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Leytonstone United Free Church Sunday 7th March 2021

Welcome

Today is the 3rd Sunday in Lent. Simon reflects on themes connecting the short comings of just searching for miraculous signs or relying on human wisdom, and contrasts these with the true way of the cross. This follows readings from Exodus, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians and the gospel of John.

Call To Worship

God of light and God of night

Creator of seed and mountain

raindrop and fountain

We bring our offering of praise.

God of right and God of might

Lover of child and childless

rich and homeless

We bring our offering of praise

Song

Behold What Manner

Performed by Amy & Drew

You Are My Vision

Rend Collective

You are my vision, O King of my heart Nothing else satisfies, only You Lord

Bible Reading

Exodus 20 1-17

God spoke all these words:

I am God, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery.

No other gods, only me.

No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God, and I’m a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even to the fourth generation of those who hate me. But I’m unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.

No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name.

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day.

Honor your father and mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that God, your God, is giving you.

No murder.

No adultery.

No stealing.

No lies about your neighbour.

No lusting after your neighbour’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbour's.

Reflection

The overall idea of the 10 Commandments is kind of like operating instructions. God created humans, loves them, and He gave instructions to help guide and keep everyone safe. They are good and for our good. Jesus even repeats some of the commandments in His teachings in the New Testament.

The 10 Commandments were essentially laws spoken by God to Moses on Mount Sinai and then written on stone tablets by the “finger of God” . They were to be given to the Israelites to help them create community and to show them how to obey God.

It is important to understand that the 10 Commandments do not exist so that salvation can be earned. Rather, the 10 Commandments show us how impossible it is to be perfect, and therefore emphasise our need for Jesus as our Saviour. That being said, we still strive to obey the 10 Commandments as we strive to become more like Christ.

Psalm 19

God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.

Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening.

Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded,

But their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.

God makes a huge dome for the sun—a superdome!

The morning sun’s a new husband leaping from his honeymoon bed, The day breaking sun an athlete racing to the tape.

That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies from sunrise to sunset,

Melting ice, scorching deserts, warming hearts to faith.

The revelation of GOD is whole and pulls our lives together.

The signposts of GOD are clear and point out the right road.

The life-maps of GOD are right, showing the way to joy.

The directions of GOD are plain and easy on the eyes.

GOD’s reputation is twenty-four-carat gold, with a lifetime guarantee.

The decisions of GOD are accurate down to the nth degree.

God’s Word is better than a diamond, better than a diamond set between emeralds.

You’ll like it better than strawberries in spring, better than red, ripe strawberries.

There’s more: God’s Word warns us of danger and directs us to hidden treasure.

Otherwise how will we find our way?

Or know when we play the fool?

Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh!

Keep me from stupid sins, from thinking I can take over your work;

Then I can start this day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of the grime of sin.

These are the words in my mouth; these are what I chew on and pray.

Accept them when I place them on the morning altar,

O God, my Altar-Rock,

God, Priest-of-My-Altar.

Reflection

This psalm splits into two halves, some say they are so different in subject, language and tone that perhaps they were written by different people. Charles Spurgeon, the Baptist minister, said that this psalm compares and contrasts “the study of God’s two great books-nature and scripture.” The first section tells that the beauty of nature ‘declares the glory of God and the work of His hands’ This is a common theme the astounding diversity, complexity and wonder of nature is constantly declaring the glory of God as the creator. The second half talks of the ‘law of the Lord is perfect’ the gifts that come from following the Laws, asking for forgiveness when we stray, help to discern our errors and help to remain free, so our sins do not rule us. The psalm finishes with the words:

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

a prayer in both Jewish and Christian traditions.

Prayer

Lord we ask for help and guidance in looking after our world, our world which has so many amazing plants, insects and animals which all point to Your creative energy. Each have their place designed by You, such as the worms who only live on the bones of dead whales that have sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

We think of the swallows and swifts now feeding in South Africa about to start their 6000 mile journey north to Europe where they signal the coming of the spring.

We give thanks for the early spring flowers, the buds forming on shrubs and trees and know that in a few weeks the bare trees will once again transform.

Remind us Lord that for all its power and majesty that nature is fragile and easily disturbed and help us and our leaders to take the tough decisions which will bring us a more sustainable future.

We pray for all our leaders whether at a local or national level, give them clear thinking to help us recover from the pandemic. The gap between the “haves” and “have nots” has widened over the last year and we ask You God to help them restore balance and fairness to our society.

