Abram, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless?” What happens when someone loses a house, a job, health care, and in the struggle to survive, asks: “O Lord, God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” Certainty is elusive in the world in which we live. Each of us has members in our congregations that are waiting in the dark for urgent prayers to be answered and God’s promise to come into fruition. How do we keep faith burning brightly in our hearts when the stars that are meant to guide us grow dim and cold?
Until this moment in Genesis, Abram has unquestioningly done everything that God had asked of him. He left his homeland, built some altars, made some bad decisions, parted from some of his family, all the while following God’s promises of land and descendants like a trail of blessings. As chapter 15 opens, however, Abram has begun to question whether this promise of land and offspring will ever come to pass. It appears Abram is willing to have faith up to a point, then the fulfillment of the promises of God become implausible. That is precisely when the questions, confusion, fear, and obstinance set in.
Abram is walking the quintessential human journey of faithfulness in God. If we are grounded in our faith when we begin our journey, we too trust in the promises of God. If we keep walking on our journey and those promises don’t seem to be any nearer, then we start questioning – our own faith, God’s faithfulness, the possibility of our dreams, the hurt of human suffering, the fear that we were wrong to trust in the first place. It is a painful place to be, sitting on the ground and staring up at a sky that seems as far away as we can imagine. It is precisely this experience that is a catalyst for our growth in faithfulness, as it was Abram’s. It is in the questioning that Abram learns to trust again. Lent, as we know, is a transformation of the heart. Question by question, Abram’s heart is being shaped into a more trusting form. Perhaps for those in your congregations, dear preachers, they might need to learn the same lesson this Lent as they explore their own wildernesses and dreams, as they count the stars. Their hearts are just as pliable (and fragile) as Abram’s.
Abram sets a familiar pattern for Lent and our cycle of faith, doubt, and finally trust. What the lectionary reading leaves out is the part of Abram’s dream that says before God’s promises will be fulfilled (and they will be because God always keeps God’s promises), there will be a time of struggle and hardship. Just like the lectionary, we tend to want to skip over that piece. Four hundred years is a long time to keep trusting, keep moving, keep following God through a land that is not our own. But this is what this long season of Lent is about. We are given time in the wilderness to ask the tough questions and learn to trust our heart to God’s heart, our steps to God’s pathway. The way may be long and winding, but the God who set the stars in motion will guide us on our journey. And perhaps the next time that we look up at the septillion stars, we might trust that God has put just one there so that we might find our way home.
(by Rev Todd Pick and Rev Jennifer Pick, UMC Discipleship Ministries

Covenant Making in the Ancient Near East
Covenants were made by dividing animals in half on each side of a ditch. The blood of the animals would pool in the ditch. Participants in the covenant would walk through the ditch, symbolizing that if they failed to keep their promises, the other party of the covenant would be free to do to them what had been done to the animals. In this story, God takes the sole responsibility to walk through the bloody ditch, symbolized by a “smoking fire pot and flaming torch.” God, in no uncertain terms to Abram, demonstrates how serious God is in fulfilling covenant promises. Once again, we see God taking the initiative in making a covenant.
(Source: UMC Discipleship Ministries)

Communion – Prayer of Thanksgiving
We praise you, Lord, for sending your only Son Jesus to live among us, to make you known to all who receive him. Sharing our joy and sorrow, he healed the sick, befriended sinners, and showed us the way to fulfillment in partnership with others. He sent his disciples forth with courage to extend your promise of friendship and love, and still he calls us to work in your spirit of love. Even having taken up his cross and dying that we might live, he overcame death and is risen in power. He is still the friend of sinners. We trust him to overcome every power that can hurt or divide us, and believe that when he comes again in glory, we will celebrate victory with him throughout eternity at his heavenly table.
(Prayer of Consecration) Pour out your Spirit upon us and upon these gifts, that this bread and cup may be for us the body and blood of Christ, and that we, and all who share this feast, may be one with Christ and he with us. Through him, with him, and in him, in the power of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor be to you, O God, now and forever. Amen.
(Source: Life in Liturgy)

Sermon by Rev Deacon Kristi Neal

Communion Liturgy (Thom Shuman)

Great Prayer of Thanksgiving
May God gather you around this Table.
And you as well.
Let us bring our hearts to our God.
We offer them to the One who hears us when we sigh.
Rejoice in the One who shelters us with grace.
Our heads and hearts are lifted in glad cries of joy.
Spoken into the silence, God of shelter,
your Word came with generous gifts, 
The beauty of creation that was a refuge for those
you created to be citizens of grace,
but our hearts questioned your motives,
as we foolishly cast our votes for sin.
Prophets came to remind us of your ways,
but we continued to walk the crooked paths leading to death.
So you gave us your Child, the One who came
so we might see your face.
As we seek to set aside our fears,
as we would be gathered to you,
we offer our cries of joy:
Holy, holy, holy are you, God our shelter of grace.
All creation makes melody to you.
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!
You are holy, Speaking God,
and your Word comes in Jesus.
With you forever and ever,
he left your side to gather us from all
the foolish places we had wandered.
Though we were anything but,
he reckoned us to be righteous, heirs of the covenant.
Knowing us as sisters and brothers in grace,
he faced our enemy sin on the cross,
having the faith to let go of the present
to walk into God’s covenant we know as the resurrection.
Today, tomorrow, the next day and the next,
as we seek to follow Jesus on the way,
we proclaim that mystery we know as faith:
Christ died, gather up our sins to take them away;
Christ was raised, gathered up from the grave;
Christ will come, to gather us up in God’s love forever.
Here, in the bread and the cup,
anointed by your Holy Spirit,
the Word comes, calling us
to taste life and to drink of grace.
The brokenness of the bread
is what makes us whole
so we might challenge the ‘foxes’
of our time and break their power
over the vulnerable and voiceless.
The richness of the cup’s hope
fills us with your gifts to share:
hope for those who despair,
comfort for all who grieve,
justice for the oppressed.
And when all our words have turned to dust,
your Word will come again,
to gather us up in the shelter
of your eternal grace and glory,
where we will forever sing your praise,
God in Community, Holy in One. Amen.

Today, tomorrow, and the next day, go with God:
we will take the Word of grace into our world.
Today, tomorrow, and the next days, go with Jesus:
we will shelter those who have nowhere else to go.
Today, tomorrow, and all the days to come, go with the Spirit:
we will gather the forsaken into our hearts.
(Source: Thom M. Shuman, Lectionary Liturgies)


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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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