4th Sunday in Lent

Aire Valley – Separately yet together
Bingley URC – Idle Upper Chapel URC –
Trinity, Keighley Baptist & URC
14th March 2021

Covenant people

Our Bible readings for today are:
Exodus 20:1–17 John 3:14–21 Ephesians 2: 1–10

You may like to get them ready in your own Bible.

Painting by Rembrandt 1659 Now in Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

Maintaining a time of worship has been so beneficial for many people during these strange days. For some of us that is at the time we would be in a church buildings, for others of us this is at another time. Whenever, and wherever you share this act of worship – you are most welcome.

Call to worship
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures for ever.

21 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
22 Let them sacrifice thank-offerings
and tell of his works with songs of joy. Psalm

Let us now offer to God a song of joy:

Hymn Rejoice and Sing 289
1/3 To God be the glory, great things he has done!
So loved he the world that he gave us his Son,
who yielded his life an atonement for sin,
and opened the life-gate that all may go in.

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son;
and give him the glory – great things he has done!

2/3 O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
to every believer the promise of God!
And every offender who truly believes,
that moment from Jesus a pardon receives:

3/3 Great things he has taught us, great things he has done,
and great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
but purer and higher and greater will be
the wonder, the beauty, when Jesus we see:
Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) altd.

Prayer of approach
God of grace,
thank You that we can live in Christ,
that the gift of life You offer us is free;
we do not have to work to be loved.

As tempting as it is
to try to prove our worth to You,
You love us simply because we are Yours.
Your grace is what saves us, not our own strivings.
God of grace,
we tire of trying too hard;
help us to hear Your gentle words
“I love you,” and let that be enough for our hearts.

You created us for good.
May our actions flow from Your grace,
and may all that we attempt to do
be good in Your eyes. Amen.
Nadene Snyman URC Prayer Handbook 2021

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.

Reading Exodus 20:1–17
20 And God spoke all these words:
2 ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 ‘You shall have no other gods before me.
4 ‘You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 ‘You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 ‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 ‘Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
13 ‘You shall not murder.
14 ‘You shall not commit adultery.
15 ‘You shall not steal.
16 ‘You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
17 ‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.’

Theme One
During Lent we have been looking together at the theme of Covenant. Previously we looked, in a general sense and perhaps somewhat prematurely, at what it can include to be people of the New Covenant.
Then we went on to consider that there are apparently five main Covenants in the Bible, that take different forms:

First, the unilateral Covenant that God made, or initiated, with Noah, the people and with creation – seen in the rainbow. People simply benefited from this covenant; it was a promise that couldn’t be broken.

Second, another unilateral Covenant that God initiated with Abraham. This time the people had to respond to show their acceptance of it.

<pre class="wp-block-syntaxhighlighter-code">Our reading today from Exodus comes from the Lectionary passages for last week, and is of<br />a very well-known event. It forms part of several chapters relating to another Covenant.<br />This is the third main covenant, initiated by God with the descendants of Abraham at Mt. Sinai.<br />This time it is a bilateral covenant; that is, the covenant could be broken if either of <br />the parties failed to observe its terms:</pre>

Exod. 19:3–8 3 Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’
7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak. 8 The people all responded together, ‘We will do everything the LORD has said.’ So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.

Exodus 24:7–8 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, ‘We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.’
8 Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.’

We know that the people didn’t do everything the LORD had said; that over and over they had to be reminded to turn back to the LORD. The painting by Rembrandt depicts Moses about to break the stone tablets that the commandments were written on. Despite the fact that the people had accepted the terms of the Covenant, they did not keep to it wholeheartedly. But that is not the end of the story, just part of the journey, as this next passage shows:

Reading Ephesians 2: 1–10
2 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Hymn Complete Mission Praise 914
Only by grace can we enter,
only by grace can we stand;
not by our human endeavour,
but by the blood of the Lamb.
Into Your presence You call us,
You call us to come;
into Your presence You draw us,
and now by Your grace we come.

