Call to Worship.................... The Journey Begins
L Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
C Come, let us turn to the Lord, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.
L “I will lead the blind by a road they do not know. I will turn the darkness before them into light.”
C You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
L “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”
C He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
L “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
C Oh, send out your light and your truth; let them lead me. In the path of your judgments, O Lord, we wait for you.
*Hymn of Praise # 32 How Great Thou Art
Invocation (the Lord’s Prayer)
Turn to the Lord ... Abide With Me
Turn to the Lord; repentant, seek his face,
For God abounds in steadfast love and grace.
They shall not perish who in Christ believe,
But everlasting life they shall receive.
Responsory Psalm ... Psalm 27:1-6, 13-14
L The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
C The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
L When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh—my adversaries and foes—they shall stumble and fall.
C Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet will I be confident.
L One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
C to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.
L For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble.
C He will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
L Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy.
C I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
L I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
C Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage.
L Wait for the Lord!
Our Offering to God Ps 96:8 Give to the Lord the glory he deserves! Bring your offering and come to worship him.
Prayer of Dedication Thank you, God, for all that you have given to us. To you be honor and glory forever. We pray that all your blessings may ake us daily more diligent to devote ourselves and all that we have so that others would see you at work around them and that we would join in service with you.
Take Up Your Cross
Take up your cross and walk, believing,
This Lenten road our Savior trod,
His help and steadfast love receiving,
The blessings of the Son of God
Freely and graciously bestowed
On all who walk this Lenten road.
Take up your cross, your burden bearing.
This road you need not walk alone.
Christ is beside, the burden sharing;
His yoke is light, his mercy known.
Your Savior eases ev’ry load
Of those who walk this Lenten road.
Take up your cross and follow Jesus;
This is the way your Savior leads,
Where from our sin and guilt he frees us;
His blood for sinners intercedes,
Opens the way to heav’n’s abode
For all who walk this Lenten road.
*Hymn of Prayer #366 My Faith Looks Up to Thee
Pastoral Prayer Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem. We are going to behold your suffering and death for the sins of all of us, going to offer heartfelt thanks for that undeserved gift, going to take our place as those who bear the crosses placed upon us. Observe, O Christ, we follow.
Help us always to be followers. Remove from us any desire to frustrate your holy will by the exercise of our own will, lest we be a hindrance to you. Remove every roadblock that we might place in your path, and keep us in our place—as those who follow.
Move us to invite others to be followers as well, and let us be examples of humble and faithful discipleship to them, that they too may take their place in our company and find their way, with us, to your sacrifice on Calvary.
Move the leaders of this world as well, that they may exercise their leadership in showing others how to follow you with justice and mercy.
When we behold others growing weak on the journey, and those who stumble and fall because strength fails them, move us to lend a hand, that they may rise and continue. Empower us to be helpers, in your name.
Grant that we may always glory in your cross and find in it our comfort, consolation, and strength. Grant us grace to follow until we reach our goal, life eternal in your heavenly presence, where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
*Hymn of Praise #383 Are Ye Able?
Scripture Reading................. Matthew 16:21-26
21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
Message THIS LENTEN ROAD The Road To Jerusalem
In a culture full of spiritualities, it is time for disciples of Jesus to take up their crosses and follow him. The year ... 177 A.D.
The place ... the arena at Lyons.
The celebration ... fiesta time.
The sport ... killing criminals, runaway slaves and Christians.
A letter from the local church to a sister church in Turkey describes what happened:
The governor had the blessed ones form a procession for the enjoyment of the crowd ... Maturus, then Sanctus, Blandina and Attalus were led to face the lions in the amphitheater .... The virgin Blandina, after the whips, after the lions, after the iron chair, was at last thrown into a basket and presented to a bull. For a time, the animal tossed her, but she had now lost any sense of what was happening, thanks to her hope, her steadfast faith and her close communion with Christ (as quoted by Christopher Kelly in Times Literary Supplement, 22 December 1995, 22).
The emperor Claudius was so hooked on violence that he ordered his soldiers to turn the faces of the mauled, mutilated, dying Christians in his direction, so he could enjoy their final moments of agony.
The people who were in the stadium, the people who roared even louder than the lions when Blandina and her brother-sister Christians were led into the arena, were not the rabble, but the respectable, the wealthy, the good, decent, law-abiding citizens of Rome.
Think we have finally risen above exploiting the kind of canned violence that the Romans cheered at in the Coliseum? Maybe you should think again.
Chances are pretty good that you spent some portion of yesterday watching television. Curled up on your couch, with your comfy pillow, a soda and a bag of chips, you could pipe more violence, murder and mayhem into your living room in one evening's worth of television programming than any Roman citizen saw in a lifetime. Just like the Romans, we call this violence "entertainment." Just like the Romans, we want to see the faces of those who are in the final throes of dying. Just like the Romans, bombarded by images of brutality, we become numb to the heaps of bodies that pile up on our screens.
