March 5, 2023
Genesis 12.1-4. God calls Abram, at the ripe old age of 75, to leave his relatives and his homeland and journey toward a new land and a new life, in which, he is told, “you will be a blessing.”
Psalm 121 may have been sung by people, like Abram, on a journey: pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. The traveler looks at the mountains she must cross in her journey, where bandits hide and other religions have their shrines, and asks, “Where does my help come from?” It comes from God, who is faithful.
Romans 4.1-5, 13-17. Paul refers to Abraham in discussing faith as trust in God. God gives us life as a gift, not something that we earn. “Righteousness” does not mean being good enough to deserve God’s blessing; it means trusting that the blessing is already there.
John 3.1-17. Nicodemus, in the night, visits Jesus, who says we must be “born anew from above.”
New identity. Repentance, the great theme of Lent, is not just about renouncing the past. It’s creating a new future. God calls us out of our established ways into new ways of living. Abram leaves behind his familiar reality to venture to a new place—and he will even become a new person, with the name Abraham. What do we have to leave behind in order to repent? What do we need to learn to say No to? Sometimes we see our sins as “just part of who I am.” How are we invited to renounce part of who we thought we were to become whole new people?
Righteousness. It’s tempting (gosh, should a preacher ever add to our temptations in Lent?? But I digress…) it’s tempting to imagine righteousness as “rightness,” somehow having the right religious answer or being on the right spiritual track. But being “righteous” doesn’t mean being “right.” It means in right relationship. And our relation ship with God, despite all our maneuvering, is established, and determined by God. And the relationship God makes with us is that we are God’s beloved. Period. No attempts on our part to be more or less deserving make any difference. It’s God, not us, who makes our relationship with God what it is, and the relationship God establishes with us is one of grace and harmony. This is the grace of God’s love. No matter how out of tune we are, God makes of it beautiful music.
Born again. Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dark (so to speak) and Jesus tells him we must be “born from the top,” meaning both over again and also from above, from God. Each breath is a re-birth, a receiving of life not from the status quo of having been born once but directly God’s life-giving. That means we let go of who we think we are, who we want to be, and especially who others think we are or ought to be, and completely allow ourselves to be who God creates us to be. Imagine surrendering your whole past every moment, and starting anew with each breath. Imagine all your doubts and regrets, all your guilt and all your accomplishments wiped away. It’s just you, being made new, this instant, living fresh out of God’s love, with no other precedent, no other agenda, no other requirements, or expectations, no other identity. Abram got a new name, a new identity. Each moment God gives you a brand new “You.” Wow.
By the way, note how well biblical literalism fares with Jesus. “You’re a teacher,” Jesus says, “and you don’t get metaphor? Sheesh.”
Eternal life. As much as John 3.16 is a verse used to clobber people who don’t (yet) “believe,” it’s not about the necessity to believe. It’s about God’s love. For the whole world. That’s everybody, not just those who believe. In v.15 Jesus (well, actually John) says “that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” The fundamentalist interpretation is that if you say you “believe in Jesus”—whatever they think that means—you get to go to heaven after you die. (And if you don’t believe no heaven for you. Bod dog.) My take on it: whoever receives life breath by breath as a gift from God, whoever lets God continually re-create them, receives life that’s infinite and can’t be taken from them. (I think “eternal life” is infinitely deep, not infinitely long.) We participate in a Life—the life of God—that is eternal. It doesn’t mean we are immortal, but that we share in something that is. You don’t get your own personal eternal lifespan. Eternal life is not a privilege awarded people who believe the right things; it’s a gift that is offered unconditionally and that is infinitely present whenever we simply receive it.
Condemned. The lectionary mercifully omits v. 18, “Those who do not believe are condemned already.” But what do we do with that? Partly, we allow for John’s militant and particularly anti-Jewish proselytizing, his belief that Christians are right and others, especially Jews, are wrong. Adjust for that slant. But still, there’s something to this: those who don’t trust in God are cut off from God, and so really from their own true life. Those who don’t trust God are self-condemned to lives of self-isolation, condemned to solitary confinement in their own egos. In that sense, John is right.
Light. I often include verses 19-21 in the reading.In v. 19 we close the circuit with the fact that Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night, in the dark, presumably so as not to be seen. John says God’s judgment is light, God’s answer to Nicodemus’ attempt to be invisible. What is hidden will be revealed. Notice God’s judgment is light, not condemnation. God’s judgment is not a divine opinion or decree about what’s “right or wrong.” (Golly- that old tree of the knowledge of good and evil again!.) It’s simply light, which illuminates the truth without labeling it. Light both reveals what is hidden, and also transforms it. Light does not judge or punish the darkness; it just changes it.
