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Called to the Cross

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For February 28, 2021:

Dean FeldmeyerCalled to the Cross
by Dean Feldmeyer
Mark 8:31-38

Oscar Wilde? Claire Booth Luce? No one really knows who first said, “No good deed goes unpunished.” But it was famed, syndicated columnist, Walter Winchell, quoting unnamed diplomats in 1942, who added “in Washington” to the axiom.

“No good deed goes unpunished in Washington.”

Several Republicans have recently become intimately acquainted with the truth of that statement. Since the acquittal of Donald Trump, state Republican committees in North Carolina and Louisiana censured two of their respective Republican senators, Richard Burr and Bill Cassidy, for following their conscience and voting to convict Trump.

Other state Republican organizations are attacking or considering rebukes of the other five Republican senators who voted against Trump: Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

Toomey has been chided for daring to “vote his conscience and do the right thing” rather than dutifully representing those who elected him.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who voted to impeach Donald Trump has been disowned by his family.

Of course, the ironic axiom applies to more than Washington and politics. We see, almost daily, people being ridiculed, abused, shunned, and laughed at for doing good and faithful things. Indeed, Jesus even warned those who sought to follow him that this was almost inevitable.

“If any want to become my followers,” he said, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34b) And there’s the rub. That cross thing is, well, hard! It involves suffering. Real suffering.

In the News
There are three power grids in the United States: The Eastern Grid, The Western Grid, and Texas. Texans, no doubt, thought they were doing the right and courageous thing back in 1970 when they created ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas), which runs their power grid. By going independent, they didn’t have to share their energy resources with other states and they weren’t hogtied by Washington’s regulations.

And, no doubt, they thought they were doing the right thing when they elected not to spend their fellow Texans’ hard earned tax dollars on winterizing their gas and electric power delivery systems in a state where winters are famously mild. (The extreme cold weather standard for housing is 25° F in most of the state.) Never mind the fact that about every ten years, for a few days or weeks, the temperatures dip well below that moderate standard.

And no doubt, Texans thought they were doing the right thing by opting for that rugged independence and individualism for which Texans pride themselves as it is represented in those decisions.

Unfortunately, having done what they thought was the right thing didn’t insulate them from the effects of the disastrous, single digit cold that swept through the state two weeks ago knocking out gas, electricity and water to more than half of its residents. People have been left homeless, many still don’t have fresh drinking water, and the coming thaw is only exposing the devastation that is the result of broken water pipes.

Austin City Council member and Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Harper-Madison described the winter storm as an “absolutely awful nightmare” and a “Katrina-scale crisis.”

“I'm getting evidence of people's infrastructure failing — people's pipes failing, people's toilets failing, people not having access to water because their homes have flooded. People not having access to their homes that have electricity, but they're ... full of water,” she said in an interview with NPR's Morning Edition. “We're desperately waiting for state and federal cavalry to come a runnin',” she said.

As the city waits for help, Austin is seeing "an astonishing response from our own community. People are stepping up in ways that, frankly, will bring you to tears," Harper-Madison said.

Residents are "opening their homes to complete strangers so that they can warm themselves, have a bite to eat, charge their devices. Restaurants are serving up free food. Breweries are stepping up to distribute drinking water. I am so empowered to see how the community where I was born and raised is responding right now."

Noting how people are stepping up to help each other throughout the region and the state, she also acknowledges that such a spirit of “community self-help can only go so far… there's only so much they can do to combat failing infrastructure,” she said.

Former governor Rick Perry, presuming to speak for all Texans, isn’t so sure they need help. “Texans would rather be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” he said.

Most realize, however, that, regardless of the intentions and/or motivations of the state’s political leaders and those whose job it is to provide gas, electricity, and water to their citizens there has been a massive failure at almost every level. And the result of that failure is very real suffering.

Exact numbers were not yet available at this writing but experts are estimating that nearly half of the state’s homes went without potable drinking water for as long as a week and experienced extensive water damage from frozen pipes.

