The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
March 21, 2021
Fifth Sunday in Lent
PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Lent’s days are winding down, Merciful God, and we are no closer to having contrite hearts. Our small complaints still loom large, and we don’t hurry to show mercy, or rush to be kind. The old habits of Fat Tuesday are still alluring, and we resist the emptiness of the desert that reveals you – the places where you make yourself known to us, where you wait in the quiet for us to be ready, still feel alien. Yet, Loving God, we come to you, trying to lose our lives for the life you offer, seeking the wisdom of our brother Jesus, hoping to be blown open by the Spirit. Bring us fully into your Lenten gifts, we pray, and accept the Lenten gifts we offer to you. Amen.
PRELUDE “Angels Story” arr. Freudenburg
CALL TO WORSHIP (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
God has promised to make a new covenant with us.
Our Lord has promised to write God’s law on our hearts.
We will no longer teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for we shall all know God.
For God will forgive our iniquity, and remember our sin no more.
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
We know that all have sinned and fallen short of the way of life to which we are called in Christ. Yet we also know that if we repent and confess our sin, God’s mercy is sure for each and for all. Therefore, let us confess our sin before God and one and other.
PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS
Holy God, we confess that we have failed to live in covenant relation with you and one another. We have exploited our relationships with one another and the earth for private gain. Our hearts have become hardened to the suffering we have caused. Create in us a new heart, O God. Write your law in our hearts so that we will love you with all of who we are and love our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.
Silence is observed
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Friends, hear the good news of the gospel.
In Christ, we are forgiven and restored to right relations with God and one another. God in Christ empowers us for justice-seeking in our world. God has made a new covenant with us.
Thanks be to God.
PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
Our peace comes from knowing how much God loves us in Jesus Christ. With God’s help, we try to love and forgive one another as Christ loves and forgives us.
“The peace of Christ be with you,”
“And also with you.”
ANTHEM “The Call” Stroop
(all children will remain in the sanctuary)
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
O God, you promised your new covenant with us. Help us to hear the words of Scripture as your Word of the new covenant established in Jesus Christ for us today. Amen.
SCRIPTURE 1 Peter 4:1-6
4 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh,[a] arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), 2 so as to live for the rest of your earthly life[b] no longer by human desires but by the will of God. 3 You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. 4 They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme.[c] 5 But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.
“Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I thirst.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of a hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips” (John 19:28-29). Hearing these words, you can imagine how this sermon might begin. Maybe you expect a literal description of the tortures our Lord endured on the cross and his excruciating thirst. Or maybe you expect an opening illustration, something about a hot day and hard work. Something designed to get you to remember what it was like to be really thirsty. Instead, I simply have one question for you. What do you thirst for? What do we thirst for?
Am I trying to trap you? You’ve heard enough sermons to see where this is going. We shouldn’t “thirst” for things. We shouldn’t want things. But that’s not where I’m going; this is no trap! I am taking certain things for granted here this evening. I am assuming that I am talking to the Christian church, those redeemed by the blood shed by our Savior on the cross, those whom the New Testament calls “the body of Christ.” I am talking to those who know the promise of an end to suffering because Christ died for us. I am talking to you. I’m talking to you who fit the description of 1 Peter 4:1-2: “Since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” I hear Peter calling us to “arm” ourselves with the same thinking of Christ. I hear Peter saying we’re done with sin but I know we still struggle with sin. So as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter, let’s think about ourselves as that body of Christ, as sinners but saved sinners who are already armed with the same manner of thinking as Christ. With this in mind, what do we thirst for? We thirst for justice, for healing, for an end to suffering. We thirst for a stronger economy, for those without work to find jobs, to be able to provide for their families. We thirst for safety, for those in Haiti to get the supplies and protection they need. We thirst for an end to abortion, slavery, and an end to sin, death, and the power of the devil. One look at our weekly prayer list will show you what we thirst for. We thirst for…
At last we have come to the part of the sermon where I am supposed to turn the corner. I could take a moment to look closer at the Gospel lesson. I could point out to you that John lets us know this drink was given to Jesus in order to “fulfill the Scriptures.” We could look back at the psalm Jesus fulfilled, Psalm 69:21. It says “…for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink…” I could tell you that just as God promised a brief release from suffering for Jesus in the form of a drink on the cross, so in the same way we can know that God will meet our needs. This is the part of the sermon where I am supposed to tell you that your thirst will be quenched as well. Well, I’m not going to say it, because it’s not true.
