SUNDAY 5TH MARCH 2023

OPENING SENTENCE

All the ends of the earth shall turn to you, O Lord

HYMN

COLLECT FOR PURITY

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen
.

SUMMARY OF THE LAW

Our Lord Jesus Christ said:

The first commandment is this:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.”
The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
There is no other commandment greater than these.

Amen. Lord, have mercy.

CONFESSION

God is love and we are God’s children.
There is no room for fear in love.
We love because God loved us first.
Let us confess our sins in penitence and faith.

God our Father, we confess to you
and to our fellow members in the Body of Christ
that we have sinned in thought, word and deed,
and in what we have failed to do.
We are truly sorry.
Forgive us our sins,
and deliver us from the power of evil,
for the sake of your Son who died for us, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

ABSOLUTION

God, who is both power and love,
forgive you and free you from our sins,
heal and strengthen you by the Holy Spirit,
and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen.

KYRIE
sung by Dougie Byers

COLLECT

O God,

you see that we lack the strength to help ourselves:
protect us both inwardly and outwardly;
that our bodies may be guarded from adversity,
and our minds might be defended
from such thoughts as assault and harm the soul;
through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end. Amen

PROCLAIMING & RECEIVING GOD’S WORD

FIRST READING
GENESIS 12:1-4a
read by Annette Beagrie

The Call of Abram

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So, Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

SECOND READING
Romans 4: 1-5,13-17
read by Simon Lidwell

The Example of Abraham

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there transgression.

For this reason the promise depends on faith, in order that it may rest on grace, so that it may be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (who is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”), in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

GRADUAL HYMN

GOSPEL
John 3: 1-17
read by Reverend James Clark Maxwell

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St John chapter 3 beginning at verse 1

Nicodemus Visits Jesus

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with that person.” 

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen, yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“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.

“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.

Give thanks to the Lord for his glorious gospel.

Praise to Christ our Lord

SERMON

I love languages- especially French, German and Italian. Recently I have tried to learn some Ukrainian words as we have some Ukrainians in our church. I confess that I find Ukrainian a very difficult language to learn. I use the “say hi” app, and there has been some interesting exchanges as the app does not always understand what is being said: resulting in some hilarious translations. I have also noticed errors in translation in other languages-in an advertisement by a Hong Kong dentist it said “Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists.” Language can bring at times great complexities.

The complexities of language caused Nicodemus concern too-he could not quite comprehend what was being said-you must be born again. It was as though something had been lost in translation. He was not at all sure what to make of that particular phrase which seemed important to the conversation. What brought Nicodemus to this conversation with Jesus in the first place? Some might say it was curiosity, but if the truth be told it was actually something must deeper and more significant than that.

What brought Nicodemus to Jesus was a destructive sense of inertia, staleness, languishing in his life. You know that inertia and languishing that comes from doing things over and over and over again. You are only going through the motions and the inner motivation is not there. This happens to us in different aspects of our lives. It happens to us in our jobs. We simply go through the motions. There was a time when the job was quite exciting, but as time has gone by, the inner enthusiasm is no longer there. Work becomes stale. We personally, not just the job, can languish. We can become washed out, worn out, and burnt out. We all know something of that feeling. Our heart is not in it- it feels kind of empty. We go through the motions but the inner motivation is not there. We are not flourishing- we are not fully alive, we are simply languishing!

Languishing can happen in marriage too. You know when you are going through the motions of marriage. At one time, your marriage may have had a touch of excitement to it, but time has passed by and that enthusiasm is no longer there. The marriage becomes a little stale, a little repetitious. You go through the motions of marriage, but the inner motivation is not there. This absence of inner motivation can happen in your religious life, in your relationship with God, where you go through motions with God again and again. You come on Sunday morning and you experience the same routines, the same prayers, the same liturgies, the same hymns and you sit in the same pew with the same people who hold the same service sheets. It is the same Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. And so there comes a time in your religious life where you begin going through the motions but the inner motivation is no longer there and the inner heart is not alive. You are simply languishing.

Languishing was Nicodemus’ problem. Nicodemus was a man who was going through the motions of religion without the inner motivation of God. Nicodemus as you know is a Jew, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was one of the most important bodies in Judaism. It was a counsel of 70 men, with the High Priest as its chairman. The members came from the priesthood, from the scribes, from other elders among the aristocracy, and some Pharisees. The body was usually dominated by priests, which was called the Sadducee party. But the Pharisees were represented, and Nicodemus was a Pharisee.

Pharisees have such a bad press. We tend to think negatively and hatefully about the Pharisees but that’s because we know them in the distortion of their cause. Actually, to be a Pharisee was to be a part of a movement — a separatist movement — committed to preserving and keeping the Law. The Pharisee movement was not bad in intention or design. The unfortunate thing was that, like many religious people, the Pharisees became proud and self-righteous. They became hypocritical and scornfully contentious toward ordinary people. They were a kind of religious elite.

Part of this religious elite was Nicodemus. It was obvious that Nicodemus was an important Pharisee because he had been named as a member of the Sanhedrin; along with others in the movement, he was serious about ethical ideas, about keeping the Law, about knowing the will of God. He had a deep concern for truth. Because of this deep concern and position, he held as a Pharisee and as a member of the Sanhedrin, it is highly probable that this was not the first encounter Nicodemus had with Jesus.

I don’t believe that it was Nicodemus’ first encounter with Jesus. Could there be some some truth in Alexander White’s claim that Nicodemus was one of the most honoured of the deputation teams sent out by the temple authorities to examine John the Baptist’s preaching and to report to the temple about the whole movement? Was it there that Nicodemus began to feel the nudging of the Spirit, the unsettledness in his soul, the gnawing conviction that something was lacking in his life? Would he also not have heard John’s preaching? Yes, it is highly probable that there were other occasions when Nicodemus tried to find out more about Jesus, other occasions when he may even have talked with him. Perhaps such occasions had led to many hours of soul-searching, many sleepless nights as he wrestled with the truth of what John the Baptist had said about Jesus. No longer able to bear the mental and spiritual torment of it all Nicodemus seeks an encounter with Jesus.

