From Feasting on the Word - Worship Companion, edited by Kimberly Bracken Long. God's love is sure and steadfast, always providing a way out, a way through, a way back to God. Through the waters of baptism, we have died with Christ and are raised with him. With gratitude, in faith, we will walk the way of Christ.
From Feasting on the Word - Worship Compansion, edited by Kimberly Bracken Long. May the mercy of God ground us, the love of Christ take root in us, and the Holy Spirit grow in us, that we may be ready for the coming of the kingdom.
From Feasting on the Word - Worship Companion, edited by Kimberly Bracken Long. On this third Sunday of Lent, we are urged to shake off the complacency that can overtake us; to seek God as people in a dry and weary land seek water; and to bear fruit in our daily lives that contribute to God's kingdom of justice and love.
From Feasting on the Word - Worship Companion, edited by Kimberly Bracken Long. Holy God, we confess that we have grown complacent in our response to you. You set before us a rich feast of blessing, but we are drawn to lesser things that cannot satisfy. You call us to attend to urgent needs in the world, but we indulge our own desires. Our ways are not your ways; our thoughts do not ascend to your thoughts. Forgive us when we fall short of your claim upon our lives. Disturb our complacency and quicken our desire for a more fruitful life. Be patient, we pray, as we amend who we are, in the hope of becoming who you intend us to be. We ask this in the name of our Savior, your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray to our God sayingLord, in your righteousness, deliver us and set us free.
Holy God, you knew us before we took our first breath. You uttered your living Word and brought forth light, love, and life. You gathered us from the dust of the earth and called us your people. You sent us into the world to proclaim your mighty and wondrous deeds. You are with us even now as we continue our call. Lord, in your righteousness, deliver us and set us free.
Mighty God, you have done great things; who is like you? You alone are our rock of refuge. You alone are our strong fortress. You alone are our hope and in you alone is our trust. Lord, in your righteousness, deliver us and set us free.
Merciful God, your love never ends. We confess to you that we do not always share your love as we should. Where you have called us to live as one body, we exist as divided members. Where you have called us to give our Spirit-given gifts, we ignore your call. Where you have called us to forgive, we have forgotten your mercy. Lord, in your righteousness, deliver us and set us free.
Gracious God, do not be far from us! Strengthen us that we might be givers of your grace and may your steadfast love be known to all of your children. Send your Holy Spirit to empower our hands to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and love all as you have first loved us. Lord, in your righteousness, deliver us and set us free.
Loving God, hear today the prayers that we lift up to you. Be with those of us who are [name of community]. Give us hearts of courage and songs of your grace to tell others of your righteous acts and deeds of salvation. Lord, in your righteousness, deliver us and set us free.
Abundant God, be with those of us that yearn for your restoration and healing. Today, we ask your blessing upon [list names of those in need of healing]. We who are [name of community] also lift up to you those who we bring before you with our lips or within our hearts… Lord, in your righteousness, deliver us and set us free.
Faithful God, your power and your righteousness reach the heavens. Hear us, your servants, as we follow you to the day when faith, hope, and love will be upon the lips of all of us, your children. These things we pray in the name of your Son who taught us to pray saying…
"To pray means to stop expecting from God the same small-mindedness which you discover in yourself. To pray is to walk in the full light of God and to say simply, without holding back, 'I am human and you are God.'" These words from Henri Nouwen illustrate the honesty of the season of Lent. Lent is not a time to beat around the bush or to gloss over the messy details of our lives. Lent is a time to put away our swords, to take off our armor, and to approach our God in all honesty. Let us confess our sins together before our merciful God...
Abundant God,even in this wilderness, on this sacred journey to the cross, you call us to reciprocate the love that you have so abundantly shown to us. Accept this our humble offering that we may be faithful stewards of the blessings you have entrusted to us. Amen.
The following responsive confession is from Rev. Teri Peterson via LiturgyLink. One: God, you provide beyond our imagination All: and yet somehow, not quite up to our expectation. One: We desire so many things, forgetting your desires. All: We long to control what you do, how you act, who you favor. One: But you call us to a feast full of guests we would never choose. All: Forgive us when we act as if your giving is restricted to our pleasure. Forgive us when we try to ration your abundance. Forgive us when we fail to share your generosity. One: Fill us again, O God, with your goodness, and nurture our faith, All: that we may grow in your love.
sung: Kyrie Eleison
Submitted by Rev. Teri Peterson, the Presbyterian Church of Palatine, IL.
via LiturgyLink http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/liturgylink/~3/FiOzS20kG58/
Come, Holy Spirit, into this place for you are welcome here. In this dry and barren wilderness of Lent, we thirst for your presence and eagerly await your illumination. May our hearts be ablaze and our ears ever attuned to listen for your Word. Come, Holy Spirit... Come, Holy Spirit... Come, Holy Spirit... you are welcome in this place.