Call to Worship
Leader: Mother God, you give birth to all Creation.
All: We your children praise you.
Mother Christ, you give us new birth, death and resurrection in your Spirit.
We your children thank you.
Mother Spirit, you give us new birth through water and through love.
Mother Spirit, we serve you with joy.
Have mercy on us, that we may be your faithful children. Amen.
2. [Ps. 103.8, 10]
Leader: God is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.All: God does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor punish us for our unfaithfulness.
Then let us turn to the Gracious One, trusting in God.
We praise you, O God, and return to you,
that you may give us new birth in your Holy Spirit.
Leader: Holy One, you called Abram and Sarai and they listened.
All: Call to us. Lead us on.
Beloved, you led them to a new place.
Accompany us through the mystery.
Spirit of life, you promised blessing, and you have kept your promise.
Bless us, that we may hear and follow,
that we may be a blessing for all the families on earth.
We are yours. By your Spirit in us, birth us to new life.
Collect / Prayer of the Day
God of grace and mercy, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, seeking to know your truth. We come in the day, still seeking. Bring to light our questions our wondering, and our hunger for you. Speak to us, that your Spirit may breathe through us today. Amen.
God of love, like Nicodemus, we come to you seeking wisdom and life. Speak to us the Word that gives us new life, that we may be born again from your love. Amen.
O God of Mercy, your grace comes to us in darkness and mystery. Your call leads us into the unknown. We know we will resist. Speak to us anyway, Lord: let your Word come to life in us, and lead us into the Realm of your grace. Amen.
Leader: Nicodemus came to Jesus at night.
All: We, too are in the dark, and so we come to you, God, to teach us.
Jesus told him that God so loved the world that God gave the only Son to save us.
We are in sin, and so we come to you, Love, to save us.
Jesus said we must be born again, from above, to see the Realm of God.
We are trapped in small lives of our own making.
Speak your Word to us, Holy One, that we may see the Realm of God,
and be born again, and enter into the eternal life you give us.
Speak to us, God, for we are open to your grace. Amen.
Gracious God, you loved the world so deeply that you gave us your only Son, your Word made flesh, that in communing with him we might find infinite life. We come to him now, to listen, to let our hearts speak, and to be born anew. Let the light of your truth fill us, so that in your light we become light. Amen.
God of new life, Jesus said that we must be born again from above to enter into your Realm. We surrender ourselves to you now, that we might receive life from you, in this moment, and each moment to come. May your Spirit blow through our worship, and transform us by your grace. We pray in the name of Jesus, and in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
God of truth, as Nicodemus came to Jesus at night to learn from him, we come that you may lighten our darkness and bring us to new life. Open our hearts, so that as the scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you are saying to us today. Amen.
Prayer of Confession
Pastor: The grace of God is with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
God of gentle mercy,
we confess our sin,
for even the brokenness we don’t see
keeps us from loving perfectly.
Receive us, forgive us;
heal our fears and our desires;
relieve us of our shame,
and set us free.
God, we recall when we have been in harmony with you, or with life, and we give thanks. [silent prayer…]
We recall when we have been out of harmony, and we seek your grace. [silent prayer…]
God of mercy, in Christ you have shown us your grace.
Forgive us, heal us, and perfect your love in us.
[Silent prayer … the word of grace ]
God of love, we give you the lives we have tried to live.
We confess that we are not God;
we have not created our lives perfectly as you would.
We give you our lives,
that you might take them,
and that we may be reborn in your Spirit.
Here, God, are the lives we give you:
receive them with love, forgive us,
and create us anew, by your grace.
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
Womb of God, hold us in your love.
Womb of God, birth us in your love.
Breath of God, live in us in love.
Light of God, shine in us with love.
Light of God,
shine in my heart
and transfigure my darkness,
that I may become your light,
radiant with your presence.
Psalm 121 (a paraphrase)
I look up at these mountains I must cross.
Who will help me through?
Our help comes from God,
who made these mountains, and knows them.
God will not let your foot slip,
but will be watchful every step.
The One who holds all of us close
will not lose interest or get distracted.
The Holy One holds you close,
and is your shade in the hot sun.
Neither the brutal heat nor the biting cold
will hurt us in the arms of the Beloved.
The Loving One will guard you from all evil,
and will keep your life.
God will hold in loving hands
our traveling and our resting,
each moment, now and always.
Nicodemus said to him,
“How can anyone be born after having grown old?
I’m sorry. There is no how.
