March 14, 2021

Prayer of the Day

O God, rich in mercy, by the humiliation of your Son you lifted up this fallen world and rescued us from the hopelessness of death. Lead us into your light, that all our deeds may reflect your love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Numbers 21:4-9

4From Mount Hor [the Israelites] set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” 6Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lordand against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

1Give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good,
  for God’s mercy endures forever.
2Let the redeemed of the Lord proclaim
that God redeemed them from the hand of the foe,
3gathering them in from the lands;
  from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
17Some were fools and took rebellious paths;
through their sins they were afflicted.
18They loathed all manner of food
  and drew near to death’s door.
19Then in their trouble they cried to the Lord
and you delivered them from their distress. 
20You sent forth your word and healed them
  and rescued them from the grave.
21Let them give thanks to you, Lord, for your steadfast love
and your wonderful works for all people.
22Let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving
  and tell of your deeds with shouts of joy.

Ephesians 2:1-10

1You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

John 3:14-21

[Jesus said:] 14“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. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Sermon – Meggan Manlove

God’s abundant love for the world—that’s what we hear in today’s gospel text, these iconic verses from John Chapter 3 that are on billboards, tattoos, bumper stickers. It is a love for all people, you and me, our friends, our enemies, people we have never met. What’s remarkable about this love is that it does not depend on transactions. What I mean is, God continues to love the world with abandon and often that love is not returned. 

Put another way, we human beings continue to rebel against the will of God. We do not welcome in the reign of God. We do not perfectly love our neighbor as Jesus instructed us to do. We so easily are self-centered. Martin Luther used a Latin term to describe this, Incurvatus in se, “curved in upon oneself.” We put ourselves ahead of others. As our gospel passage says, we love darkness instead of the light of God.

When we are getting ready in the morning, we look in a mirror. We straighten out a hair, maybe put on some makeup, check that we’ve brushed our teeth thoroughly. But what about our insides, our heart, soul, and mind? What will help us see ourselves as we really are, our insides? Who will hold up that mirror? 

Worship is one place that happens. Worship is for people who have have not trusted God’s promises or walked in God’s ways, who have have hoarded and squandered the gifts of God’s creation, who have failed to welcome the stranger and the outcast, or make room at the table for the homeless and the hungry. Each week, in our confession, we announce that we are not who we would like to think we are. And each week we open ourselves to the God of second chances.

Pastor Bill White tells a story some of you might remember reading in high school. Silas Marner was a shriveled up old miser who had been falsely accused of stealing. He responded by becoming a recluse for fifteen years. His major joy in life was counting his gold. He loved to sit by the lamp at night and let the coins run through his fingers. Then a thief stole his gold and Silas believed he had been reduced to nothing. 

Shortly after the theft, a destitute woman left her little girl sleeping in front of the fireplace in Silas’s cottage. The next day the woman was found dead. When no one claimed the child the old miser raised her. It was an experience of delight, and it slowly changed him. He began to speak to his neighbors, and his cottage, once dark and drab, took on a new cheer. There was light in his eyes and a smile on his face. There was an outward focus to his life. No longer was he turned in on himself. The child gave Silas a reason to exist. Parenting became an experience of grace, an encounter with God.

Grace is always an undeserved gift of God. In Ephesians, Paul expresses his amazement that God did not lose his temper when we mess up. “4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

Oh my goodness! This is the best gift. Some have called these verses the heart of the Christian faith. It is all grace, all gift; we are saved by a gift. We cannot do it ourselves, nor can we overcome our self-centeredness by ourselves. God does it for us. All we have to do is trust God.

Hear that passage from John 3 again, and I’m going to use the word trust instead of believe. “16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who trusts 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. 

Paul puts it this way in Ephesians, “8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

This past week, the camp director I worked for for three summers died suddenly of cardiac arrest. This is the third man of great importance to me to die in a six-month period: Trinity member Bob Torrey, my own father, and now Bob Quam. I did give Bob’s family and my mom a heads-up about this sermon. I want to say to God in my prayers, “Enough!” As if that is how prayer works. And yet, in a way it does. And each one of those men, in his own way, modeled being really honest with God. God, they showed me, was big enough to take all of my pain and anger. It would not scare God away. 

Each one of them was also an instrument of God’s grace. They all saw my messy side, my brokenness, my worse self, and loved me and assured me of God’s love. 

More than that, they modeled their trust in God’s love through their own lives. I have laughed at how each of them had a stubborn streak that sometimes scared me, sometimes made me laugh, always reminded me of their humanness. 

My dad grew up in a home that modeled love of neighbor but also had just enough of an image of fire and brimstone God that he looked for something else as an adult. He found it with a Lutheran pastor and congregation in St. Paul, Minnesota. That congregation proclaimed loud and clear the grace of God. My dad got that message of grace. It was transformative. And after he died, through greeting cards, Caring Bridge notes, and phone calls, our family my family was reminded just how many people received the gifts of God’s grace through my dad.

Bob Torrey came to his adult faith in this space and with the community of faith that is Trinity Lutheran Church and he never looked back. Everyone who has joined the congregation in my tenure has a story of receiving the love of God through Bob. At the heart of Bob’s passion for stewardship was his deep awareness of God’s grace. He was great at talking about stewardship of finances. But what God was always stewarding himself was God’s grace. He never seemed to tire of passing that gift along, whether in a council meeting, fellowship time, new member class, or passing of the peace.

Bob Quam, my camp director, was sometimes a troubled soul, but possessed so many gifts. One of those gifts was getting college staffers excited about sharing the grace and love of God with kids. He believed in the power of the God we encounter in scripture, in the Beartooth Wilderness, and in Christian community. God’s grace spilled forth in Bible Studies, hiking, worship, and mealtimes. And last July, on my birthday, his message was, as it had been for every former staffer on Facebook, “Welcome to another year Meggan. May if flow with grace and truth.”

The free gift of God’s grace has been written about in volumes, songs, treatises and now I am sure you could find hundreds of videos of people explaining it. But experiencing God’s grace and love has to be lived. Likewise, trusting God’s grace finally must be lived. I am so grateful for the way my dad and Bob Torrey and Bob Quam helped me learn to live this trust. 

I certainly do not trust God’s grace and love every moment. It is not a trust that leaves me with no agency for my own life. I still try to make good decisions and take responsibility for my life and actions. But when I have failed miserably, when I hurt other people, when I become curved in on myself, the way out is to trust the God of second chances, to remember that God loves the world, me and you and everyone else. This grace and love are pure gift. 

I firmly believe that opening this grace up to others is one of the church’s deepest and most important callings right now. It is something the world needs desperately. It is the balm for the oppressed, the salve for the overworked, the comfort for the anxious. 

The way we become right with God is trusting in what God has done and is doing. It is a gift. We stumble, we fall, and mess things up each day of our lives. But God’s love is everlasting and abundant and pure gift. It is so much bigger than our mess. God’s love and grace are free gift, and they are transformative. Thanks be to God.

Prayers of Intercession

Relying on the promises of God, we pray boldly for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.

You sent your Son that the world might be saved through him. Inspire the witness of the church throughout the world. Empower missionaries, Bible translators, and ministries of service in your name. Bless our partners in ministry (specific mission partners may be named), our ELCA global partner churches, and Young Adults in Global Mission. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

From east to west your steadfast love is shown. Nourish seas and deserts, wilderness areas and cities. Give water to thirsty lands; nurture spring growth that feeds hungry creatures; bless farmers as they prepare for the growing season. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

You sustained your people in the wilderness. Give courage to all who lead in times of crisis and scarce resources. Prosper the work of those who aid victims of famine and drought (especially). Bring peace in places where scares resources cause violence. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Your mercy endures forever. Deliver all who cry to you, especially those who are hungry or without homes. Give life in places where death seems triumphant; give healing to those who are sick and comfort to those who mourn. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

By grace we have been saved. Fill this congregation to overflowing with that grace, that we show mercy to others. Nourish any in our midst who are hungry, especially children, and bless our ministries of feeding and shelter (especially). Give us patience and courage when the way seems long. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Your Son was lifted up that whoever believes might have eternal life. We praise you for all who have died in Christ. Bring us with all the saints into the fullness of your promises. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Spirit of sweetness, teach us the ways of transformation and fertilization, the path from pollen to sweetest honey.Teach us to taste the essence of each place we alight. Draw us ever closer to the wisdomhidden within beauty. As with your bees, give us flight and sunlight, passion and productivity, and cooperation with those around us. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

We entrust ourselves and all our prayers to you, O faithful God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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