MEDITATION FOR SUNDAY, MARCH 29, 2020: LENT 3

 

“COMING TO LIFE”:  JOHN 11

             This past week has been a week like none other in my life.  I suspect the same holds true for each of you!  We are having to adjust rapidly to “a new normal”, though as a pastor it will never be “normal” for me not to be sharing in worship with you each Sunday. I don’t remember any class in seminary on “How to lead the Church during a Pandemic”.

             I believe it’s important that as a faith community we continue to stay as connected as possible during this time.  Instead of preaching “live”, the plan is to upload the bulletin and a weekly message to our website.  Here is the first of hopefully not too many website messages.

             Today we arrive at the fifth and last Sunday of Lent.  Next week, on Palm Sunday, we begin the final part of our journey to the cross and the empty tomb.  Even as we wait and prepare for the events of Holy Week, even this deep in Lent, there is the reminder of the life God gives through Christ.

             Our text is John 11 – the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.

             At first glance this story seems premature.  It sounds like an Easter story, though we’re still a couple weeks away from Easter itself.  Yet it’s a powerful reminder that God acts to intrude, to surprise, to shock with new life. It’s also a reminder that we, the church, gather on Sunday, the first day of the week, the day of resurrection. For God’s people, every Sunday is a celebration of Easter, even in Lent.  Resurrection, coming to life, is in fact the everyday work of the church, and life is the focus of these verses from John.

             By the time John begins this story, Jesus has already had his life threatened twice.  He’s retreated from Jerusalem back to Galilee.  Hearing Lazarus is ill, Jesus goes back to the land of death to pull his friend from the grip of death.

            This is the last “sign” of  Jesus’ ministry – the first was turning water into wine at the wedding of Cana.  And nothing here is as it appears on the surface. Remember, this is John’s gospel, the gospel where no-one really seems to understand what Jesus is saying, at least not at first (think of Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the disciples and Pharisees with the man born blind).

             Once again, there is misunderstanding.  The disciples don’t get what Jesus says about Lazarus having fallen asleep.  Even after setting them straight, Jesus seems to downplay the situation.  He doesn’t rush off to Bethany.

              When he does arrive, Mary stays inside.  Martha rushes out to really let Jesus have it in no uncertain terms: “if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

             Martha demands Jesus do something. She is assured Lazarus will rise again.  And she again misunderstands. So Jesus responds with the timeless, beloved words, “I am resurrection and life.”  All of this is happening in the present, not the future.  Jesus once more takes the great name of God – “I AM”- for himself.  In effect he tells Martha her brother won’t rise on the last day, he will rise now.

             There’s another twist to this story when Martha goes to tell Mary Jesus is asking for her. When Mary gets to Jesus, she repeats Martha’s accusation. Seeing the tears, Jesus is moved with sadness, and weeps quietly.

             At the tomb, death appears to have a firm and final hold on Lazarus.  When Jesus orders the stone rolled away, Martha cautions that it’s going to be kind of smelly in there.  Undeterred, once the stone is removed, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb.  Lazarus emerges, in strips of cloth used to bind spices to a dead body. Jesus calls on bystanders to unwrap Lazarus, and let him go.

             For Lazarus, this is the beginning of new life.  For Jesus, it’s the beginning of the end. Many who saw what happened believed; others went to the Pharisees and chief priests, who then planned to put Jesus to death.

             What can we take from this story as we move towards Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter – the strangest Easter we have ever known?  What does this have to say to us as we try to navigate this wilderness? Let’s be honest – we all are as scared and frightened and confused as Martha and Mary. Our once familiar, comfortable world is no longer recognizable.  Each day seems to bring another disruption to routines.  But as always, God meets us right where we are, just as we are.

Yes, our sense of community is “on hold” since we cannot worship together.  But we can still worship; we can still pray; we can still read God’s Word; we can still be open to seeing signs of life and light in the midst of despair and darkness.

             This Sunday, Lent 5, we would have sung one of my favorite hymns, Natalie Sleeth’s “In the Bulb There is a Flower” © Natalie Sleeth ,1986.   Here are the words:

 

        In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;

        In cocoons a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!

