March 21, 2021 – Fifth Sunday in Lent
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Message from the Rev. Bob Smith
We continue our Lenten journey toward the cross, seeking to be faithful to the Saviour in whose steps we follow. While we remain apart, by the power of the Spirit we are together, bound to one another by the ties of the faith that we share. For a year or so now, we have been living under pandemic restrictions, and for much of that year, have not been able to worship in person. A year ago, I’m not sure how many of us would have predicted our exile would be this long, but we have journeyed through it together, helped on our way by the staff and members of the congregation who made sure we remained connected. Thank God for them! Our sanctuary may be empty now, but our hearts are full of love, both for one another, and for the God who call us.
We pray that these worship resources may continue to minister to us along the way, and speak to us of the presence of the One who walks with us.
Blessings to you all,
Rev. Bob Smith
Call to Worship: PWS&D Liturgy for Lent
Spoken by One (L) / Spoken by All (P)
L: We are closer to the events in Jerusalem every day.
P: We are pilgrims on a journey.
We are travelers on the road.
L: When your people were slaves, you led the faithful through the waters and set them free. But we struggle with the freedom you give us.
P: We are pilgrims on a journey.
We are travelers on the road.
L: Always you reach out to us. Yet so often we have ignored your open arms and fled from your grace and freedom—and our responsibility.
P: We are pilgrims on a journey.
We are travelers on the road.
L: Let us pray.
All: Loving God, you have loved us beyond all measure, but we continue to look for life outside of your embrace. On this journey, remind us that true freedom comes in obedience to you and following where you lead. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
Book of Praise – 209 “O love that wilt not let me go”
- Video with on-screen words, exactly as in the hymnbook.
- Words (1882) by Scottish minister and hymnwriter George Matheson (1842–1906). Music (1884; tune “St. Margaret”) by English composer Albert Lister Peace (1844–1912). Words and music in the public domain.
- Audio recording used in the video performed by The Celebration Choir from their album “The Best Hymns Album In The World… Ever!”.
Prayers of Adoration, Confession, Lord’s Prayer
God of love, as we continue on our Lenten journey with the saviour, we travel in hope because we believe you are with us on the way. Be with us as we come together in worship. Sustain us when Jesus says, “my hour has come,” that we will not look away from the cross, but face the gathering darkness, and give ourselves faithfully with him. Help us to hear his call to give ourselves away, and so to follow the one who was love crucified for us.
We bring to you now our prayer of confession in the words of the Psalms. Have mercy on us, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your great compassion blot out our transgressions. Wash away all our iniquity and cleanse us from sin. Create in us a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within us. Do not cast us from your presence or take your Holy spirit from us. Restore to us the joy of your salvation, and grant a willing spirit to sustain us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray, and join together to offer the prayer that he taught us:
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 forever. Amen.
Declaration of Pardon and The Peace
The good news is that to live abundantly does not depend on us, but on the grace and mercy of God, who forgives us and gives us life. Thanks be to God. Amen.
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
(And also with you.)
I think Jesus needs a good PR guy. He doesn’t seem to get it, how to play to a crowd, encourage his people, help them to want to be part of his “winning team.” Recruitment is not his gift.
Take this incident in our reading from John 12. It all starts with some Greeks, Gentiles who are in Jerusalem for the Passover festival. They come to the disciples, and say, “We want to see Jesus.”
We want to see Jesus? Well, who wouldn’t? He’s a real spectacle, the most interesting person to come along in this region for a while. He’s different, a bit of a loose cannon. We’re not really sure what he will say or what will happen but it’s always fun to be there when he’s around.
Surely that’s what a lot of the people in the crowd around Jesus are saying, the ones who are there just for a bit of entertainment. But we sense in these visitors something deeper, something more sincere. It’s as if these Gentiles are saying, “We know we are not from among your people, but we want to see him, we want to know more, we feel drawn in by what we’ve heard, and want to meet him for ourselves.”
Their question is directed to Philip — natural, since he has a bit of a Greek-sounding name. Philip tells Andrew, and the two of them relay the news to Jesus. And what is Jesus’ response to the searching Greeks? He doesn’t give them the “welcome to the family” speech, he doesn’t hand them the brochure that he gives out to all newcomers, describing all the programs and opportunities he offers. He says, “It’s all about dying.”
In fact, in a curious twist, Jesus doesn’t even really speak to them at all, and the inquiring foreigners are not mentioned again, once they have asked their question.
