The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
May 30, 2021
PRAYER OF PREPARATION
God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity, We ask for your presence to enter this space. We know that in self-giving love, Your very nature teaches us how to love one another.
Father and Creator, Son and Redeemer, Spirit and Advocate,
We call upon you to teach us this hour. Teach us to pray. Teach us to love. Teach us to be one, as you are one.
With all of our divisions we create with our own biases, From social class to race, From gender to age, From ability to different abilities, We know we still have much to learn.
Teach us this hour, we pray, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
PRELUDE “Nicea” Janis Wilson
CALL TO WORSHIP
Worship the Lord in holy splendor!
In God we live and move and have our being.
The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty!
Let us open our hearts to listen.
May the Lord give strength to the people!
May Holy Three-in-One bless the earth with peace! In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
The doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery, yet we believe that God is our creator, redeemer and sustainer. With humility, faith and hope, we confess the things we have done and left undone as well as the shortcomings and injustices in our society and world. Let us pray.
PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS
Holy Triune God, you so loved the world, continue to love the world and will always love the world. Forgive us for our abuse of your created order and its intended harmony. Forgive us for our violence against our fellow creatures, including those made in your image. Forgive us for our indifference and cynicism, and our callousness. Cast out our fear with the faith that you can do all things, and renew a right spirit within us. Amen.
Silence is observed
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Hear the good news: God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, we are forgiven.
PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
In sharing the peace of Christ, we express the reconciliation, unity, and love that come only from God, and we open ourselves to the power of God’s love to heal our brokenness and make us agents of that love in the world. Since God has forgiven us in Christ, let us forgive one another. The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also with you.
ANTHEM “Holy Is The Lord” Mary McDonald
(all children will remain in the sanctuary)
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Holy Trinity, your word is a lamp unto our feet. Yet, there are great mysteries in life that we do not understand. We may ask with Nicodemus of old, “How can these things be?” Give us just enough light that we would step out in faith and do the next right thing. May it be so. Amen.
SCRIPTURE John 3:1-17
3Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Nicodemus was a VIP with a big theological reputation – we learn here that he was a Pharisee – a serious devotee of God and God’s laws – and he was a “leader of the Jews” and “a teacher.” Nicodemus had heard enough about Jesus that he wanted to meet him, but he could not risk his whole reputation and meet him in the day. Nicodemus planned this night-time visit. Better to be safe than sorry, he thought, in his inquiry of Jesus about the Kingdom of God. But Nicodemus came to Jesus because Nicodemus knew that Jesus knew about the Kingdom of God.
“Rabbi, you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” And Jesus answered – “no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.” Ah ha! . . . So that gets our attention in these days!
That was all very well, Nicodemus said, but just how were you supposed to pull a thing like that off? How especially were you supposed to pull it off if you were pushing sixty-five? How do you get RE-BORN when it was a challenge just to get out of bed in the morning? He even got a little sarcastic. Could one “enter a second time into the mother’s womb?” he asked, when it was all one could do to get in and out of the car, to get up and down from the recliner, without someone helping?
“Then, a gust of wind happened to whistle down the chimney at that point, making the dying embers burst into flame; and Jesus said being born again was like THAT. It wasn’t something you did. The wind did it. The Spirit did it. It was something that happened, for God’s sake.”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked, and that’s when Jesus really got going. Maybe Nicodemus was a VIP in the religious sector, and had six honorary doctorates, but, Jesus said, if he couldn’t see something as plain as the nose on his face, he’d better go back to kindergarten.
Jesus said, “I’m telling you – God’s so in love with this world that he’s sent me down, so if you don’t believe your own eyes, then maybe you’ll believe mine, maybe you’ll believe me, maybe you won’t come sneaking around scared half to death in the dark anymore, but will come to, come clean, come to life.”
“What impressed Nicodemus even more than the speech was the quickening of his own breathing and the pounding of his own heart. He hadn’t felt like that since his first kiss, since the time his first child was born.”
Born from above, born of water and spirit, born again – RE-BORN! It is a powerful and pertinent process for people of faith. RE-BORN. It is realizing that God . . . and love . . . and life . . . and the Kingdom are very close, always present, and our lives are meant to reflect it.
So often, like Nicodemus, we get so covered up with how we are seeing things that we cannot see Jesus, cannot be open to the Spirit, cannot sense God anywhere near. So often, like Nicodemus, we are so busy asking questions – or so burdened by our issues – that we do not see Jesus standing right in front of us, don’t see God’s care all around us.
Don’t get me wrong – I like questions, we need serious questions. But if we are not careful, we miss what is right in front of us – God’s presence, God’s promises, God’s life for us and for all.
Jesus said, “Nicodemus, you don’t need God IN your life…. You don’t need God to come INTO your life. That’s backwards. You need to come into God’s life.” God doesn’t come into your life. It works the other way. God offers us God’s own life as a gift and beckons us to enter it, live in it. You need to be in the life of God. This is the truth for all of us. In fact, Nicodemus, you need to realize that your life is only in God and, then, live accordingly.
RE-BORN. It is not literal. It is about the transformative power of God at work in us, all around us, regardless of what is happening in the world or with our hearts. RE-BORN. Jesus is trying to help Nicodemus, and all of us, know that no matter what happens in the world, or with our lives, the life of God is NOT far away. The life of God has come near to you. Indeed, the life of God is sitting right next to you, speaking to you now. The passionate love of God that makes up the divine life has spilled out into the world in Jesus. God so loved the world that God has given God’s only Son . . . not to condemn the world but to save it . . . to assure us that nothing can ever separate us from God.