Try as they could to do the right thing, bad things still happened. No good deed, it seems, goes unpunished. And often, it is the innocent — the elderly, the poor, the children — who are left behind to receive the brunt of the “punishment” while their elected leaders hide themselves and their families to Cancun to escape the suffering.

And make no mistake, suffering it is. This is not the bump-in-your-political-career-path kind of suffering. Our brothers and sisters in Texas have been experiencing suffering of the frostbite inducing, home destroying, life taking kind. And it’s that kind of suffering that Jesus is talking about in Mark 8:34.

In the Scripture
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34b)

In a single verse so swollen with nuanced meaning, many Christians have heard in it not just a warning that they may be called to suffer for their faith but that such suffering is certain and the only true test of true faith. Peter didn’t see it that way.

In the run-up to this pericope, Jesus has miraculously fed 4,000 people with just a few provisions and healed a blind man who, at first sees people but not clearly (“like trees walking”). Then, on the road in the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asks the disciples what people are saying about him. He gets the expected response: John the Baptizer, Elijah, one of the prophets.

Then he asks the 12 who they think that he is and Peter, the spokesperson, answers, “Thou art the Christ.” (NASV) Whereupon Jesus warns them to tell no one and then explains to them how he must suffer and die at the hands of the religious leaders and then be raised again after 3 days.

Peter exhibits why Jesus wants them to keep this bit of information on the down low. People won’t get it. Indeed, even Peter, his closest associate, doesn’t get it. He wants Jesus to be done with this suffering and dying nonsense. Jesus tells him, quite literally, to go to Hell. Then comes verse 34 that is the anchor for this article.

Jesus announces in clear terms that being his disciple is not a job for those who are delicate, easily bruised, faint hearted, or fragile. In fact, the identifying feature of Christian disciples is the cross, an instrument of torture and death.

In a word, suffering.

We can’t give ourselves to Jesus and keep ourselves for us at the same time. We must choose. If I keep my life for myself, I will surely lose it. Like bread, it will grow stale, decay, disintegrate and, one day, be gone. Or, like wine, it will go sour, evaporate and disappear, having never known its purpose. If, on the other hand, I give up my life to the service of my brothers and sisters as they come to me in Jesus Christ, then it will have met its purpose and I will come to know the meaning of living authentically.

But let us be clear: This kind of suffering has nothing to do with being inconvenienced, slighted, or ignored. It has to do with real pain, real loss, and real heartbreak.

In the Sermon
Perhaps that’s why so many Christians are in such a hurry to imagine themselves as suffering martyrs only without the real pain and real heartbreak.

If the town council decides not to erect a nativity scene on the lawn of City Hall, Christians cry that they are being marginalized and mistreated. If a clerk in a store at the mall dares to wish them Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, they cry indignantly that they have been insulted and cut to the quick. If the city council passes an ordinance to protect the rights of LGBTQ people to be in a workplace that recognizes their existence and makes reasonable accommodations for them, they are accused by Christians of starting the slide down the slippery slope that will lead to the forced closure of churches and the government cancelation of worship services.

These poor, deluded souls actually believe that having someone disagree with them is a form of suffering. That being required to be tolerant and kind is the equivalent of torture. Even to suggest that they can’t do or say anything they want, anytime they want, to anyone they want is a form of “cancel culture,” whatever that is. When the popular culture doesn’t buy what they’re selling, they see it as a form of discrimination against which laws must be written and lawsuits brought.

None of this is to say that Christians are free from persecution. “In North Korea and many Muslim-governed countries, Christians risk imprisonment and death for their faith,” writes Alan Noble, managing editor and co-founder of Christ and Pop Culture magazine and podcast. “The Christian community in Mosul, Iraq, was exiled, and many Christians are still persecuted by ISIS... Christians with a global perspective on their faith rightly identify themselves as part of a persecuted people in the 21st century.”

But, Noble also adds, “…for most of US history, Christians haven’t been persecuted — at least not in comparison to early believers or even what Christians in places like Iraq face today.” In fact, white, middle class, evangelical Christians have been, for the most part, accommodated in the culture. They are one of the most powerful political forces in the country.

