27 March, 4th Sunday in Lent

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The Faith Nurture Forum would like to thank Wendy Lloyd, Faith communications coordinator, Nations and Church Relations Team at Christian Aid, for her thoughts on the fourth Sunday in Lent.

Weekly Worship, based on the Revised Common Lectionary, is for everyone – in any capacity – who is involved in creating and leading worship.

We may not all be gathered in the same building, but at this time, when we need each other so much, we are invited to worship together, from where we are – knowing that God can hear us all and can blend even distant voices into one song of worship.

Introduction

The weekly worship notes created for Lent have been prepared as a partnership project between Operation Noah, Eco-Congregation Scotland, Young Christian Climate Network, Quakers in Britain and Christian Aid.

They have been prepared through the lens of a question inspired by Micah 6:8: What does it mean to walk humbly with God while seeking to do justice and love kindness?

Each of these organisations have a long history of doing justice, loving kindness and walking in pursuit of God's will for all of Creation. They have learned through long walks for peace and pilgrimages to climate change talks and marching with placards that walking provides the opportunity to embody our prayer as action.

Lent is not equally observed in all churches but the ideas of reflection and repentance are familiar to all Christians. Pilgrimage has a history of being a penitential undertaken but has evolved over the years to become so much more. It is a literal walking humbly with our God.

Along with preparing these weekly worship notes each partner has contributed to a podcast episode in the "Walking Humbly" series, available wherever you get your podcasts. Do signpost your congregation to the podcast as they seek to process and reflect on the readings and worship during each week of Lent.

As the General Assembly has affirmed:

Affirm the place of pilgrimage within the life of the church and encourage congregations to explore opportunities for pilgrimage locally and how to provide practical and spiritual support for pilgrims passing through the parish.

Instruct the Church and Society Council, in partnership with the Mission and Discipleship Council and others to develop resources to support pilgrimage in Scotland.

General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 2017

Joshua 5:9-12

There is much to feast on in these four verses, during these days of Lenten fasting. This is a defining moment in the story of the Israelites. It is a moment of arrival. To read of the conclusion of the wilderness journey when we are still in the middle of Lent seems unfairly tantalising.

In verse 9, the use of the phrase ‘rolled way' and the naming of the place as ‘Gilgal', which means ‘rolled away the reproach of Egypt', is itself captivating as we continue our Lenten journey towards Holy Week and that ultimate rolling away of the stone on Easter Sunday morning.

It is not that we want or need to skip to that conclusion but rather that in this deep part of Lent such a noticing might keep us sustained on the journey.

Verse 10: The celebration of Passover on the plains of Jericho is the Israelites first act of arrival in the land that they had been journeying towards for so long. Even with the rolling away of the disgrace of their enslavement they remember how the journey began – with the meal that protected them from the final plague, the death of the firstborn. This affirms the place and need for ritual to mark beginnings and endings in our own lives.

Verse 11: They ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. You might ask how they managed to get this harvest, what hospitality they may have been offered by the resident population of the Canaanites. And there are difficult and delicate questions raised by this arriving. The detail of cakes and grain are not without significance.

Verse 12: A sure sign of arriving was when the manna they were so reliant on and was so consistent, stopped as suddenly and definitely as it arrived. Repeated for reinforcement – the manna ceased and they no longer had manna.

Psalm 32

Happiness, gladness, rejoicing and joy are not states of being commonly associated with Lent, but they are the bread of the Psalm 32 sandwich (vv1+2 and v11). The filling of the sandwich gives us the process for such arriving at such joy and is a very Lenten and indeed Christian process.

Verses 2-4 convey the consequences of not entering into the transformative process of confession. It is not just a matter of emotional wellbeing, but this bottling up of guilt and shame is a very embodied experience. The body does indeed keep the score, as Bessel van der Kolk's book helps us understand.

Verse 5 offers us the pivot moment. The Selah provides a valuable moment to pause and process the four stages of acknowledging; no longer hiding; confessing; and guilt being forgiven.

Verse 6 is an encouragement to all who hear and read these words to follow suit in our confiding in and confessing of sin to God. And if we needed any further encouragement to do so, we find it in the beautiful words of verse 7 – another rich verse to mull over and meditate upon during our Lenten pilgrimage.

Verses 8-11 take us back to the narrative voice of verses 1-2. Those who have trodden the path of confession and experienced the transformative power of forgiveness become the navigators and guides for others to follow. They speak from their own experience of torment (v10) but major on the positives of steadfast love, gladness and joy as a final encouragement for confession and forgiveness (vv10-11).

