ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH MAY 24, 2020

Rev. Sabrina Ingram

WORSHIPPING AT HOME TOGETHER

Call to Worship: Hosea 11 selected verses

When Israel was only a child, I loved him.

I called out, ‘My son!’—called him out of Egypt.

I stuck with him.

I rescued him from human bondage,

But he never acknowledged my help,

That I lifted him, like a baby, to my cheek,

that I bent down to feed him.

My people are hell-bent on leaving me.

But how can I give up on you?

I’m The Holy One and I’m here—in your very midst.

Prayer of Adoration and Confession:

Gracious God, you had a vision of a people who were holy to you. You made that dream a reality when you made a covenant with Abraham. When your people were enslaved in Egypt, you heard their cry for help, and you led them to freedom. When your people were taken into exile and turned away from you, you did not give up on them but longed for their return. You love us so much you sent your only Son to die so that, believing in him, we will live. You desire to be with us.

We confess that our desire for you is not nearly as strong.

We prefer to be with friends and family, with our hobbies and our TV.

Our longing for comfort, security and respect is greater than our longing for you.

We try to avoid your presence.

We find it difficult to focus on you.

We do not long for righteousness.

We are satisfied with ourselves.

We feel powerless to make a difference in our world.

Forgive us. Fill us with a hunger and thirst for you and your kingdom. Increase our longing so that we will be satisfied with nothing less than Jesus. It is in his name we pray. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 42: 1, 2 & 11

A white-tailed deer drinks from the creek,

I want to drink God, deep draughts of God.

I’m thirsty for God-alive.

I wonder, “Will I ever make it— arrive and drink in God’s presence?”

I’m on a diet of tears— tears for breakfast, tears for supper.

Fix my eyes on God— soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.

Prayer for Illumination:

Holy God, we approach your word today make us hungry and thirsty for what you have to say to each one of us. May your word change us so that we may strive for righteousness in our world. Amen.

Scripture Readings:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6 NRSV

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.” The Message

Revelation 7: 14 – 17

John 4: 7 – 10

Message:

Today we come to the fourth beatitude. So far, each beatitude has built on the ones before it. First, we’re to be “poor in spirit” acknowledging our dependence on God and our need for God’s mercy. Then we’re to mourn our sin, which is the cause of our spiritual poverty, so we can turn away from it with remorse and repent. Third, we are to be meek. We are to have a realistic perception of ourselves. Not only do we humble ourselves before God, but as our humility takes root in us, we lift up others. The fourth beatitude follows on these. Having turned away from all that separates us from God, it’s time to turn towards something, and that something is “righteousness” or “God”.

Some among us have lived through the Great Depression or WW2 and others grew up in poverty, these know what it is like to be deeply hungry. I don’t mean the kind of hunger we have after hard physical labour when we feel “ravenous”, stuff ourselves with food and feel satiated. Deep hunger is the kind that gnaws, that’s with us every moment, that makes us weak, that causes us to waste away, that keeps us awake at night, that gives us no hope the it will let up.

Because of our bodies’ need for water, most of us have a better sense of what it is to be thirsty. Who hasn’t guzzled down 2 or 3 glasses of water consecutively, ending with a lip smacking “ah”? But few – if any – of us have been scorched in the steaming desert heat or dehydrated on an ocean life-raft under the scorching sun. That kind of thirst causes your lips to peel and crack, your skin to shrivel, your tongue to loll out of your head. It zaps your energy and makes your heart race. Without relief, we would soon die.

Yet we know all what it’s like to hunger and thirst metaphorically. Deep hunger and thirst aren’t always related to our need for food and drink. At some point in life, we have all had a desperate, agonized longing for something. “Falling in love” has caused many an obsessed soul to be unable to eat, sleep, or concentrate on anything else because we were totally “twitter-pated” by our infatuation for that one person. On the other side, people in painfilled, abusive relationships feel a fear-filled hunger for protection and thirst for a way out. During this time of CoVid isolation, many feel a deep thirst called loneliness. We are thirsty for human interaction; for touch; for routine; for freedom; for security; for a night out or simply for life as we knew it. Others have experienced a hunger to reach a goal – to win a sports tournament, to get into a particular school, to make your first million dollars, to have a baby, to have a loved one recover from illness. Ironically, to lose weight, we need to hunger for a svelte, healthy body more than we hunger for French fries and donuts. We are not strangers to deep hunger and thirst. Yet of all the things for which we hunger and thirst, few people have “righteousness” on their list.

A bad thing happened to the concept of righteousness. What was meant to be a positive defining trademark of the followers of Jesus became an ugly stain. Instead of an on-going search for righteousness, Christians reduced righteousness to morality. People believed they had reached holiness by keeping the rules. Soon we stopped hungering and thirsting for righteousness because we thought we’d achieved it. We then put our energy into controlling others to be sure they were living righteously. Jesus called us to a life-long quest for righteousness, but we became “self-righteous”. Instead of knowing our need for grace and longing for God, we “found” righteousness within our self. Out of our self-righteousness we began to lose sight of God; in our smugness we judged others and insisted they become like us.