There is no jump, leap, crawl,
climb, push or swim.
There is only allow.
Being born again
isn’t something you can do.
It’s something your mother does
Breathing in and out
you descend into that dark tomb
that only when you enter
is a womb.
Much you can’t save,
you must shed to fit,
surrender to become
a fracturing seed
like broken bread.
What you leave behind in the grave.
Dying is your only choice,
surrendering your only how.
The rest is gift and mystery,
and God’s work, not yours.
There is only allow.
[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]
God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.
Holy Mystery, we give you our thanks and praise.
In the swirling darkness you created light.
You create us as children of light.
You called Sarai and Abram and they followed you.
In the unknown you accompany us and lead us to new life.
in the deep night of oppression and injustice you set us free.
From the chains of our sin you set us free.
You call us to be born again in your love.
Moment by moment, breath by breath, again and again,
you birth us in love—new people, a new Creation.
Therefore with all Creation we sing your praise.
[Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
Hosanna in the highest.
[or alternate version]
Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who taught and healed and fed the hungry
so we might know the fullness of life.
He is a vessel of infinite life,
and so we come to feast on his love.
(The Blessing and Covenant)
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
[Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
Christ will come again in glory.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us, that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
born anew in your love, shining with the light of your love,
serving others in the strength of your love.
[Spoken or sung]
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]
On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion
[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for [ the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.] You have received us in love, so that we might die and rise in you. Born anew by your grace, we go into the world to love and serve in the name and spirit of Christ. Amen.
Gracious God, we thank you for [ the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.] You so loved the world that you gave us your Son; and we have received him, and he has become part of our hearts, and we are part of his Body. Send us into the world, borne by the wind of your Spirit, to love you and serve you by loving and serving others, in the name of Christ and the power of your Spirit. Amen.
Gracious God, we thank you for [ the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.] You have spoken to us in [bread and in] scripture. Speak to us now in our daily lives. Send us into the world, listening for your voice and radiant with your love. Bless us, that we may walk in the light, in the name of Christ. Amen.
(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)
Always New ((Tune: Gift of Love/ Water is Wide)
O God, you make me always new.
Each breath I breathe is life from you,
a gift of love that sets me free.
Beloved, breathe new life in me.
O Christ, you call me to new birth
like God’s creation of the earth,
to leave the things I’m fastened on
and walk into the rising dawn.
O loving Spirit, live in me.
Forgive my sin and set me free.
Give me new birth, life from above,
that I may live in your deep love.
Communion Song (Tune: O Love, How Deep)
O Love, how deep, that you would give
your life to us so we may live,
to raise us up to life from death
and birth us new with every breath.
You call us to your table here,
to feast on love and know you near.
We give our gifts, our lives to you—
with you to die and be made new.
Communion Song (Tune: Gift of Love/ Water is Wide)
O God, our Love, we come to you,
to die and rise, and live anew.
Our hearts are weak; our souls near dead.
Revive us with your wine and bread.
Forgive our sin, and heal and bless:
our only life your life in us.
We bring our gifts, in love made one.
Grant us your grace. Your will be done.
I Wait for Your Will – (Original song)
A dialogue between soloist (verses) and congregation (refrain).
(Refrain) I wait for your will, I wait for your will, I wait for you will O God.
All I desire to control I let go and place into your hands, my God.
Heal and protect and provide. Hear me and stay by my side, my God.
You are my wisdom and strength. I will do your will alone, my God.
Into the Light (Original song)
God, I come into the light of your mercy and grace:
may I receive your forgiveness, your loving embrace.
You know my brokenness better than I, and my sin.
You love me perfectly, setting me free once again.
All of myself I now humbly bring into your light:
wash me, renew me, forgive me and set me aright.
God, I surrender myself to your life-giving love:
may I be born by your Spirit, anew, from above.
God, you have loved us so much that you even would give
Jesus, your Son, the Beloved, so that we would live.
Help us to live so we bring your good news into sight.
Help us to trust in your grace and come into the light.
Spirit Wind – (Tune: What Wondrous Love)
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
what wondrous love is this, O my soul!
That you who made the earth with love would give us birth
and by your Spirit’s breath lead us on, lead us on,
and by your Spirit’s breath make us whole.
Great Spirit, may the wind of your love freely blow,
oh, let your wind of love freely blow,
and guide us in your grace in every time and place,
to bear your love and peace as we go, as we go.
Oh, let the winds of love freely blow!
As we are born anew from above, from above,
God, send us out to serve in your love.
And may we freely go wherever your winds blow,
though how we do not know, in your love, in your love,
wherever your winds blow, in your love.