March 21, 2021 Worship (Lent 5/ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination)
Eternal One, we hear the cries of our neighbours near and far, and our hearts reach out to them. We are thankful for your promise of hope, and we are thankful for Jesus’ love for you, which he demonstrated on the cross. Through this love we get not only a glimpse of you, but we also receive the good news. Strengthen our faith; help us to see each other through your eyes, so that we will be able to experience you in more ways than one. As we worship you this day, may we be open and sensitive to each other’s needs and presence, recognizing that we are all your children. This is our prayer. Amen.
(from Revival out of helplessness: A worship service on the theme of anti-racism By Rolanda Taylor and Yvonne Terry)
Scripture Reading 1: Hebrews 5:5-10
5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
“You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; 6 as he says also in another place,
“You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus[a] offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Scripture Reading 2: John 12:20-33
Some Greeks Wish to See Jesus
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
Jesus Speaks about His Death
27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people[a] to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Confession for the Elimination of Racism
For the racism which denies dignity to those who are different, Lord, forgive us. For the racism which recognizes prejudice on others and never in ourselves, Christ forgive us. For the racism which will not recognize the work of your Spirit in other cultures, Lord, forgive us. Lord, have mercy.
Reflection – Grain of Wheat Falls for Hope
As you may know by now, I taught young children in my former life. Teaching young children is full of cuteness and joy yet comes with a catch; one does not get to see the outcome of one’s work. I don’t know where my former students are and how they are doing. Being a teacher, in general, requires working out of hope for positive outcomes. Teachers are like gardeners or farmers; they sow seeds and water them, hoping for healthy fruit, flowers, or crops for the future.
There are other people who operate on hope; activists, early Church martyrs, and anyone else in history who lived out their convictions for greater good instead of fulfilling their personal desires. Since today is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, let us mention Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Both fought racism in the era where black people did not have a lot of basic human rights. Both spoke out against racism and were assassinated as a result of their works. They became the beacons of hope for everyone who believes in racial equality, producing a lot of fruit after their deaths; however, it is not because they died that they became great inspiration. Being martyred does have a powerful impact for sure, but what inspires the most is the fact that they lived by their convictions and did not back down at the face of persecution and death. Does this remind you of someone else we know and love?
Jesus also lived and died by his convictions of God’s kingdom of earth (“as it is in heaven”). The traditional theology has taught that his death was God’s will to use him as a sacrificial lamb for the forgiveness of sin, as in the ancient Jewish Law. A lot of progressive Christians today do not believe in it, including a lot of members of our own United Church of Canada. It is okay if you do or don’t. Yet, the important point that I believe both sides should remember is that Jesus lived by his faith and did not turn away from persecution and death. He lived and died for the Good News about God’s kingdom, which inspired his followers throughout history.
As he said in today’s gospel parable, a grain of wheat cannot produce fruit unless it is fallen and buried in the ground. A grain of wheat is buried to produce fruit, whether it is actual fruits, flowers, or crops. When Christians were persecuted, dying for one’s faith was definitely one of the ways in which one could be a grain of wheat for God, but what does it mean for us today where most Christians are not facing the danger of death? (In fact, Christians have been causing the death of a lot of people whom they deemed unworthy or sinful.) Today’s parable teaches us that we cannot become God’s workers unless our personal desires and ambitions fall and are buried. We should lay down our selfishness, ego, and personal desires in order to serve God. Serving God is about working for the greater good even at the cost of our personal gain. If we pursue wealth beyond our needs, if we are too selfish to follow rules and regulations set for the common good, we are not being grains of wheat. If we don’t help our neighbours, local or global alike, because it inconveniences us, we are not being grains of wheat. If we protest and ignore the pandemic protocols designed to keep everyone safe and healthy, we are not being grains of wheat. I heard some churches that defy the rules and meet for worship, claiming that it is their right to gather and worship God together. No, in fact, if we are God’s people, we glorify God by making personal sacrifices for the good of all people. Although it is saddening and frustrating to not be together on Sunday, by following the rules, we are working towards keeping everyone safe; this is what living as God’s people sometimes looks like.
The glory of God comes with humility. It is not the kind of glory that comes at the expense of other people. It is not the kind of glory that looks like we are putting ourselves above others. Take a look at Hebrews chapter 5 that we read today. Jesus achieved heavenly glory, not by dominating others, but through humility and obedience. Then it is only right for his followers to emulate his humility and obedience. It is only right that we bury our selfish desires like grains of wheat in the hope for turning our earthly communities into God’s kingdom. Let us abandon greed and selfishness. Let us instead offer ourselves as channels through which God’s people are comforted and helped. Let us use our privileges to speak out for the marginalized people of our society and have the humility to learn about justice issues and change our lives by what we learned. Today especially, let us commit ourselves to the works of racial justice. Learn about your white privileges and engage in conversations with people of colour. Ask God for guidance. With our small sacrifices, let us dream and work towards God’s community where all are loved and everyone’s needs are met. Let us start this process during this Season of Lent with humble prayers and works of charity and justice.
Today, I am sharing an anti-racism prayer written by our moderator Rev. Richard Bott.
To Root Out Quiet Racism
While we give thanks for the diversity of people— of cultures and ethnicities, of histories and life-stories, of skin colour and language and hearts that love the world; the best way to give thanks is to disassemble the systems, the stories, the mythos, that privilege one colour over another— is to root out (and un-root) the insidious beliefs of those of us with privilege (sometimes hidden quietly within, sometimes disguised, sometimes trumpeted as manifesto) that “me and mine” are better than “you and yours.” To root out quiet racism— to root out White Fragility, and White Supremacy— so that it withers and dies. It is time. It is well past time.
On this International Day to End Racial Discrimination. God of all creation, bless us all with what we need, to take on this work, and live it. Today. Every day. Always. Until this International Day is a thing of memory. In Jesus’ name.
May it be.
(A prayer for March 21, the International Day to Eliminate Racial Discrimination, by the Right Rev. Richard Bott. Originally posted on Facebook. Moderator Bott encourages the sharing of prayers he posts throughout his term.)
Blessing and Sending Forth
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit guide us in our commitment to racial justice from this day forward. Amen.