But for many of them, that’s not enough. They firmly believe that one cannot be a Christian without undergoing some serious, sacrificial suffering and martyrdom. And if none is readily available, they will imagine some. They will create some from even the most innocent behavior that they encounter in the culture. For them, suffering is the golden ticket to the Kingdom of God and to be denied suffering, even if it’s imagined, is to be denied entrance to the Kingdom.

But enough of this silliness. Giving in to this “persecution complex,” as Noble calls it, cheapens and denies the very real suffering that is going on around us and that we are called, as Christians, to address. Like the suffering that we recently saw among our brothers and sisters in Texas.

And the suffering by children is not just in Texas but throughout the United States. “Children remain the poorest age group in America.” According to the Children’s Defense Fund. “Nearly 1 in 6 lived in poverty in 2018 — nearly 11.9 million children. The child poverty rate (16%) is nearly one-and-a-half times higher than that for adults ages 18-64 (11%) and two times higher than that for adults 65 and older (10%).”

“Poor children are more likely to have poor academic achievement, drop out of high school and later become unemployed, experience economic hardship and be involved in the criminal justice system. Children who experience poverty are also more likely to be poor at age 30 than children who never experience poverty.” Their medical, dental, and mental health care all suffer as a result of poverty, making them more susceptible to chronic illness and injury.

This is real suffering.

This is the kind of suffering Jesus calls us to address and address sacrificially. If we make it our cause we will, no doubt, be called fools. We will be scoffed at and ridiculed. We will be accused of being naïve and even socialists. It will cost us our time, our money, our energy, our creativity, and, sometimes, maybe even our lives. It is the very cross that Jesus calls us to pick up and carry. And it is the cross that, if we take it up, will give our lives purpose and meaning and, ultimately, authenticity.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”


Katy StentaSECOND THOUGHTS
Alone and On the Road
by Katy Stenta
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Abram and Sarai have been through the wringer. Abram is all of 99 years old when God repeats the promise to Abram a third time to be father of nations. It is now that Abram becomes Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah, notably before the promise has come to fruition.

Abraham and Sarah have been bereft not only of a child, but a community. Every time things get settled, God rousts them up to travel yet again to a new land. Always on the move, owning no land, and having no progeny, with a strange foreign God, Abraham and Sarah are without community. They are isolated.

Abraham and Sarah have endured long term suffering. Is it any wonder that when the good news comes, they cannot believe it? It is not hard to believe — though it is sad to know just how human Abraham and Sarah are — that Hagar and her son are mistreated and thrown out the minute the promise is fulfilled. But we get ahead of the story.

We, in the midst of the pandemic, know what it’s like to be isolated. The Atlantic had a great article about how certain categories of friendships have been erased — the random encounters, the casual friendships, the familiar conversations with new people — are now all but gone. No doubt Abram and Sarai felt bereft of these kinds of relationships as well. For them the promise is not just about infertility, which is painful enough, but about a lack of placement in society and status in community.

During this Lent it is hard to make our way to the promise of resurrection. In an era where Easter felt like it never came in 2020 it is hard to endure another time of waiting. Humans are not patient beings by nature. We are even worse without community. We are communal beings, made in the image of God, we want to love and be loved. We too are alone, waiting for the promise to come true. What does it mean to follow God for the long haul? What does it mean when we are worried or lonely, or tossed out to the desert like Hagar?

What does it mean to follow God’s promises? Does it mean that we have to suffer? (I’m not sure that’s a healthy way for humans to think.) I do think that Christianity demands stretching of self and, depending upon God, brings more than we ever expect. We do not leave God without being changed, from you to you, from Abram to Abraham and from Sarai to Sarah. For many of us, a part of change is suffering. But that is not always how it has to go, sometimes wondrous or good things change us too.

After all, in the end Abraham and Sarah get the huge and miraculous change they always wanted, in the form of Isaac. Not many details are given as to how they are changed, but I am sure they are. They are changed not only by the waiting, but by the promise being fulfilled. How are we changed when grace arrives? How will God’s promises of grace continue to change us today?



