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The Book of Judges: Messy People, Merciful God

A Lenten Series

When I create my yearly preaching plan, I typically ask my congregation for suggestions. Last year, one member in his eighties told me he had never heard a series on Judges. Without too much thought, I decided to put it in the season of Lent—Judges is a sobering book. But as Lent approached, my truest thoughts were “Why did I agree to do this?” and “What was I thinking?” This might be your initial reaction too. But when putting the text in a wider Scriptural context, looking for hints of Jesus, he is really—stunningly—there. We discovered a merciful God who in Christ Jesus does not give up on his messy people.

In Judges there is an ongoing cycle of Israel’s disobedience, God raising up a judge, subsequent obedience, the judge’s death, and then more disobedience. The cycle becomes shorter with each judge.

The backstory, of course, is that the people are now in the land God promised them. God has delivered the Israelites, and when they entered the land with Joshua, they promised full obedience to God. They couldn’t keep this promise; they were so easily pulled into the religious pluralism of the day. But God keeps coming back to them. When they cry for mercy, God raises a new judge. And for a time the Israelites obey. Yet even the judges become increasingly flawed and sinful—not quite the heroes our Sunday school stories sometimes make them out to be. In Judges we see a messy people and a merciful God.

We, too, are a messy people. The more we confess our mess and our brokenness, the more God’s transformational mercy can shape us into the people God means for us to be. The true hero of the book—and of each of our stories—is God.

To hear any of these Lenten sermons, go to goodnewschurch.com/sermons and search for the series or dates (Feb. 18 to April 1, 2018).

Visuals Statement: Messy People, Merciful God

In the visuals accompanying the sermons, we wanted our congregation to sit with both our messes and the Israelites’ messes, with the hope of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross present but invisible. We used three mismatched doors (scrap doors sourced at no cost) as the support. We painted the doors an earthy red-brown, taped out a cross between two of the three doors, and finally painted over everything with splatters and patches of browns, purples, and blacks. The cross was hidden underneath the paint, and it would soon be covered with more junk. During worship services, the doors leaned against a front wall of the gathering space until the confession time, when they were taken down and set on sawhorses. The congregation was invited to come forward and add a piece of junk from the materials we provided—different items pertaining to that week’s story from Judges. We wanted this all-over junk application to be a less-than-aesthetic mess to acknowledge that however badly our messes pile up, God is merciful when we turn to God.

After weeks of accumulating junk, the doors were transformed on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. During the Good Friday service the junk was removed and the painter’s tape under it was peeled back, one strip at a time, to reveal a red-orange cross. On Easter Sunday, following the tradition of flowering the cross, we attached origami flowers—symbols of hope and new life—to the newly revealed cross.

Notes/Suggestions

Using only white flowers instead of the colorful stemmed flowers we used will aesthetically unite the doors better and show even more contrast between the pieces of junk and the elegant flowers.

Congregational participation in something dirty, active, and outside the pew is always an invitation, never a demand. Make sure the space around the art is accessible so the invitation is truly for everyone. We usually had one or two of our visual team members facilitating so if anyone needed help with ripping tape or wiping their hands, or just needed an encouraging smile, those needs or uncertainties would be addressed.

These members of the worship committee at Good News Church value collaboration and creativity in planning and leading worship services. Their first-hand experience, knowledge, unique creative sensibilities, and organizational skills all contribute to a fruitful team atmosphere.

Preacher: Pastor Willemina Zwart

Liturgy Creation Team: Willemina Zwart, Evelyn Dreise, Clarence Wassink, Walter Miedema, Dorothy Kassies, Christie Dreise

Visual Team: Walter Miedema, Christie Dreise, Evelyn Dreise

Photos: Clarence Wassink

First Sunday of Lent

The Cycle Begins

Call to Worship
Put aside the distractions of this world’s many gods,
stand in awe before God’s love,
prepare to worship in sincerity and faithfulness.
The Lord Jesus and his God we will serve,
and his voice we will trust and obey,
that generations to come may know their God.

