Bradenton-Sarasota Congregation Online Service
February 21, 2021
Prelude – CCS 51 – “God of Dawn, Each Day’s Renewal”
We welcome you in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our theme today is “The Everlasting Covenant.” It is the first Sunday of Lent.
Lent is a time of preparation. A time when we move toward the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. A time to move intently toward God, ridding ourselves of the distance and distractions we have built into our relationships. Lent is when we are called to respond with radical generosity and spiritual discipline to God’s covenants that we may draw near to the One we seek.
The observance of Lent should not involve sadness. Rather it should be a time for singing hymns of joy, faith, and assurance, accompanied by instruments which have the capacity to lift the soul. This is a time for prayers of gratitude, thanksgiving, praise, and adoration; of reading the Scriptures; of learning all that we can about Jesus Christ. (Easterglow by W. Blair McClain)
The prophet Ezekiel said: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you. His spirit lighteth everyone who cometh into the world. How full and joyous life can be with Him.”
“I the Lord am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end; great shall be their reward, and eternal shall be their glory; and to them will I reveal all mysteries. . . For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will.” Doctrine & Covenants 76:2
CCS 542 – “As the Wind Song Through the Trees”
Creator and Spirit and breath of life
Creator of wind and rain and sun and stars
You who are love and loved
You who enfolds us and lifts us up
We come to praise you
We come to worship you
We come to this holy moment to pour out
Our gratitude and our pain
To find your healing touch
To walk with our sisters and brothers
On this human, spiritual journey together.
May your divine Holy Spirit meet us where we are today.
That we might feel your grace, your unconditional love
In our hearts and minds
May those secret places of hurt and need be opened
To your tender mercies
May the true and perfect joy, only you can bring, fill our
Spirit to overflowing, that we can be your light to
Shine as a testimony in the world.
In Jesus name, Amen
Spiritual Practice – Fasting
To fast is to empty oneself intentionally in a way that makes space for God. During the season of Lent, we fast for 40 days remembering Christ’s own fast in the wilderness. It is a time to focus on what matters most amid alluring distractions. This practice empties us and prepares us to go deeper. Fasting is about making space for God.
First consider something from everyday life you would noticeably miss. This could be a food item, a meal itself, an activity you enjoy, or something you buy daily or weekly that may be an excess in your life. It could also be intentionally reorienting your daily routine or inner conversation.
Now think of an intentional act that will replace what you are fasting from. What will you do in place of what you have given up?
CCS 260 – “Rain Down”
Message – “The First Sunday of Lent” by Elder Jim Craft
On the first Sunday of Lent we begin the journey with Jesus to Jerusalem for the events of Easter week. Genesis 9:8-17 reminds of the covenant relationship that God has made with humankind as well as living creatures. That covenant is to not destroy the Earth’s living creatures even though they have a constant move toward evil ways. A covenant in the ancient world was a solemn agreement that stressed a future relationship and projected hope. They were generally between two unequal partners. This sacred covenant relationship is key to this story along with covenants God made with Abraham to build a nation through his seed that would become Israel found in Genesis 17:1-27 and with Moses and Israel in Exodus 31:12-17.
We in Community of Christ make a similar covenant with God in the waters of Baptism and He gives His Spirit Blessing at Confirmation. We become part of His Covenant Family. Lent is a time to reflect on that relationship with God. Other religious groups use it for that purpose or to prepare candidates for Baptism during Easter Week. Some also use it as a time of Repentance for things in one’s life that caused a straying from a relationship with God. In the early Christian Church, individuals who were not considered worthy of receiving the Sacraments of the Church would put on sackcloth and ashes as a sign of repentance during the 40 days of Lent. They were hoping to be forgiven for their previous life in the eyes of the church. The 9th Century brought a change in that practice whereby the ash became the Sign of the Cross placed on a Believer’s forehead as a sign of Christ’s Gift to Humankind on the Cross.
Growing up in this church we didn’t practice the Lenten Season as some of my childhood friends did. Lent seemed like something strange to me. You gave up something important to you so you could either repent or grow closer to God? They gave up a favorite activity, food, mostly meat, so we all had fish several days a week at school, for 40 days! As a youth I didn’t understand that they were just trying to make more space in their life to get closer to God. Lent should be a time of reflection, action, to change things in our lives that draw away from healthy relationship, activities that can bring meaning in our life. We have had a difficult year – that goes without saying. We have not been able to physically worship together. We test the limits of technology to overcome some of those barriers. When your five-year-old grandson tells you to hit “insert” to open a computer program you have worked with for thirty years and he is using it in Kindergarten on the internet already, you have reached a point where God has to take over. Seriously, we have to laugh at ourselves once in awhile to stop and know God is in control. We have and will learn new ways to be together. We will remember those who we have lost. Remember, after the dark winter comes the promise of light in the warm spring.
God promised a relationship with us now and into the future. We are called to share it. It is a message of hope and the steadfast love of a mysterious God. God wants justice, mercy, reconciliation, well-being and wholeness. As a community, our call is to join with God. “The restoring of persons to healthy or righteous relationships with God, others, themselves, and the earth is at the heart of the purpose” of our journey (D&C 163:2b). Because God has covenant with us, we are a people of hope.
We have lost good friends to sickness and many are having economic problems due to the pandemic. Our faith may be tested but we are strong in Christ. Let us point to the rainbow and the empty cross and remember that God has not forgotten us. He has promised that He will not forsake us when the flood waters of sorrow and suffering threaten. Hold on to that promise. God has made covenant with us, and that covenant will not fail. Amen.
Disciples’ Generous Response
Genesis 9:8-17 contains the story of Noah and the Ark. Our focus today in the story is the promise of the rainbow after the storm, the covenant God made with Noah and with every living creature on the earth. It is a sign God made to remind all of us that never again would God destroy everything with a flood. It is one of the many ways God has of saying, “I made you and I love you.”
We all want a rainbow in our life. We want assurance that God is with us and will not forget who we are. We need to be reminded of this love and closeness. We forget too often of the hope that is within us and our need for God to wrap His arms of promise around us and assure He cares.
I want a rainbow in my life. I want to know that God cares and loves and keeps His promise.
In Genesis verses 13, 14 and 16 God promises a rainbow but also a cloud. We must walk through the cloud. The more beautiful the rainbow, the longer and harder it has to rain. I may have to endure the rain to enjoy the rainbow.
When we participate in he Disciples’ Generous Response, it is a time of responding to the rainbow and the cross, the covenant we have made with God and God has made with us.
Our hearts are humbled by this opportunity to respond to your generous love for us creator God. May our offerings of talent, time and resources be used to further the cause of Zion in these times in which we live and become a blessing for the future. In Jesus name, Amen.
Closing Hymn – CCS 640 “I the Lord of Sea and Sky”
Our kind and gracious God, we are amazed by your presence in our lives,
That you have created us
That you love us
That you are with us each moment
That you are our strength and our salvation
Be with us as we face the challenges of our times.
Guide us to make right decisions and keep our covenant with you.
Help us to be good examples to our friends.
Fill us with testimonies of your love that we can share our witness of your love and shine forth to the world.
Lift us up in spirit, especially during this time of pandemic, that we might also lift up others in faith believing we may see the rainbow in your appointed time.
We thank you God, for your abundant blessings.
In Jesus name, Amen
This service was prepared by Cheryl and Jim Craft.