March 17, 2024

Fifth Sunday in Lent






Holy God, by the cross and resurrection of Jesus,
you lift the suffering world toward hope and transformation
and open the way to eternal salvation.
As we move ever closer to the passion of Christ,
may your law of love be written on our hearts
as he draws all people to himself revealing
your love for the world. Amen.





Have mercy on us, O God, according to your steadfast love;

According to your abundant mercy, blot out our transgressions.

You desire truth in our deepest selves, so teach our hearts wisdom.

Let us hear your joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

Create in us clean hearts, O God; put new and right spirits within us.

Sustain in us willing spirits and restore us to the joy of your salvation.

Let us worship God!


*HYMN No. 796                    “We Come to You for Healing, Lord”

1 We come to you for healing, Lord,
of body, mind, and soul,
and pray that by your Spirit’s touch
we may again be whole.

2 As once you walked through ancient streets
and reached toward those in pain,
we know you come among us still
with power to heal again.

3 You touch us through physicians’ skills,
through nurses’ gifts of care,
and through the love of faithful friends
who lift our lives in prayer.

4 Through nights of pain and wakefulness,
through days when strength runs low,
grant us your gift of patience, Lord,
your calming peace to know.

5 We come to you, O loving Lord,
in our distress and pain,
in trust that through our nights and days
your grace will heal, sustain.



“The days are surely coming,” says the Lord, “When I will make a new covenant with my people. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.”


Friends, we are God’s people. Yet even as we strive to know our God and walk in God’s paths, we fall short. Trusting in God as a merciful covenant partner, let us confess our sin together:



Living Christ, with whom we journey to the cross, we confess that we are always looking for an easier way. We long for the fullness of life with you, but we are slow to abandon the comforts of the life we know. We seek the fruit of new life, but we are not willing to die to ourselves. You call us to life in community, but we stubbornly cling to “me and mine.” Yet you offer the grace of life abundant, even, and especially when our best efforts fall short. Transform us, renew us, and free us from our attachment to what was, so that you might bring us into the glory of what will be. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.




*RESPONSE No. 551             “Lord Have Mercy”

Lord, have mercy;
Christ, have mercy;
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy;
Christ, have mercy;
Lord, have mercy upon us.



Friends, hear the good news! We worship a God who forgives our iniquities and remembers our sins no more. Proclaim the good news with me:

In Jesus Christ we are forgiven! Thanks be to God! Amen.


*RESPONSE No. 522            “Holy, Holy, Holy”

1 Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

2 Blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest,
hosanna in the highest.



Christ is our peace.

He has reconciled us to God in one body by the cross.

We meet in his name and share his peace.

The peace of the Lord be always with you.

And also with you.


ANTHEM                   “Take My Yoke Upon You”              Douglas Nolan





Please join me in the unison prayer…

God of living water, pour out your Spirit and nourish your Word within us, that in its time, that Word may bear much fruit. Amen.


SCRIPTURE               John 12:20-33

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew, then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.


27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say: ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people[a] to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.




This is the Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God!!


SERMON                   “Dying & Rising”

Today I am going to tell you the secret to life. You probably already know what I am going to tell you, though you may not have thought of it as the secret to life. It’s something you’ve seen and experienced over and over. It’s one of those secrets hidden in plain sight. It’s also one of those secrets that can trouble the soul, so we often turn away from it or close our eyes to it.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).


So there you have it. Now you know. That’s the secret to life.


It’s the pattern of loss and renewal that runs throughout our lives and our world. Even if you’ve never thought of this as the secret to life, you’ve lived and experienced it, sometimes by choice and other times by chance. Either way it’s there.

Look at the way this pattern is present in your life. Have you ever fallen in love and committed your life to another? If so, you had to let parts of your old life go and something of your single life died so that you could be with that other person. How about parenting? If you are a parent, you know that there are sacrifices of yourself and your life to be made in order for the new life of your child to emerge and grow. We give up parts of ourselves for the other. Parents are continually letting go of their child so she or he can grow up. Have you ever been the caretaker of another? If so, you could name the parts of your life that died so that another might live with dignity, compassion, and love.

