March 5, 2023 - 2nd Sunday in Lent

For the week of March 5 to 11 – 2nd Sunday in Lent

Morning prayer: O merciful Father, in compassion for Your sinful children You sent Your Son Jesus Christ to be the Savior of the world. Grant us grace to feel and to lament our share of the evil that made it necessary for Him to suffer and to die for our salvation. Help us by self-denial, prayer, and mediation to prepare our hearts for deeper penitence and a better life. And give us a true longing to be free from sin, through the deliverance won by Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen. (UM Book of Worship 336 John Newton)

Hymn: #145 Morning Has Broken

  1. Morning has broken like the first morning; blackbird has spoken like the first bird.
    Praise for the singing!  Praise for the morning!

Praise for them, springing fresh from the Word!

  1. Sweet the rain’s new fall sunlit from heaven, like the first dewfall on the first grass.
    Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden,

sprung in completeness where His feet pass.

  1. Mine is the sunlight!  Mine is the morning born of the one light Eden saw play!
    Praise with elation, praise every morning, God’s re-creation of the new day!

Genesis 12:1-4a

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

4So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.

Children’s message Almonds Numbers 17:7-9

So Moses placed the staffs before the Lord in the tent of the covenant.

When Moses went into the tent of the covenant on the next day, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted. It put forth buds, produced blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the Lord to all the Israelites; and they looked, and each man took his staff.

Children’s Message 

As in any family, there was some sibling in-fighting going on with the tribes of Israel. The tribe of Rueben wanted to serve as priests for the Lord and God had chosen the tribe of Levi for this special purpose, specifically Aaron, Moses’ brother to be the High Priest of Israel. They believed themselves to be holy and sanctified and able to do this work. They weren’t bad people, but they where asking to do something not asked of them by God.

In their bickering, they came to Moses to make a decision. He told them to give him one day with God and God would tell him what to do. The next day, Moses called all the heads of each tribe together and told them to each bring a staff of wood (a big stick) with them. Moses carved Aaron’s name in the stick from the tribe of Levi and placed them all in the tent of the covenant. The next morning, the staff of the tribe of Levi had budded, blossomed and had ripe almonds growing on it. This confirmed what God had ordained and the tribe of Levi continued as the only tribe able to do the work of the tent of the covenant.

Almonds have been part of the history of Israel, even before they were known as Israel. Jacob, the father of the tribes, made almonds as a first gift to Egypt. The bowls in the tent of the covenant were to be modeled after the blooms of the almond tree. The almond also contributes to a healthy diet and their flavoring and oil have been harvested since Biblical times.

We see many products in our lives that contain almonds. We have almond milk, almond extract (which is essential for marzipan), almond flour and almonds just for snacking. I prefer my almonds covered in chocolate. They are all to remind us of God’s provision for Israel and God’s desire to sustain us.

Prayers of Intercession:  Thank You, Lord, for hearing our prayers for those dear to our hearts.  We now pray as You have taught us: 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 sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us, not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen. 

Offering spotlightThe United Methodist Church has several camp sites with a variety of camping experiences.  There are age-level camps for children and teens, but there are also camps centered around different sports or hobbies, and even some camps for adults.  Check out several bulletin boards in our buildings for lists of camps at the UM facilities.  LUMC pays half of camping fees. 

Offering prayer: God of unwavering love, You have held nothing back in Your love for us, not even Your Son. How we marvel at that kind of love, and how we long to reflect a portion of that devotion back to You. As we dedicate our offerings to You, lead us away from our tendency to hold back and worry that there will not be enough. Help us to live as the people of love and abundance You have called us to be. In Christ we pray. Amen. (Discipleship Ministries)

Hymn #389 Freely, Freely

  1. God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name, I’ve been born again in Jesus’ name,
    and in Jesus’s name I come to you, to share His love as He told me to.

Refrain:  He said, “Freely, freely you have received, freely, freely give.

Go in My name and because you believe, others will know that I live.

  1. All power is given in Jesus’ name, in earth and heaven in Jesus’ name,
    and in Jesus’ name I come to you, to share His power as He told me to.

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.

Message               Pastor Becky Cuddeback

Before we get too far this morning, if as soon as you heard that Nicodemus was a Pharisee you thought less of him or characterized him as the villain in this encounter – stop! While he was within the order of the Pharisees, he came to Jesus as one rabbi to another, one teacher seeking instruction from another. He came to another to gain a deeper level of understanding. This is an example to us. Who among us hasn’t asked another colleague or peer for counsel or information?

There is nothing nefarious about coming to Jesus at night, I don’t think any of us can say coming to Jesus at night is a bad thing. We seek help in crisis and in the night is when questions come. If something is going completely off the rails, it is in the night we search for answers. In the dark and in the silence of the world, we have conversations and implore Jesus for help in the form of prayer and petition. So if your problem with Nicodemus is that he came to Jesus in the night, stop saying your nightly prayers.

