Rend Your Hearts: Claiming the Promise
This is the Sign
Greeting Psalm 25:10 (NRSV)
“All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.”
Call to Worship for the 1st Sunday in Lent You are Loved!
Now is the time for us to worship!
Now is the time for us to come!
So, come, you who in God’s sight are perfectly imperfect!
Come, you who want more of God!
Come, you who heard God remind you
that you are special and loved beyond measure!
Come, People of God, those unified in the waters of baptism!
*taken from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/rend-your-hearts-claiming-the-promise/first-sunday-in-lent-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/first-sunday-in-lent-year-b-other-resources
Moment of Silence welcoming Christ into our midst
Prayer of Intercession based on Gen 9:8-17; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15
Almighty Creator of the universe, and loving Father of us all:
Every rainbow reminds us that you are in control of the earth, of nature, of the seasons, and of the end. Your Spirit enriches the earth with the gift of life to all creatures.
Help us to care for the environment so that the earth is a healthier place to live for our children and all the generations who follow us. Help us to live like as respectful people who leave the soil richer and more fertile after using it, so that your name is then respected and honored by all peoples.
We thank you for your Son, our Lord Jesus, who has taken all our sins, especially those we are ashamed of from our past, and paid for them on the cross even before we were born. Renew us to be humbler and loving like he is, so that we can be walking advertisements for you wherever you lead us in the coming weeks.
By your Holy Spirit, help us to embrace and enjoy the waters of our baptism. Let us live with a good conscience along with all your people who flock to the living waters on the shore of eternity, as we anticipate the resurrection we share with our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Have mercy on
those who want to give up on life
those who are afraid of the future
those who look for fulfilment in evil
those who are addicted to destructive things,
as well as hatred or pride or other evils.
Send your Spirit to strengthen your us as we walk this Lenten journey together, moving on each day a little closer to their permanent home with Jesus in heaven.
Bless the work of those who minister like angels to the sick and dying, to the people who are depressed and to those who want to give up on life here in your world. Watch over those who work in dangerous occupations to make the world a safer place for us to enjoy.
We pray for those in need, those who are hungry. And we thank you for filling our deepest hunger with the bread of life, Jesus himself. Quench our deepest thirst through the wine of his suffering, which was too deep for us to drink. We watch in wonder and praise as we focus on him during this Lenten season. In these days draw us closer to the one who died for us, for his sake. Amen.
Scripture Lesson Genesis 9:8-17 (NRSV)
Morning Message This is the Sign
Key Point: God does help us, even after we have made a total mess of things. Only God can bring order out of chaos.
As we begin our Lenten journey to the cross and the tomb, our Scripture reading takes us all the way back to the new journey of the human race after The Flood.
In words that are very similar to the Genesis story of creation, the opening verses of Genesis 9 lay out God’s mandates for the new human race:
Verses 1-7 (NLT), “Then God blessed Noah and his sons and told them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth. All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the sky, all the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the fish in the sea…… I have placed them in your power. I have given them to you for food…. But you must never eat any meat that still has the lifeblood in it.
“And I will require the blood of anyone who takes another person’s life……For God made human beings in his own image. Now be fruitful and multiply, and repopulate the earth.”
Very much like the Creation mandate to Adam and Eve. Three things: Fill the earth. Have dominion over the rest of creation. And defend the sanctity of human life.
In those verses, God basically tells these lone representatives, of the new human race, to start over. Let’s think about that for a minute.
First, think about Noah, his wife, his sons, and their wives stepping out of the Ark for the first time in about a year. They stepped out of the boat into a world devoid of human life. And most animal life. We picture the dove and the olive branch, maybe we picture a scene of peaceful tranquility, with no human beings around to cause chaos.
But I believe a more accurate picture would be one of complete devastation: Floods strip the land, and its inhabitants, of everything. There may have even been the stench of death and decay in the air. I believe that is the more likely canvas that Noah and his family stepped out into.
Which brings us to the second point: Facing that scenario, how does one even begin to start over? How can they do that? Humanity had made a total mess of everything. Now in the midst of the drying mud and the rotting death, how is it possible for humanity to make a new beginning and do better.
Can they do it by sheer human effort? Can we? Scripture says no, we can’t, not by ourselves. But we CAN start over, but only by the grace of God.
That’s how it was for Noah as the journey of humanity began once again.
That’s how it is for us as we begin our Lenten journey again.
In the Flood, the waters below and the waters above brought the original chaos of Genesis 1 back to the earth. Now by making a covenant, God brings order and life out of the chaos. The alternative to human sin is God’s grace. God is the one who makes life possible in a chaotic world filled with mud and death.
Or to put it in the terms of our Scripture reading, the alternative to chaos is covenant, and that’s the real message here.
Immediately after speaking His commandments for new life in verses 1-7, God secures the continuation of life on earth in a covenant, a covenant initiated and kept by God and God alone.
Contrary to modern belief, the continued existence of life on our planet does not depend on human decisions and actions. Although we are responsible to live by God’s commandments, BUT in the end, it is not up to us to make human history turn out right. If right living determines whether life continues on planet earth, may God help us all, because we have demonstrated from the very beginning that we cannot do it. Humankind’s legacy is a legacy of chaos and rebellion and disobedience and death.
That is the real point of the story of the Flood: God does help us, even after we have made a total mess of things.
“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘I now establish my covenant….’” And it’s crucial that it is God who initiates this covenant, because God cannot fail.
