Worship Service for the 2nd Sunday in Lent

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship for this 2nd Sunday in Lent, landing on February 25, 2024!

The bulletin for this service can be found here. You may follow along with that or just with the words that appear on your screen. The sermon is also included on this page below the actual video.

If you would like to enhance your online worship, you may have a candle in your space lit at the beginning of the service and then extinguished near the end after the sending hymn, when the altar candles are put out. You are also welcome to participate in communion with something small to eat and drink ready to be consumed at the correct time in the service. Further instruction will be given then.

May God’s love and peace bring you joy and hope, this day and always!

Holy God, open our hearts to receive the good news that you have for us this day and enable us to trust in your promises of grace and salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Some of you might remember this about me, but I am a dragon.  Not a literal fire-breathing mythical creature of course, but what I mean is that my lunar calendar astrological sign is the dragon, meaning that this lunar year that just started is indeed my year.  To be honest, this has always been a point of pride for me, as being born in the year of the dragon is pretty cool.  Just to give you an idea as to how cool, some other notable people born in this particular year are Keanu Reeves, Ryan Reynolds, and perhaps most importantly, Bruce Lee.  Oh, and there’s also our second son, which I admit was very intentional.  Like I said, it’s pretty cool so I wanted that for at least one of our kids as well.

But as cool as it is, it’s even cooler that my parents actually decided to name me dragon.  Not that my name Nathan, of Hebrew origin, means dragon, but my Chinese name (of Chinese origin) does.  “Loong” is how you’d say it.  And just having that word as my name just adds to the cool factor of something that is already cool.  I mean, not even Bruce Lee has dragon in his name.  In his nickname, yes, but not his actual birth certificate like me.

I remember when one of my wife’s cousins learned that my name was dragon, he was super impressed.  He was like, “waaa” (which means “wow” in Chinese), and then he said a bunch of other Chinese words that I didn’t understand.  He figured this from the blank look on my face, and he just put up his fist and said “powerful.”

And that little brief interaction so many years ago I guess actually did make me feel powerful.  Like I was super tough because I was born in a certain year that was beyond my control.  Like I was super strong to have a name that I didn’t choose.  Like I should be feared by all because I shared an Asian zodiac sign with Bruce Lee. 

This whole sense of power and strength is pretty big not just in the Chinese culture that I’ve come from, but it’s seen around the world and throughout history as the mighty always seem to be the ones who are most typically are celebrated, revered, and lifted up.  It is the powerful that are feared, respected, and have the most influence.  Even in evolution, nature has shown us that it is survival of the fittest.  So in our instinct to just stay alive, we strive to be fit.  In our mindset of surviving, we aim to be strong and able to overpower our adversaries.  In our hopes to be around and make a lasting difference in this world, we do what we can to be strong.

I think that’s why I like being a dragon so much.  That is why we hold such a regard for whatever is considered “the best”.  That is why Jesus’ prediction of his suffering and death didn’t go over so well with his disciples.

But of course it would garner a bit of pushback.  I mean, it’d be normal to assume that his disciples would have shared the same mentality as all of us: survival of the fittest, only the strong survive, the world belongs to the powerful.  Saying that you’re going to suffer greatly at the hands of your enemies, that you’ll be rejected by your friends, and that you’ll lose your life because you’re just not going to win this fight… well, that doesn’t exactly exude power and strength.  Instead, it sounds more like weakness, defeat, and less than the best.  And we can’t have that.

So good ol’ Peter does what any of us would do.  Tries to reassure Jesus that nothing bad will happen to him, because none of us are all that comfortable in hardship.  He tells Jesus that he’ll be fine, when it’s actually Peter that seems to need that reassurance more.  Peter can’t believe what he’s hearing because he has forgotten the utter fact that we all, much like everyone who is, has been, or ever will be alive, will face hardship, brokenness, and death.

Like Peter, we react to weakness.  We shun vulnerability.  It’s like we’re scared of difficulties and adversity so we brush them off by putting on a strong face and telling people that “we’re fine, we can handle it.” 

You know what I mean, don’t you?  Sure, we’ve all had our moments of being empowered, enabled, and looking strong, and so it’s hard to admit when we’re burdened with problems, hurt by calamity, smacked in the face by life… lest we look fragile, damaged, and powerless.  

At least, I know this true for me.  It’d hard for me to admit that I face turmoil in my own life, because it looks like everyone around me, at least on social media, has it all together.  It’s hard for me to admit that I get intimidated by others who exude a lot more knowledge and skill that I have, because I’m a dragon for crying out loud.  It’s hard for me to admit that I struggle with temptations and negative emotions, because as a pastor my trust in God is expected to supersede any of this hardship and endow me with divine strength to get through it.

And that is where the problem is.  That is the Adversary adversitizing.  That is the lie that we often believe which Jesus rebukes in Peter today.

“Get behind me Satan, for you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.”

See, Jesus calling Peter out in this way wasn’t because Peter was caring for his teacher and mentor, that he was showing concern over Jesus’ wellbeing, or even that he was following his natural instinct of survival.  Rather, Jesus’ rebuke for Peter’s words were because Peter heard what he heard and reacted how he reacted but missed one crucial point in Jesus’ prediction… that he will rise again.  Peter focussed on the weakness and vulnerability but didn’t see the strength in it.  Peter only saw the despair and brokenness, but completely glossed over the healing and hope.

Hope in God’s promises of grace.  Hope in our unchanging position in God’s community and kingdom.  Hope in God’s unwavering love for each and every one of us, with us, supporting us, and lifting us up out of our sin and forgiving us into healing, wholeness, and holiness with God and all the saints forever.

So it isn’t true that we are alone in our suffering.  It is a deception that God only loves the strong and mighty.  It is a blatant lie that our value and worth is dependant on anything other than our identity as God’s beloved children.

I mean, don’t we often think that God can’t be present in the suffering, thinking that God has left whatever place that is broken or in despair?  Don’t we openly wonder how a “good God can let bad things happen to good people” as though we as good should never face any kind of hardship at all?  Don’t we sometimes think that God’s promise for us was to never suffer, be in pain, or be burdened in any way?  The thing is, God’s promises to us is because of all that.

That in our suffering, we can be reminded that we will be healed.  In our pain, we will be made whole again and welcomed back into community.  In our mortality and inevitability of death, we will live forever in God’s story of relationship and grace, blessing all of history with compassion, forgiveness, and love.

This is what Jesus means in telling us to pick up our crosses.  Pick up our weaknesses and pain.  Pick up our hardship and suffering.  Pick up our brokenness in heart, mind, and spirit… and see that God is with us in it.  God holds us through it.  God loves us in spite of it.  And we are empowered, strengthened, and blessed to follow Jesus in his ways of humble service and community.

This doesn’t mean that we look for trouble and distress so that God can be more present in our lives.  This doesn’t mean that we should purposely find hurt and burdens so there can be more healing for us.  This doesn’t mean that we intentionally live in sin so we can be forgiven all the more.  But it is to say that in our distress that we can’t avoid, under our already present burdens, while we are living in sin and face our mortality and death, that God continues to show us how nothing in all of creation could snatch us from God’s gracious and merciful hand of love, welcome, and peace.

In this season of Lent, as we continue in our contemplation of our shortcomings and sin, may we be able to pick up our crosses to follow Christ, knowing that he walks alongside us, sharing in our pain, suffering, and hardship and reminding us of unending hope, peace, and love.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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