We pray for all the teachers and students going back to school in the next week, we ask nerves and anxieties will be swept away and once again our nurseries and schools can become a place of safety, support and friendship.

Lord we pray to You to bless the members of our ministerial search team, call to those who are hesitating about coming forward, Lord nudge them again and again so they know this is their path.

Lord help the search team and our church to together to produce a church profile which reflects our values and inspires a vision which is Your vision Lord.

We rejoice in the knowledge that Lord You know who will be our next minister and You have prepared them and us to journey together.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,

LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

The Lord's Payer

Our Father which art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done in 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,

for ever.

Amen.

Song

In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song

Bible Reading

1 Corinthians 1 18-25

God didn’t send me out to collect a following for myself, but to preach the Message of what he has done, collecting a following for him. And he didn’t send me to do it with a lot of fancy rhetoric of my own, lest the powerful action at the center—Christ on the Cross—be trivialized into mere words.

The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,

I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head, I’ll expose so-called experts as shams.

So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered stupid—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.

While Jews clamour for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so cheap, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”

Reflection

In this letter to the church in Corinth, Paul is stating where the power in the Gospel message resides. Just before our reading Paul discusses a church that is divided over leaders, in verse 17 Paul says:

For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel- not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power

Here, Paul is saying the real power of Christ is from his sacrifice on the cross, not from gaining wisdom and using clever words. This message is echoed in a passage from Isaiah 29 14

I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate

In this passage from Isaiah people are saying the right words, following the right rituals but their hearts are not getting closer to God.

Paul continues with two stereotypes, Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom. Paul says to Jews the Christ crucified is a stumbling block, a terrible death of the rebel or robber, to Greeks it is foolishness to consider the cross to be the key, but to those that are called Christ crucified is God’s power and wisdom.

For me I am perhaps more with the Greeks and Jews and find the sacrifice of Jesus an obstacle that leaves me confused. It feels like a doorway, a portal to another world, if you believe Jesus died for you, to forgive your sins, you are born again in a different spiritual realm. This act of belief is a passport to a new world, to salvation. This is touched upon in our final reading.

4 John 3 14-21

“No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

“This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.”

Reflection

Nicodemus is refreshingly honest, he says we know you are a teacher from God. Jesus replies

Very truly I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again

Poor Nicodemus is confused he is thinking literally born again, Jesus continues with more nudges to help him think in the spiritual realm. In verse 8:

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit

The Greek word for wind and spirit are the same. Poor Nicodemus is still out of his depth, Jesus gets very blunt, and says we have told you the way it is and you do not believe us, I have told you earthly stuff and you do not believe us, how will you believe the heavenly stuff. Jesus decides to make it as simple as possible. No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man.

To ram home the point he continues with an old testament reference:

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him

This refers to a passage Numbers 21 4-9. Moses is leading his people in search of the promised land, a Canaanite King attacks them, the Israelites vow to the Lord deliver these people into our hands and we will destroy them and their towns. The Lord listened to their plea and gave the Canaanites over to them. They destroyed their town and the place was known as Hormah which means destruction.

You would think the Israelites and the Lord would be close after such an event, in the next line it says ‘the people grew impatient and spoke against Moses and God, they said:

Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread. There is no water! And we detest this miserable food

This shows how fickle we can be, one moment savouring the favour of God, the next being angry at God because things are not perfect.

The Lord sent poisonous snakes who bit and killed many of the Israelites. They went to Moses saying we have sinned against you and God, please pray for us and take the snakes away. So Moses prayed. The Lord said to Moses:

Make a snake and put it on a pole

So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Whenever anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they were saved, they lived.

Now the first line makes some sense to me, ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’

“This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.”

This passage makes our situation crystal clear; Are we running from God-light, hiding in darkness? or are we working and living in truth and welcoming the God-light?

Song

Siyahamba / We are marching in the light

We are marching in the light of God, We are marching in the light of God.

Closing

Benediction

May the Lord Jesus will reveal Himself to each one of you,

that He will give you the strength to go out and profess that you are Christian,

that He will show you that He alone can fill your hearts.

Accept His freedom and embrace His truth, and be messengers of the certainty that you have been truly liberated through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

This will be the new experience, the powerful

experience, that will generate, through you, a more just society and a better world.

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

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