Third Sunday in Lent
March 15, 2020
Communal Worship in Spirit (if not in place)

As you spend time in worship today, use your imagination to feel the spirits that are joining with you in this moment. Fellow members of our congregation are praying these same prayers, and are we are together in spirit even if not sharing the same physical space.

For those who love to sing and will miss that aspect of our worship, I’ve included Youtube links to the hymns.
(There are lots of options; if you don’t like the version I embedded, definitely search another one!).

CALL TO WORSHIP AND PRAYER INVOCATION
We are gathered in the presence of God, who asks us to choose between life and death, blessing and curse.
We are gathered like the people of Israel, who were challenged to choose the way of life.
Like them we often follow the ways of death.
Yet, like them, we have the freedom each day to begin anew by the grace of God.
By our presence here, we are saying that we want to choose life one more time.
Let us welcome and praise the God of love and life who has called us to this place. Amen.

HYMN O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing 39
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nx0rCabJ16c

CALL TO CONFESSION
Standing beneath the cross of Jesus, as we observe the season of Lent, is a sobering experience, for the cross judges both our world and our individual lives. Today, people are still crucified by the same forces that destroyed Jesus. Today, each of us falls short of the resolve and dedication to God which Jesus exhibited by the way he lived and died. So let us, as men and women who live in a twisted world and who are all too weak in spirit, join together in the prayer of confession acknowledging our need for God’s grace.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Gracious God, we acknowledge that when the going gets rough, we begin to assert ourselves and our own needs, and we pull back from community. Like the Israelites in the desert, we murmur and complain; we criticize and blame. In your compassion, forgive us; help us, through the grace of Jesus Christ, to maintain our unity of purpose and commitment even in the wilderness days. For it is in Christ’s name that we pray. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS
Through Christ, the dividing walls have been broken down.
We have been handed the hope that we can live our lives in new ways.
Such a gift surely sets us free!
We are free! And we will rise as God’s freely chosen ones, shining forth in the world with love!

GLORIA PATRI
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen. Amen.

SCRIPTURE READINGS
Old Testament Lesson: Psalm 16:1-2, 5-8 Pew Bible p. 430
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+16%3A1-2%2C+5-8&version=NRSV

Gospel Lesson: Mark 1:29-39 Pew Bible p. 813
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+1%3A29-39&version=NRSV

SERMON “Cultivating Healthy Boundaries: Life in Christian Community”
(At bottom/end of this document) Rev. Tanya Stormo Rasmussen

*HYMN Seek Ye First 443
“Seek Ye First” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FuurRAJkZY

THE LORD’S PRAYER

HYMN Christ Beside Me 428
“Christ Beside Me” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sSlTSioUtI

OUR COMMON COMMISSION (unison)
Let us now go forth into the world in peace, being of good courage, holding fast to that which is good, rendering to no one evil for evil, strengthening the faint-hearted, supporting the weak, helping the afflicted, honoring all persons, loving and serving the Lord, and rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

BENEDICTION: May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you now, and forever more.

SHARING THE PEACE AND JOY OF CHRIST: Pick up your phone and reach out – call a friend or neighbor who comes to your mind, especially if it’s someone who may be missing a sense of connection!

Devotional Reflection/Mini-Sermon:
Dear Friends,

I am missing being with you in worship this morning! But, in the uncertainty of this strange moment, I hope that we might recognize how appropriate it is that this is unfolding during the season of Lent. This is when we’re called to notice our human frailty, our disconnection from God, and to make a concerted effort to repent—to turn from practices that enhance that distance, and instead intentionally align ourselves more closely with our concern for God and neighbor.

Someone said to me yesterday, “This whole thing might just be a good social reset button.” Times like this pro-vide us an occasion to assess and perhaps “reboot”. Get less busy. Focus on the importance of prayer. Notice how much we take social gatherings for granted—and how much we appreciate them as part of our daily rhythms.

The theme for today’s service was going to be on healthy boundary-keeping. How very appropriate! Healthy boundaries entail a reflective knowledge of ourselves—our strengths and our weaknesses—and an attentiveness to the same in others. Healthy boundaries require that we recognize the gifts God has entrusted to us with which to serve the needs of others and the world, but also an acknowledgement that none of us is God. Each of us strengths, but each one also has needs; and healthy boundaries are porous—allowing us to receive, as well as to give.

Here are the Scripture passages we were going to hear:
Psalm 16:1-2, 5-8: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+16%3A1-2%2C+5-8&version=NRSV
Mark 1:29-39: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+1%3A29-39&version=NRSV

In the Gospel passage, Jesus spends the day healing people. It starts with Peter’s mother-in-law, who was in bed with a fever. But no sooner does he help her get well than everyone in town was gathering around the door. Talk about news spreading faster than a virus! (Sorry—perhaps not the most appropriate joke at the moment…) And Jesus must have been exhausted. In other passages, we learn that he could actually feel power and energy leaving him (see Mark 5:25-34, or Luke 8:43-48).

But, Mark tells us, Jesus knew himself and the Source of his power well enough to absent himself as the others slept: “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Peter and the others came looking for him, telling Jesus “Everyone is searching for you.” It’s nice to feel wanted and needed, and one temptation that many of us give in to is the idea that we are all-important, and people can’t survive without us. But that mentality may find us frantic and over-stretched, vaguely resentful that others don’t seem to step up. Our inability to say “no” will also likely be robbing us from important time with God, and preventing us from paying close attention to the place or people God really needs us to be focusing on. Jesus, as he took time away from the others to pray, discerned that God was calling him someplace else rather than back to the people who were clamoring for him.

Another temptation we may give in to is the idea that we are the most important, and therefore we should decide what serves our self-interest above all other considerations. This mindset keeps us from loving God and loving neighbor in sacrificial ways, which is the Jesus-way. Jesus took time to away from others not for the purposes of self-indulgence, but to reconnect with the One who had gifted him with many different abilities: to teach, and to heal, to lead, and to serve. When we choose to allow our self-centered interests to dictate our agenda rather than asking what God would have us do for the sake of love, empowerment, and reconciliation, we choose an impover-ishing path that diminishes our spirit as well as the world we could otherwise be helping to strengthen.

Healthy boundaries involve knowing where we end, and others begin, and remembering that every single one of us begins and ends in the presence and grace of God. It involves taking care to honor both our autonomy and our connection. It means recognizing that what we do has an impact on others—and being as mindful and purposeful as we can so that our impact is life-giving and not detrimental.

And that is why we’ve made the rather painful decision to suspend worship for at least a couple weeks. There is an abundance of evidence and advice now strongly advising that “social distancing” – minimizing the unnecessary interaction among people who may or may not be infected – may be a hardship and a sacrifice, but it is a well-established mitigation strategy to protect others, especially the most vulnerable, from getting sick.

Let us feel the pain of missing each other for this time. And, in feeling the pain, give thanks for the fact that it reflects our vital connection. Let us reach out to one another in ways that don’t involve gathering – let’s flex new muscles, and strengthen other ways of expressing community and connection! Above all, let us notice the God whose heart is often pained by the absence of our active or attentive connection – and lean in a bit more closely to the divine embrace! Amen.

© 2020 The Congregational Church of Hollis, UCC