Lent 5

March 17, 2024

Lectionary Texts

Jeremiah 31. 31-34. “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel…. I will write it on their hearts…. I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

Psalm 51. You desire truth in the inward being…. Create in me a new heart…. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a contrite heart.

Hebrews 5. 5-10. Jesus offered up prayers to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. He learned obedience through what he suffered; and became the source of salvation, a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

John 12.20-33. “Unless a 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 lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life….Should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour … Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

Preaching Thoughts

The new covenant God offers is written on our hearts: not something we “ought” to do, but as a part of who we are. It’s a covenant of love, not obligation. I don’t care for my wife because I’m supposed to. I care for her becauseI want to, because I love her, because treating her well gives me delight. Such is the Covenant God offers us: one not of duty but delight, not of laws and punishments but of desire and gratitude.
       “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” See how different this is from “I will remember their sin and demand payment for it and send someone who will sacrifice himself so that then I can let go of their sin”? Totally different.

Note that although Jesus prayed to the one who could save him from death, he wasn’t saved from death. As Jesus says in John his prayer wasn’t “Save me from this,” but something else. It’s worthy to wonder what. Maybe “Help be stay faithful.” Or “Not my will but yours.” What do you think Jesus prayed? Ponder that. Hebrews seems to say that since Jesus was faithful to God, even through suffering, he paves the way for us to do the same.
       Hebrews doesn’t say what it means for Jesus to be a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. “Today I have begotten you” quotes Psalm 2, with its heavy messianic overtones. The Melchizedek bit (which runs through Hebrews) quotes Psalm 110, which also says nothing about what that means. It’s a reference to Genesis 14, which also doesn’t explain what it means other than that there was this guy who was a priest of El Olium,“God Supreme.” He blessed Abram, and brought him bread and wine. Yeah, that sounds like Jesus.

Here’s Jesus’ gospel in a nutshell: when you give your life away in love, God gives you a new one. This is death and resurrection: not going to heaven, but receiving new life after surrendering your old one. We’re comfortable with Jesus’ parables about seeds growing secretly and seeds yielding a hundred fold and sixty and thirty… but we’re not as at ease with the reality that to sprout a seed has to die. It has to be thrown away and be buried and fall apart and break open and cease to be a seed. In the delusion of our sin we believe we’re whole, self-contained units and we need to protect ourselves to live. But in fact we can truly live only when new allow ourselves to be part of an ecosystem of soil and rain and sun. Unless we’re part of the whole workings of Life we’re just a little unit, but not bearing fruit, not truly and deeply fulfilling the call of life. The way to live your life fully is to be embedded I God, to give your life over to God in loving service, like seeds that “die” and then bear fruit. Think of yourself as a seed and God as good soil.
       “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” This is not a before-and-after distinction. Eternal life isn’t just dying and going to heaven. The reason it’s “eternal” isn’t because it’s interminably long. That’s not actually what we want. (Are you kidding? Your people don’t even like it when worship goes 10 minutes over, and they think they want to live for 14 billion years?!? Fat chance.) No, eternal life isn’t infinitely long; it’s infinitely deep and wide. It’s life that’s infinite, in this life here and now, life that’s connected with God, with all other life, with the Real Purpose of Life, which is Love. It’s life that’s infinite because it can’t be depleted, can’t be diminished, can’t be taken from you. The distinction is between clinging to life in terms the world values—personal survival, comfort, power and esteem—or being connected to the heart of what it is to really live. You can have one or the other, Jesus says, not both. To have either you have to let go of the other. Sometimes letting go of “life in this world” is easy; sometimes it costs you dearly. But every moment, you’re choosing.
       Jesus says “the ruler of this world will be driven out.” He (or John) may have in mind an apocalyptic event of God’s final victory over human evil and injustice… or he may be saying

Love is more powerful than anything. Love wins, even when evil powers stay in place. Even in this messed-up world, right now, love is still victorious. Love is still the dominant power and the ultimate reality. Love casts out the powers of this world— hate, fear, greed and violence—and replaces them with healing, trust and generosity. The question is not whether it will succeed but which side we’re on.
       “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” We could interpret this doctrinally, that every earthling will become Christian. Or we can see it symbolically: that love includes everybody. Love, lifted up on a cross of self-giving, draws all people into its care. No one is left out. Christ, crucified and risen, loves all people.

Call to Worship

Leader: Holy God, you are the soil of heaven.
All: We are your seeds of life. We fall into you.
We are buried in you, and we live.
Holy God, you sow us in the soil of the world.
We are your seeds of love.
We let go of ourselves, and we bear fruit.

May your Spirit live in us, your Christ blossom in us,
your love bear fruit in us. Amen.

