March 14 Worship
Updated: Mar 17
Hello Union Church Presbyterians,
Worship this Sunday, March 14 will be in-person and streamed on YouTube to view at home. We will share prayers, songs, and reflections.
Apologies for the technical problems this Sunday. We are working to resolve them for the next worship service.
HOW TO VIEW ONLINE: YouTube broadcast will begin at 10:25 am
For ALL devices: https://www.youtube.com/user/NewburghPresby
VIRTUAL FELLOWSHIP on ZOOM at 11:30 am
For computers: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/8710098175
For smartphones and tablets, download and install the Zoom app.
If prompted: Click “JOIN Meeting” and enter:
Meeting ID: 871 009 8175 Passcode: NOT REQUIRED
The bulletin is attached and posted on the church website, newburghpresby.org/blog
ORDER OF WORSHIP
Union Church, Newburgh NY
March 14, 2021 10:30 am
Fourth Sunday in Lent
We are glad that you are joining us today and hope you feel God’s blessings. If you do not have a church home, we sincerely invite you to be a part of the Union Church fellowship.
Mid-week Lenten Service video will be posted on the church website and emailed each Wednesday.
Church Internet: Union has upgraded to FiOS Gigabit Internet.
To connect to WiFi: use the network named Union Guest, password unionchurch1.
Food Pantry operates every other week. Next: Mon. March 15 and Wed. March 17 from 9:30-11:30 am. Serving LOTS of people! If you would like to help, contact Kathy or Debby.
2021 Envelope Boxes are available in the church vestibule for pick up.
VIRTUAL Fellowship Time: Begins at 11:30 after. Zoom Questions? Call James at (301) 335-8677.
ORDER OF WORSHIP
PRELUDE Prelude for Lent Basil Harwood, played by Rev. Ivan Fowler
CALL TO WORSHIP Adapted from Psalm 107 Libby Szymanowicz
Leader: O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. People: Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble Leader: He gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. People: Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction; Leader: they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. People: Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; Leader: He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction. ALL: Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.
Artist of souls, you sculpted a people for yourself out of the rocks of wilderness and fasting. Help us as we take up your invitation to prayer and simplicity, that the discipline of these forty days may sharpen our hunger for the feast of your holy friendship and whet our thirst for the living water you offer through Jesus Christ. Amen.
CALL TO CONFESSION
From those days in Eden, to our own days here, we are laden with faults and failings. Let us join together to confess our sins.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
O God, in Jesus Christ you proclaimed your love for all creation. Have mercy on us and our sins. We have overpopulated the earth and violated its goodness. We have depleted nature of it vital resources. We care not for ourselves as temples, nor for communities as buildings not built with hands. We plead for forgiveness and ask for your guidance. Help us to be disciplined in caring for your gifts, lest in neglecting them we lose them forever.
(moment for silent personal confession)
ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS
Friends believe the Good News of the Gospels. By the grace of God and the love of Jesus, we are forgiven.
GLORIA PATRI Traditional, Second Century
PASSING OF THE PEACE
HYMN OF PRAISE Christ Be Beside Me (St. Patrick’s Breastplate) James Kilbane
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
Gracious Lord, like Nicodemus, we come to the word with many questions. Like the Pharisees, we can be captivated by correctness, intent on right answers. As we turn to your word, Spirit of God, do not let our desire for information dominate our need for transformation. Let us hear the word and be moved to greater faith and obedience. Amen.
OLD TESTAMENT READING Numbers 21: 4-9 Libby Szymanowicz
NEW TESTAMENT READING John 3: 14-21 Libby Szymanowicz
SERMON “Believe Me” John Redman, CRE
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE & THE LORD’S PRAYER
O God of Life and Light, through the ages your messengers have proclaimed that your day is at hand. Creation has spoken of your care and benevolent love. You sent Christ into our midst that there could be no denying your concern for us. Keep reminding us, dear Lord, of how fragile life can be, and how we need to care for one another and how interdependent all of creation ought to be. We ask to watch over those whom we name here with special care and concern:
And Lord we pray for those in our own hearts whose names you already know, for their own healing and comfort, in your name and that of our redeemer Jesus Christ, who taught to pray, saying:
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 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 forever. Amen.
OFFERTORY ANTHEM Song of the Faithful Servant Union Chancel Choir
You can support the work of Union Church by mailing donations to 44 Balmville Rd, Newburgh, NY 12550 or visit newburghpresby.org/donate to donate online.
MINUTE FOR MISSION Libby Szymanowicz
PRAYER OF THANKS
DOXOLOGY Union Chancel Choir
POSTLUDE Organ Postlude Basil Harwood, played by Rev. Ivan Fowler
SERMON TEXT Believe Me
It’s always a red-letter day when we have John 3:16 as part of our Gospel reading. Red Letter day? I remember the calendars of my youth where Sundays and Holidays were always printed in red, a custom that came from the King James Version, where the words of Jesus, or what were supposedly the words of Jesus, were printed in red. Scholars have lately reduced what have been thought to be the actual words of Jesus to less than one eighth of what the King James Red Letter Editions attributed to him.
Of course what has been attributed to Jesus’s message exists in the context of the Gospels, and indeed throughout the New Testament, so let’s not quibble over what Jesus might have said or not said.