ILLUSTRATIONS

Mary AustinFrom team member Mary Austin:

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Waiting
One of the stunning parts of the Abraham and Sarah’s story is the long gap in time between God’s first promise to them and its fulfillment, much later. How did they stay hopeful, we wonder? How did they keep their attention fixed on God for so long? Writer Katherine May says that much can happen in our lives in these winter seasons, where no growth is yet visible. Her book Wintering delves into this idea, and she says, “I wanted to make it really clear that although a lot of Wintering is about my love of winter and my affection for the cold and even the dark, that wintering is a metaphor for those phases in our life when we feel frozen out or unable to make the next step, and that that can come at any time, in any season, in any weather; that it has nothing to do with the physical cold.”

Describing it, she says, “That’s a key feature of enduring a wintering, I think, in that it feels like everybody else is carrying on as normal, and you’re the only one with this storm cloud over your head. And that’s a very particular feeling, because it brings up loads of emotions, I think; not just sadness, but also a sense of paranoia, a sense of humiliation, a sense that we’ve uniquely failed.” Perhaps Abraham and Sarah felt this way, waiting for God to act.

May adds, “I’m beginning to think that unhappiness is one of the simple things in life: a pure, basic emotion to be respected, if not savored. I’d never dream of suggesting that we should wallow in misery or shrink from doing everything we can to alleviate it, but I do think it’s instructive. After all, unhappiness has a function: it tells us that something is going wrong. There will be moments when we’re riding high and moments when we can’t bear to get out of bed. Both are normal. Both in fact require a little perspective.”

By the time God shows up again, Abraham and Sarah know this feeling well.

* * *

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Unfortunate Delays
Abraham and Sarah wait decades for God to fulfill the promise of a son, and of the start of the multitudes of people who will come after them. In the long wait, God was at work – as God is, even when the wait is much shorter.  Daniel Kessel found God at work even in a relatively short wait. As he tells it, “I sat in Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, anxiously checking my phone. 4 PM. I’d been in the airport since 9 AM. Would I ever get to leave?... Then, just before boarding started, the airline employee at the counter made an announcement. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a packed flight,” she said. “If anyone has flexible travel plans and can take a later flight, we’re offering a free flight voucher as a token of our appreciation.” Flexible travel plans? Not me. I had plans that evening. In fact, I’d have just enough time when I landed to make it to dinner with friends back in New York. But I heard a voice inside. Take the later flight. I looked up at the counter. Only one other person had volunteered. Just do it, I thought. Your friends will understand. I shot them a quick text, walked up to the counter, and signed up for the later flight. The lady thanked me and printed out my flight voucher.”

Then he started to wonder if he had done the right thing, with so much time to fill. He felt like this plans were all messed up because of some voice he thought he’d heard. When he got home, he checked his email. He says there was “one new message from my Aunt Jay, who lives in Seattle. I clicked on it. “Hi Dan, I might see you soon! I'm thinking of coming back East for my friend’s memorial in New Jersey this September. I just need to see if I have money for the flight.” The silly little voice that urged me to take the later flight? Maybe not so silly after all. I clicked “reply” and told my aunt she had nothing to worry about—I had her airfare covered.”

Even in the delay, God was at work.

* * *

Mark 8:31-38
Losing and Gaining

Those of us who want to save our lives will lose them, Jesus preaches, and in losing our own lives, we gain. Non-profit Reshma Saujani understands all about losing -- and losing big.  The CEO of Girls Who Code, Saujani was named “to Fortune magazine's list of the forty most influential people in business under the age of forty. To see Saujani bouncing confidently around that midtown loft, one could easily assume she was used to things going her way. On the contrary, Saujani describes herself as one of those people for whom "things never came easy." The daughter of Indian immigrants by way of Uganda, Saujani was bullied growing up because of her [Indian] name, was rejected multiple times by Yale Law School, and had several miscarriages before giving birth to her son in February 2015. These episodes were all crushing at the time, but they also fostered a sense within Saujani that repeated obstacles were just part of the deal. It was an invaluable gift.”

