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4th Sunday in Lent : 10th March 2024

What follows is a worship service which, I pray, you can participate in at a time(s) that are convenient to you. This 'service' will take about forty five (45) minutes.

I pray that you will feel called to ACTIVELY PARTICIPATE in this service.

The text that is in regular typeface (that is what you are reading at the moment) is to be read quietly, while the text that is in
bold face (like you are reading right now) is meant to be read aloud.

Opening Hymn:

Let us continue by watching, and please do feel free to sing or read aloud the lyrics, as we commence our praise and thanksgiving.

When you are ready - click the "play" button on the video window, below:

A Call To Worship:

We meet in the name of God,

Creator of the universe,

source of true humanity,

mother and father of all. Amen.

An Assurance of Forgiveness:

(click the 'play' button below to listen)

The Absolution
00:00 / 00:18

The Sentence For Today (let us say aloud):

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures for ever.

The Special Prayer For Today (let us pray aloud):

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Our first reading for today:

(click the 'play' button below to listen)

Numbers 21:4-9
00:00 / 01:08

Our second reading for today:

(click the 'play' button below to listen)

Ephesians 2:1-10
00:00 / 01:37

Gradual Hymn:

Let us continue by watching, and please do feel free to sing or read aloud the lyrics, as we raise out voices in praise and thanksgiving.

When you are ready - click the "play" button on the video window, below:

A reading from the holy gospel according to Saint John.

John 3:14-21
00:00 / 01:20

Listen to David speak to this gospel

Respond to God's love
00:00 / 12:59

or, if you prefer, you can read the sermon, below:

Sermon for Lent 4, 10th Mar 2024

Take my lips O God and speak through them, take our minds O God and think through them, take our hearts O God and love through them this day. <Amen>

I’m going back over 30 years. I was in Australia and watching cricket on TV. The camera kept picking up a man in the crowd holding up a sign that simply said “John 3:16”. At that moment I realised that this gospel reference and the verse itself had achieved “sound bite status”.

Christians know the verse well because it is a straightforward expression of God’s love for the world and promise of eternal life. Its summary of an essential truth of Christian belief tempts us to isolate it from its place within the gospel of John, however. When we
do read further, like today, we may wish we hadn’t, for the following verses seem contradictory.

How can God so love the world that God sends His son in order to save the world (verse 17) and at the same time condemn so many in it (verse 18)?

So, we encounter a characteristic of the Gospel of John. The sharp divisions between believers and non-believers, saved and condemned, people who love darkness rather than light, do evil and not good (verses 19-21).

Those of us called to speak to The Word face the challenge of confirming the gospel truth and yet observing some caution against accepting John’s dichotomies literally.

We need to enter John’s gospel as it was written, when it was written … and, as a symbolic universe.

It is John’s style to say things that border on the offensive, to puzzle and challenge us.

However, we should not try to silence this Johannine Jesus by deciding what he should and should not have said; or by what we want to hear and don’t want to hear BUT … how do we enter the world of this gospel? No single approach explains the complex, symbolic world of John’s narrative, but I think it is helpful for our understanding to remember the historical context of the Johannine community at the end of the first century.

There was a polarity between insiders and outsiders, a sharp contrast between the young, Christian community and the dominant culture surrounding them … those who have the truth and those who do not.

Today’s gospel is actually a continuation of the story of Nicodemus, a Pharisee and leader of the Jews who comes to Jesus by night; he recognises Jesus is sent from God, but he comes in secret. Jesus chides him for his lack of understanding.

In John, some of the sharpest criticism is directed toward those who have insight about Jesus, but keep it secret.

The Johannine community HAS separated itself from the synagogue while other believers chose to stay. So, John’s gospel narrative indicates the experience of a MINORITY group seeking to define itself within the diversity of Judaism and the politics and culture of the time.

In THIS context, divisive language against the Jews and “secret” believers functioned to
affirm members of a minority community defining itself in relation to Truth.

I believe John’s purpose is not to exclude others, but rather to support those who have made difficult (even life-threatening) choices to belong.

Therefore, viewed in isolation from historical context and in our feeble hands, the words
of the gospel of John can do serious harm, indeed … read history, they have! <PAUSE>

John 3:16 is a truly wonderful, foundational verse for all Christians. It’s also a really good interpretive lens into the gospel.

John begins with echoes of Genesis and the goodness of God’s creation, the world, all that is in it. That note is sounded again so clearly here. For the sake of this world, God gives his most cherished beloved son.

Any parent knows that the depth of love for one’s child. So it is in that, in this human experience, we begin to grasp God’s self- giving love for us, giving us the incomparable gift of salvation, life forever through his beloved Son.

How else to respond to God’s love for us but to love and cherish the world and EVERY creature in it as beloved of God. <PAUSE>

Pointing the finger at, accusing, condemning Christian critics or those different from us IS NOT THE WAY OF CHRIST. God did NOT give His beloved Son so that WE might have the right to condemn others.

