We continue our journey through Lent, keeping our eyes on our brother, Jesus who shows us the way. We hear this week that we are, “God’s works of art,” along with the challenge always to, “be our best selves” for us and for our world. Thinking about one of the messages that we always hear on our Lenten journey, that of “repenting,” this Sunday really calls us to see additionally, God’s mercy, in this consideration. My prayer for each of you is that you continue first and foremost, to be well and safe and get your vaccinations as soon as you can! Peace and love–call me, 507-429-3616 or email, firstname.lastname@example.org if I can help in any way, or you would just like to chat–Pastor Kathy
I will prove my holiness through you. I will gather you from the ends of the earth; I will pour clean water on you and wash away all your sins. I will give you a new spirit says our Loving God.
Let Us Pray
Creator God, Jesus, the Christ spoke peace to our fragmented world and brought humankind the gift of reconciliation by all he endured for us. Teach us, the people who bear his name, to follow his example—may our faith, hope and charity turn hatred to love, conflict to peace, death to eternal life. We ask this through Jesus, our Brother, one God with you and the Spirit, who all live and love us forever and ever—Amen.
- 2 Chronicles 36: 14-17, 19-23
- Ephesians 2: 4-10
- John 3: 14-21
My friends, as I said in this week’s bulletin, the readings chosen for this Sunday give us somewhat of a negative tone, reminding us of our sinfulness—perhaps an attention-getter? If that is the idea, to get our attention; I am here to say that the predominant theme of this week’s readings—that of the mercy of our good God, where we are concerned, is much more of an attention-getter for me.
Many of us have lived long enough to know that we aren’t perfect, that we don’t always act in the best ways that we are capable of. On any given day, we may be feeling tired, frustrated, depressed, lazy—even selfish, and it is much easier to not respond, walk the other way, or crawl under our “blankies” and ignore what should be our best, most loving response to our world and its people.
Enter our good God, personified in the person of our brother, Jesus. No matter what we choose to do on any given day, our God’s response is always the same—we are loved and accepted first—but always with the gentle nudge to start again, try once more—in fact, to be our best.
With the above in mind, primarily the predominant theme of mercy—I would like to lift up three lines for us to consider—take within, ponder today and into the next week:
- From Chronicles—”You can go home again [!]”
- From Ephesians— “We are God’s work of art in Christ Jesus to do the great things God created us to do from the beginning.”
- From John— “God sent the Only Begotten into the world to save us.” [As Jeremiah suggests above, maybe a stretch, “to bring us home”]
So, let us concentrate on that first line from Chronicles. We can only imagine what joy the Israelite people felt upon hearing from Cyrus, the Persian, that now, after so many years in slavery, they could go home! It was a “merciful” gesture and reflective of the mercy that our God shows us all. Sometimes, we may not be ready for the mercy our God offers and for that reason, we may too, like the Israelites, have to remain, “enslaved” for a time.
It is always important to remember my friends, that Scriptural stories that appear to be about one thing are always intended to take us deeper, show us more—about others, yes, but about ourselves too. Lent is about realizing, as we go deeper, that we can always, “go home again,” too.
And that moves us nicely into the next line that I lifted up for us today from Ephesians— “We are God’s work of art” …called, “to do the great things God created us to do from the beginning.” In other words, as someone wiser than me has said, “We are truly spiritual beings, here, having a human experience! Our free will, both gift and perhaps, “hinderance” at times, depending how we choose to use it, does, as we know, allow us to choose the good and the not-so-good.
Keeping this in mind—our ability to choose good or evil, is a very good reason to keep checking back with our brother Jesus as he is truly, our “north star,” pointing the way for us to follow. Now, we only need to do this, if we want to consider ourselves, Christians—his followers! When we are in doubt about a decision to go one way or another, we must consider if this action would be one Jesus would do and if we can answer, “No,” –then our path is clear.
Now, that having been said, I must add my disclaimer for good, personal self-care. We must always, always, consider ourselves in the equation of who we are caring for. Even Jesus took, “time away,” to care for himself!
The third line from the gospel of John that I lifted up for us to consider is, again, “God sent the Only Begotten…to save us.” I see this line really as an extension of what Paul said to the Ephesians. What Jesus came to “save us” from, was ourselves—our humanity, our less than perfect selves—in other words, to show us the way so that we could and can do those “great things God created us to do from the beginning.” We short-change ourselves when we simply consider that Jesus, “was sent” and “came to die for our sins.” That leaves the action with Jesus alone. I believe we were always meant to do our part and that is the fuller piece of Cyrus’ invitation to the Israelites that, “You can go home again.”
During this 4th week of Lent, as we consider, “how we are doing,” I think it is good once again to look at the “Incarnation” and ask ourselves what that was truly all about. Simply put, rather than our God being about “wanting to punish us” for our wrong-doing, the Incarnation really tells us about a God loving us creatures so much as to want to be, “one-with-us” in the person of Jesus—of Jesus wanting to step into our sufferings, our joys—to be one with us—to again, show us the way.
Often during the Season of Lent, we hear the word, “repent.” In conjunction with today’s first reading with the Israelites and us—by extension, being told that we, “can go home again,” it is good to remember, in this broader context, that, “repent” and “return” come from the same Hebrew word.