The trouble is that we looked in the wrong place. We didn’t find real righteousness because it isn’t within us – righteousness is found in Christ. Spiritually speaking, “righteousness” is about being right with God. It’s about being free from sin and guilt so we are free to glorify God. When we’re lost in our sin or self-righteousness, we’re out of relationship with God and God cannot bless us. God blesses us when we make him smile. All of

us can recall a moment when we caused someone to smile with love, joy and pride – or perhaps we smiled on someone that way. It is a blessing, an approval, an acceptance. To make God smile, we need to be on good terms with him and it is through Christ that happens. Jesus is “The road [the way, or the means], the truth and the life”. Jesus put it simply “No one gets to the Father apart from me” (John 14:6). But we don’t get to the Father or come into a right relationship with him by our own efforts at morality which tend to make us rigid and judgemental. Rather, coming to the Father makes us alive and free. Only by Christ’s Spirit alive in us are we brought into a right relationship with God. We experience the difference between being self-righteous and living in Christ’s righteousness – the first stifles and kills, the second blesses and gives life.

Not that I’m a farmer but some who are, have corroborated this. There are two ways to keep cattle on your property – one is by fencing them in, the other is by giving them a clean source of water. No living creature can exist without water. Jesus came to take down the fence and give us living water. He came to show us not the restrictions of God but the generosity of God. As he told the woman at the well, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water” (John 4: 10). When we ask Jesus to alleviate our dry, parched, dying souls, he pours out living water. In a paradoxical way, when we’re thirst for Jesus, its then that our spirits are quenched by his living water. “Everyone who drinks well water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever” (vs.13). Not only are we quenched, but we’re transformed into a source of life for others, “The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life” (vs. 14). We give up our role as “God’s morality police” and become a source of salvation and refreshment for others.

What does this hunger and thirst for righteousness look like? First, it’s a deep longing to make God happy. It’s a desire to be with God. When we hunger and thirst for righteousness, our attention is on Jesus. We search for God in the pages and records of Scripture. We can’t get enough of the Holy Spirit, so our prayer life becomes deep and constant. We value our church community because as we study and live together God is revealed in our midst. We worship because we need to express our undying devotion to the One we love. We also seek justice, not only when a wrong is done to us, but when we see others being mistreated. As we turn from our own sin to live in God’s light, we also confront the world’s sin in order to build God’s World, God’s Way (the Kingdom). We desire the world to be right with God so we are certain that our cause is ethical and justifiable, according to God’s will. So, we seek to live with personal integrity – we want to be faithful to God, fair to others and consistent within ourselves.

Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness? To be honest, my desire for righteousness has ebbed and flowed throughout my life. In those low times, I pray that God will make me hungry and thirsty to hunger and thirst for him. And he does. God desires to bless us and he hoours our quest to be in relationship with him. Sometimes he does this by drawing me close to Christ and sometimes by showing me how starved and thirsty I am, and sometimes by further starving my spirit and depriving me of water so I want him even more. In whatever way he works, he always has living water close at hand and he pours it out with generosity.

Questions for reflection

When in your life have you been most hungry and thirsty for righteousness?

Can you name a time when you behaved or thought in a self-righteous way?

Would you say Jesus has made you right with God? If so how are you different because of it?

When you are flowing with living water, what is it like? What do you do?

How does God work in you to make you hungry and thirsty?

Offering: God, we have many longings and desires. We give them all to you so that you will be our heart’s desire and our soul’s fulfillment. May we seek your righteousness, not so we can be better than others, but so that we can be a blessing to them as you have blessed us. Amen.

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession

Holy God, when we were far from you and lost in sin and guilt, you sent your Son to bring us back. Like a good shepherd, he carried us home to you and gave us living water for our hungry, dried-out spirits. We know this came at a great cost to Jesus, and we are deeply grateful.

In these days of pandemic, we are longing for many things. Let our gratitude run as deep as our longings. Remind us that we are well and healthy, and that you hold us in your hand. Help us to see and meet the needs of others.

Lord, we are seeing a lot of back-biting and blame emerge. We are creatures that feel secure when we can control life and death. Free us from pettiness. Help all levels of government work together. Thank you that you have spared us from this corona virus.

We are grateful that you provide for us. We know that many are experiencing financial strain and many businesses are closing. Provide for all and let us acknowledge that it is your providence that keeps us.

We are grateful that, with the wealth we have, we have homes to isolate in, hospitals to care for us and water with which to wash our hands. We pray for the poor of our world and for those who live in heavily populated countries and cities. We recognize the financial injustice we are witnessing. Make us generous as you are generous. Let us be a source of living water for others. May all we do in this regard, point people to Jesus and put them on the path to salvation.

We pray for the Church. In some ways we are ashamed of the gospel and willing to downplay its importance. In other ways, we’re focused on ourselves and our rights. Bring us into right relationship with you, through Christ. For many congregations, re-opening our churches safely, so we can worship you and minister to others, is overwhelming. Lead and guide us, so we may create safe environments for all.

We pray for places where people are suffering;

For those countries hard hit by CoVid 19.

For the family and friends of Snowbird, Capt Jenn Casey.

For the people of India and Bangladesh in the aftermath of a cyclone

For the people of Michigan who are devastated by flooding.

For the many who live each day with oppression, poverty, starvation, war and exploitation.

We pray also for those we love…

We pray in the name of Jesus our righteousness, who taught us to say –

Our Father…

Invitation to Mission

We go from here as scouts, showing the thirsty traveller where to find living water.

We go from here as innkeepers, inviting the hungry to sit and feast on the Bread of Life.

May the Triune God bless you and keep you. Amen.