Stand up and celebrate the good news this day
so that others may set their hope in the living God.
We will not hide our thanks and praise,
but tell of the glorious deeds of the Lord
and all the wonders God has done for us.
Bruce Prewer, based on Joshua 24 and Psalm 78:1–7. Used with permission of the author.

Opening Song: “We Will Extol You, God and King” Scheer, LUYH 562

God’s Greeting

We Greet Each Other

Songs
“Te exaltaré/I Will Exalt” Cárdenas, LUYH 37
“Guide Me, O My Great Redeemer” Williams, LUYH 43, PsH 543

Call to and Prayer of Confession
Jesus says:
“The time is ready, the kingdom of God is at hand,
repent and believe the gospel.”
O come, let us return unto our covenant God,
who will have mercy and abundantly pardon.

Let us pray.
Most holy God, 
we admit to you and each other 
that we are so dazzled by the false gods of this age
that we find it hard to recognize who we are, 
where we came from, or where we are going. 
We easily become caught up in selfishness, 
seduced by cynicism, 
waylaid by glittering consumerism, 
and led by the noise along the highways and byways 
created by powerful, vested interests. 
Please open our eyes that
we may see ourselves more clearly, 
and seek you more diligently.

Most loving God,
arrest the false gods that have diverted us,
show us the deceits that have blurred our vision,
unmask the poverty of our goals and longings,
expose the cheap values that parade as virtues,
save us from permitting a rift between Christ and us,
and deliver is from cheap guilt and trivial remorse.
Please bring us
to an honest repentance, the forgiveness of sins,
and the renewal of our faith and love.

Through Christ Jesus our Savior, Amen.
Bruce Prewer, based on Mark 1:9–15. Used with permission of the author.

Song of Confession: “Give Us Clean Hands” Hall, LUYH 628

Active Visual: Ashes and baptismal font
[All are invited to come forward, dip their fingers or whole hands into ashes, then press them into wood glue poured all over the doors. As on Ash Wednesday, the ashes symbolize the destructive nature of our sin. In this case the ashes take the shape of fingerprints and handprints—a reminder of the individual damage and mess we can bring into the world. All are then welcome to clean their hands in the baptismal font as a reminder of the promises of baptism.]

Words of Assurance
Fellow travelers on the Lenten road to Easter,
always remember that there is much more forgiveness
in God than we could ever exhaust.
Receive from God,
through the grace and mercy of Christ,
the blessing of sins forgiven
and a right relationship restored.
Bruce Prewer, based on Mark 1:9–15. Used with permission of the author.

Scripture Reading: Judges 2:1–5, 16–23; 3:1–5

Message: The Cycle Begins

Time of Reflective Silence

  • How have you seen the Judges cycle in your life? In the systems of government, society, or church?
  • Which gods of our age—wealth, security, comfort, achievement, health—are you tempted to rely on?
  • How does the reality of your sin and God’s grace prompt you to praise and thank God today?

Song: “Your Mercy Flows” Sutton, LUYH 700

Blessing

Song: “Salvation Belongs to Our God” Howard and Turner, LUYH 608

Second Sunday of Lent

Expect the Unexpected: Deborah

Call to Worship
“A Call to Journey”
—Thom Shuman, posted at Lectionary Liturgies, reposted at re:Worship.

Opening Song: “Throughout These Lenten Days and Nights” Gertmenian, LUYH 134 (vs. 1, 2, 4)

God’s Greeting

We Greet Each Other

Songs
“Mighty to Save” Fielding and Morgan, LUYH 611
“Come to the Savior Now” Wigner, LUYH 613, PsH 535

Call to and Prayer of Confession
Transforming God,
You turned the Samaritan woman
from the excluded “other”
to a bearer of the gospel of peace,
putting in her mouth the song of testimony.
Today we pray for ourselves:
grant us that same insight and courage,
that same witness of women on the margins,
that we too may recognize our place in the gospel story
and live it in our lives.