Leader: Eternal Mystery, Ground of our being,
you are the soil from which we grow.
Risen Christ, Loving Presence,
you are the courage with which we die.
Holy Spirit, Radiant Oneness,
you are the joy with which we are raised.
In mercy, receive our praise, our prayers and our lives,
and transform us in the spirit of compassion. Amen.

3. [Ps. 51]
Leader:Holy One, open our lips
All: and our mouths shall show forth your praise.
Behold, you desire truthfulness in our inner lives.
Therefore give us grace to see ourselves clearly.
Create in us a clean heart, O God, and put a new and faithful spirit within us.
Have mercy on us, according to your steadfast love.
We worship you with open hearts. Amen.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

Holy One, speak your Word to us, and write your love on our hearts. 
Holy One, speak your truth to us, and write your love on our hearts.
Holy One, speak your grace to us, and write your love on our hearts. Amen.

2.Loving God, we do not ask for your Word carved on tablets or inscribed on scrolls. Write your grace on our hearts, that we may always bear it with us, listen to its music, and follow its ways, in the name of Christ and the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Leader: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,”
Jesus said, “it remains just a single grain.”
All: But if it dies, it bears much fruit.
God of love, we come to worship,
that we may bear the fruit of love in our lives.
Therefore we come to die and be buried in Christ.

“Those who love their life lose it,” Jesus said,
“and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
We come to let go of our desires and attachments,
to let go of the life of appearances,
so that with empty hands
we may receive the infinite life you give us.

We worship that your grace may flourish in us.
We worship that we may bear the fruit of your love. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

I will be your seed, O God;
for you are my soil.
Let me fall into you.
Let me be buried in you.
May your love break me open and rise in me,
that I may bear the fruits of your Spirit. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

Pastor: The grace of God is with you.
All: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
God, we confess that we cling to the things of this world;
our hands are too full to receive your grace.
Help us let go of all but you,
to lose our life,
to receive your life.
Help us to die and rise
with Christ,
who is our Beloved, our promise,
our courage.
         Silent prayer … The Word of Grace

O God, you desire truth in the inward being;
teach us to see ourselves clearly.
Your mercy is abundant, O God;
wash us clean of our sin.
Create in us a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within us.

Eternal Creator, steadfast in grace,
I who am inconstant in love turn to you.
Write your Word upon my heart.
Root your grace in me, that I may be faithful in all things
in the spirit of your compassion.

Eternal God, we confess our sin, that we have not loved you perfectly, nor loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have clung to our lives rather than surrender them to you. Forgive our sin, heal our fear, and transform our desires, that we may trust you wholly and serve you heartily, in the Spirit of Christ.


Because you are God’s child, you are like God.
You have God’s Spirit.
You are filled with God’s gifts.
Though you may feel inadequate,
the gifts God has given you are holy, beautiful, and powerful.
But they are not for you. They are for the world.
If you hold onto them, they have no beauty, purpose or power.
Only when you let them go, give them away, do they become true gifts.
Like a seed, your gifts will only become apparent if you “die,”
if you give of yourself. Then beautiful things will happen.
The only reason we withhold our gifts,
our time and talent, our money or our passion,
is that we are afraid.
But since we are God’s and God’s Spirit is in us,
we are not afraid. We are free.
So we give generously. We give our best.
We give joyfully.
In this way we fulfill the purpose of our lives,
glorify God, and participate in the healing of the world.

2. Psalm 51, a paraphrase

Be gentle with me, O God,
         hold me in your constant love.
With your abundant mercy
         free me from my sins.
Wash away the grime
         that covers your image in me.I know I don’t live the life you give me;
         you know the difference.
My love is not perfect;
         this you see.

But you lead me to live in harmony
         with my inner truth,
to be transparent
         to your presence within me.
Purge me with your love,
         that I may be pure love.
Fill me,
         that I may be pure light.
Deep within me, in your light,
         I discover joy,
gratitude even for bones broken
         to be reset.
When you look at me you don’t see sins;
         you see love.

Create me all over again, O God;
         breathe your life-giving breath in me.
Hold me close
         and give me your loving spirit.
You are the joy that sustains me;
         you give me my willing heart.
O Beloved, when I open my lips,
         my mouth will sing praise, only praise.

I can’t offer a thing to please you,
         can’t determine your love for me.
What delights you is just me,
         this broken heart,
         this true, simple heart.
Use me as I am to love the world.
         That will be gift enough for both of us.

Eucharistic Prayer

[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 hearts.
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.

God of love, we praise you,
for in the deep soil of this world you have sown yourself,
where you grow and flourish with beauty and grace,
bearing the fruit of life.