If you think coming to Jesus by himself is a problem, then when was the last time you brought all your friends with you to discuss a problem or to get needed clarity because you didn’t understand something? We tend to want to keep our lack of understanding hidden. Rarely will an individual, while in a larger group, ask a question of a teacher, instructor, or a pastor for fear of “appearing” silly or dumb. No one is looking to be embarrassed because we fear that what we are able to ask is something we should already know or understand. It is a matter of wanting to save face.

We have more in common with Nicodemus, so we should offer the grace we want to receive. Plus, he ends up in a conversation he didn’t ask for, we don’t know what brought him to Jesus that night, but here he is.

Nicodemus starts by acknowledging who Jesus is, the One sent by God. He recognizes the works and signs and says this can only be done by God’s presence with Jesus. Nicodemus sees what motives, animates, and actualizes the saving work of Jesus; and it is God’s presence.

Jesus affirms Nicodemus. Jesus says the Kingdom of God can only be seen by those born from above, those who have a connection to, a relationship with God and because Nicodemus sees Jesus as who He is Jesus affirms the connection between Nicodemus and God. Their conversation could have stopped there. But Nicodemus wants to get it right; he wants to be sure of his standing with God but leans into a literal understanding of birth while Jesus is talking about a spiritual birth.

Nicodemus’ question is the equivalent of the question I sometimes get: “What do I have to do to be a Christian?” or the dreaded … “What is the least I have to do to be a Christian.” Nicodemus is looking for a checklist, something to accomplish, something that will have a completion. Again, it’s about getting it right in a human sense.

Do you have a favorite casserole, dessert, or maybe a cookie? Maybe it’s your grandmother’s or Aunt Mary’s or a beloved parishioner’s specialty? You decide you want to make it yourself and so you go looking for the recipe. Let’s use my grandmother’s molasses cookies as an example. I called up my Aunt Peg to get the recipe because she is the keeper of all things – mind you, this turns into a one hour phone call, I should have just driven over to her house. She reads Gram's recipe, I write it down and read it back to her and now I possess the recipe.

I follow the recipe and I make them. The problem is, they don’t taste like my grandmother’s cookies. They look like them, but something is off. I try again, the results are the same, not Gram’s cookies. Again and again I attempt to make my grandmother’s molasses cookies. I wanted to have them for my father for Thanksgiving, but I have failed. I am not about to present molasses cookies that are inferior to my grandmother’s because everyone will compare them. I don’t want comparison, I want to present my grandmother’s cookies.

Thanksgiving comes and I recount my cookie baking saga to my Uncle, my father’s brother. His response is to laugh at me. He tells me Gram didn’t measure anything, she took the ingredients and just knew how to make her cookies. He doesn’t even recall my grandmother owning a measuring cup or spoon her entire life. Try as I might, I now know I will never replicate her cookies, I might come close, but I will never get it right.

Yet, we like exactness. We can accomplish anything with a checklist or a method. Like Nicodemus, just tell us what it means to be formed from above, to be a Jesus follower and inherit eternal life. If you give us the recipe to be a Christian, we will be good to go.

Like my grandmother’s molasses cookies, that is a mystery. What is necessary for my transformation is different from what it looks like for your transformation. There is no set description, requirements, checklists or magic words for what born from above looks like for each of us. Being a follower of Jesus isn’t about conformity, but unity.

We have tasks outlined for us in the work we are to be about. We look to Matthew 25 for the distinguishing work of the Jesus followers: clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, visiting the sick and imprisoned, giving shelter to the unhoused and don’t forget the call of every prophet when it comes to the care of the widow, the orphan and the alien. We have practices we follow: prayer, worship, fellowship, study, and devotion. We have nothing but our assurance of salvation, our ability to see the Kingdom of God to affirm us. Now honestly, that feeling of assurance isn’t so assuring. There are days I feel fully convicted and can burn up the world working toward the realization of the Kingdom of God here and on my worst days, I question if God even notices me and I’m not so assured. I’m looking for consistency and a gauge to know how I am doing with this Jesus thing.

Then the realization hits me. We don’t have a recipe or checklist for ourselves, because we won’t use it for ourselves. We would measure ourselves against the list. We are human and we would use it against our neighbor, against the other in our midst, to elevate ourselves and destroy the other. We’d fulfill the list, checking off as a to-do list, but have no transformation, only ammunition against our neighbors and that is judgment.

Jesus isn't looking to be used as a weapon. He says God sent Him that the world might be saved because condemnation wasn’t the plan. If condemnation had been the plan, God would have stayed silent because the world had already stood condemned.  God wants redemption and sent a Redeemer out of God’s great love for us. To be seers of the Kingdom means to love each other, recognize our collective humanity – our strengths and our weaknesses – in order that eternal life in the Kingdom will begin with us today.

Closing Hymn: #98 To God Be the Glory

  1. To God be the glory, great things He hath done!
    So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
    who yielded His life an atonement for sin, and opened the lifegate that all may go in.

Refrain: 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 thru Jesus the Son,

and give Him the glory, great things He hath done!

  1. O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood, to every believer the promise of God;
    the vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.
  2. Great things He hath taught us, great things He hath done,
    and great our rejoicing thru Jesus the Son;
    but purer, and higher, and greater will be our wonder,

our transport, when Jesus we see.

Go into your week with the blessings of The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit.