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Leytonstone United Free Church Sunday 21st March 2021

Welcome

Good morning and welcome. Today is the 5th Sunday in lent and Ben brings us this week's service.

In the liturgical year of some Christian denominations, the 5th Sunday in Lent is known as Passion Sunday and marks the beginning of a two-week period called Passiontide which concludes on Holy Saturday. According to 6th century writings, during this time the monks of the Middle East, who had chosen the isolation and severity of the desert as their home, returned to their monasteries before Easter.

In Scotland the day has been known to be called Care Sunday or Carling Sunday, a term that seems originally to have been applied to Palm Sunday.

So, we are over the hump of Lent. Last week was mothering Sunday marking the midway through Lent and next week is Palm Sunday: the doorway to Holy week. Today we will listen to Jesus as he predicts his death and explains to those around him why this must be so.

Call To Worship

God of love and justice,

we gather together to worship you:

to offer our thanks and praise

and to proclaim your goodness and mercy.

Meet us here.

Breathe your Word into our souls;

engrave your covenant of love upon our hearts.

Teach us faithfulness and compassion

so that our lives may reflect

your love and justice to the world.

Amen.

Let's Listen And Sing

Oceans

Prayer

Let us turn to God, who will have mercy and abundantly pardon.

Let us pray.

A Prayer of Confession

Most mysterious and loving God, we come before you,

not as those who are perfect practitioners of Christ’s method,

but as those who have sincerely admired him,

yearned to be like him,

yet have only applied his truth in fragmentary ways.

We admit to each other and to you, God:

We have grabbed at life and hoarded it for ourselves,

rather than sharing and losing it in the cause of the Gospel.

We have sought the shabby glory of this world’s praise

and have badly compromised our faith in this mad pursuit.

We have tried to nullify our anxieties

by surrounding ourselves with possessions,

but have reaped only deep discontents.

We have trodden over the lives of others

in our hurry to get what and where we want,

but have ended up missing out on much love.

Every now and then we have dared to be bold

in faith, hope and love,

and have briefly tasted the nobler joy of Christ,

only to slip back again into a no-risk policy of self preservation

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness,

according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity

and cleanse me from my sins.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit with in me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Through the grace of Christ Jesus, we pray.

Amen!

Song

Promise Keeper

Bible Reading

John 12:20-33

Jesus predicts his death

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.

‘Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!’

Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.’ The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, ‘This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

Reflection

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed

In an interview on the 5th of June 2017, the then British Prime Minister, Theresa May was asked what is the naughtiest thing she had ever done. “Run through fields of wheat” was her shocking confession. Pretty edgy stuff!

I want you to imagine, if you will, a field of wheat untouched by the reckless feet of Mrs May. It takes wheat about 9 months to grow to maturity with each stalk standing at about 3 or 4 feet, about a metre tall. When the head of the wheat starts to nod the farmer knows it is ready for harvesting. Each head of wheat typically has about 50 kernels; this is the seed, and this is what Jesus makes reference to in this passage, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed”.

Now consider just a single one of those seeds that has developed on a head of wheat; think about its journey - nine months prior to harvest time it did not even exist. The previous year, some time after sowing season, a tiny green blade of a leaf broke through the ground; as it grew bigger it developed a yellowish stalk and a tiny head started to develop before the seeds appeared and started to grow in size. In its fully grown state, being attached to the stalk is all it has ever known.

In growing to full maturity, the stalk had given the seed its nourishment to grow, it’s protection to thrive and it’s strength to remain attached.

This reminds me of another teaching that Jesus gave, presented in John 15: 5 -6 which says:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

So Jesus here is talking about remaining attached to the main vine plant to survive. And this is wise saying, for did you know grape vines can live for over 120 years. In fact the oldest known vine grows in Slovenia and is over 400 years old and still produces 35-55kg of grapes a year. A vine that was living in 1620, when the ship The Mayflower set sail for the USA, is still bearing fruit today. It is indeed a good strategy for the branch to remain attached to the vine.