So much for our culture rising above the Romans.
Today's gospel text acknowledges the painful reality that we live in a violent world, that we are a violent people. Jesus followed up the revelation of his identity as the Messiah with the stunning prediction of how he would be violently killed by his enemies. It is a message that still makes all of us recoil with horror just as Peter did.
What made it possible for first-century Christians to choose a martyr's death? What has kept generations of Christians from losing faith and falling apart when confronted by the violence and hatred of this world? How can we realize even the day-to-day sacrifices of our faith that demand we do things we don't want to do; go where we don't want to go; love people we don't want to love?
When we become Christians, Jesus calls us away from our old identities, our old selves. When we become Christians, we undergo a character change. By our practicing self-denial, Jesus calls us to become members of a new family, part of a new reality--the body of Christ. This Christ-body community lives according to a new set of shared values which develops a Christian character in each one of us. Living out these values builds up our character more strongly every day. It is only through the strength of this Christian character that any one of us can hope to successfully heft a cross for Jesus.
Through Christ and our baptism into Christ, we are empowered to "live a new life" (Romans 6:4 NIV). When Christ enters our lives, we experience the deepest character changes one can ever have.
What is "character"? At its simplest, character is living your life according to a set of shared values. Character is what you do when nobody is looking. Character enables life to be lived from the inside out.
Are we prepared for a character change?
As we make our way up the road to Jerusalem this Lenten season, we might notice that we are walking in line … and that in this line, Jesus is first. “Take up your cross and follow me,” he says, and that definitely describes a place in line.
In his eagerness to be a good disciple, Peter apparently forgot that. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” Jesus said, “and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” It almost sounds like a road map, doesn’t it, plotting out every step of the way, every twist and turn? And Jesus is determined to follow that divine road map—God’s plan for the salvation of the world.
“Behold, we go up to Jerusalem,” Jesus says, describing the perils along the way. “No, you won’t!” Peter responds. “Yes, I WILL!” Jesus answers. “I will lead, and you will follow. Get behind me … Satan!”
That must have stung! For Peter would have known the reputation of Satan, the old evil foe, just as you do. Peter knew the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and what havoc the tempter had produced on the whole human race there. No doubt Peter had also heard Jesus tell about his experience in the wilderness after his baptism, and how steadfast Jesus was in his rejection of each of Satan’s temptations. Jesus withstood temptation; we usually don’t fare as well. Would you regard disobedience to God’s will any more seriously if Jesus would address you as “Satan” every time you sinned?
“You are a stumbling block to me,” Jesus said to Peter—ironic, for the name Peter means “Rock.” But most of us wouldn’t think of Peter as that kind of rock—a rock that gets in the way, that hinders one’s progress, a boulder that proves to be a barrier, a roadblock.
It would not be the last time Peter got in the way. In the Garden of Gethsemane, when the soldiers came to capture Jesus, Peter pulled out a sword and started swinging. Eventually he cut off the ear of one of the captors. What was Peter trying to do? Cancel the crucifixion? Well meaning as he may have been right then, if Peter had succeeded, God’s whole plan of salvation would have been defeated, and Satan would have won.
“Get behind me, Satan,” Jesus says to Peter. On the way from Gethsemane to the high priest’s courtyard, Peter does indeed follow—at a distance, to be sure, but follow nonetheless. Even bound and captured, Jesus is in the lead. According to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, this Lenten road is leading directly to the cross … in spite of the disciple Peter and his objections.
Jesus says that Peter’s assignment, in fact, is not to avoid the cross, but to take it up, to make it visible, to glory in it, to lift it high.
And to follow. That’s the important word: follow. We do it wrong if we seek to lead, if we get out ahead of Christ. In that location, we most likely will become roadblocks, hindering the mission of our Lord and his purpose for our lives. And we might possibly find the road we are taking to be a dead end. Where do you go if you insist on taking the lead? Adam and Eve can answer that; so can the prodigal son … and Peter.
And so we follow … “with the cross of Jesus going on before.” That’s important, too: the cross of Jesus. That is our inspiration and our motivation for following. True, Jesus tells us to take up “our cross” in the following, but our cross has meaning only inasmuch as we bear it following him. When Jesus used this picture of his followers shouldering their cross to follow him, the disciples knew what he meant. Crucifixion was a common Roman method of execution, and condemned criminals had to carry their cross through the streets to the execution site. Following Jesus, therefore, meant a true commitment, the risk of death, and no turning back
The possibility of losing their lives was very real for the disciples as well as for Jesus. Real discipleship implies real commitment—pledging our whole existence to his service. If we try to save our physical life from death, pain, or discomfort, we may risk losing eternal life. If we protect ourselves from the pain God calls us to suffer, we begin to die spiritually and emotionally. Our lives turn inward, and we lose our intended purpose. When we give our life in service to Christ, however, we discover the real purpose of living.