“In 2010, after graduating from law school and working for a time on Wall Street, Saujani decided she wanted to run for U.S. Congress, challenging the eighteen-year incumbent Carolyn Maloney in the Democratic primary. It was a bold move for a political neophyte--"shameless," as she might put it. Saujani's campaign received a healthy amount of media attention given her outsider status as the first woman of Indian descent to run for US Congress. On the night before Election Day, she called her supporters to tell them things were looking good. Actually, she never came close--Saujani received just 19 percent of the vote. The outcome was so humiliating she hoped no one would see her as she hailed a cab headed for her Lower East Side apartment, her BlackBerry buzzing with emails she didn't want to acknowledge. Once inside her windowless bedroom, Saujani wanted only to remain under the covers for days…In the aftermath of the loss, Saujani's boyfriend (now husband) bought her a dog, mainly, she says, "just to give me some purpose in life and to get out of the bed and shower each day." Slowly she began to piece together a routine. Saujani wrote a book, Women Who Don't Wait in Line, in part about the lessons from her failed campaign. Eventually she set out to run again, this time for New York City Public Advocate in 2013. It would have made for a tidy redemptive story, and here Saujani was pretty sure she would win. Except she didn't. This time Saujani lost in even more disheartening fashion, finishing third with just 15 percent of the vote. Once again, she was crushed.”

For Saujani, her losses paved the way for her work with Girls Who Code.  Looking back at her crushing losses, “it was because Saujani had a predisposition for struggle that she was able to boldly throw herself into a new venture without fear of failure yet again. Is that shameless? Yes, but only in the best "So what if I screw up?" sense. She had a keen understanding of how she would react to another possible public face-plant, and as much as her earlier setbacks had truly stung, she knew she was able to recover.” The losing feeds the next steps, for her. She says, "When I do something wrong and I make a mistake, that bothers me, and then I get over it quickly…I realize I'm still standing."  In losing for the sake of something bigger, we can find where God wants us to be.

* * * * * *

Chris KeatingFrom team member Chris Keating:

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
In whom do we trust?
Yahweh appears before Abram, commanding his attention and offering an incredible, nearly unbelievable promise. “I will make nations of you,” God promises Abram, age 99. Just at the moment when Abram should begin planning his funeral, he’s told to start painting the nursery. A theological question emerges in Abram’s mind, “Should God be trusted?”

There are any number of things we just but do not see—including electricity. Ten years ago, a cold front sent temperatures plummeting throughout Texas, leaving millions without power. Sound familiar? A winter storm recently shut down most of Texas’ power supply. Experts say that Texas power companies failed to learn the lessons from 2011. Much of the power grid controlled by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, a likely contender for the most ironic business name of 2021, was not properly weatherized.

“We need better insulation and weatherization at facilities and in homes,” said Michael Webber, an energy professor at the University of Texas, told the Houston Chronicle. “There's weaknesses in the system we haven't dealt with.”

 It’s no doubt that Texas rarely faces this sort of frigid weather, but the utility companies had been urged to make improvements. Texans trusted the companies to deliver—but in the end were left out in the cold.

* * *

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psss…did you hear the rumor about Yahweh?
Abraham’s deep trust in God’s promises are foundational for Israel’s history. “Hoping against hope,” Romans reminds us, Abraham trusted in what God had told him. In today’s world, it is difficult to explain or find that sort of trust, in part because of ubiquitous conspiracy theories and whispered gossip. Health experts suggest, for example, that the current spread of coronavirus conspiracy theories will cause many not to seek vaccination.

According to Healthline:

In the latest attempts to undermine the vaccination rollout, activists are exploiting the deaths of those who died of old age or underlying health conditions after receiving the shot.

In some instances, vaccine-hesitant activists are manufacturing stories of deaths related to the vaccine that never happened.