I think that many of us “long-time” Catholics, some of us, “cradle Catholics” have lived many of our years enduring a scourge we called, “good ole Catholic guilt” and at some point, decided that we weren’t going to continue doing the good we did because we would feel “guilty” if we didn’t. We wanted to have a higher motive. The “black and white” rules, “Do this, don’t do that” fall into this category. And if living and doing the good you do falls under, “I will feel guilty if I don’t,” makes you a better person, then that is the way for you. But I would suspect this is not the case for most of us.
Our readings for this 4th Sunday speak about the People of God continually, “choosing unwisely,” yet their God’s response was always to treat them in a loving way—in fact, God’s response came to be spoken about as, “lovingkindness”—one word.
God’s response to this People and to us was and is more than likely so because God knew most of what they and we do, we don’t do willingly, at least not in a pre-mediative way—it comes out of our human selfishness—at times, to protect us from supposed hurt, etc. and causes us to do some of the “isms” that plague us, even to the present day—sexism, racism, ageism and so on.
“Racism” is something our nation has been called to look at squarely in the wake of the death of George Floyd nearly a year ago, and his murderers being brought to hopeful justice in the next months. But none of us can put this issue of racism at our roots to rest when these trials conclude—we are really all on trial here!
The whole notion of “sexism” in our country and around the world was raised this past week with our National Women’s Day, celebrating the many and varied accomplishments of women. In fact, since 1987, March has been designated as National Women’s History Month.
We might ask if such days even affect us—a good question to ponder in the remaining days of Lent. Where and when do I witness women placed in second class positions or denied entrance to a particular field simply because of how they happened to have been born—no fault of their own! And furthermore, what am I going to do about it going forward?
One of the things I like to do to advance the cause of women for equality in our world in the realm of the Church is to search out “who” Mary, Jesus’ mother, truly was. Our church hierarchy tends to put her on a pedestal, lifting up mainly that she said, “Yes” to God with no further input sought out or even asked for.
Lesley Hazelton, in a wonderful book entitled, Mary: A Flesh and Blood Biography of the Virgin Mother does well to further the cause of women as strong and called by God to witness to our God’s love. The author stretches her readers’ minds and hearts to see this icon of Catholic faith as not someone to be placed on a pedestal, out of sight and consideration, but out front, challenging our Church to see the gifts of all.
Hazelton delves into the culture within which Mary was born and lived. Women, and most were strong, or they didn’t survive, would most certainly have known much that was practical about caring for their health, their bodies, about bringing life into this world and caring for it, once here. Mary, as one of these women would have taught her son all she knew about healing, about sustaining life. Scripture tells us that Jesus grew, “in wisdom and grace.” Certainly his mother added to his wisdom. Yes, my friends, our God chose wisely in asking a woman to be part of the loving equation.
And so, in conclusion, I call us back to our brother Jesus, whom we must always be checking “in with” in order to align our own actions for good in this world. Jesus was always about helping the people of his time and that extends to all of us today as his followers, to live up to the fact that we are, “God’s works of art”—called to, “do great things.” The “saving” of us that he does is to help us to be our best selves and we can do that if we keep “watching him” for the ways to be in our world. We will then make of ourselves a true gift to, “go home with,” one day. Amen? Amen!
Prayers of the Faithful
Response: “Merciful God, hear our prayer.”
- Merciful God, help us never to forget you—to always remember that you want good for us and not bad in this world, we pray—Response: “Merciful God, hear our prayer.”
- Loving God, help our country and our world to be people who love peace and strive to bring it about—thank you for being our strength and our light, we pray—Response: “Merciful God, hear our prayer.”
- Gracious God, bless each of us with healthy bodies, minds and spirits–be with those who most need you today, especially those suffering from COVID and all other illnesses, we pray— Response: “Merciful God, hear our prayer.”
- O God, show us the ways during this holy season of Lent to grow closer to you, we pray—Response: “Merciful God, hear our prayer.”
- O God, thank you for work and the ability to work and we ask you to be with those who have lost their jobs, give them hope for a new day, we pray—Response: “Merciful God, hear our prayer.”
- Loving God, be with all those around our world who are suffering in war zones, we pray—Response: “Merciful God, hear our prayer.”
7. Loving God, instill in our country’s people the flexibility and patience needed to struggle through these uncertain times—be with our leaders to bring justice, hope and peace to our country and to our world, we pray—Response: “Merciful God, hear our prayer.”
- For our community, All Are One, continue to bless us and assist us to be open to all of your people and guide us to always make a place of welcome at our table, but more importantly, in our hearts, and bring us back together—soon, we pray—Response: “Merciful God, hear our prayer.”
- Loving Jesus, be with all families who have lost loved ones this week—give them your peace, that they may find their way through their grief, we pray—Response: Merciful God, hear our prayer.”
***Let us pray for the silent petitions on our hearts—Pause–then response
Let Us Pray
Good and merciful God, you are our light and our love. You have proven again and again how much you love us—help us to never forget that and to always turn to you to with our praise and petitions. During these remaining weeks of Lent, show us the way to you that we would always have the strength to follow your lead, you who have never been anything but LOVE for us. Help us to remember that we are your hands, eyes, ears and heart for our world—help us to be generous with your love. All this we ask of you, in Jesus’ loving name and with the Spirit—one God, living and loving us forever and ever, Amen.
Let Us Pray—Again, we cannot be together at the altar, but our God, in Jesus is always with us!
Prayer of Communion
Loving God, you enlighten all who come into the world. Fill our hearts with the light of the Gospel, may our thoughts please you and our expression of love be sincere. Grant our prayer through Jesus and with the Spirit, all one God, loving us forever and ever—Amen.