Praise God, life does not depend on the whims of a fickle deity. It depends on the firm promises of a faithful God. Life does not hang in the balances of our choices and behavior. Praise God it does depend on the fixed purpose and unbreakable promise of a holy and just God.
God says, “I now establish my covenant….” And we should be thankful for this!
As Noah and his family step off the Ark into a decaying world, God set about to restore and renew, because he is faithful, by establishing a universal covenant with the whole human race, and with every form of animal life as well.
And as if to underline the inclusiveness of this promise, God repeats four times the phrase “ALL living creatures” in verses 10,12, 15, 16.
God is saying that what just happened will never happen again! That is unconditional. No matter what humans do, never again will God respond with a world-destroying flood. Never again will the cycle of nature be disturbed so totally. The waters of chaos will never again destroy all life on this planet.
As history has shown, that promise does not mean that floods will never happen again. They are as much a part of human existence as their dry counterpart, drought. Floods will happen and, tragically, people will lose their lives. But life will go on through flood and drought. That God has promised.
And as subsequent Scriptures would reveal, this promise does not mean that God will never judge the human race again.
As the next chapters of Genesis reveal, God’s effort to wash the earth clean of sin did not succeed. We see almost immediately that sin surfaced right in righteous Noah and his family.
But the holy and just God will not and cannot let sin run wild and ruin his world completely. So, his judgment will fall upon a sinful world again….and again…and again. We see it all the way through the nation of Israel’s story.
But never again will it take the form of a universal flood, it will, however, take the form of a universal fire that will completely cleanse the world of all sin.
2 Peter 3:12-13 puts it this way: “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with His promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”
God will keep this promise of continued life, even after the fire at the end of this earth. In the meantime, life on earth is assured by this promise. It is unconditional and eternal. The alternative to chaos is covenant, no matter what humans do.
God assures us of that with the sign of a rainbow.
It is the sign of this covenant with all humans and all nature. I find it so beautiful that God chose this aspect of creation, this natural phenomenon, to point to the certainty of his promise.
Obviously, there were rainbows before this covenant. But God chose this spectacular refraction of light after a storm to attest to the firmness of his covenant.
But interestingly, this sign wasn’t directed toward forgetful humans, but toward Himself, our faithful God.
“Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant….’ Would God forget without the rainbow? Certainly not.
But God wanted Noah and his descendants to remember what God had said about the rainbow. Every time you see a rainbow, you can be sure that I am remembering my promise about life. Every day, all over the earth, rainbows testify about God’s faithfulness to his covenant, because God sees them too, and remembers his promise.
No matter how sinful humanity becomes, no matter how many storms and floods wreak havoc on the earth, God will not wipe out life on this earth by a flood.
Life will go on: that’s the covenant underlying life on this planet. God promises physical life for all.
But there’s a greater promise that we focus on during Lent—the promise of eternal life for all who believe in God’s Son. The God who cares about all life in this world has sent his only begotten Son into this chaotic, disobedient, rebellious, deadly world to bring life abundant and eternal.
This is the connection for us as followers of Christ during this season of Lent: Jesus came as the rainbow personified. He was the sign that God is present, and that God is our advocate and not our adversary.
Part of the work for us in this season is to assess how well we are doing in following that example and being that sign to the world around us.
The rending of our collective hearts is in the confession that we may have been more of an adversary to the work of God in the world than an advocate. Whether we think individually, or corporately, we need to examine the condition of our hearts and ask whether we can look at us, look at the church and declare, “This is the sign!”
And then we need to claim the promise that says our faithful God does help us, even after we have made a total mess of things, and we can return to him once more, and we must.
Our Scripture reading for this First Sunday of Lent reminds us of the destructiveness of sin.
But it also reminds us of the persistent grace of God that keeps coming back to humanity, even after The Flood and even after the Cross.
Together, let us consider the flood and repent.
Let us remember the covenant and hope.
Let us consider the cross and believe the words of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Amen.
A Prayer of Confession for the First Sunday of Lent
To you, Sovereign, do we lift up our souls. We often find ourselves struggling with shame, and we are afraid. Often, we do not know what to believe. We shrink from rigorous pursuit of your ways. Forgive us our laziness; and make us to know your ways; teach us your paths. Lead us in truth and be mindful of your mercy toward us. Deliver us from the sins of our youth; may they not haunt us as we seek you, for your goodness’ sake, O God. Hear our prayer in the name of Jesus, the One full of grace and truth. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
Friends, hear the good news: God through Christ has remembered us with kindness and steadfast love. As far as east is from west, so has God removed our sins. Believe the gospel: in Christ you are forgiven.
Valerie Bridgeman Davis, The Africana Worship Book for Year B, Discipleship Resources, 2007, p. 151.
Righteous God, we mark these early days in the Lenten journey with reminders of your covenant with your people. In your judgement, you sent upon creation the great flood – yet you saved a faithful remnant. You followed with a covenant not to use the flood again. As we prepare to offer our gifts to you, we are reminded that we have been spared from judgment by the one, your son, our Savior, who took on our guilt and bore our judgement. May gratitude for his sacrifice move us to offer not only money, but our whole being. In Christ, we pray. Amen.
The 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 that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
A Sending for the First Sunday of Lent Power Comes from God Alone
Now and always, may the God of your baptism be the God of your every blessing!
May favor and peace be multiplied to you so much that you have to give some away!
May you forever be reminded each time you encounter water that its power, which comes from God alone, sustains and makes you whole!
Michael Parker, Lenten Liturgical Resources from Africana Writers, edited by Safiya Fosua, 2020.
May God’s peace be with you this day.