God of the Blazing Bush,even in the wilderness we have become comfortable. As you did to your servant Moses, direct our gaze toward the path to which you call us. Come into this place and bless this, our worship of you. Hear our praise and receive our offering as we pray, sing, listen, speak, and discern according to your Holy Spirit. Come into this place, Holy God, and turn us aside that we may go out into the world and continue our worship of you. Amen.
One: Come, you people, before your God!Many: We are gathered to seek and to thirst. One: Come, you people, and follow our Lord! Many: We will follow with praise and with courage. One: Come, you people, and be sent in the Spirit! Many: We will turn to the path laid before us. One: Come, you people, to lift up God's name! Many: We will remember, rejoice, and be renewed. One: Come, let us continue our Lenten journey to which we are called...
Holy God,you have created us from the beginning of time and continue to create us anew each and every day. However, we do not always embrace that creation. Too often we turn away from your questions, your parables, and your wisdom in search of our own answers, answers that often carry us further from that which we are meant to be. When we are caught between our belief and our unbelief, between our understanding and our false notions, we do not reach out for your hand that is extended to pick us up from the depths of our brokenness. Forgive us, Lord. In those moments when we turn away from our calling, help our hands to open to you, our ears to listen to you, our eyes to watch you, and our hearts to beat with yours. O Lord, hear our prayer.
This sermon was first preached at First Presbyterian Church of Dalton, Georgia on August 28th, 2011. Exodus 3:1-15 also appears in the Revised Common Lectionary in the Season after Pentecost (Proper 17). “Holy Ground”
Exodus 3:1-15 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’ Then God said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ God said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
…He just didn’t see it coming. And let’s be realistic with each other - would you? Would I? In just the previous chapter Moses had committed an act of the utmost evil: he killed a person. That’s right, this young Hebrew man, who would go on to serve as the vehicle for God’s earth-shattering, reality-altering emancipation of the Israelites, was a murderer. A fugitive from both God and Pharaoh, Moses flees to the land of Midian where he finds a lovely wife and has resigned himself to the simple life of a shepherd. Those days by the Nile are sufficiently behind him. He has escaped that messy situation in Egypt and has found his niche in life. This morning begins like any other, as he gathers his staff and takes his sheep into the wilderness. The simplicity of the moment is a pleasant reminder of his “comfortable” life, a life in which he is quite content to exist the rest of his days.
But how foolish these hopes turn out to be! The author of this text reminds us of this by inserting what I find to be a rather cleverly-placed verse immediately before today’s lectionary passage. You see, right before today’s passage and right after the mention of Moses’ new wife and son, the author of the text slips these verses in the midst of this seemingly “happy” ending: in verse 23 of the second chapter, we read that “after a long time…the Israelites groaned under their slavery and cried out…God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.”
Just when Moses was getting comfortable, just when he had resigned himself to a life of simplicity and normalcy, God takes notice. God takes notice of a dysfunctional social reality that is in need of being changed. And if there is one thing we, as a worshiping community can say for sure, it is that we have never worshiped a God who has ever been satisfied with the status quo. And so it is at this point that we find ourselves standing in the sand next to our friend Moses who has perfected the art of the status quo. But this sand, this earthen floor, is no generic foundation. No, it is something entirely different. So different, in fact, that God reminds Moses (and ourselves!) to remove the sandals from our feet, because the place on which we are standing is holy ground! …Holy ground.
So what is this text saying to us here and now? What is it, exactly, that makes this ground, right here beneath our feet at this very moment, so holy? Is it the fact that we come together as a community to worship God in this beautiful sanctuary? No, for Moses is standing in no structure built by human hands. Is it the fact that we have come here today to follow God’s commission? No, that can’t be it either because we can be fairly sure that Moses awoke that morning with no intention other than to watch a flock of sheep. So what is it that makes this ground holy?
