The following service was streamed live via Zoom on February 21st at 10:30am.
The entire text for the service is printed below for home use by those who are not ready to return to public gatherings or who are otherwise not able to be at church on the day. Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions. If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church.
There are also links to YouTube files for music and, should you rather listen than read, sound files for some of the text, including the sermon . [I’m sorry about the commercials that sometimes come with YouTube clips. Be sure to click on the “Skip Ad” box if and when it appears in the lower right of the YouTube clip] When a YouTube clip has finished, simply click on the ‘back’ button of your browser to return to this page. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.
A PRAYER TO BEGIN YOUR WORSHIP Refocus my attention, Lord, on the real reason for being here. Revive that sense of proportion I so easily lose. Restore perspective to my life as I see its meaning in your great plan. Renew my love and practical concern for others. Rekindle my faith in him through whom you have spoken your word to the world.
CALL TO CELEBRATION
From season to season, this world, through its phases, shows love has no dearth. This love is for sharing, to nurture well-being, to echo God’s call. So let us celebrate this richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.
LIGHTING OF THE LENTEN CANDLES
May we be open to this light, and to the rich possibilities that it brings us.
L: Welcome, travellers, to the journey of faith.
R: The faith journey is the best route through the land called life.
L: The come and continue the quest, acting out your faith by living life to the fullest.
R: We will let our spirits soar like eagles;
L: taking a deep breath we will stretch ourselves to the limit like fully inflated balloons, colourful, hopeful, ready to sail and to soar,
R: and to drink in the world’s colour, absorbing its light and texture, inhaling its fragrance, dancing to its music.
L: This is the way we worship God.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Surprising God, as we move into new experiences, help us to be open to your presentness among us and within. May we sense your glory in the sights and sounds and breath of this Lenten day. Amen.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation ‘Thoughts in the Desert’ by Bruce Prewer.
Those who dare to test their wits in dry inhospitable territory,
where no-one is waiting to receive them, return with a word:
The dire danger to the adventurer is not demoralising gibber plains, nor ridge after ridge of sand, but the distracting lure of the shimmering mirage.
To distinguish reality from the illusion and to keep one’s bearings and course in spite of the mind’s treachery -this is the ultimate test for the pilgrims & prophets.
City prophets have a variation on this word: Deserts take victims swiftly, savagely, but urban mirages work slowly, day by day diverting prey and destroying souls still smiling.
Come apart from the busyness of family and work, and dwell in the presentness of God, our dynamic source of being. (pause) God calls us to renew ourselves and our life’s purpose as we gather with others who are searching.
(30 seconds silence)
THE BURIAL OF THE ALLELUIA
(This is an early tradition within the church. If those at home would like to observe this rite, simply write the word “Alleluia” on a piece of paper and, when the time comes, place the paper in a container with a lid, symbolising your intention not to sing or say this word until Easter, when you will remove the alleluia from the container, and thus it will be resurrected with Christ.)
L: I heard a great voice of many people in heaven saying, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honour and power be to the Lord, our God,” and again they say, “Alleluia!”
R: Alleluia! The Lord does reign! The Lord is clothed with majesty.
L: Alleluia! Give praise to the Lord our God, and worship God for God is holy. Alleluia!Are your minds set on God’s righteousness.
R: Our mouths say we are.
L: God forbid that we should approach with our mouths and lips alone, and not have our hearts in it.
R: Does this mean we should stop singing our alleluias?
L: There is a time to laugh and a time to weep.
R: There is a time to dance and time to mourn. Bring forth acts that are a suitable sign of repentance. Remember that the sacrifice of God is a humbled spirit. A humble and contrite heart God does not despise.
L: The day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night. When people say, “Peace,” and all things are safe, then judgment will come on them. Take warning! While there is still time, set to work before the night comes.
R: Let us repent and return to him who is merciful and forgiving.
L: Let us remember that though our sins be as scarlet they shall be made white as snow.
R: Let us take God’s yoke upon us and learn of God. God’s yoke is easy and God’s burden is light.