We confess that too often
we avoid confronting our collective sin.
Our attempts to relieve feelings of guilt—
of our own abuses of power, privilege, and knowledge—
are often nothing but smoke screens.
Too often, Lord, we benefit from unjust systems.

Father God, may we answer your call
to act justly and to love mercy.
We pray that we may walk humbly with you.
Instead of speaking for those we think are voiceless,
may we move aside and listen intently.

Take our fears and grow courage in us.
Take our resignation to the way things are
and pull us into your passionate love.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
—First paragraph adapted from “Prayer Resources for 2017 International Women’s Day,” republished with permission from Catholic Religious Australia; remainder written by Christie Dreise, © 2019. Used by permission.

Song: “Lord, Have Mercy” Merkel, LUYH 639, GtG 576

Active Visual: Duct tape
[All are invited to come forward and stick pieces of colored duct tape to the doors to symbolize how the marginalized too often have been voiceless and bound by oppression—and that we are often complicit in that voicelessness and oppression.]

Words of Assurance
“Assurance of God’s Forgiveness”
—from the Aug. 25, 2009 entry at revandylittle.com

Scripture Reading: Judges 4

Message: “Expect the Unexpected: Deborah”

Time of Reflective Silence

  • Use questions from Week 1.

Song: “What Grace Is Mine” Getty

Blessing

Song: “Let Justice Flow Down” Ramanow, LUYH 295

Third Sunday of Lent

The Dangers of Success: Gideon

Call to Worship
Awe-inspiring God, we gather together to praise you
for your tender compassion and care of needy people.

Come, all who seek the Lord God, offer your prayers.

Listening God, we gather to revere and honor your
supportive concern for people who cry to you for help.

Come, all who seek the Lord God, offer your praise.

People of every nation are called to gather together to
worship God, in thankfulness for God’s loving mercies.

Come, all who seek the Lord God, offer your worship. Amen.
—Based on Psalm 22:23–31, © 2012 Joan Stott, “The Timeless Psalms.” RCL Psalm Year B. Used with permission.

Opening Song: “Amid the Thronging Worshipers” Psalter 1912, LUYH 511, PsH 239

God’s Greeting

We Greet Each Other

Songs
“Humble Thyself” Hudson, SWM 201
“Our God Is an Awesome God” Mullins, GtG 616

Prayer of Confession
“Prayer of Confession: Proper 8B”
—adaptation from The Abingdon Worship Annual 2009 in the June 18, 2012 entry of re-worship.blogspot.com

Song: “Wait for the Lord” Taizé, LUYH 480, GtG 90

Active Visual: Broken pottery
[In the introduction to the congregational activity, the pastor smashes a pot. The unsettlingly loud sound and the breaking of something whole is a stark moment in the service.]

[All are invited to come forward and stick pieces of pottery to the doors to visualize that it is through God’s power in the broken pots and torches that Gideon’s army succeeded, and that often it’s through God’s power in our brokenness and limitations that God works.]

Words of Assurance
“Prayer of Confession: Proper 8B”
—adaptation from The Abingdon Worship Annual 2009 in the June 18, 2012 entry of re-worship.blogspot.com

Scripture Reading: Judges 7

Message: “The Dangers of Success: Gideon”

Time of Reflective Silence

  • Where do self-reliance and the gods of our times—security, achievement, success—derail you from trusting in God?
  • Where have you seen or experienced God’s strength displayed in weakness in your own life or elsewhere?