Jesus’ encounter with Jesus takes place at night. Some have been disparaging of Nicodemus seeking out Jesus under the cloak of darkness but there is no cause for condemnation. The wonder is that Nicodemus, with his background, aristocrat that he was, a leader of one of the most dedicated and powerful renewal movements of Judaism — the wonder is that from that kind of economic and religious station in life, he would seek Jesus at all – that he would go out to this homeless prophet who had been the carpenter of Nazareth and seek to talk to that carpenter about the languishing of his soul. The bottom—line of it all was that here was a deeply religious man, a seeker of truth, now sorely depressed because he was certain that something was lacking in his life, and, though still puzzled about it, was plagued with the conviction that Jesus had the answer.

Jesus did have the answer- you must be born again. What did Jesus mean you must be born again? What Jesus was saying was, don’t get so caught up in doing- life is much more than temple meetings, more than the rituals of Sabbath, more than the accolades of the crowds that watch the priestly processions, more than keeping the law-it is about being, it is about character, it is about being the best version of the person God has made you to be. You must be born again- in other words you are to flourish into the person God intended you to be.

How does this journey to being the best version of yourself- the flourishing self- begin? It begins with our spirit, which becomes empowered by God’s spirit. Every human being has the sense of receiving ideas or energy from a source beyond ourselves. We speak of being in-spired/ a spirit word that literally means something that has been breathed into us. This means that flourishing-is about being connected with the Spirit of God- it is about God breathing life and purpose into us. When our spirit flourishes, we are most fully alive. We have a purpose for living. We are drawn to good habits and form sound character.

How do you assess the well- being of your souls to know if you are flourishing or languishing? Perhaps you can ask yourself in this season of self-examination in Lent two questions- Am I growing more easily discouraged these days? Am I growing more irritated these days? At the core of the flourishing soul are the love and peace of God. If peace is growing within me, I am less easily discouraged. If love is growing, I am less easily irritated.

Remember Jesus said I have come that you may have life in all its fullness- God wants us fully alive- he wants to create the best version of us- he wants us to have a flourishing- self. Let not the complexities of the language to be born again stand in your way instead see it as the shedding off the languishing self- of all that is stale and dead and be open to the inspiration of God’s spirit to make the best version of you- the flourishing self. Amen.

NICENE CREED

We believe in one God,
the Father, the almighty, maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true
God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father.
Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living
and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord,
the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.
with the Father and the Son,
he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen

PRAYERS

Lord Jesus, thank you for your holy word
whereby we can listen to your conversations with others
and gain so much perspective and wisdom.
Thank you that you were willing
to enter into dialogue with Nicodemus,
and challenge him in his thinking.
Help us to be open to your challenges
and to be willing to take on board your new ideas.

Lord of faith and truth

Hear our prayer

Thank you for the risks,
Nicodemus took in coming to see you,
in search of the truth.
We think of those in oppressive countries
where they take risks to worship
and express their faith.
Protect them and fill them with your spirit
of encouragement and perseverance
that your kingdom might grow in the darkness
and your light might shine.

Lord of faith and truth

Hear our prayer

Lord Jesus, you are love.
Renew our commitment to love
as you loved in all your relationships.
In the hard choices give us wisdom,
In the painful decisions, affirm us,
and may our words speak your truth
whether that is to encourage, support or challenge.

Lord of faith and truth

Hear our prayer

Lord Jesus,
you are with us as we stand staring into the darkness.
Strengthen and help us in all our sufferings.
Be near to those struggling with illness, depression,
anxiety, conflict or family problems.
Hold them in your love, guide and direct their path,
and meet them at their point of need with your healing touch.

Lord of faith and truth

Hear our prayer

Lord Jesus, the fount of all hope,
we pray for the church in Ukraine,
a nation in which 70% of the population
call themselves Christian.
Give our many brothers and sisters in that nation
courage in this crisis
that they may proclaim the good news of your kingdom,
bind up broken hearts,
and bring comfort to all who mourn.

Lord of compassion and love

Hear our prayer

Lord of all protection, 
you make wars cease to the end of the earth;
you break bows, shatter spears,
and burn shields with fire.
And so, we ask you now
to save the lives of many people in Ukraine.
Make a peace that is strong and not weak.
De-escalate this crisis.
Restore stability and order
and empower people
to rebuild their devastated lives.

Lord of compassion and love

Hear our prayer

Lord of all hopefulness,
we remember today the incredible suffering
in other parts of the world in Syria and in Turkey.
We thank you for the aid agencies,
working there and ask your blessing on their ministry.

Lord of compassion and love

Hear our prayer

Lord Jesus, you hold open the door to eternity.
Strengthen all who stand on its threshold in faith and fear
and bring them in due course to the loving place
that you have prepared for them.

Lord of faith and truth

Hear our prayer

Lord Jesus, your love for us is so great,
greater than we can imagine,
accept our thanks and praise.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Do not bring us to the time of trial
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen.

HYMN

BLESSING

May Christ give you grace to grow in holiness, to deny yourselves, take up your cross, and
follow him; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be
among you and remain with you always. Amen.

Welcome

St John the Evangelist, Dumfries, is a parish of the Scottish Episcopal Church also serving Methodist parishioners locally.

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Notices

Contemporary Service

Contemporary Service

The Contemporary Service is at 6pm, on the second and fourth Sundays of the month, followed by refreshments in the hall.

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