L: “Happy are the dead who die in the faith of Christ. Henceforth,” says the Spirit, “they may rest from their labours.” So says the church of its alleluia. Today it dies until, with Christ, it rises in his glorious resurrection. When he died, he died to sin, once for all. Living as he does, he lives to God. In the same way you must regard yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God, in union with Christ Jesus.
R: If you, O Lord, remember our sins, who shall stand? Out of the depths I have cried to you, O Lord. Hear my voice. Let your ears be open to the voice of my petition. If you, O Lord, remember our sins, who shall stand? But with you is forgiveness, that you may be praised. I wait for the Lord. My soul waits, and in God’s word do I trust. My soul waits for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning. More than those who watch for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord.
L: For with the Lord there is mercy, and with God is boundless redemption.
R: And he will redeem Israel from all sin. Give glory to the Creator and to the Spirit who gives life to all things, now and forever. Amen.
L: Until that day when Christ’s resurrection is celebrated with joy and gladness, we commit our joyful Alleluia to God who gave it. (The Alleluia is buried)
R: O God, look with favour on your people gathered here. We know that we have sinned, yet we look for your mercy. Spare us, as you have spared your people in the past. During Lent, help us reorder our lives so that others can see your presence. In Jesus’ name we offer these prayers. Amen.
WORD OF ASSURANCE
L: Sisters and brothers, ”The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost;” and so I declare to you: the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Thanks be to God.
OLD TESTAMENT READING – Genesis 9:8-17
During Lent, the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures focus on Israel’s salvation history. “Salvation history” should not be confused with the history of human affairs. Today’s reading, for example, is not of an event in the world’s history, but an event in the relationship between God and humanity. The story of Noah culminates in the covenant which God makes with the whole human race never to destroy the world by flood again; hence it is a statement of the biblical faith that it is God’s will not to destroy the earth, but to redeem it. As usual in the Bible, the covenant is accompanied by a sign: in this case, the rainbow.
8 Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: 9 “And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. 11 Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
12 And God said: “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: 13 I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. 14 It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; 15 and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
GOSPEL READING – Mark 1:9-15
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS Time for a Change
”The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mk.1:15)
Today, being the first Sunday in Lent, it is appropriate to focus on the last phrase of today’s Gospel: “Repent and believe in the gospel.”
”Oh great (sarcastically),” some of you will say, “he’s going to tell us what sinners we are and how we have to do penance during Lent.” Others – the ones who are a bit more sure that they are on the right track – will say, “Oh great!” (joyfully). He’s going to tell those sinners that they are going to hell if they don’t clean up their act.
After the first year of my ministry in my first placement, I asked my congregation for suggestions about how I could improve the services, and one of the more common responses was: ‘More preaching about sin.’ Of course, it was always the other person’s sins they were talking about.
Traditionally, Lent has been a time of preparation for Easter in which we have been encouraged to step back from ourselves and have a good look in order to see where we needed to repent. After all, this is Jesus’ main message isn’t it? “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.”
Now, I don’t have any trouble with the tradition in theory, but I do have trouble with the way it’s been worked out in practice. Lent comes along, and there are some church people who take it oh so seriously. They sigh and gird their loins for a long 40-day trek through a catalogue of their ‘sins’: the times they’ve sworn at the kids, the lustful thoughts they’ve had about the neighbour’s spouse, the gossip they’ve spread, etc., and repentance, for them, means saying, “Lord have mercy. I’m sorry. I promise not to do it again.” It’s sort of a belated new year’s resolution. The mood is deliberate, careful, serious, and (frankly) boring.
At the other extreme, the people who don’t take Lent seriously at all probably have good reason: life is too busy to deal with such seeming trivialities, (who defines what the sins are anyway?) and like actual new year’s resolutions, lenten repentance seems to last less time than it takes to do. The mood is uncaring, uninvolved, and bored.
Then, somewhere between the extremes, there is the popular tradition of giving up something for Lent. This is not a bad practice if missing the thing you’ve given up reminds you of what Lent is really about, but I think that, too often, giving something up for Lent is the end of the matter. I’ve given up chocolate, so I’ve done my duty; I’ve incurred the necessary penance for my sinfulness.