What are the costs, the losses, you paid for an education or a career? You chose certain losses and let go of some things so that other things could arise. For every choice we make, every yes, we say, there is at least one no and probably many.

This same pattern is in nature. You can see it in the changing of the seasons, falling leaves and new blooms, and the setting and rising of the sun.

Think about the scriptural stories of loss and renewal. Innocence in Adam and Eve died so that consciousness might be born. Abram left his country and kindred so that he might be made a great nation, renamed Abraham, and be a blessing to all the families of the earth. Jacob lost his old identity and was wounded so that he could become a new man, Israel, with a new life. James and John left their father, boats, and nets to become disciples of Jesus and fishers of people. Jesus taught his disciples, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again” (Mark 9:31).

The secret is out. It’s everywhere. It is a pattern of loss and renewal, dying and rising, letting go and getting back, leaving and return. It’s at the core of our baptism and it’s what we declare in the communion liturgy:

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.


What in your life do you need to let go of today? What might you need to leave behind? What needs to die so that something new can arise?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that today’s gospel is set in the context of the Passover feast. Remember what that’s about? The Passover is the celebration of the Israelites’ liberation from bondage in Egypt. It’s about freedom and new life. It’s about letting go, leaving behind, and moving into a new life.

There is something about this pattern that is the lens through which we see Jesus. Some Greeks come to Philip and say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” I don’t know why they want to see Jesus, but I have a few guesses. Jesus turned water into wine. He cleansed the temple. He healed the son of the royal official. He healed the paralytic. He fed 5000 with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. He walked on water. He gave sight to the man born blind. He raised Lazarus from the dead.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Me too. That’s the Jesus I want to see. Don’t you?

Philip tells Andrew about the Greeks and their request. Philip and Andrew tell Jesus. And Jesus says to them, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” That’s his response to those who want to see him; to the Greeks, to you, to me.

And you’ve got to know that dying is about more than our physical death. Yes, it is that but it’s also more than that. We die a thousand deaths throughout our lifetime. The loss of a loved one, a relationship, health, opportunities, a dream; all deaths we didn’t want or ask for. Other times we choose our losses and deaths. We give up parts of ourselves for another. We change our beliefs and values so that we can be more authentically ourselves. And sometimes there are things we need to let go of, things we cling to that deny us the fullness of life we want, and God offers: fear, anger or resentment, regret and disappointment, guilt, the need to be right, approval.

Seeing Jesus isn’t a spectator sport. It is a way to be followed, a truth to be embodied, a life to be lived. It’s being a grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies so that it might bear much fruit. That’s where we see him. It’s the letting go, the emptying, the leaving behind, and the dying that makes space for new life to arise.

You’ve probably had at least one time in your life that when you look back on it you say, “I never want to go through that again. But I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.” What is that time for you? What happened?

As difficult or painful as that experience was it bore much fruit. You were changed and your life was renewed. It was one of those times when you were the grain of wheat that fell into the earth and died. And I’ll bet it was one of those times when you knew you had seen Jesus, when you experienced the holy, when you were absolutely convinced that God was present and working in your life.

I’ve had those times too. But probably like you, I’ve also had those other kinds of losses. The greatest loss in my life so far has been the death of family members. God knows I’ve learned a lot about myself and life as a result of those losses and my life has been reshaped and reformed in some very good and positive ways because of that. I know I’ve seen Jesus. But I would trade it all to have loved ones back. And maybe that’s what I need to let go of.

Maybe that’s my grain of wheat that needs to fall into the earth and die. That doesn’t mean I don’t want family members back or that I would not undo what has happened if I could. It just means that I want to trust Jesus’ promise of new life more than my wishful thinking. And sometimes that’s really hard. You know that as well as I.

Letting go, however, does not mean rejection or walking away. And it does not mean choosing absence over presence. Instead, letting go is what allows us to be more authentically present to ourselves and another. It makes room for new life and new ways of being present to arise. Our letting go gives God something with which to work. Why then would we continue to cling, to live as an isolated, self-enclosed, single grain wheat?

This is the soul-troubling secret to life.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” So, what is the grain of wheat in your life today that needs to fall into the earth and die? What are the things that if you lost them, you are sure you would just die? Maybe those are the very places waiting to bear much fruit in your life. Maybe that’s where you’ll see Jesus.