In the episode before our reading for today, a Pharisee named Nicodemus visits Jesus in the middle of the night. He apparently had a burning desire to speak with Jesus but figured he could only do so under the cover of darkness so his colleagues wouldn’t know. Jesus tells Nicodemus that no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again. Now Nicodemus as a Pharisee is supposed to be a wise and learned man, but he takes Jesus literally, saying “How would a grown man re-enter his mother’s womb?” Jesus explains patiently that this is a spiritual rebirth through water and the spirit.
When Nicodemus still questions, Jesus replies, “You don’t believe me when I tell you about the things of this world, how will you ever believe me then, when I tell you about the things of heaven?”
The symbolic reference to Moses making a bronze serpent and raising it up on a pole so that all who looked on it would be spared from poisonous snakes in the desert, shouldn’t be lost on us, when Jesus says that the Son of Man must be lifted up, lifted up on a cross, but also lifted up in resurrection – undying resurrection of his message of grace and forgiveness. The image of the serpent twined around a pole is known as the Rod of Asclepius from the Greek god of healing, and it’s still a modern sign for medicine, and the origins of this image are imbedded in various cultures of the Middle East. It’s often confused with two snakes wrapped around a pole, the Caduceus, which is actually a symbol of Mercury the messenger to the gods of mythology. Anyway, just as the Israelites were healed by looking at the image of the serpent on a pole so we are healed by the image of Jesus upon the cross.
And it’s not the sixteenth verse but the fifteenth verse that the is first mention of eternal life in this Gospel. The Greek word is aionios, which not only means eternal but also means that which has no beginning or end, what we might think of as infinity. That puts a decidedly different wrinkle on the concept of eternal life, doesn’t it?
And this word for believe is pisteuo, meaning not just believe in, but have trust in, have commitment for.
So, Jesus is saying something to the effect of “Have trust and commitment to me and experience a life that never begins and never ends. And, to me, the seventeenth verse is almost as great as the sixteenth where it says God did not send his son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior.
Elsewhere we have Jesus speaking as a Judge – in the ninth chapter of John, for instance, where Jesus says, “I came to this world to judge” is talking of blindness and seeing, where belief in him would cause the blind to see, but not believing would be like those who can see becoming blind. Very different from our idea of Jesus as judge of the quick and the dead, as in the Apostle’s Creed.
And then Jesus clears it up for us when he says “Whoever believes is not judged, but whoever does not believe has already been judged.” Is Jesus here to close the door on non-believers? No, not at all; he is here to hold the door wide open through his sacrifice for us and walking through that door of faith is a human choice, not a divine judgement. And just as he says those who were blind but believe will have sight, and those who can see but will not believe will become blind, he talks about light and darkness.
Light is a vital image in the Gospel of John from the very beginning. And the contrast with the dark, with sin, is an almost universal archetype of good versus evil.
The Magi, those wise men of Matthew’s account of visitation of the baby Jesus, were Persian priests of Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion that centered on the God of light in constant combat with Satan, the god of darkness. This god of light had a son, Mithras the Sun god, who was born on the winter solstice, which according to their calendar was December 25, and they celebrated this birth with a ritual feast of bread and wine.
Images of sinister figures dressed in black skulking in the shadows of midnight are trademarks of crime and evil doing, aren’t they? But these literal images don’t bring us to the message that this passage carries, that it’s our true faith and our good works that will bring us to the light and out of the darkness. We are always tempted to judge others by their good works or more commonly, their lack of them. But we all have some darkness hiding down there somewhere, don’t we? Something we would prefer not to have brought to light. Theologian William Barclay comments “We cannot know all the nuances of a person’s life, so judgment is best left to God. However, some darkness is so dark, and some light is so light that we can hardly miss seeing the difference. The reality, however, is that there is some darkness-loving in every heart—dark secrets that we prefer not to share with anyone. There is some sense in which all of us live in the shadows.”
But this Gospel brings us out into the light, the bright searing white of God’s love and grace.
But let’s return to verse sixteen for a moment. Martin Luther called this verse “the entire Gospel in miniature.” In fact, verse sixteen is so beloved and so overused that it becomes almost tiresome without its context of eternal life having no beginning and end, and the phrase “have eternal life” is in the present tense, suggesting that those who believe, those who trust in this truth, possess it here and now, rather than having to wait for some future inheritance. As Barclay notes: “It’s the already received gift – eternal life as relationship with God beginning now.” And in verse eighteen those who don’t believe have been judged already.
So faith and good works do together, even though there is some tension in the New Testament about faith and good works. In his letter to the Romans, Paul says, “We have been saved by faith,” but in the letter attributed to James, the brother of Jesus, he says: true faith will result in good works, and that faith that has no good works is not a true faith. But then, I think we all know that. Our good works are done through belief, that word pisteuo, that means having trust in, having commitment to, and that’s the heart of this mystery we call faith.
My sisters and brothers in faith, believe me when I say I share these thoughts and words with you today by Love of the Father, the Grace of the Son, and the Healing Power of the Holy Spirit. Amen
John Redman, CRE
Mobile: (914) 474-0722
44 Balmville Rd, Newburgh NY 12550
Phone: (845) 562-0954 Fax: (845) 562-0955