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

The opening word of "From now on, therefore", send us back into the context of this passage and this community that is being addressed.

It is the love of Christ, dying for all, that has changed everything.

From now on everything has changed. We no longer view others in human terms but through the eyes of God's love for them. We no longer see ourselves as we once did, but through the gaze of God's love.

This changes everything. And the outcome of such transformation is reconciliation, a word mentioned no fewer than five times in these six verses.

This ministry of reconciliation is an act of resistance against the hostile first-century Roman imperial society, on the part of Paul, according to Ched Myers (Ambassadors of Reconciliation Vol. 1). It is the encouragement to create a new kind of community not defined by race, class or gender, but by being united as God's beloved community of the church. Not as a community separate from the world but as ambassadors and witnesses of such love, unity and peace in the world.

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

It is easy to rush to the second part of verse 11 and get into the detail of this much loved parable. But it is worth pausing with verses 1 and 2. Who was listening then and who are we who listen now? There is an implicit invitation to place ourselves in this story from the outset. Do we approach as a listener (v1) or are we grumbling before the story has even begun (v2)?

Reading this familiar story through the lens of walking humbly there is a distinction in this story between humiliation and humility.

The younger son reaches the point of ultimate humiliation and rejection in v6. He would even have eaten the food of the unclean animals! The listening Pharisees would have found this scandalous. The phrase "no one gave him anything", further carves out his humiliation, this is rock bottom.

This poignant phrase is echoed by the elder brother in his angry response to the father in verse 29: "You have never given me even a young goat…"

Both brothers have real or imagined scarcity and need. Whether or not they choose humility is the key to their different responses and why the story ends with one brother partying and the other outside in a furious huff.

One brother chooses, in humility, to turns towards the father, the other, in pride, stays away.

Braced with all the right sounding, contrite words, the younger brother sets out for home. In rehearsing his homecoming speech that he is "no longer worthy to be called your son," he has fallen foul of defining humility as something many of us have done. That is, being humble is to belittle our identity in the world, we are ‘being backward about coming forward'. What this story conveys so well, is that in choosing to walking humbly towards God, we discover the embrace and acceptance of being a child of God. An idea encapsulated so well in that beautiful poem by Marianne Williamson, cited in part here:

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It is the older brother who has played by the rules and yet missed the part about walking humbly as a requirement by God (Micah 6:8), who is left outside in the dark listening to the party music. He chooses pride over humility and remains resistant to his father's embrace. He remains trapped in a mindset of scarcity, his heart closed to all that is his.

Sermon ideas

There is an unexpected celebratory atmosphere in these passages for Week 4 in Lent. It almost seems as something of a misstep on our walking humbly journey. But with Lent being a process of reflection, confession and repentance, it is probably a good time to glimpse some of the grace and abundance of God's love.

This is not just a mindset shift but a more expansive metanoia moment. The arrival in Joshua, the forgiveness in the Psalm, the new creation in the Epistle and the humility in the Gospel are all a significant step change for the characters in each passage.

The Israelites had been trudging for years and years – how would they get their head round finally arriving at what had been promised?

The Psalmist had literally embodied their guilt and shame – how could they release it and be free so quickly?

The Corinthian community were immersed in a system of exclusion and hierarchy – how could they reconcile themselves to a new creation of being equal in God's love?

The tax collectors and Pharisees knew their respective places – how could they both be embraced by acceptance and get free from their prison of self-judgement and judgement of others?

The rolling away of disgrace in Joshua is an idea worth lingering on. The mindset shift required may feel as miraculous and as transformative as a stone being rolled away from our hearts and minds.

Prayers

Call to worship

Turn towards the Father
who runs out to meet us
even if we feel far off.

Turn towards the Son
who reconciles us to God
making us all a new creation.

Turn towards the Spirit
who meets with us here
filling us with hope and peace.

Father, Son and Spirit,
we turn towards You
with expectant minds
and hopeful hearts.
Transform us anew.
Amen

Confession

Liberating God,
Thank You for the joy that comes with forgiveness,
for the freedom of being released from shame,
for rolling away the stone of guilt from our lives.

We come with confidence,
to confess our sins
in the hope of having a healthy
rather than a false humility.

We confess the things we have done,
and the things we have left undone,
that have hurt You, others and the planet.