Song: “Lord, I Need You” Maher

Blessing

Song: “Forever” Tomlin, LUYH 578

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Dark Times: Jephthah

Opening Song: “The Lord Be with You” Rienstra, LUYH 535

Call to Worship
“God is Gracious”
—Rev. Daniel Commerford, Bethany Presbyterian Church, Covington, Georgia (bit.ly/2kMWhKE)

Song: “Come, Now Is the Time to Worship” Doerksen, LUYH 526

God’s Greeting

We Greet Each Other

Song of Confession: “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended” Heermann, LUYH 172, GtG 218, PsH 386

Active Visual: Signature
[All are invited to sign their names on the doors with permanent markers, indicating how we often make promises we shouldn’t make out of arrogance, fear, or seeking approval, or promises that we don’t keep, leading to integrity gaps and the degradation of trust.]

Words of Assurance:
What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I am not my own,
but belong—
body and soul,
in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

—Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 1

Song: “That’s Why We Praise Him” Walker, LUYH 868

Scripture Reading: Judges 11

Message: “Dark Times: Jephthah”

Time of Reflective Silence

Song: “When Peace like a River” Spafford, LUYH 451, GtG 428, PsH 489

Blessing

Song: “Blessed Be Your Name” Redman, LUYH 343

Fifth Sunday of Lent

A Shadow in the Darkness: Samson

Call to Worship
I look up to the mountains;
Does my strength come from the mountains?
No, my strength comes from the God
who made heaven and earth and the mountains.
—Based on Psalm 121

Opening Song: “I Lift My Eyes Up” Doerksen, LUYH 652

God’s Greeting

We Greet Each Other

Songs:
“Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” Founds, LUYH 610
“There Is a Redeemer” Green, LUYH 833, GtG 443

Prayer of Confession: Psalm 13 with “How Long Will You Forget Me, Lord” Idle, LUYH 410

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Song: “How Long Will You Forget Me, Lord” Idle, LUYH 410 (vs. 1, 2)

Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

Song: “How Long Will You Forget Me, Lord” Idle, LUYH 410 (vs. 3, 4)

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the LORD’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

Active Visual: Piece of foil with black paint

[All are invited to dip a bit of aluminum foil in black paint. The shiny foil is broken, crumpled, and covered, pointing to blindness—both not being seen by God and not seeing ourselves correctly (like Samson).]

Song of Assurance: “He Knows My Name” Walker, LUYH 339

Scripture Reading: Judges 16

Message: “A Shadow in the Darkness: Samson”

Time of Reflective Silence

  • How might the outward gains of your life become inward losses? Are there any outward losses that the Lord is using to cause inward gains?
  • Where in your life do you need to rely on God’s grace instead of your own strength? How might that change your actions and increase your joy?

Song: “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” Newton/Tomlin, LUYH 693

Blessing

Song: “I Then Shall Live” Gaither, WR 372
This song may be sung to the tune FINLANDIA LUYH 685, PsH 498.

Sixth Sunday in Lent

Palm Sunday: The Need for a King

Call to Worship
“Palm Sunday Call to Worship”
—Thom Shuman, April 3, 2017 entry of re-worship.blogspot.com

Opening Song: “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” Theodulph of Orleans, LUYH 146, GtG 196, PsH 375/376

God’s Greeting

We Greet Each Other

Songs
“Shout to the Lord” Zschech, LUYH 603
“All Hail, King Jesus” Moody

Prayer of Confession
God of the cross,
tottering down the streets of Jerusalem on a donkey,
you are not the savior we expect.
Your power doesn’t look like the power
we want our God to have.
Your wisdom makes no sense to us.

We are happy to join the crowd, waving branches,
but not so sure we want to follow you
through this Holy Week:

into the temple courts
into the upper room
into the Garden of Gethsemane
to the high priest’s house,
to the assembly of elders,
to Pilate,
to Herod,
to the place of The Skull,
to the foot of the cross.

We need you to go with us on this journey.
Grant us clear vision,
courageous hearts,
persistent steps.

Even though we know what this week will bring, we sing:
Hosanna, hosanna.
Save us, we beseech you! Amen.
—Joanna Harader, from SpaciousFaith.com. Used by permission.

