Worship Resources for March 21st, 2021—Fifth Sunday of Lent

Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

Narrative Lectionary: Zacchaeus, Luke 18:31-19:10 (Psalm 84:1-4, 10-12)

The prophet Jeremiah spoke of a future hope to the people who were about to face the destruction of their city and temple and the exile into Babylon. The people’s leaders and priests have failed them, and the covenant has been broken, but God will make a new covenant that is unbreakable. The law will be written in their hearts—they will be God’s people, and God will be their God. All will know God, and God will forgive and forget their sins.

Psalm 51 is a song of confession to God, for the psalmist knows they have sinned. Attributed to David, admitting his sin after the prophet Nathan confronted him, the psalmist prays not only for forgiveness but to be purified before God, restored in relationship with God in a way that they might sin no more. They seek a new heart from God, and a new spirit that is right with God and may rejoice again, for while they acknowledge their sin, the guilt remains. The psalmist desires full restoration with God.

The psalmist seeks God and desires to stay in God’s commandments in Psalm 119:9-16. They treasure God’s word in their heart. They live their life into God’s ways, by living out the ordinances, statutes, and precepts, reciting them on their lips and finding joy in living out God’s word. This section concludes with a vow not to forget God’s teachings.

Jesus is now the high priest according to Hebrews 5:5-10. Jesus has fulfilled the role of the high priest in the temple, the perfect priest who saves all who are faithful by his sacrifice, submitting to God and suffering by human hands. He is the eternal priest and source of salvation. The writer of Hebrews declares Jesus in the line of Melchizedek, a priest who met Abraham and blessed him, and therefore his descendants as well.

When some Greeks come to see Jesus in John 12:20-33, he knew the time had come to prepare for his death. He told those who wished to follow him that they must follow and serve him. Those who loved their life would lose it. Those who would hate their life in this world would keep it for eternal life. For a grain of wheat must fall to the earth and die in order to bear fruit. Jesus was troubled by what was to happen, but knew it must happen. Jesus knew that after his death, when he was lifted up, all kinds of people, including Greeks and other Gentiles, would be drawn to him, and seemed to recognize that the hour was at hand when Greeks were drawing close to the disciples and wanted to see him. Those around him did not understand, and thought he was speaking to an angel as he spoke about his time to be glorified.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Zacchaeus in Luke 18:31-19:10. However, there are three stories in this selection. In 18:31-34, Jesus once again speaks about what will happen to him, as written by the prophets, according to Luke. The Son of Man will be handed over to the Gentiles (which is an important counter to the antisemitic narrative that many Christians have inherited) and will be humiliated and tortured and killed. However, the disciples did not understand what he said, not even when he spoke about rising from the dead.

In 18:35-42, Jesus and his disciples encounter a crowd on their way to Jericho. A blind man follows the crowd and shouts out to Jesus, calling him, “Son of David.” The crowd tries to silence the blind man, but he shouts out even more, and Jesus orders the man to be brought before him. The man asks Jesus to let him see, and Jesus tells him his faith has saved him and he is able to see. All the people, when they saw what happened, praised God.

In 19:1-10, Jesus entered Jericho, and a tax collector named Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus. Jesus sees him above the crowd, tells him to come down, and declares he will stay at Zacchaeus’ house. The people grumbled that Jesus was going to stay at the house of one who was a sinner (for tax collectors associated with Romans and worked for the Roman government). But Zacchaeus heard what others said and told Jesus that he would give half of his possessions to the poor, and if he had defrauded anyone in his work, he would pay them back four times as much. Jesus declared that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ house, because Zacchaeus, too, was a son of Abraham, even if others had forgotten it.

Psalm 84:1-4, 10-12 sings of the beauty of God’s house, the temple built for God where even birds find a home. One day in the courts of God is better than any number of days elsewhere, for where God is, there is protection, assurance, beauty, and belonging. The psalmist sings of how their soul longs to be in the courts of God, and for all who trust in God, they find joy and blessing.

As we near the end of the season of Lent, Jesus prepares for his death, and for what will be revealed to the world in his death and resurrection. Jesus came to bring a change—a change in the way of our thinking, a change in our understanding of our relationship with God. A new covenant. We must be wary of interpretations that lead to supersession—the idea that Jesus replaces the previous covenants of God with Israel. Instead, we might look to what ways we have become complacent, where we have not served Jesus. Whom have we left out, like the blind man or the tax collector? Where have we assumed that we had the correct answer and didn’t need to repent or change of our own ways? Now is the time: turn back to God’s ways. Become aware of the sins that we commit in our daily lives, of not questioning who is harmed by our purchases, of not seeing who is exploited for the labor that we readily accept. Who do we, unintentionally or intentionally, leave out because of our biases and prejudices? Repent, and follow Jesus.

Call to Worship
Turn from your desires in this world,
Turn your hearts upon Jesus.
Turn your thoughts from envy and pride,
Turn your minds upon Jesus.
Turn from your actions of self-preservation,
Turn to living as Jesus did, becoming last of all and servant of all.
Turn! Turn! Turn from the things that are temporary and fleeting;
Turn your lives to the ways of Jesus.
In this time of worship,
May we be challenged, may we be convicted,
and may we turn to Jesus and his love for us. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Loving One, we confess that we get caught up in the day-to-day struggles of life, and forget there is so much more. We are tired, exhausted even, and sometimes just want to focus on ourselves. Forgive us for our privilege that at times offers us an escape to ignore the plight of others. Forgive us for failing to recognize the interconnected world we are in. Forgive us for the times we exaggerate our own struggles at the cost of meeting the needs of others. Forgive us for laying burdens upon ourselves that make it difficult to live into Your ways. Call us into Your way of love. Help us to let go of the burdens we have taken on unnecessarily. Help us to reach out to ask for help when we need it, and to offer help when we can. Remind us that You called us to be a people of covenant, with You, but also with one another, and that we need each other. Hold us to the promise to carry one another’s burdens. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

There is nothing that you can do that will separate you from God’s love in Jesus Christ. Repent is the art of turning back to God, a daily life-long practice, to restore God’s created intention in our lives and in our hearts. Know this now: You are forgiven, loved, and restored. Seek to change your lives to align with God’s intention, and know the grace and peace of Christ Jesus in your life. Amen.

God of the Ever-Changing Seasons, as we prepare for the season that is coming, we give thanks for the winter (summer) that has passed. The Spirit is moving in the wind, and we see the signs everywhere that You are doing something new in our hearts and in our lives. Call us into the next season, even if we are afraid. Guide our movement, so that we might not drag behind, stubborn to change, but embracing the newness You invite us to. For even if the next season is hard, O God, we know You will move us through it, and we will emerge again, with more wisdom and insight. For we are not alone. You sojourn with us and bind us together. Help us to prepare for the season to come, and bid farewell to the season that is past. Amen.

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