You have planted yourself in us and made us in your image.
You have claimed us as your own and made covenant to love us.
You have condemned the forces of oppression and you walk with us to freedom.
In the fullness of time you came to us in Jesus,

who died in love for us, that your love might bear fruit in us.
Therefore we come to Christ’s table, hungry for life.
We come singing your praise, with all Creation:

            [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.
In this meal he draws all people to himself.

In this meal love casts out the powers of the world.
In this meal Jesus nourishes the grace that is hidden in our lives.

In this meal Jesus heals and teaches us,
feeds the hungry and lifts up the heartbroken.
In this meal we remember Jesus’ life and ministry,
his self-giving love, and his death,

For he flung himself like a seed of God into the world,
and was crucified and buried.
But in his dying there is life; in his rising your love bears fruit.[The Blessing and Covenant…]

Remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving,as a holy and living 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.
             [or alternative]

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 Holy Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
transformed by your mercy, dying and rising with Christ.May your love bear fruit in us,for the healing of the world, to your eternal glory.

     [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.) We are the seeds of your love. Sow us in the soil of this world, that your grace in us may bear fruit. 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.) In the death and resurrection of Jesus you give us courage to die and rise with him, to surrender ourselves to lives of love and self-giving. May the seed of your grace flourish in us, that we may bear the fruits of your Spirit, for the sake of the wholeness of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen..

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

God, I Surrender       (Original song)

God, I surrender myself to you,
all that I have and all I do.
All my desires I give to you.
Take them from me and make me new.
God, I surrender myself to you,
all that I have and all I do.
Trusting you wholly I follow you
Take my life and make me new.
God, I surrender myself to you,
all that I have and all I do.
I am a seed that has died in you.
Raise me to serve and make me new.

God, you have searched me    (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)
                   [ Psalm 139, Psalm 51]

God, you have searched me; you know from within
all of my beauty, my wounds and my sin.
Deep in my heart—I’ve not spoken a word—
you know my soul, and my thoughts you have heard.

You who have made me and always are near,
help me to shed my illusion and fear.
Help me be truthful, and truthfully see,
humbly transparent to your grace in me.

Your loving presence within me each day
go with me, guide me, and show me your way.
Give me the eyes of your mercy and grace,
to walk in love in each moment, each place.

Into the Darkness (Original song)

Only the seed that has died and is buried
lives to bear fruit, Jesus said.
Lead me then into the darkness and dying,
so you can raise me up from the dead.
Jesus, help me die and rise.

All of my living, my loves and desires,
all of the things that I cling to,
now I surrender to die and be buried.
Raise me in following, serving you.
Jesus, help me die and rise.

Lead me to truth and have mercy and wash me
deep in the dark of my being.
A spirit like bread that is taken and broken:
this is the death that is freeing.
Jesus, help me die and rise.

Give me a clean heart, a heart poor in spirit,
willing and steadfast and made new,
my life I lose; let your cross lift me up now.
One joy restore to me: life in you.
Jesus, help me die and rise.

Seeds of Light     (Tune: Fairest Lord Jesus)
       [May be used as an invitation to communion,
       or the three verses used as Eucharistic Prayer responses.

Holy and Loving One, thank you for your love and grace
from the beginning, throughout our days.
With every living thing in grateful joy we sing,
and lift to you our song of praise.

Dying, Christ died with us. Rising, Christ has raised us up.
Christ will come in love and reign.
May we be seeds of light, shining with mercy bright,
that death itself cannot contain.

Pour out your Spirit now on these gifts and us as well:
make us the body of Christ again.
Send us in love and grace, serving in joy and peace.
All praise to you! Amen. Amen.

Shine In Me       (Tune: Breathe on Me, Breath of God)

Shine in me, light of God: into my shadows shine,
all that is dark and hidden, show; reveal with your light divine.

Open the window, Love, into my heart’s abyss:
fears and desires, all wants and wounds bring into your light and bless.

What is unseen reveal; give me the gift of sight,
lighten the shadows deep within and, Love, make my darkness light.

Shine in me, light of God, your mercy gleaming bright.
I am the lantern, you the flame. Love, let me live in your light.

You are the soil (Tune: Fairest Lord Jesus)
      [The verses of this song could also be used as Eucharistic Prayer Responses]

God, Holy Presence, source of life and blessing,
you are the soil and we the seed.
By your indwelling grace, we die in your embrace;
you raise us up and we are freed.

Jesus, Beloved One, healer, teacher, guide and friend,
in you we come to die and rise:
buried like seeds in earth, given new, gracious birth,
with your love shining in our eyes.

Spirit, breathe into us. Fill us with your loveliness.
Flourish in us with your new green shoots.
May your life freely flow, swelling our hearts to grow,
that we may bear love’s finest fruits.

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