But what is good for the grape vine, alas is not the same for the wheat - for a wheat plant survives for barely a year before it is harvested or dies.

There are essentially two life options for a seed of wheat; either remain attached to the rest of the plant where it is either harvested or left to rot and wither, or it can fall to the ground and allow the cycle of life to start again.

We know that science has discovered that DNA is the building block of life. It is interesting to note that the DNA of wheat is one of the most complex currently known to mankind.

The wheat genome contains 16 billion DNA letters, contrast that to the human genome which contains a mere 3 billion - that's over 5 times more. Now i’m not a scientist and I don’t know whether the implication is that wheat is more complex than a human being but it is safe to say that within a single kernel of wheat lies great potential. And in order to fulfil that potential, that life giving potential, it must make a leap of faith.

The kernel of wheat must detach itself from all that it has ever known, its comfort zone, its source of energy and make a leap of faith by falling to the ground and being buried in the soil.

That is the only way it will realise its full potential, allowing its 16 billion bits of DNA that God has put there to do the thing that it was designed to do. That is to grow and produce more heads of life giving seeds.

“Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

How is this relevant to the field of wheat?

Well, as with the kernel of wheat; if it stays attached to the stalk it will either be cut down for harvesting or rot in the field. It will not fulfil its potential of giving and perpetuating life. Similarly if we hold onto our natural inclination to follow the norms of this world, its culture and the comforts it offers, we too shall fail to fulfil our potential, a full and abundant Holy spirit led life. An eternal life.

However, if we let go of the trappings of the material and earthly life we have become so accustomed to; if we turn our backs to this and and give up this life and take a leap of faith by living as Jesus did and following what he guided us to do then we fulfil the statement:

“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.”

Would we not want to be honoured by God and live with, and in his, abundant blessing for ever?

There is an acknowledgement though in today’s reading that it is not a straightforward thing to take that leap of faith. It is not always easy for us to do the right thing. There is literally soul searching that has to be done, an internal wrestling involving our thoughts and emotions. Jesus reflects something like this in his words:

‘Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!’

If Jesus’ soul is troubled when faced with what lies ahead of him, how much more can we expect our own to be troubled. Maybe there is solace in this that Jesus has been there before us and understands us. And if Jesus understands us then we can be sure that the Holy spirit, which He has left with us, understands us and helps us.

In the end Jesus was prepared to take that leap of faith, and with the help of the Holy spirit so can we.

So the meditation I leave you with is this:

If you are that kernel of wheat today, what is your stalk?

What is the thing you need to detach yourself from to fulfil your potential?

Remember this; inside you, you have the potential of 3 billion bits of DNA information that God put in you before you were even born. This is bristling inside of you waiting to be fulfilled; so what is the leap of faith you need to make to fulfil this and glorify God?

Song

Now The Green Green Blade Riseth

Communion

Jesus was often a guest. He shared many meals with his friends, and they long remembered his words at the table.

Though some disapproved of the company he kept, Jesus ate and drank with all kinds of people and showed everyone the love of God.

Wherever people met together Jesus was glad to be welcomed and to be fed. Today, we are the guests of Jesus. He welcomes us, whoever we are and whatever we bring, and he will feed us at his table.

Old or young, rich or poor, joyful or in sorrow, Jesus invites us to share bread and wine with him, to remember the story of his life and death, and to celebrate his presence with us today.

On the night before he died, Jesus shared a meal with twelve of his disciples in an upstairs room in Jerusalem. The Gospel writer tells us what happened that night.

The Story of the Lord’s Supper

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body’. Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I tell you, I will never again drink the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’

We are the friends and disciples of Jesus today. He invites us to break bread together, to remember him and to pray that God’s Kingdom will come.

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 trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation;

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

the power and the glory,

for ever and ever.

Amen.

Offering Prayer

We bring this bread and this wine to the table of Jesus.

