Lent 4, March 15, 2015

Title:Lent 4, March 15, 2015

 Sunday, March 15, 2015   (full size gallery)

This Sunday is just after Ladies Night Out on March 14. Naturally there were some "casualties" in that those who participated couldn’t quite make it to church on the 15h. We had 26 at the event and an article and gallery are here.

A beautiful Sunday with temperatures in the mid 50’s. Numerous signs of spring have appeared  – even one daffodil. 

The Adult education series continued on Lenten prayer practices. This week was the Jesus prayer. The Jesus Prayer is the form of invocation used by those practicing mental prayer, also called the “prayer of the heart.” The words of the prayer most usually said are “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” The choice of this particular verse has a theological and spiritual meaning. The Jesus Prayer derives from the Eastern Orthodox church, the eastern branch of the Catholic Church that split off in 1054 from the Western Catholic Church. 

As St. Paul writes in Philippians 2, "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." Very early on, Christians came to understand that the very name of Jesus had great power, and the recitation of His Name was itself a form of prayer. St. Paul urges us to "pray without ceasing," and this prayer is one of the best ways to start doing so.

We are within 2 weeks of Palm Sunday so the scripture is turning more towards Jesus arrival in Jerusalem and the events leading to the crucifixon.

The lectionary was certainly diverse. We hear of snakes in the desert (Numbers 21, John 3:14), shipwrecks at sea (Psalm 107), and grace, faith, and good works (Ephesians 2). In the midst of all this is the most well-known verse in the Bible, John 3:16. The image of Christ lifted up was the constant image.  Our eyes are pointed up whether in the bronze serpent in Numbers to live through a poison snake epidemic or up to see Christ crucified for us. We are reminded that God’s desire for us is always life, not death, and restoration, not punishment.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

The sermon  – "Today’s passages come at a great time for us, because they offer us a review of our journey through Lent. These readings lay out the milestones that we find on our journeys through our lives as Christians. And best of all, they point toward the joys of the Easter season and the joy that we find in our lives when we, to use that old cliché, “let go and let God.”  The readings for this week are here

It was a "moving" sermon moving through different stages in different parts of the church.  It used bags of trash to represent sinful "our unadulterated selves" and several crosses.

"The season of Lent, of course, reminds us that we must name these sins, and not only name them, but get to work on cleaning up this mess. The root of sin is the focus on ourselves to the exclusion of God and our fellow human beings. 

"And then we come to a subtle and sometimes hard to detect booby trap. This is the temptation to believe that we, under our own power, can conquer our sins and be good people. We’re headed toward God, and stepping into this works/righteousness hole, which when you think about it is really a focus on self and what self can do." Catherine illustrated this with the hole in the floor with the unrepaired grate.

"The solution was a focus on the Epistle and Gospel readings –  

  • Ephesians -“God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.
  • John 3:16 -“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life, and the second part of that statement—“indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

"Jesus gets lifted up on the cross and dies and as a result we become alive together with him So by grace we are saved by faith. And not only that, the writer of Ephesians says that we get raised up with Jesus and seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.  

"Both John and the writer of Ephesians make clear that this is not some far off eternity that begins only after our physical deaths—we get to go to heaven, and nothing in this lifetime matters much other than our profession of faith.  

 "Because now, through God’s grace having been remade in God’s likeness, we have work to do. John’s take on this is in the gospel is that we come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that the deeds we do have been done in God.” The writer of Ephesians tells us that “we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”   A new sign appeared on the door- ""Leave this place and enter into all such good works that God has prepared for you to walk in."

Catherine introduced the question box during Announcements. Questions about St. Peter’s, the Prayer Book or simply why we do the things we do. She provided two examples – Why the prayer uses the term "especially" in the Prayers of the People and why "Catholic" can be can be capitalized or not.

We celebrated the birthday of Peggy Roberts and the annniversary of the Upshaws. Neither was present . Attendance was only 29 with numerous families away and the effect of Ladies Night Out the day before.

Lectionary commentary by Canon Lance Ousley, Diocese of Olympia, Washington

Healing may be a strange notion of stewardship for many folks, but healing and whole-making ministries are part of our stewardship. God has called us to take care of those in need of healing and being made whole. These persons have been entrusted to our care. This is clearly given to us in Isaiah’s vision of God’s kingdom and Jesus’ responsive ministry to those in need in his kingdom-establishing-presence in the world.

The Gospel lesson gives us the clandestine nighttime meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus the Pharisee. Here in the conversation with Nicodemus we hear Jesus clearly state that he has come to offer life, which is whole-making, and that this is a gift. All we must do is have faith.

This is where the rubber of stewardship hits the proverbial road. Stewardship flows from a gratitude response to God’s life-giving graces in our lives. Jesus is the instrument of God’s grace as he was lifted up on the cross, giving life to the world. Our acceptance of this gift of Jesus is an act of faith and the life we receive is not dependent upon good works. However, as Paul points out to the Ephesians, from this faith our gratitude (stewardship) response is to reach out to those in need around us and offer them life through whole-making ministries. These whole-making ministries are our part in helping to establish and proclaim God’s kingdom in our world, and that is the nexus of our stewardship responses.

All this leads me to think that the questions we should be asking ourselves are the ones that inquire if the core of our ministries and stewardship address the healing and whole-making that Jesus calls us to do in response to God’s grace. This is true for both individuals and churches. We might ask how we are doing this work ourselves – gifting others with God’s grace. We might ask how we are communicating this in our stewardship formation and proclamation (including the annual campaign materials). We might ask how we are living out what we say we believe. This is our stewardship response to God, not only in the world, but also to the world. Stewardship is a reflection of our faith and it begins in gratitude.

Just as the serpent was lifted up on a staff in the desert to offer healing for those bitten by snakes in our reading from Numbers, Jesus was lifted on the staff of a cross to offer healing to the whole world.

How are you as an individual giving thanks to God for this gift of grace? How are you as a church giving thanks to God for this gift of grace? 

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