Dunsford United Church Bulletin – May 30, 2021
Pulpit Supply: Lisa Norman
CALL TO WORSHIP (Response is in Bold)
Jesus, come to our hearts like the falling rain.
Spirit, come to our hearts like rushing wind.
God, come to our hearts like shing sun
Praises be to our God, the three in one;
Praise for the sun, praise for the wind, praise for the falling rain.
Acknowledgement of Territorial Lands (in unison)
We acknowledge that the Creator Entrusted the land on which we gather this day, to First Nations Peoples of the Anishnabeg/Mississauga. May we strive to open our hearts, minds and spaces; to make right with all our relations. May it be so.
While we can‘t take up the offering as we used to do in the sanctuary, it is still an important part of our ministry. We acknowledge and thank you all for your contributions to the church whether via PAR or other means.
“For the love of the world Jesus offered everything he had, even life itself. In response to his generosity we offer our gifts and our lives to God. Amen”
Written by Frances Flook Gatherings 2021 p.37, used with permission.
OPENING PRAYER (in unison)
God, you are a mystery to us
beyond complete knowledge,
above perfect description.
God, we call to you through so many names
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer
God, Christ, and Spirit
Mother, Friend, and Comforter
Source of Life, Living Word, and Bond of Love,
God, be with us today in worship
opening our minds, hearts and souls,
to lean into Holy Mystery that is Wholly Love
LIGHTING OF THE CHRIST CANDLE
We light this candle to signify that Jesus is the light of the world; a shining light of hope and understanding.
Gospel Scripture Reading
Our Scripture reading today describes a night time visit made by Nicodemus to Jesus. Let’s hear what is said.
Nicodemus Visits Jesus
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He 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.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus 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?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The 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.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus 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. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that 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.
OPENING HYMN: VU #266 “Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound” (Words: John Henry Newton)
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved;
how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come;
’tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me, this word my hope secures;
God will my shield and portion be as long as life endures.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun,
we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.
SERMON – Nicodemus, the original life-long learner?
Trinity Sunday. We have celebrated the Risen Christ during Easter and last week we felt the power of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday! Now here we are at Trinity Sunday. A time to discuss church doctrine. That sounds fun. Maybe we should have brought a piece of cake to this service instead of last week. Trinity Sunday is a time to delve into the nature of our Triune God; God as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. For some people the idea of one God as three makes sense, but for some it just doesn’t. I have been witness to heated discussions about this topic and I know some ministers who avoid preaching on Trinity Sunday because it can be a divisive topic. I think, as with most things in life, what we have understood in our past shapes our present ideas. With this in mind, I am going to approach Trinity Sunday from my “retired teacher mind”.
Near the beginning of the Pandemic, nearly a year and a half ago, I was asked to reflect on the passage we read today from John. The assignment was to place myself in the passage. I found the assignment in my files and noted that for this assignment I had imagined myself as Jesus. (This is slightly troubling on some level.) What follows is what I wrote down in my notes.
I can smell the acrid stench of fear emanating from his body. This confused man crouched before me, both wants to believe and fears to believe. I know he snuck in here after dark hoping no one sees. I tell him that a person must be born again to see the kingdom of God. And still Nicodemus resists this idea. I can see him shaking his head, both willing it to be true and not true. I assure him that I am telling the truth. He is a teacher and must accept what he sees, what he hears, what he knows to be true. If he cannot believe I speak the truth about these matters, how can he ever understand the concept of heaven. Will he ever understand that God loves him?
That is what I wrote then, but this is now. Like everyone else on the earth, I too, am constantly learning, growing, evolving, grappling with new concepts and ideas. During this past week I have once again been reflecting on John 3:1-17 but completely different themes and insights have been presenting themselves to me. For one, I am relating to and sympathizing with Nicodemus. Perhaps you’ve heard sermons that say Nicodemus came at night because he was frightened or ashamed and didn’t want to be seen. But what if he just couldn’t sleep because he had too many questions running rampant through his mind. Maybe he too suffers from Monkey Brain.