It might not be a great recruitment strategy, but Jesus uses their question as an opening to talk about his own death, and also about the price each of us will pay to follow him.
If Jesus’ answer doesn’t seem to fit the situation, it might be because this moment seems to be a turning point for the Saviour. Four times in this Gospel, Jesus has said, “My time has not yet come,” — it was not the time to reveal himself, it was not the time for him to be captured. Well, for the first time, here he says, “It is time. The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
What has changed? It seems that what has changed is the arrival of the Greek searchers and the question that they ask. These are not neighbours from around the corner satisfying an idle curiosity on an afternoon when they didn’t have anything else to do. These are searchers from across the sea, who have come some distance to seek him out.
In John’s gospel, today’s text follows right after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we will look at next week on Palm Sunday. And in that text, where Jesus is so warmly received, at least for the moment, the Pharisees throw up their hands, and complain to one another, “There’s nothing we can do now. This is out of control. The whole world is going after him.”
It might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the arrival of the Greeks with their request to see him means the Pharisees are pretty much right. The world is going after him.
If word has spread that far maybe Jesus is wondering if it’s time to change the message, or finally to drive it home.
Maybe Jesus recognizes that with that level of fame will also come opposition, some push-back, and that if there are last things to be said, or final truths he wants to be sure to leave behind, now is the time to do it.
“The hour has come,” he says, for the Son of Man to be glorified. Unless as grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life will lose it and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. It’s all about dying.”
Not so much to the visiting Greeks who started this, but to his disciples and to us Jesus asks, “What sort of Jesus do you want to see?”
A comfortable Jesus? A Jesus who does not offend? A Jesus who will not challenge our prejudices? Who won’t ask too much of us? A Jesus who offers us an easy road?
If you wish to see him, Jesus is saying, look at him lifted up on the cross, and you will see him for who he is — divine, selfless love, reaching out and drawing all people to himself. Whoever wants to serve him must be where he is, accept his way, and follow him, even to the cross. It’s all about dying.
Dying so that we can bear fruit. Losing our life in order to find it. These paradoxes are statements about the redemptive power of suffering — Jesus’ and ours — and it is no easier to wrap our minds around now than it was in Jesus’ day.
If life for us is all about us, making things comfortable for us, protecting our lives the way they are, preventing change or conflict or pain, making ourselves wealthy, and then hanging on to that wealth, surrounding ourselves with only good things — then we are preventing ourselves from meaningful living.
Life is cheapened when it is focused inward like that, when we simply want to protect what we have, when we grasp for ourselves whatever we can, regardless of whatever else is going on around us.
Jesus tells us to “hate our life in this world,” by which I think he’s saying disregard chasing after all the comforts of life, and thinking it’s all about you and what make you feel good, and chase after God instead, and building the kind of world God dreams of.
If we can do that if we can give our lives away in that kind of cause, then we may be a little more bruised and battered, our hearts might be broken once in a while, but there will be no end to the blessings we will receive.
If you want a pattern or example for what that kind of life looks like look at Jesus himself. He could have done it differently. He could have avoided conflict, stayed away from public places, toned down his message and said only things that soothed people’s spirits. He could have avoided all those low-life people, he could have been more well-behaved and showed more respect for authority. That is, if he wanted to save his life.
But he had another choice, and it came from loving something even more than his life. Let’s call it self-offering. It wasn’t aimed at looking for suffering, but suffering was a pretty likely by-product of it. It meant challenging wrongs that needed to be exposed, reaching out to those who struggled and were in need, no matter who they were, speaking of hope to people who were discouraged, even if it made people in high places uncomfortable.
Again, he didn’t seek out suffering, and there is nothing redemptive about suffering which is forced on vulnerable people like warfare or ethnic cleansing or abuse or racism. The life Jesus chose, and which he invites us to choose, was to be authentically human, to be fully who God created him to be, no matter what the cost.
If Jesus had wanted to save his life, and taken the easy way out, he might have written some books, with study guides, held seminars in nice hotels, gone on a speaking tour, first class, of course. I’m not sure how long his little movement might have lasted maybe a few weeks or months, and then his books would have been gathering dust on a shelf.
But because he was willing to lose his life, and was ready to show people what it meant, instead of just telling them about it, his seed bore more fruit than it ever did while he was alive, and we are here today, telling his story still, as a result of it.