And so, we do not follow irresponsibly, but realizing that our Lord has a plan for us, a place for us in the procession, an obligation that might not be fulfilled if we are not there to take it up and carry it.
We follow … because he has called us to. And that, finally, is the outcome. He has called, and given us the grace to respond. He hands us our crosses and sets us on our way. But we do not walk that way alone. We follow Christ … through the gates of death at last and into the warm embrace of our heavenly Father.
*Hymn of Response # 373 I Surrender All
Communion John 6: 35 Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry again. Those who believe in me will never thirst. 36But you haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me. 37 However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them. 38For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do what I want. 39 And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them to eternal life at the last day. 40 For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life—that I should raise them at the last day.”
*hymn # 503 Jesus Calls Us O'er the Tumult
L “I have taught you the way of wisdom,” says the Lord. “I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered; and if you run, you will not stumble.”
C Christ himself suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in his steps.
L “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Closing Stanza ... Abide With Me
Christ is the source of faith, and Christ the goal,
Who suffered death that we might be made whole.
Now he is seated on the highest throne;
Oh, let us fix our eyes on him alone!
Steve Arterburn, cofounder of New Life Clinics, the largest Christian provider of psychiatric and psychological services, was asked, "What prevents us from sharing our problems more openly at church?" He answered:
"Just look at what invitation to conversion we use: 'Come to Jesus, and your life is going to be wonderful. It's going to be great, fantastic. All these problems are going to go away.' There's some truth to that, but when you hear Dietrich Bonhoeffer say, 'When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die,' that's the reality that I've seen in the Christian faith.
"I have problems now I would never have had if I hadn't accepted Christ. There's guilt that I've experienced that I would never even have thought twice about. We have to be realistic with people and tell them that when you come to Jesus, there is a new purpose and a fulfillment, but the struggle is going to continue. We have so many lukewarm Christians or people who turn away from the faith because they've been promised this ease."
--Michael G. Maudlin, "I'm Not OK, You're Not OK," Christianity Today
The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else.
--Oswald Chambers in The Highest Good
Richard Carlson, Ph.D., challenges us to look at our problems in a new light. "Rather than push away the problem and resist it, try to embrace it. Mentally, hold the problem near to your heart. Ask yourself what valuable lesson(s) this problem might be able to teach you. Could it be teaching you to be more careful or patient? Does it have anything to do with greed, envy, carelessness or forgiveness? Or something equally powerful? Whatever problems you are dealing with, chances are they could be thought of in a softer way that includes a genuine desire to learn from them.
--Dr. Richard Carlson, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff ... and It's All Small Stuff
At the 100th anniversary of the arrival of missionaries in Zaire, Christians gathered to celebrate from that part of Zaire once called the Belgian Congo. The festivities lasted all day with music, preaching, food and conversations. Many reminisced about the early days and praised God for the progress of the gospel and the church.
Near the end of the long program, a very old man stood to give a speech. He said that he soon would die and that he needed to tell something that no one else knew. If he didn't tell, his secret would go with him to his grave. He explained that when the first white missionaries came, his people didn't know whether to believe their message or not. So they devised a plan to slowly and secretly poison the missionaries and watch them die. One by one, children and adults became ill, died and were buried. It was when his people saw how these missionaries died that they decided to believe their message.
Think of it -- those missionaries never knew what was happening. They didn't know they were being poisoned and they didn't know why they were dying. They didn't know they were martyrs. They stayed and died because they trusted Jesus. And it was the way they died that taught others how to live.
--Leith Anderson, Winning the Values War:
Thirteen Distinct Values That Mark a Follower of Jesus Christ
Always think of yourself as everyone's servant, look for Christ our Lord in everyone and you will then have respect and reverence for all.
--16th-century Mystic/Reformed Carmelite founder, Theresa of Avila
A friend of mine distinguishes between what she calls "giver" houses and "taker" houses. The "metropolitan system" is made up of taker houses. They are using the air, water, soil and the soil's capacity to produce grass; but they are giving nothing back. The minds of their owners are obviously somewhere else; they have three cars in the driveway, to get somewhere else in, and a boat.
The owners of the giver house have a car, too. But their life is bent, to some degree, to contributing to the life of their place. You see it in the vegetable garden, fruit bushes and orchard--perhaps in a barn and livestock. There might be a working windmill, solar panels or a cistern for rain collection. The leaves are not bagged in the fall; they go into the composter. The house is consuming, as it must, some of the place's resources. But the human life in the house is returning to the place, in work, fertility and intelligent care.
--Lionel Basney, An Earth-Careful Way of Life