Lord, if You mark our transgressions
who would stand?
Thanks to Your grace we are cleansed
by the blood of the Lamb.
Lord, if You mark our transgressions
who would stand?
Thanks to Your grace we are cleansed
by the blood of the Lamb.
Gerrit Gustafson
© 1990 Integrity’s Hosanna Music/Kingsway’s Thankyou Music

Reading John 3:14–21
14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Theme two
This passage from John’s Gospel contains some of the most well known in the Bible:

John 3:16 “ For God so loved the world…”
There is a lot that I could say about this passage, but for today my focus is on its connection with Numbers 21:4-9, which is another of the Lectionary passages for today. That passage gives an account of one of the things that happened when the people didn’t keep their part in the Covenant. Snakes had come among the people, and some were dying as a result of being bitten – so they cried out to Moses, who cried out to the LORD on their behalf. Rather than taking the snakes away, the LORD gave them a way to put their trust in Him for the healing they needed. Not that they would no longer be bitten, but that they should trust God, strangely by looking at a bronze snake that was lifted up on a pole, and believe that the LORD would save them.
Our John passage tells us that we need to look to Jesus who would be lifted up. That we need to look upon Jesus and believe – in order to find salvation. I believe that is about being restored into God’s Covenant people.
Verses 20 and 21 show us that it matters how we live:
21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
May we continue learning what it means to live as the LORD’s Covenant people – people of the light who put their trust in Him. Amen.

Hymn Rejoice and Sing 518
1/4 Father, I place into your hands
the things that I can’t do.
Father, I place into Your hands
the times that I’ve been through.
Father, I place into Your hands
the way that I should go,
for I know I always can trust You.

2/4 Father, I place into Your hands
my friends and family.
Father, I place into Your hands
the things that trouble me.
Father, I place into Your hands
the person I would be,
for I know I always can trust You.

3/4 Father, we love to seek Your face,
we love to hear Your voice.
Father, we love to sing Your praise
and in Your name rejoice.
Father, we love to walk with You
and in Your presence rest,
for we know we always can trust You.

4/4 Father, I want to be with You
and do the things You do.
Father, I want to speak the words
that You are speaking too.
Father, I want to love the ones
that You will draw to You,
for I know that I am one with You.
Jenny Hewer (born 1945)
Copyright © 1975 Thankyou Music

Today is Mothering Sunday. The following prayer was in Roots worship resource over ten years ago, and I use it nearly every year:

Mothering Sunday Intercessions

God of abundant love, you are like a mother who never forgets:
we give you thanks for those who have mothered us during the difficult times of life
and who have rejoiced with us in moments of celebration.
God of abundant love:
hear the prayers of your children.

God of abundant love, you long to be a mother who comforts:
we ask for your comfort upon those who are sad or sick or lonely this day;
we pray especially for those who mourn and ask for your comfort upon them.
God of abundant love:
hear the prayers of your children.

God of abundant love you are a mother to the motherless.
We pray for those who find Mothering Sunday a particularly difficult day:
for those whose own mothers have died;,
for those whose relationship was or is difficult with their mother;
for those who mourn for the children they could never bring to birth and mother.
We ask you God to mother them.
God of abundant love:
hear the prayers of your children.

God of abundant love, you are like a mother hen who gathers
and protects her children under her wing.
Teach us what it means to find security in the shadow of your wings.
Show us how to reach out and call others to your love and protection:
for the weak and vulnerable in our communities,
we ask your blessing and protection.
God of abundant love:
hear the prayers of your children.

God of love, mother to all, hear these prayers and answer them,
for the sake of your children.
We pray in the name of your Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hymn Rejoice and Sing 497
1/4 Give to me, Lord, a thankful heart
Caryl Micklem (1925–2003)
© Successor to T. Caryl Micklem

Let us be strong and courageous,
careful to observe God’s commandments;
to remember them,
to speak of them and to obey them.
Let us not be fearful,
nor let us be discouraged;
and may the LORD our God be with us
wherever we are and wherever we go. Amen.

Peace be upon you, and guard you forever;
go in the knowledge that God is with You.