We thirst, and sometimes there is just no relief for our thirst. Sometimes there is no cure for the cancer. Sometimes no new job comes. Sometimes the house is foreclosed. Sometimes there is no water to quench the thirst. It’s like the story we heard last week of the children buried under rubble in Haiti. Two of them were rescued, but one of them died. And do you remember what Sabrina told reporters? Before her brother died he asked her for water. “We couldn’t find any water,” she said. “He asked us for water on Wednesday, on Thursday and Friday. He died of dehydration.” Sometimes we thirst, and nothing comes to meet the need. What is there to say to the “Sabrinas” of the world? Oh sure, we church people have countless phrases to call upon in these situations, phrases we use so often they can even become meaningless in our own ears. How could they possibly help? Try telling one of our “Gospel clichés” to Sabrina and see what she has to say! In the face of such horror I’m supposed to point to a man suffering on a cross? That doesn’t make sense. Foolishness! I’m supposed to have something to quench her thirst? Well, I don’t. I don’t because I’m empty. I’m really no different from you. I thirst too. I’m reminded of the sacrifice that Christ made for us…
[Hymn of Response: “Go to Dark Gethsemane,” verse 3]
Calv’ry’s mournful mountain climb;
There, adoring at His feet,
Mark that miracle of time,
God’s own sacrifice complete.
“It is finished!” hear Him cry;
Learn from Jesus Christ to die.
I thirst…but still it’s my job to stand here and tell you one of those “Gospel clichés”…something like…oh, something like, Jesus lives… That may be what you’re expecting. And at this point, it is exactly what I am going to do, because that is the most important thing I can do. Jesus lives. It is the only news that can be good now. Jesus lives. But is that enough? If this good news—this Gospel—that Jesus lives doesn’t seem like enough, perhaps it’s because we don’t realize what we need. Let me say that again. Please hear it. If this good news—this Gospel—that Jesus lives doesn’t seem like enough, perhaps it’s because we don’t realize what we need.
This is the hope which keeps us going in the midst of suffering. This is the certainty which arms us, as Peter says in our text, with the “same way of thinking as Christ.” But this doesn’t alleviate the suffering here and now. We still thirst. Must we wait with parched throats for this final day? Will our suffering never be alleviated now? By no means! God is daily intervening. In countless ways God is indeed giving us little sips of water so we can endure throughout this drought. Help may not always come, but because Christ lives we live in hope. Kiki and Sabrina may have lost their brother, but they were both rescued. In fact, that is one of the reasons why we are here. We are the body of Christ in this hurting and suffering world. We are often the instruments God uses to alleviate suffering and bring hope in the here and now, as we wait for the day when final healing will come. We are the ones who wipe tears from the eyes of others as we wait for the day when sorrow will end. We bring the sip of water as we wait for the day when the drought will end. As we wait for the day… the day when the source of living water will return and we will thirst no more.
[Hymn of Response: “Go to Dark Gethsemane,” verse 4]
Early hasten to the tomb
Where they laid His breathless clay;
All is solitude and gloom.
Who has taken Him away?
Christ is ris’n! He meets our eyes.
Savior, teach us so to rise.
Commentary Provided by Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, Steve Wilbraham, Karl Jacobson, Eric Barreto, Carla Works, Scott Hoezee, David Lose, Karoline Lewis, and Roger Gench
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH The Nicene Creed
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
THE PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE & THE LORD’S PRAYER
O Lord Christ, we thirst, not always knowing what we need.
Yet you are the living water that makes us whole.
O Lord, our thirst reminds us that life alone is nothing
without life together,
and that life together is nothing
without life in you.
O Lord, we lift up the world, thirsting for righteousness.
You are the light of the world.
O Lord, we lift up the church, your people everywhere, and this congregation, thirsting for grace.
You are the vine and we are the branches.
O Lord, we lift up the sick and suffering . . . .
We lift up those who grieve . . . .
We lift up all who are thirsting for wholeness and healing.
You are the resurrection and the life.
O Lord, we thirst, and you quench us with everything good, to live according to the Spirit.
You are the way, the truth, and the life.
For you, O Lord, live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever; and are the one who taught us to pray saying, Our Father…
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
God is the fountain of all good and has showered us with good gifts. Let us give all of who we are in return: our hearts, minds, energies and resources.
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
O God, your gifts are manifest all around us and especially in this community of hope, love and peace. May the gifts we return to you this day be a sign of our commitment to do your work in this community and in our world to establish the flourishing of all your children. Amen.
BENEDICTION (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
God has forgiven us and established a new covenant with us in Jesus Christ.
In Christ, God has written God’s law on our hearts.
May we go from here as a witness to the new covenant of peace and justice for all.
Let us lift up the brokenhearted
And stand with the oppressed.
And let everything we do be out of the love of God in Christ. Amen.