What is clear is that Nicodemus has a bad case of the wonders. When I taught kindergarten, there emerged a practise called “Wondering”. All week, the children were encouraged to write down what they were wondering about. They would wonder why pencils got shorter, if babies can see when they are in the mommy’s tummy, and how the plants know how to grow beans. Then we would discuss these wonderings and choose a few to research. Inevitably, this led to both a lot of work for me but also a lot of fun and insight for the children.
I think that just like those children, Nicodemus has been wondering and that night he decided to seek answers. Just like the kids, he has been putting down his questions on imaginary sticky notes and sticking them on the walls. Finally, he was surrounded by questions and it became too much. What do we know about Nicodemus? Not only was Nicodemus a Pharisee who sat on the Sanhedrin and a man of some wealth, Jesus confirms that Nicodemus was a teacher of Israel. As a rule, teachers like to know stuff.
So what does Nicodemus do? He figures there is no point in going to bed with all this uncertainty swirling around in his mind so he takes himself off to the greatest teacher of ever. Perhaps Nicodemus is what we now call a “lifelong learner.” He addresses Jesus as Rabbi or teacher and acknowledges that he believes Jesus came from God. He says that he believes this because he has seen the God signs of Jesus. But Nicodemus is having trouble understanding the unseen things about which Jesus has been teaching. He asks, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
To this wondering, Jesus makes the bold statement, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit… You must be born from above.”
This does not help Nicodemus. His response is pretty much a “Huh?”
I can empathize with Nicodemus. Often when I encounter something in the Bible my response is “Huh?” I read and reread. I wonder and then I ponder. Sometimes, like Nicodemus I seek out others more knowledgeable than myself and put my questions to them. Usually, like Nicodemus, I do this secretly and one on one. No one likes to look in the mirror and see ignorance staring back, including me.
Understanding our Trinitarian God is one of the things I wonder about. How are three things equal to one? How does 1+1+1=1? This is confusing math!
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer
Mother, Friend, and Comforter
all be God?
But they are. That is how absolutely beyond our imaginations, God really is. God is a mystery, but a mystery of love.
Jesus doesn’t leave Nicodemus hanging with his wonderings. Jesus invites Nicodemus to follow him. He invites him to be the student, just as Jesus invites us all to be the student. Great teachers don’t get angry with students when they fail to understand, or ask questions again and again, or even make mistakes. Great teachers tell the same information in a different way using different words. Great teachers keep forgiving mistakes and putting students on the path of doing things the right way.
Jesus utters some of the most famous lines of scripture to Nicodemus. In a few words it tells the story of salvation: God’s love for the world, God’s gift of his Son and the opportunity for anyone who believes to be saved. Let’s hear them again.
“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. 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”
These lines assure us of God’s wild, radical and inclusive love for everyone. We do not always get things right the first time, but God encourages us to keep trying and that is what matters.
So next time you hear or read something in the Bible, and you don’t really get it. Don’t worry. God isn’t mad. Perhaps that passage will remain a mystery for a while. Just be like Nicodemus. Keep asking the questions! Maybe try a different version of the Bible or try a student Bible. Phone a friend. Jot down some wonderings on sticky notes and put them on your walls. Just keep learning.
If you met Jesus right now, what questions would you ask him?
A famous quote by Maya Angelou is “When we know better, we do better.”
If we keep asking the questions and digging into the Bible, hopefully we will come to know better. We will know better how to love one another as Jesus loved us. And with that knowledge, we will certainly be able to do better, to live better, and to love one another better. Let’s live our lives in a way that proclaims God’s love for all.
CLOSING HYMN: #509 “I, The Lord of Sea and Sky”
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Gracious God you are Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. You hear our cries in the dark. We know that you do not forsake us in our times of uncertainty, unknowing, even in our sorrow. For we do hear you. We hear you calling in the night. Like Nicodemus, we bring our thoughts and worries to you now. Help us to be instruments of your love in this world. You are all around us and in us. We are your Beloved and we lay our burdens before you as you ask us to.
Please be with……
Knowing that you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God.
Let us now pray as Jesus taught us.
The Lord’s Prayer (Unison)
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.
Go out into God’s world as those born of water and Spirit. Go as those inspired and excited to know that “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world”. No, in fact, our God sent Jesus into the world so that the world might be saved through him. Go as those living in the mystery of the Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Go knowing you are loved and are called to love each other. Amen!
DUNSFORD UNITED CHURCH
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