Our Faith in a Nutshell?

North Congregational UCC
New Harford CT
3rd Sunday in Lent
March 14, 2021


“Love is meant to saturate all levels of human living and existence, because the God who gave us life is love. And as the saying goes, ‘Everybody is God’s somebody.” Bishop Michael Curry Love Is The Way page 145


How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place Johannes Brahms 1833-1897

HYMN OF Gathering


The church of Christ cannot be bound by walls of wood or stone.
Where charity and love are found there can the church be known.

True faith will open the door and step into the street.
True service will seek out the poor and ask to wash their feet.

True love will not sit idly by when justice is denied.
True mercy hears the homeless cry and welcomes them inside.

If what we have we freely share to meet our neighbor’s need.
then we extend the Spirit’s care through every selfless deed.

(repeat verse one above) 


Holy and Redeeming God, we thank you in this season of Lent, for your ongoing creative energy in the world; for bestowing upon us gifts through which we may participate in your life and work; for enabling us through the power of the Holy Spirit to carry on the message and ministry of Jesus, the Christ. We ask in that in these moments of worship, you will speak to us and impart again the word we most need to hear, so that we may respond to you with love and faithfulness.  Amen.

EXODUS 20:1-17   The Ten Commandments
(Please read full version-audio is abbreviated statement)


John 3:16-21

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

May God bless this reading and add to our understanding what God is asking of us this day. Amen.


Our Faith Won’t Fit In A Nutshell”

Jesus with Nicodemus

The Gospel reading this morning contains a verse that is probably the most well-known among Christians. It must equal the 10 Commandments and maybe Psalm 23 as the most cherished.  JOHN 3:16 is something many 1000’s of people have seen even if they have never owned or opened a Bible. I have watched many a sporting event and across from the cameras you will see stretched out in the stands among the fans (when fans were allowed in the seats) a banner with JOHN 3:16. The famous young people’s store FOREVER21 has on the bags they use for purchases JOHN 3:16 outside on the bottom of the package. (Caveat- I do not shop there and the latest update I have is 2013). The owners Don Chang and his wife Jin Sook are devout Christians. They emigrated here in 1981 from South Korea.) There are other commercial enterprises that also place religious scripture or sayings on their brand such as mugs etc. The verse is simply “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  I have heard it called “The Little Gospel” by which they mean this verse summarizes the salvation plan of God. It has also been referred to as “the gospel in a nutshell.” 

I have often wished they would have found space for John 3:17 as well which reads “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” I have no issue with this being a one or two verse summary of the “good news” (the meaning of gospel) of God’s love for us. However (you knew that was coming) like any pericope of a larger text, you need to look at more in order to fully appreciate its meaning. While it’s nice to have a shortcut, “our faith won’t fit into a nutshell.

In John 3:1-15 Jesus is visited one evening by a Pharisee named Nicodemus described as a leader of the Jews. I often refer to this meeting as “Nick at Night.” He is an honest seeker after truth. The response from Jesus confuses Nicodemus. Jesus states (…no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. (or born anew) This teaching of Jesus has led many Christians to believe that, to be a Christian, you must have a “born again experience” and can give a specific date and time they dedicated themselves to Jesus.  For Nicodemus, his understanding grew more slowly. In John 7:50-52 we find Nicodemus with other Pharisees who were questioning the temple police as to why they didn’t arrest Jesus who was preaching ideas contrary to their teachings during The Festival of the Booths. (also known as Festival of Tabernacles, Hebrew-Sukkot- a fall harvest festival when grapes and olives were harvested) Nicodemus speaks against the other Pharisees saying “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing” (v51a) Nicodemus last appears in John 19 after the death of Jesus when he brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes to anoint the body of Jesus. By his actions Nicodemus showed his respect and belief in the life and teachings of Jesus. However, nowhere is there a record of his verbally confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior but he certainly believed that Jesus’ reflected the love of God for all people- indeed for all the earth.