This secret, this pattern of loss and renewal, will be unveiled everyday throughout Holy Week. I think that’s why we hear this text today, a week before Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week. It’s our preparation for Holy Week. And you know where Holy Week ends, right? At Easter, the empty tomb, the dawn of a new day, and the renewal of life. The single grain has become the Bread of Life.

But you also know that you don’t plant a seed and go back in ten minutes or the next day and see a new sprout. Growth can be slow, and the fruit of new life takes time, usually longer than we want it to. Yet, even when unseen, unbelieved, or unrecognized, the power and life of God are present and at work in the depths of our life, in the dark and hidden places. That’s the mystery of life.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”


Commentary and Liturgy from the Book of Common Worship (PCUSA), “Call to Worship” Website, AJ Levine, Teri McDowell Ott, Scott Hoezee, Karoline Lewis, David Lose, Ginna Bairby, and The New Interpreter’s Commentary



I am empowered by God and led by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.  I will be a living witness through prayer, preaching, teaching, and outreach to all people.  I will encourage and challenge all to grow spiritually, to care for others, to share the Good News, and to do so with a loving, joyful heart.


*HYMN No. 824                    “There is a Place of Quiet Rest’

1 There is a place of quiet rest,
near to the heart of God,
a place where sin cannot molest,
near to the heart of God.

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
sent from the heart of God,
hold us, who wait before thee,
near to the heart of God.

2 There is a place of comfort sweet,
near to the heart of God,
a place where we our Savior meet,
near to the heart of God. (Refrain)

3 There is a place of full release,
near to the heart of God,
a place where all is joy and peace,
near to the heart of God. (Refrain)



Let us come before the God who holds our life and even our death and pray for the transformation that Jesus Christ has shown us is possible.


God of the cross, the grave and the empty tomb, we lift up to you all within us that is in the messy process of death and resurrection. Trans- form us, we pray, into the likeness of your Son, that you might use us to bear much fruit in the world:


May we die to environmental extraction and live to responsible stewardship.

May we die to Christian triumphalism and live to interfaith humility. May we die to stagnation and aversion to change and live to the new things God is always doing among us.


May we die to American exceptionalism and live to global citizenship.

May we die to isolation and NIMBY (‘Not-in-my-Backyard’)-ism and live to our shared humanity.


May we die to division and partisanship and live to reconciliation and compassion.

May we die to addictions and consumerism and live to our shared well-being.


May we die to me and mine and live to us and ours.


God who is always bringing new life out of death and despair, we pray for all those who need your healing hand this morning — for the hungry and homeless, those sick and in prison, people living in fear, loneliness, or grief. Answer the longing of your people with the gift of your presence.


All this we pray in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray saying, “Our Father…”


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.





By the grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, our lives have borne much fruit. Let us now return thanks where it is due and offer the fruits of our labor back to the Lord. Let us receive the morning offering.




*RESPONSE N0. 605                        “Praise to God the Father”

Praise to God the Father;
praise to God the Son;
praise to God the Spirit:
praise to the Three-in-One.
Sing praise, sing praise to the Lord on high.
Praise to God Almighty;
praise to the Holy One.


Gracious God, it is our joy to return the gifts of our lives to you. May our offering this morning forever bring glory to your name, and may we continue to work tirelessly for the well-being of your whole creation. Amen.


*HYMN No. 210                     “Lord, Why Have You Forsaken Me”

1 Lord, why have you forsaken me,
and why are you so far away
from my complaint and my distress
poured out before you night and day?

2 Yet you are holy, and the songs
of praise of Israel are your throne;
when our ancestors called on you,
you saved them, rescued all your own.

3 But I am mocked and put to scorn.
All those who see me laugh and say,
“You trust in God, so let us see
the help of God to whom you pray.”

4 Yet you, O Lord, have been my God
and only hope since I was born.
With trouble near me, none can help.
My Savior, leave me not forlorn.



Beloved people of God;
I invite you, in the name of Christ, to observe a holy Lent
by self-examination and penitence, by prayer and fasting,
by works of love,
and by meditating on Gods’ Word.

May the grace, hope, peace and love of God our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer be with us all, now and forever. Amen.