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Hoping Against Hope – Sermon on Romans 4:13-25 for Pentecost 2A and Lent 2B

Out of the blue, we land in the middle of one of the Apostle Paul’s thickest chunks of writing this morning. So here’s a little refresher course in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. This was not a church that Paul had started, and he did not personally know the people who would receive the letter. At the time he wrote to the Romans, Paul had not yet been to Rome. His letter was a kind of introduction to prepare the Roman Christians for a visit Paul was eagerly planning to make. He had heard rumors about the church in Rome, however.

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A Prayer for the Eve of Trinity Sunday

Holy One in Three
and Three in One,
Let me dance with you.

I may not understand
how you can be three distinct persons living in unity,
how you can sing in unison and harmony at the same time,
But I do not need to understand in order to trust your Presence.

I need not Know in order to Love as you love,
as you open the circle to me
and invite me into your dance,
into your grace,
into your wholeness and holiness,
into your love.

Let it be so. Let me dance with you. Amen.

A Liturgy for Extinguishing Lenten Candles – Palm/Passion Sunday (Year A)

This is it, the final candle in our Lenten journey! We’ve extinguished the candles of temptation, searching, and confession. We recognized joy as an important part of trusting God, and last week we recognized sorrow as an unavoidable part of being human. This week, they all come together in the candle of salvation.

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A Liturgy for Extinguishing Lenten Candles – Lent 4A (Laetare Sunday)

Let’s review:

Candle 1 – Temptation –We heard about Jesus being tempted in the desert by Satan.

Candle 2 – Searching – Lent is a season when we search for God, just as Nicodemus came searching for Jesus in the middle of the night.

Candle 3 – Confession – We recognized that we confess our sins, and we confess the truth that Jesus is Lord. We heard how a Samaritan woman confessed to her neighbors that she had met the Savior of the world, and they believed her.

This week brings us to the Candle of Joy …

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A Liturgy for Extinguishing Lenten Candles – Lent 3A

If you missed the liturgy for the first week, you can find it here. The liturgy for the second week is here. This week’s liturgy reflects the story of the Samaritan woman who meets Jesus at a well. While Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (John 3:1-17), this woman meets Jesus in broad daylight. And she immediately confesses to her neighbors that she has met Messiah.

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A Liturgy for Extinguishing Lenten Candles – Lent 2A

If you missed the liturgy for last week, you can find it here. This week’s liturgy draws on the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night (John 3:1-17). What is he searching for? Why does he think Jesus might have answers for him? And does he ever find what he’s seeking?

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A Liturgy for Extinguishing Lenten Candles

Many Christian churches use an Advent wreath to mark the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Each week, another candle is lit, and some Advent wreaths include a fifth candle in the center, lighting the “Christ Candle” on Christmas Eve.

I grew up in a non-liturgical church. We didn’t celebrate the seasons of the church year – at least not the way our mainline sisters and brothers did. Sure, we had Easter and Christmas, but Lent and Advent? Pentecost? Ordinary time? I had no clue.

Coming into a congregation that observed these sacred seasons shifted my perspective. I grew to love the rhythm of the church year: the waiting, the working, the worship. So when, a few years ago, someone asked if we could do a “reverse Advent wreath” for Lent, I took it as an invitation.

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Here in Minnesota, churches are scrambling to move Ash Wednesday worship online or a week later, because a huge winter storm is promising to dump a couple of feet of snow on us just as we should be imposing ashes on each other.

Several years ago, I put together an Ash Wednesday service designed to include children in the liturgy. It draws on the Jewish custom of having the youngest children ask Four Questions at the Seder meal, giving adults the opportunity to teach about Passover. In this case, the children’s questions spark the Invitation to Table, and move through the Great Thanksgiving. If a snowstorm (or other unforeseen obstacle) prevents you from participating in an Ash Wednesday service with your local congregation, you might adapt this one to use at home.

Remember that sacred practices are meant to draw us into the holy season of Lent. They should not become obstacles in themselves as you come nearer to Christ.