Because Jesus was willing to die, God was able to raise him from the dead.
Because he was willing to die, people were able to discover that death was not the worst thing that could happen to them. Because he was willing to die, a new community could form in his name, one that defined its life on the basis of his death.
As we move through Lent and draw closer and closer to the cross in our journey with the Saviour, the stakes are getting higher. He wants his disciples and us to be clear about the implications of his coming death and resurrection and what it means to name ourselves as one of his followers.
This is not a light thing. Not some passing fancy that we hold in our hand for a while turning it over to see how it feels, and then discarding it when we get tired of it, or it becomes a burden to carry.
Do we want to see Jesus? Because if we do, we will see him lifted up on a cross, shamed, bruised, humiliated, and from there he will draw all people to himself.
And he calls us to that same path, in humility to be prepared to be the grain which falls to the earth and dies, dies to our own vanity and pretensions so that we can multiply and bear fruit for him. He calls us to lose our life for his sake, to be willing to be decreased so that he can be increased, to the glory of God.
- “Thy Word”. Words and music by American singer-songwriters Amy Grant (1960–) and Michael W. Smith (1957–). Arranged by American composer Mark Hayes (1953–). Words and music copyright © 1984 Word Music, Inc. / Meadowgreen Music Co., administered by EMI Christian Music Publishing, part of Capitol Christian Music Group; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Keyboard by GCPC Music Director Rachelle Risling.
- Audio recording copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
We remind everyone that we must continue to pay our bills; in the absence of Sunday worship, you may sign up for pre-authorized remittance (PAR), donate online, or drop off your offering envelope in the mailbox at the church. Do not leave a cash donation unattended in the mailbox; instead, please call the office (416.261.4037) to ensure someone will be there to receive it. The building will be checked daily for mail and phone messages. If you are not comfortable leaving an envelope, you are welcome to contact the office (once again, 416.261.4037) and someone will pick up your offering.
Prayer of Dedication, Thanksgiving and Hope
God whose goodness lies at the heart of every gift we give, receive our offerings, and bless those who have given them. Through these gifts may the suffering be lifted up, may hope be shared, may good news be declared, and may your name be glorified, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Great God, for the gift of life itself through your creation, for the renewal of our lives in the fact that you have come to us in Christ, for how he brought glory to you and hope to us by not protecting his life but giving it away, for the blessing of your presence in our lives now through your Holy Spirit, for the gift of your church in which we are nourished in the faith and given opportunities to serve you, we give you thanks and praise. Give us courage, we pray, to live faithfully in response to all that you have given us, so that our lives may be a blessing to you and to the world.
With confidence in you, we pray for nourishment and relief for those who suffer; endurance for those who are oppressed; hope for those who are in despair; peace for those who are worried; healing for those who are sick in body, mind or spirit; comfort for the bereaved; strength for those who serve; compassion for those who minister to others, and wisdom for those who rule over us. Be present to them all, and hold them in your love.
God of the church, as you have placed us in a community of faith, and strengthened, encouraged, and taught us through one another, we pray for your church – the church universal in all its branches, and in every corner of the world. We ask your blessing on our own congregation. We thank you for its life and ministry, for the many members in one body that make up who we are, for all the gifts represented in all its people, and for what we have heard and seen and experienced of your love through them. Especially in this time of being apart from one another, keep us faithful to your call to be your followers, and help us to build up one another in love so that your church will be strengthened and your word of hope announced to all.
Great God, your son came among us, calling us to give our lives up to you, and devoting his whole life and ministry to be a selfless, sacrifice offering for us, being lifted up so that we may all come to him. Help us truly to be his followers, by denying ourselves for his sake, so that your church would be built up and your name given glory. It is in his name we pray. Amen.
Book of Praise – 674 “In the bulb there is a flower”
- Video with on-screen words, identical to those in the hymnbook.
- Words and music (tune: “Promise”) by American composer Natalie Sleeth (1930–1992). Words and music © copyright 1986 Hope Publishing Co.
- This recording made at First-Plymouth Congregational Church, Lincoln, Nebraska, on July 13, 2014, led by the Doane College Alumni Reunion Choir.
Commissioning and Benediction
Go in peace, to give yourself in the service of the one who gave himself for us all.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you all, now and forever. Amen.
Copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Last updated on 2021-03-20 at 11:55 – First version.