[SILENT PRAYER]

Forgive the guilt of our sin,
be our hiding place and
preserve us from trouble.
Surround us with Your deliverance.

[SILENCE]

Lead into the Lord's prayer.

Lament, confession and intercession

God of grace,
we see the damage inflicted on the world around us
and the resulting harm to our siblings
in climate-vulnerable places
and we mourn.

We lament the broken relationship
between humanity and the rest of creation.
Teach us the humility of the younger son,
so we can be honest with ourselves and one another
about our failure to care for the planet in the ways that we are called to.

In the silence now we call to mind those times
when we, not just as individuals but as a society,
have failed to tread lightly on Your earth,
and we ask for your forgiveness.

[SILENCE]

Lord, we thank You
that You are a God of forgiveness,
who, as the Father welcomed his lost son home
with open arms
wants to restore our relationship with one another
and with the earth.

Even as we acknowledge our role in the overuse of resources
and a failure to live sustainably,
may we not be burdened by guilt and shame,
instead, free to work for climate justice,
To hope for a better future.
Amen

(From Young Christian Climate Network Week 4 episode of the Walk Humbly podcast)

Blessing/sending out

Wellspring of all grace,
give us strength to grow together onto the fullness of Jesus and
to be signs and carriers of grace to each other,
in the communion of the Spirit,
in the fellowship of Your beloved Son,
in whose name and power we pray.
Amen

(Dr Rowan Williams, abbreviated prayer from his contribution to Rage and Hope)

Alternative material

Musical suggestions

Our online music resource is on the Church of Scotland website; you can listen to samples of every song in the Church Hymnary 4th edition (CH4) and download a selection of recordings for use in worship. You will also find playlists for this week and liturgical seasons and themes on the Weekly Worship and Inspire Me tabs.

You can find further musical suggestions for this week in a range of styles on the Songs for Sunday blog from Trinity College Glasgow.

Reflecting on our worship practice

Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, the way we worship has changed and we need to reflect on the changing or newly established patterns that emerged and continue to emerge as a result of the disruption.

We can facilitate worship for all by exploring imaginative approaches to inclusion, participation and our use of technologies in ways that suit our contexts. This is not an exhaustive list, but some things we could consider are:

  • Framing various parts of the worship service in accessible language to help worshippers understand the character and purpose of each part. This is essential for creating worship for all (intergenerational worship) that reflects your community of faith.
  • Holding spaces for reflection and encouraging prayer to be articulated in verbal and non-verbal ways, individually and in online breakout rooms
  • In online formats the effective use of the chat function and microphone settings encourages active participation in prayer, e.g. saying the Lord's Prayer together unmuted, in a moment of ‘holy chaos'
  • While singing in our congregations is still restricted, we can worship corporately by using antiphonal psalm readings, creeds and participative prayers
  • Using music and the arts as part of the worship encourages the use of imagination in place of sung or spoken words
  • Use of silence, sensory and kinaesthetic practices allow for experience and expression beyond regular audio and visual mediums.

The following questions might help you develop a habit of reflecting on how we create and deliver content and its effectiveness and impact, and then applying what we learn to develop our practice.

  • How inclusive was the worship?
    Could the worship delivery and content be described as worship for all/ intergenerational? Was it sensitive to different "Spiritual Styles"?
  • How was the balance between passive and active participation?
  • How were people empowered to connect with or encounter God?
    What helped this? What hindered this?
  • How cohesive was the worship?
    Did it function well as a whole?
    How effective was each of the individual elements in fulfilling its purpose?
  • How balanced was the worship?
    What themes/topics/doctrines/areas of Christian life were included?
  • How did the worship connect with your context/contemporary issues?
    Was it relevant in the everyday lives of those attending and in the wider parish/ community?
    How well did the worship connect with local and national issues?
    How well did the worship connect with world events/issues?
  • What have I learned that can help me next time I plan and deliver worship?

Up-to-date information for churches around COVID-19 can be found in our COVID-19 (Coronavirus) advice for churches section.

You can listen to samples of every song in the Church Hymnary 4th edition (CH4) and download a selection of recordings for use in worship in our online hymnary.

You can find an introduction to spiritual styles in our worship resources section

You are free to download, project, print and circulate multiple copies of any of this material for use in worship services, bible studies, parish magazines, etc., but reproduction for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Please note that the views expressed in these materials are those of the individual writer and not necessarily the official view of the Church of Scotland, which can be laid down only by the General Assembly.