No. No. NO !!!! God gave us his Son to teach us to LOVE others.

Yes … ALL others … and to show by word and deed that in living the life of The Risen Christ we SPEAK and SHOW that love. <PAUSE>

If we take our faith seriously, this will be our life-long, all-consuming challenge. <PAUSE>

We might take this challenge in the direction of vaccines and whether to take them; take it in the direction of global warming and care for the earth; or we might tackle poverty or hunger in light of the abundance many of us enjoy; or advocate for peaceful resolutions of the differences between peoples. Opportunities stretch from our doorstep
around the globe.

John’s challenge to followers of Jesus in his community, and now in our own, is to grapple with the amazing love that God showed to the world in the giving of His Son and … HOW … WE ARE TO RESPOND … WITH LOVE!

I runga e te Ingoa o te Atua, te Matua, te Tama me te Wairua Tapu.
In the name of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit <AMINE>

Pause and Reflect

Just take a moment now to pause. Bow your head, close your eyes.
 

Allow these words of Holy Scripture and this interpretation of them today to speak to you.

An Affirmation of Our Faith

Let us affirm our faith by saying aloud, and together, "The Apostles Creed":

apostles_creed_pic02.jpg
Image by Allef Vinicius

... and now let us pray for the Church, the World, and Ourselves, giving thanks for God's goodness.

​Let us pray aloud, and together:

Holy God, forgive us when we have sinned by speaking against You, Your son Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit and also for the times that, through fear or complacency, we do not speak for You or admit to our Christian faith.  Help us always to carry our cross openly and to take every opportunity to live and preach the Good News

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. 

(LONGER pause for silent, personal reflection)

In response to the call today “Lord, in Your Mercy” Our plea is, “Hear our prayer”

(Short Silence) Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer.

Gracious God, whenever we start to doubt, or take for granted, Your generosity or open-mindedness, give us the grace to repent and return to give You praise and rejoicing. Guard Your people against self-righteousness and all rules and limits which You would not own, but always keep before us the rule of love.

(Short Silence) Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer.


Creator God, help us to reject following the ways of this world and the passions of the flesh when they would pull us away from following You along the paths of righteousness.  We also pray for those in positions of authority and leadership; that they too reject misusing their powers but always respect and care for all their peoples and for the natural resources of their countries.

(Short Silence) Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer.

Father God, for many of us today is “Mothering Sunday” and we remember that from the cross your only Son, Jesus entrusted Mary his mother and John his disciple to each other’s care.  Help us also to care for one another and fill our homes with the spirit of Your love.

(Short Silence) Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer.

Loving God, the psalmist tells us how You sent forth Your word and healed the children of Israel and saved them from destruction.  We remember to give thanks to You for the goodness and the wonders you continue to do for us, Your children and we continue to raise before You those we know who still need a healing word and touch.

We especially raise before you now all those who have asked for our prayers from around the world … those we know in New Zealand, in Singapore, in Argentina, in France, in Australia, in the US, in Canada, in Austria, in Ukraine, in China and any others we now name aloud, or in the silence of our hearts, and those who are known only by you.

(Short Silence) Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer.

Merciful God, we pray for those who have departed this life and recognise that they have been saved through their faith and the gift of Your Son Jesus Christ, rather than by the good works that they did and the things that they achieved in their time on earth.

May all the faithful departed now rest in eternal peace as they surely have risen in glory to gaze upon the face of The Risen Christ.

(Short Silence) Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer.

Faithful God, You are rich in mercy, and love us even when we sin and fail You. Thank you that by grace we have been saved and given the promise of being raised up with your son Jesus Christ and seated with him in the heavenly places when we come to the end of our lives.

(Short Silence) Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer.

Forth in the peace of Christ we go; Christ to the world with joy we bring; Christ in our minds, Christ on our lips, Christ in our hearts, the world’s true King.

Merciful father: accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

lord's_prayer_pic01_edited.jpg

Remembering that we are confident to pray this day, and every day, because Jesus Christ continues to teach 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.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever.   Amen.

Let us conclude our prayers by praying together and aloud:

 

God of mercy,
you have given us grace to pray with one heart and one voice,
and have promised to hear the prayers
of two or three who agree in your name,
fulfil now, we pray,
the prayers and longings of your people
as may be best for us and for your kingdom.
Grant us in this world to know your truth,
and in the world to come to see your glory. Amen.

The Blessing

May The Risen Lord Christ turn His face towards each and every one of you.

May He cause His light to shine upon you, and

may He grant you His peace, and

 

The blessing of Almighty God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

be with you and all of those whom you love,

on this day and forever more.

A Closing Hymn:

Let us conclude our worship today by watching, and please do feel free to sing or read aloud the lyrics, as we unite in another hymn our praise and thanksgiving.

When you are ready - click the "play" button on the video window, below:

The Dismissal

Go now, go out into the world

to love and serve The Lord.

 

Go in peace.

AMEN, we go in the name of Christ.

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