Active Visual: Pieces of burlap
[All are invited to glue a piece of burlap to the doors. The burlap is cut into random shapes and sizes. Its irregularity and its roughness remind us of all the different sins we commit. Like the people laying down their coats for Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem, we can lay down our broken, rough lives before our King.]

Song of Assurance: “The Servant King” Kendrick

Scripture Reading: Judges 21:24–25; Luke 19:28–40

Message: “The Need for a King”

Time of Reflective Silence
Everybody has to serve somebody. Whom are you serving?

If Christ is your king, what parts of your life still need to come under his authority? What could obedience look like in those areas?

Song: “Meekness and Majesty” Kendrick, LUYH 157

Blessing

Song: “All Glory Be to Christ” Kensrue

Good Friday

For this service we used the Good Friday service “The Three Days: A Service of Communion, Reflection & Waiting,” from Reformed Worship 110.

[Candles are periodically extinguished throughout the service. The painter’s tape on the doors is peeled away piece by piece throughout the service and left at the foot of the newly revealed cross, bringing us to the culmination of Jesus’ suffering to atone for our sins.]

Easter Sunday

Jesus: Risen Christ & King

Call to Worship and God’s Greeting
Grace and peace to you from the one who is,
who always was,
and who is still to come,
and from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne,
and from Jesus Christ.
He is the faithful witness to these things,
the first to rise from the dead,
and the ruler of all the kings of the world.
All glory to him who loves us
and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us.
He has made us a kingdom of priests for God his Father.
All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.
Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven.
And everyone will see him—even those who pierced him.
And all the nations of the world will mourn for him.
Yes! Amen!
“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,”
says the Lord God.
“I am the one who is, who always was,
and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

Come, Lord Jesus!
—Based on Revelation 1

Songs
“Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” Wesley, LUYH 182, GtG 245, PsH 388
“See, What a Morning” Getty and Townend, LUYH 181

Readers’ Theater
“Resurrection Morning”
—Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, jesuswalk.com

Passing of the Easter Blessing
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Song: “He Is Lord” Frey, LUYH 227, PsH 633

Prayer of Confession
Christ, we come to the empty tomb,
we see our own death,
we see our own tomb, we see our own emptiness.
And we remember how we have treated other people—
members of our family, friends and neighbors.
Lord, we come to your tomb,
we see a hungry world before us,
the pain of starving children,
the guilt of war on our hands,
and we know that collectively we share in those injustices.

Lord, we come to the empty tomb,
we search within ourselves and we cannot escape what we are,
people caught up in the pain of our own wrongdoing,
for some a deep sense of loneliness
and a frustration of what we would be but are not.
Lord, when we come to the empty tomb,
we lay before you our pain,
our emptiness, and look to you for hope.

People of God,
why do you seek the living among the dead in an empty tomb?
Are you afraid, are you uncertain, and are you uncomfortable here?
Our wounds are deep,
we have turned away,
we have broken with him
and yet seek his fellowship.

Words of Assurance
Do not dwell on your wounds any longer
for Christ has risen to heal you,
Christ has risen to forgive you;
Christ has risen to change us all and bind us together now.
Christ has risen to forgive us.
Thanks be to God.
—Both the prayer of confession and words of assurance are adapted from excerpts from Service of Holy Communion 2010, posted on the River of Life website: loddon-malleeuca.blogspot.com/

[During the time of assurance, the congregation is invited forward to flower the cross. The flowering of the cross is a tradition traced back to the sixth century and is a beautiful symbol of the new life that emerges from Christ’s death on Good Friday. The contrast of the junk on the doors with beautiful, elegant flowers is meant to be a dramatic visual representation of the new life we celebrate on Easter.]

Song: “You Are My King (Amazing Love)” Foote, LUYH 360

Scripture Reading: Revelation 1:9–20

Message: “Jesus: Risen Christ and King”

Song: “Behold Our God” Baird and Altrogge

Blessing

Song: “This Joyful Eastertide” Woodward, LUYH 202 (vs. 1, 2)