With them we bring ourselves, all that we are and all that we own.

May the ordinary become holy, and heaven be opened to the people of earth.

May God be blessed forever!

May God be blessed forever!

The Thanksgiving

God is with us! God is with us!

We give thanks and praise to God! We give thanks and praise to God!

Loving God, the world you made is beautiful and full of wonder.

You made us, with all your creatures, and you love all that you have made.

You gave us the words of your prophets, the stories of your people through the generations, and the gathered wisdom of many years.

You gave us Jesus, your Son, to be born and to grow up in difficult times when there was little peace.

He embraced people with your love and told stories to change us all.

He healed those in pain and brought to life those who had lost hope.

He made friends with anyone who would listen and loved even his enemies.

For these things, he suffered.

For these things, he died.

And he was raised from death and lives with you forever.

You give us your Holy Spirit, to teach and to strengthen us, to remind us of Jesus Christ, and to make us one in him.

For all these gifts we thank you, and we join with all your people on earth and in heaven, in joyful praise:

Hosanna!

Hosanna!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!

We praise you that we are here today, around the table of Jesus.

We have heard the good news of your love;

the cross is the sign of your arms stretched out in love for us

and the empty tomb declares your love stronger than death.

Christ has died! Christ has died!

Christ is risen! Christ is risen!

Christ will come again! Christ will come again!

Send your Holy Spirit upon this bread and wine,

and upon your people,

that Christ may be with us,

and we may be made ready to live for you

and to do what you ask of us, today, and every day to come.

We make this prayer through Jesus Christ,

in the power of the Holy Spirit,

in the love of the Creator,

one God, to whom be glory and praise forever,

Amen

The Breaking of the Bread and the Blessing of the Cup

Eat this bread. It is the bread of life.

Drink this wine. It is the cup of blessing.

The Sharing

Thanks be to God for this gift beyond words. Let us eat this bread together

Thanks be to God for this gift beyond words. Let us drink of the cup together

Let Us Sing

What Kind Of Love Is This

Prayer

Intercessions

O Lord, hear our prayers:

Prayers for hope for those who feel hopeless

Prayers for healing for those who need healing

Prayers for jobs for those who are jobless

Prayers for community for those who feel lonely

Prayers for peace for those whose lives are filled with conflict.

Prayers for understanding for those seeking to be understood.

Prayers for comfort those who grieve.

Prayers for food for those who hunger.

Prayers for shelter for those who are homeless.

Prayers for clean water for those whose waters are contaminated

Prayers for rain for those who live in drought.

Prayers for a time of drying for those who are facing too much rain.

Prayers for freedom for those who live under dictatorships.

Prayers for wisdom for our leaders.

Prayers for spiritual growth and health for our churches.

Prayers for your Kingdom to reign here on earth.

Amen.

The Grace

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

and the love of God,

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit

be with us all,

now and evermore.

Amen.

Let us go in peace and serve the Lord

Credits:

Call to worship, courtesy of: Canadian Foodgrains Bank website at http://foodgrainsbank.ca/product/world-food-day-2016-hunger-for-justice/. Prayer of confession written by Bruce Prewer, and posted on Bruce Prewer’s Homepage. http://www.bruceprewer.com/. Prayer of intersection written by Rev Abi, and posted on RevGalBlogPals blog. http://revgalblogpals.blogspot.ca/ She blogs at the Long and Winding Road. http://vicarofwadley.blogspot.ca/. Created with images by tiburi - "typo typography design" • Hucklebarry - "bible scripture book" • Falkenpost - "cornfield wheat field cereals" • Couleur - "grapes fruit vine" • LaCasadeGoethe - "dna project lumina walter waymann" • kie-ker - "wheat wheat field cereals" • dengri - "cross jesus christ" • Pezibear - "wheat field sunset" • hudsoncrafted - "bread communion eucharist" • congerdesign - "good friday cross the cross of jesus".