CALL TO WORSHIP                                                                               

One:  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
All:    And also with you.
One:  Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins.
All:    God’s mercy endures forever.
One: We come from many families
to worship God as one family of God. 
All:    Remembering our covenant, we come in faithfulness.
One: We come to mark the beginning of the season of Lent. 
All:    We come to remember through ashes and prayer. 
One: We come to break bread together.
All:    We come to receive the cup in Christ’s name.
One: Come then, let us renew ourselves as we worship together. 
All:    Let us worship God!

Sing   Sunday’s Palms Are Wednesday’s Ashes
(The Faith We Sing, #2138)


Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.

NEW TESTAMENT READING: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:2
We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

GOSPEL READING: Matthew 6:1-6,16-21
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

HYMN: Behold the Lamb of God (CCLI Song # 265260)



Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth. Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, so we may remember that only by your gracious gift are we given everlasting life, through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

One:  For all the times we fail to do what we know is right,
All:    We are sorry, Lord.

One: For all the times we do what we know is wrong,
All:    We are sorry, Lord.

One:  For all the times we fail to love each other,
All:    We are sorry, Lord.

One: For all the times we fail to love you,
All:    We are sorry, Lord.
Forgive us, and give us clean hearts.

Children:   Who can come to this table?
One: Jesus invites all who trust him to come to this table.

One: The Lord be with you.
All:   And also with you.
One: Lift up your hearts.
All:  We lift them up to the Lord.
One: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
All:   It is right to five our thanks and praise.

Children: Why do we give thanks at this table?
One:  We give thanks for God’s creation, for making us in God’s image. We give thanks because God never gave up on us even though we were not faithful to God. We give thanks because when it was time, God sent Jesus to show God’s love for us.

Children: How do we praise God for this?
One: With all the faithful people of every time and place in the world we sing this song of God’s glory.

UMH #517 (stanza one)                       Holy, Holy, Holy


Children:  What do we remember at this table?
One: We remember Jesus, God’s child:

All:    Jesus healed the sick and restored sight to the blind; Jesus welcomed strangers and ate with outcasts. Dying on the cross, Jesus saved us from our sin, Risen from the dead, Jesus gives us new life. 

Children: Why do we eat bread at this table?
One: Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it
and gave it to his friends.

Children: Why do we drink juice at this table?
One: Jesus gave them the cup as the promise that our sins are forgiven. He said, “This is my blood, poured out for you.”

Children: But this is just everyday bread and juice!
One: Let us pray that the everyday bread and juice will become holy. Gracious God, pour out your Holy Spirit on these your gifts of bread and cup that the bread we break and the cup we bless may bring us closer to Jesus and Jesus closer to us.  Amen.

Breaking of the Bread – Pouring of the Cup
Imposition of Ashes and Distribution of Elements

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.
Repent and believe the gospel.

Receive Christ’s body, broken for you, and Christ’s blood, shed for you.


UMH #292  What Wondrous Love Is This?

Coming To Our Senses In Lent – Registration has closed! (But here’s what we’ll be doing)

Each year, churches look for ways to deepen faith during the season of Lent. Quite often, this means reading a book together, or adding a midweek worship service. For some, however, these practices are simply “more of the same,” and do not lead to deeper faith. Sometimes we need to engage all of our senses to discover God’s direction as we learn to follow Christ.

So this year, some folks have signed up to explore with me how our five senses are reflected in scripture. We will also consider how spiritual practices engaging those senses can bring us to a deeper understanding of God’s love for us, as we seek to live a more Christ-like life. Each week, we will focus on one of the five senses. We will read about and discuss a miracle of Jesus related to that sense, and I will introduce to a spiritual practice to try during the following week. REGISTRATION HAS CLOSED. But stay tuned for future offerings like this.

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A Prayer for Christmas Day 2022

O Holy Mystery,
infinite, almighty, encompassing the universe,
you came to us as human infant,
God made flesh, glory tucked between your tiny toes;
Love latching onto life –
vulnerable and helpless,
and yet our only help.

Now, in the quiet aftermath of all our frantic striving
to celebrate your birth with our best,
the very best of our best,
we kneel before you,

Whether we were ready or not, you came.
Whether we are ready or not, 
come once again, Lord Jesus.
Latch onto our lives. 
Fill us with the mystery of your love, 
God made flesh.