        In the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be,

        Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.


        There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;

       There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.

       From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,

       Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

 

       In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;

       In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity.

       In our death, a resurrection, at the last, a victory,

       Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

 

            In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

© Rev. Elizabeth Morgan, 2020


ORDER OF WORSHIP

           SUNDAY, March 29, 2020 Lent 5          

 

We Gather to Worship God

 

Prelude

     Welcome and Announcements

Chiming of the Trinity

 *Call to Worship

People of God, hope in the Lord!

            With the Lord there is steadfast love, and great power to redeem.

Let us worship God.

 

*Choral Introit       Lord, accept our Lenten fast

                                                 and forgive our sinful past,

                                                That we may partake with Thee

                                                    In the Easter mystery.

 

*Gathering Prayer

 *Hymn of Praise: 32   “I Sing the Mighty Power of God”

 *Call to Reconciliation

 *Unison Prayer for Forgiveness

            O Lord, if you held our sin against us, who could live, who could stand?

            We seem to have more faith in death than hope in your promise of life.

            We seek peace through war, and find security in weapons.

            We abandon the hungry, sick, and dying.

            And even so, you love us; still there is forgiveness with you!  Therefore we worship you; for you alone, O Lord, can save us from death and redeem us from our sin.  Amen.

 

*Words of Assurance

Hear the good news!  It is by faith that we are saved, and our guilty hearts washed clean.  Refreshed and renewed, empowered by the Holy Spirit, let us live as ones who are forgiven and freed.

            Thanks be to God!  Amen!

 

*Gloria Patri  Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy                                    Ghost;    As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,                                                     world without end.  Amen, Amen.

 We Hear God’s Word

Prayer for Illumination

 PsalterLesson:               Psalm 130      

Gospel Lesson                 John 11

 Message                                                                                                                                                                          

                       We Respond to God’s Word

 

*Hymn: 250       “In the Bulb There Is a Flower” 

 Pastoral Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer 

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.

 

 Offertory 

*Doxology:                Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;

Praise him all creatures here below;

Praise him above, ye heavenly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Amen.


We Depart to Serve the Lord

 

*Hymn: 738       “O Master Let Me Walk with Thee”  

 *Benediction 

 *Choral Response             “Amen”                                   *Postlude 


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RESPONDING TO COVID-19

 

           The following provisions will remain in place for the next                 two weeks, possibly longer.

 

All group activities are canceled:  Choir, Scouts, Recovery group, AA. 

                 Church Office is closed at present time: The answering                 machine will be checked.

 

  • The Pastor is available by phone, text, or email.  Phone is 364-1542.  Email is Elzbthmrgn7@aol.com.

 

  • The Pastor will not make any home or hospital visits.  The Pastor will also not officiate any funerals.

 

  • Beginning March 25, a short weekly meditation and prayers will be uploaded to our website.  If you do not have internet and would like a copy mailed to you, please call the church office and let us know.

 

  • Elders and Deacons will be assisting the Pastor in reaching out to you by phone.

 

Even though we are closed for the time being, our financial obligations will continue, and we would be very grateful for your continued support of FPC Lewiston.  Checks can be mailed to the church as you are able.  We will be making one bank deposit at the end of the month.

 

            In the middle of this disruption of our lives, I’d like to encourage us all to remember that the One who does not change is still present to us.  The prophet Isaiah speaks words of trust and encouragement that are especially relevant: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Is. 41:10)

 

            Please lift up each other in prayer every day.  May God’s peace be with us all.

            For the Session,

505 Cayuga Street
Lewiston, NY 14092

(716) 754-4945
Fax: (716) 754-4945

fpcl2@verizon.net 

Worship:
11:15AM:
(Prayer Group: 10:30AM)
Sunday School: (for Ages 3 to Adult)
10:20AM  Sept-Mid June
Church Office Hours:
Tuesday-Thursday, 9 AM-3PM

Closed Monday & Friday