Some of us are reading Bishop Curry’s book Love Is The Way (written above as the meditation thought). It certainly reinforces John 3:16-17 but not in a dogmatic confessional way. I personally have known people who have lived a life that speaks of the kind of love exhibited by Jesus yet they have never “confessed” verbally or admitted to a dogmatic belief about the divine nature of Jesus. For me and for most reading or experiencing this worship, a statement of the divine as well as the human nature of Jesus is not an issue. I do not believe that a God who loves the world is going to send people to eternal judgement or exile if they do not verbally or mentally speak of Jesus as Savior. The final word and decision rests with God. Certainly a God who willingly experiences the suffering of humans will act lovingly at the end of our lives. Pope Francis’ recent visit to Iraq to foster dialogue and understanding is an act of courage with the desire to foster respect and appreciation of all faiths. I think when religious people use their religion as a means to control people, push nationalistic agendas to further their power and wealth against others, they run afoul of the positive side of religion and God’s plan.

 I’d like to end this meditation with another quote taken from Bishop Curry’s book-this one right in the introduction chapter. “Love is an equal opportunity employer. It is a gift of God, flowing from the very heart of creation. It cannot be claimed by any single religion or philosophy or person.” As his proof text he references I John 4:7-8. When you get the opportunity check it out. 

(PS. If you were not able to access this on line and are reading a printed copy, I encouraged everyone to see Lent in the light of “Spring Cleaning. Throw out what you don’t need and create a space for who you are and how God might be leading you. You are here for a reason.  

Musical Meditation


Pastoral Prayer

God of grace and glory, we, who live upon the land in this hemisphere, are experiencing a sense of rebirth as the days get longer and warmth returns. Many of us see this season of spring as a time to engage in what we call spring cleaning. It is also a time to clean out the temple which is our very lives. There are thoughts and actions that lead us into darkness rather than toward the light you have revealed to us. Give us the strength and dedication needed to open ourselves up to the indwelling of your spirit within us to make those changes that will truly reveal, in word and deed, our desire to be faithful in all ways. Convert the feeling of love into a verb so that loving brings hope and comfort to many in our homes, our communities, our nation and world. There are so many who need us to be the incarnation of loving to alleviate the poverty, the violence, the bigotry, the injustice, the “isms” that divide rather than unite us as humans made in your image. Open us up to the hurting and pain of those in our congregation and to those we do not know. Encourage us to reach out to those “angels in the flesh” who are risking their own safety to care for those left out of accessing the blessings of your creation because of the way systems we participate in are structured.  Help us to radically love whenever and wherever we can.  Assure us that, when we reach our limits of understanding and ability, that you are still able to take our seeds of love and multiply them and grow them in ways to bring healing and wholeness. Use the abilities we have to exemplify the love of Jesus to our national leaders, our local community leaders, and our media sources.  We bend our will to your presence, remembering to pray as Jesus taught us, Our Father…. 

HYMN for Journeying


I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus.
God set the stars to give light to the world. The star of my life is Jesus.

(In him there is no darkness at all. The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb of God is the light of the city of God. Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus)

I want to see the brightness of God. I want to look at Jesus.
Clear Sun of righteousness, shine on my path, and show me the way to the Father
Refrain  above

I’m looking for the coming of Christ, I want to be with Jesus. 
When we have run with patience the race, we shall know the joy of Jesus.
Refrain above


“Now, to the One, who by the power at work within our lives: Enable us to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine. To God be glory in the church and in Jesus Christ to all generations, forever and ever.” (Ephesians 3:20-21) Our worship is ending and our service is beginning.   Amen


Trumpet Voluntary John Travers 1703-1758


 Rev. Art Yost will continue to provide a worship experience each Sunday in Lent

 On March 28th. (Palm/Passion Sunday) there will be a full service available.

 On April 1st there will be a Last Supper Service followed by a Tenebrae (Descent Into Darkness) Ceremony. We encourage you to worship the evening of the first to more closely experience the impact of the service.  

 Easter Sunday, April 4th we again will have a full service available with Rev. Art Yost.