These groups are also latching onto reports of real deaths following the shot, blaming the vaccine and disregarding medical information that other causes are to blame.

* * *

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Name changes
“Our names,” writes Kelsey Borresen, “have the power to shape our identity. If you like your name, or at least feel neutral about it, perhaps you haven’t given it much thought. But people who dislike their names — or feel that the name they were assigned at birth isn’t a good fit for a variety of reasons — recognize that these labels hold weight.”

Borresen notes that there are many reasons – including divorce, marriage, etc. – for people to change their last names. But what motivates people to change their first names? Here’s a few of the reasons Borresen discovered:
  • “Because I found out my dad secretly named me after another woman he was in love with,”
  • “Because I was sick of being teased about my ‘hippie’ name.
  • “Because I was transitioning from female to male.”
  • “Because I was getting a divorce and was changing my last name anyway.”
  • “Because my name felt too childish to me as an adult.”
  • “Because the hospital made a mistake on my birth certificate.”


* * * * * *

George ReedWORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship:
One: You who worship God, sing praises!
All: Glorify God and stand in awe of the divine glory!
One: All the ends of the earth shall remember God.
All: All the families of the nations shall worship our Sovereign.
One: For dominion belongs to God.
All: Our God rules over the nations.

OR
One: God comes among us as our creator and our parent.
All: We rejoice that God is always with us.        
One: Sometimes we feel lost and abandoned, even by God.
All: We struggle when we feel that we are all alone.  
One: But God is always with us even when we can’t feel it.
All: We will trust in God’s presence and share hope with others.

Hymns and Songs:
O Worship the King
UMH: 73
H82: 388
PH: 476  
NNBH: 6
NCH: 26
CH: 17
LBW: 548
ELW: 842
W&P: 2
AMEC: 12    

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
UMH: 110
H82: 687/688
PH: 260
AAHH: 124
NNBH: 37
NCH: 439/440
CH: 65
LBW: 228/229
ELW: 503/504/505
W&P: 588
AMEC: 54
STLT: 200

The Lord’s My Shepherd I’ll Not Want
UMH: 136
NNBH: 237/241
CH: 78
LBW: 451
ELW: 778
W&P: 86
AMEC: 208  

Great Is Thy Faithfulness
UMH: 140
AAHH: 158
NNBH: 45
NCH: 423
CH: 86             
ELW: 733
W&P: 72
AMEC: 84    
Renew: 249

Jesus Shall Reign
UMH: 157
H82: 544
PH: 423  
NNBH: 10
NCH: 300
CH: 95
LBW: 530
ELW: 434
W&P: 341
AMEC: 96
Renew: 296

Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart
UMH: 160/161
H82: 556/557
PH: 145/146
AAHH: 537
NNBH: 7
NCH: 55/71
CH: 15
LBW: 553
ELW: 873/874
W&P: 113
AMEC: 8

What Wondrous Love Is This
UMH: 292
H82: 439
PH: 85
NCH: 223
CH: 200
LBW: 385
ELW: 666
W&P: 257  
STLT 18
Renew: 277

Come, Ye Disconsolate
UMH: 510
AAHH: 421
NNBH: 264
CH: 502
ELW: 607
AMEC: 227

Out of the Depths I Cry to You
UMH: 515
H82: 666
PH: 240
NCH: 483
CH: 510
LBW: 295
ELW: 600

What a Friend We Have in Jesus
UMH: 526
PH: 403
AAHH: 430/431
NNBH: 61
NCH: 506
CH: 585
LBW: 439
ELW: 742
W&P: 473
AMEC: 323/325    

All I Need Is You
CCB: 100  

Learning to Lean
CCB: 74    

Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELW: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P: Worship & Praise
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
STLT: Singing the Living Tradition
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who loves and cares for all your children:
Help us to remember you are with us always,
even, and especially, when we suffer;
through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen.

OR

We praise you, O God, because you are the one who loves and cares for all of us. We thank you for your loving presence with us always and, especially, when we are suffering. Help us to remember you never forsake us. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
One: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially how we a quick to see our problems as suffering and the suffering of others as mere problems.