I have found that the revised common lectionary is a helpful tool when pondering the mysteries of these fruitful (if sometimes elusive!) passages. Often the different lectionary readings for each Sunday will speak to and with each other and it is often helpful for ourselves, as readers and engagers of these texts, to join in the conversation. Today’s gospel passage comes from the book of Matthew and we find ourselves standing next to Peter, a character with whom I have always shared a fond connection. However, this passage is not exactly the shining moment of his career as a disciple. After months of being on the road, healing the broken and feeding the hungry, everything is going great! But Jesus decides to throw the disciples a curveball and state that it will be necessary for him to suffer and die. Peter, however noble his intentions might have been, strongly disagrees and receives a harsh rebuke by his friend and savior, Jesus.
Peter tends to get a bad reputation for many such stories in the gospel narrative- whether here where he is compared to Satan himself, or when he cuts off the ear of the soldier dragging away Jesus, or when he sits by that charcoal fire warming his hands in the moments after he betrays Jesus. But the fact remains that perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on Peter because you and I, if in that same situation, would probably have reacted similarly. Jesus, things are going so well! After all, we have brought sight to the blind, food to the hungry, hope to the hopeless, and faith to the faithless. God forbid you suffer and die! You are supposed to be our savior, our victor! Who else is going to save us from the Romans? How dare you take us away from our routine, our vibe, what we are comfortable with!?
…But our God is not a “comfortable” God. We know this because the same God who became manifest in the flesh, who fed the hungry, healed the sick, and freed those who were enslaved by the chains of that society, did a most curious thing. Jesus shatters into our existence not by amassing an army and overthrowing the Romans (as you, Peter, and I might have preferred), but by dying on a cross next to common criminals and overcoming death, an enemy even the Romans could never defeat. And though we never could have predicted it at the time, Jesus reformed and recreated any expectations that you, I, or Peter could have ever had.
This story, I think, is an “echo” of our journey today with Moses. God re-created Peter and Moses into something which they could have never predicted through means that they would have never employed. And furthermore, God shatters into our status quo (making no small commotion along the way) and invites us into the work of God’s re-creation using people who we would never expect.
That, Sisters and Brothers, is what makes this holy ground. These texts force us to re-shape who we thought we were and redirect us to what we are created and called to be. Like Moses, we are witnesses to that which forces us to “turn aside” and behold that which rips us from our comfortable reality and sets us upon ground that is holy. “Holy” – the very word comes from the Hebrew concept of being separate, of something different, something set apart.
This holy text which we engage on this holy ground before our holy God, sets us apart from our preconceived notions of what is right and just. And, friends, this is something we need desperately. Because if left to our own devices, if left to our own conventional thinking, the Israelites would still be in Egypt and Moses would still be in Midian shepherding Jethro’s flock to this day.
But that’s not the end of that story…and it’s not the end of our own…for if there is another thing that we, as a worshipping community, can say for sure it is that we have never worshiped a God who is happy with leaving us alone! For the job is not over! This text reminds us that there are still oppressed peoples in the world and we, as we stand next to Moses barefoot in the burning sand before that blazing bush, are challenged to respond to this call by opening ourselves to the this counter-cultural text that shatters any societal norms that ensure the enslavement of any people, whether that slavery be physical, political, or theological.
Friends we are standing next to Moses, you and I, at this very moment! This text calls us, the people who are First Presbyterian Church of Dalton, Georgia, to do something. For we, you and I, are members of a society that continues to oppress our sisters and brothers, whether for their political beliefs, their skin color, their economic placement, their gender, or their sexual orientation. Like Moses, we are forced by this text out of our comfort zone, out of our routine, and into those places where oppressed people cry out to God, for God takes notice. We cannot ignore this holy ground, we must respond. Oh, I suppose you and I could continue on our merry way here in Dalton, in our comfort and in our status quo. But you and I would do well to remember this fact: that the inaction of Moses would have been just as detrimental to the oppressed people of Israel as any action Pharaoh could have done.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, we stand upon holy ground. We have been called, we have been invited to bring freedom to those who have been robbed of their voice, whose backs are burdened by the oppressive weight of intolerance and ignorance. And if we take the time to remove the sandals from our feet, we will find ourselves that much closer to our foundation, to that through which we have been created and are being created anew each and every day. If only we “turn aside” and gaze upon this great sight will we find ourselves carried into places that force us out of ourselves, and into each other, and into the community which God has created us to be.
Friends, people are oppressed. They are crying out to God. God has taken notice. And you and I must turn aside.
Amen…so be it…amen!