When Nicodemus began to allow himself to be RE-BORN – of the wind, of the Spirit – things changed for him. In the chapters which follow, we read that Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus in the darkness of night, later spoke up for Jesus, publicly questioning those in authority who would judge Jesus. Then after Jesus’ death on the cross when all the disciples had fled, Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus came forward to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Nicodemus was no longer intimidated or afraid. Nicodemus had come to realize that he was RE-BORN, not by his own doing, but by the love of God who birthed him anew and gave him a life of boldness.
And that is certainly what God wants and expects from us.
We find ourselves living in challenging and perplexing times.
We find ourselves living in challenging times. So much animosity and distrust, so much heartache and alienation. In 2018 at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle, Methodist Bishop Michael Curry laid it out – and it lines up with what Jesus is trying to teach Nicodemus, and teach us:
Quoting Dr King, Curry said “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way.”
There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power, power in love.
If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved.
Oh there’s power, power in love. Not just in its romantic forms, but any form, any shape of love. There’s a certain sense in which when you are loved, and you know it, when someone cares for you, and you know it, when you love and you show it – it actually feels right.
There is something right about it. And there’s a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of love, and our lives were meant – and are meant – to be lived in that love. That’s why we are here.
This is exactly what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus in John 3.
Curry continues: “If you don’t believe me, just stop and imagine. Think and imagine a world where love is the way.” Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way. Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive. When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more. When love is the way, there’s plenty good room – plenty good room – for all of God’s children. “Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well… like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God. My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family. Dr King was right: we must discover love – the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world, a new world.
RE-BORN – into the love of God . . . . for loving others.
“Reclaiming Jesus” – this is a movement gaining momentum, led by Bishop Michael Curry and many other familiar leaders in the church, saying that these perilous times demand us to re-think our loyalty to Jesus, which leads these leaders – in a public statement – to offer six affirmations and six rejections for these times:
– every human being is made in the image and likeness of God, which leads to rejections of nationalism, racism, tribalism that seems to be growing in these days.
– we are one body of Christ, which leads to the rejection of mistreatment and the violent abuse of women and others.
– it matters how we treat the least of these – the stranger, the sick, the prisoner, the foreigner, which leads to the rejection of plans and policies that abandon children, immigrants and the most vulnerable.
– truth-telling is important, which leads of the rejection of the growing tendency of lying that has invaded public life;
– Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, which leads to the rejection of policies and political leaders that continue to serve personal interests.
– we are part of an international community, that God so loved the world, which leads to the rejection of unpatriotic xenophobia and selfish nationalism.
This compelling statement – “Reclaiming Jesus” – says that we should all be concerned about the soul of the nation and the integrity of Christian faith. We are called to be more deeply connected to God, to one another, especially those who are different from us, and particularly the under-served, the less fortunate, and those most at greatest risk. This is what Christian faith and life are about. (see reclaimingjesus.org)
As the apostle Paul reminds us, if we live according to the flesh we will die; but if we live according to the Spirit we will live. May it be so. Amen
Prayer of Commitment: Holy God, to turn from you is to fall; to turn to you is to rise; to receive your Spirit, your presence, your love – and to live in your love by spreading love – that is to abide forever. We seek that way following Jesus. Amen
Commentary and Liturgy provided by Beth Neel, Kenneth E. Bailey, Michael Curry, Alex Evans, Andrew Taylor-Troutman, Judith Jones, David Lose, Ginger Barfield, and Scott Hoezee.
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH The Apostles’ Creed
I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER & THE LORD’S PRAYER
O blessed Trinity, we praise you as creator, redeemer and sustainer of our world and the cosmos beyond. We remember that we did not receive a spirit of fear but a spirit of adoption that allows us to call you: “Abba! Father!” We believe that your love is stronger than our fear. You invite us into the biggest story there is — the old, old story of your love for the world that is renewed each and every morning.
While your identity as three persons is a mystery, we know the terrible realities of violence and suffering. As our nation remembers our dead, we place our faith and hope in the vision that nations shall not make war against one another.
We praise you for the grace of being called as children of God. We ask for the courage to live into our calling, and for our hearts and minds to be opened to your Spirit in our place and time, including by the empowerment of others.
We pray for healing and wholeness from the pandemics of COVID-19, white supremacy and climate change. We pray for those who can’t breathe due to air population and oppression. We pray that your church, through truth and reconciliation, will join together across divisions and divides to exhibit the diversity and unity that is your gracious intention.
Spirit of the Living God, move again in our time like a breath of fresh air, giving life and liberty. Make us instruments of your peace and harmony. Through spiritual disciplines and acts of contemplation, kindle our holy imaginations and guide us into ministries of healing and wholeness.
For you, O Holy Three in One, are in relationship with your own self. May your children be led by the Spirit to be in right relationship with one another. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we pray the words Jesus taught us, 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.
The flowers are given in the glory and honor of God by are given in the glory and honor of God by Joyce and Gary Mixner and Family in loving memory of Douglas A. Evans Jr.; and Sue Beane in loving memory of her mother Ruth Farley.
Women of the Church Jean Hills
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
Through the Trinity, God has blessed us with more than we could ever give in return. Our response should neither be in fear nor compulsion, but out of gratitude and gladness for the grace given by the One who so loves the world.
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Holy, holy, holy Lord Almighty, may our gifts and offerings praise you and bring grace to your world. Make us instruments of your peace, for you are merciful and mighty. To God in three persons, blessed Trinity, we pray, amen.
Go forth in the world that God so loves, remembering that the love of God is stronger than your fear, remembering that you are a child of God, and that the Triune God is with you, now and always.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all, now and forever.