All: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We are much more concerned about our own problems than the problems of others. We think that all of our issues are major and that anything that gets between us and our wishes is suffering. At the same time we pass over the true suffering of others and are quick to blame them for their own problems. We have lost our sense of compassion and community. Forgive us and renew us during the season of Lent that we may truly be your children and disciples of Jesus. Amen.  

One: God is with us always even when we are not loving. Receive God’s grace and share it with all.

Prayers of the People
Praise and glory are yours, O God, because you are the loving God who created all of your children. You bless us with your gracious presence.

(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We are much more concerned about our own problems than the problems of others. We think that all of our issues are major and that anything that gets between us and our wishes is suffering. At the same time we pass over the true suffering of others and are quick to blame them for their own problems. We have lost our sense of compassion and community. Forgive us and renew us during the season of Lent that we may truly be your children and disciples of Jesus.

We give you thanks for all your goodness towards us. We thank you that we are never alone and never forsaken. You send us people to care for us and to help us through the difficult times in our lives. You allow us to be helpers to others. 

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for all your children in their need. We pray for those who are suffering from illness and who suffer in grief. We pray for those who do not have the things they need to nourish their bodies or to protect them from the elements. We pray for those caught in violence.   

(Other intercessions may be offered.)

All these things we ask in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together saying:

Our Father....Amen.

(Or if the Our Father is not used at this point in the service.)


All this we ask in the name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity.  Amen.

Children’s Sermon Starter
Sometimes we don’t get what we want. Or someone gets something and we think we should have it, as well, even if we didn’t want it before they got it. Sometimes we want something now and we have to wait. This isn’t fun but it isn’t suffering. We know there are children who do not have clean water to drink and some who do not have enough food to eat. Some children have no home to live in. We can pray for these children and we can share what we have so that their suffering will be less.


* * * * * *

Tom WilladsenCHILDREN'S SERMON
Fall Down!
by Tom Willadsen
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-17

Props needed: Name tags and a pen, cooperative little ones

Note: be sure to read verse 17 this morning; it’s one verse past the end of the lectionary reading.

Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, ‘Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’” (NRSV)

When the kids gather up front ask them whether they have ever fallen down. There’s been a lot of ice, so there’s a good chance that everyone in your congregation has taken a fall recently. Ask the kids what had made them fall. In addition to the ice they may have tripped over something or missed a step. Maybe you’ve got a good story about a time you fell. Tell it; they will love it.

Ask if they’ve fallen on their faces. Maybe they’ve gone over the handlebars on their bicycles. Falling on your face is way different from falling on your backside / bottom / fanny / keister. (Prepare for giggles because butts.)

Tell them that Abraham fell on his face twice in today’s reading — and for very different reasons!

Also, Abraham was super old, and his wife Sarai/Sarah was also super old, probably older than their grandparents.

The first time Abe fell on his face it was because God was speaking to him. He prostrated (careful when you pronounce that) himself. It was an act of worship and respect. If you’re flexible enough you might want to show the kids what Abram did. Careful you don’t strangle yourself on your stole — this is experience talking! Often in the Old Testament when it says someone “worshiped” it meant that they knelt before God — or something idolatrous.

God gave Abram a new name, and promised that he’d be “an ancestor of many nations.” At this point, you can give the kids new names with the name tags you have. You might want to have name tags pre-written with names like “Precious,” “Beloved,” give a new name / identity to each child who has knelt in the presence of God as Abraham did.

Next point out that the second time Abraham fell on his face it was because he laughed so hard he couldn’t stand up anymore!

Ask whether the kids — or anyone in worship — has ever laughed so hard they fell down.

What made Abraham laugh so hard? God told him that he and Sarah were going to have a baby. And they were super old. They’ve never seen someone as old as their grandmother — or great-grandmother! — with a baby. It just doesn’t happen. But God made it happen, and it made Abraham and Sarah very, very happy.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *


The Immediate Word, February 28, 2021 issue.

Copyright 2021 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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