All of these people have missed the point! Look at the context of this message of Jesus, and particularly the way the writer of Mark has treated it. We have only ventured 15 measly verses into the book of Mark, and already Jesus has arrived, been baptised, tempted in the wilderness and has proclaimed his message. If Jesus had disappeared at this point, it could be said that he had accomplished his mission. (And it would have saved us a lot of extra reading).
Jesus bursts upon the scene like a bolt out of the blue, a jolt, an unplanned, unanticipated intrusion, a shock. Here Jesus is not the long-expected one for whom the ages have yearned, he is an unexpected intruder. When his ministry begins, it begins at breakneck speed, with no time for him to catch his breath, nor we to catch ours. There is a clash of tempo between the way this story moves a n d t h e w a y t h e c h u r c h t y p i c a l l y m o v e s. We approach this Lenten period as a period of extended prayer and reflection – almost a slow-down period – and all of a sudden there is this train hurtling down the tracks at a hundred miles per hour, and we had better get moving with it or else get out of the way.
In this context, the call to repentance is not a call to prolonged self-examination; it is a warning shout to ‘get the lead out’. The kingdom is breaking in all around us. And in this scenario, repentance means nothing less than a major turning around, a metamorphosis, in which old ways of thought and action just will not do.
We are not talking of saying sorry for sins here, little or large; we are talking of lifestyle stuff, the way we look at and deal with the world. Repentance is just a fancy way of saying the kingdom of God is here, and if you’re not with it, you miss it.
“I don’t come here to be upset,” one man said, puncturing the air with his finger and glaring at the preacher at the church door after the service. “I come here to be reassured, to touch base with the things that matter. My life is confusing enough without church being that way, too.” It transpired that he was upset because the worship committee changed the accustomed order of service. I can sympathise with him. In the minds of many, the church ought to be a place of bolted down pews, heavy furniture, old architecture, predictable sermons, time-tested ways of doing things.
And yet, if we are to do justice to Jesus’ message, then we have to proclaim, as he did, the presence of the kingdom of God among us now. And if we are to do justice to the people whom Jesus loves, then the message that must follow the proclamation of the kingdom of God is: It’s time for us to change, not because we ought to, but because, we will miss out on the kingdom if we don’t.
Particularly during Lent, we are going to be invited to put our lives under the microscope in order to consider where we ought to be going. Jesus is portrayed in today’s reading as a demanding preacher, calling for us to repent; that is, to change. The Greek word for repentance (metanoia) literally means to ‘think differently after.’ It is a complete change of heart and mind; a change of consciousness; a turning around.
C.S. Lewis’s story, The Great Divorce, concerns a group of people who, having spent some time in hell, are allowed to board a bus to heaven. They get off at a bus stop where a long walk to heaven awaits them. Residents of heaven are present to be their guides.
Surprisingly, many refuse to go. They refuse because they have to give up something that would keep them keep them out of heaven. One person won’t go because his guide is a convicted murderer whom he can’t forgive. Another would have to give up his discussion group back in hell that argues moral and religious theories and resists any practical application. There is the man who refuses to give up his well-developed cynicism that refuses to be foolish in joy, thankfulness and wonder. And then there is the woman who would have to give up her need to control other people in order to have a relationship.
All these poor souls cling to whatever is keeping them from heaven, because they have grown dependent on something that keeps them secure. They want to be included, but not at the price of liberation from their comfortable sins and sicknesses. The point of Lewis’s story is that heaven, or the kingdom of God, is not a place to go after we die, but is a life here for sharing now, if only we can let go of the things that prevent us from really living.
John Killinger reminds us that, in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, there is a description about a ship’s lantern that hung in the captain’s cabin. No matter which way the ship pitched and yawed in the rolling waves, the lantern always pointed down on a line through the centre of the earth. As Melville said, “it revealed the false, ‘lying levels’ of everything around it.” Killinger went on to say, “So it is with Christ.
“When Christ enters the halls of politics, he reveals the self-interest and mismanagement affecting those who conduct the business of government. When Christ enters a bank or insurance company or a hospital or a law office, he lays bare the failure of people to live by the standard of others before self. When Christ attends the church council meeting, he instantly uncovers the shoddiness of Christian practice among those charged with following his way. When Christ enters the room with one of us, he inevitably shows us the false perceptions that prevent us from seeing the kingdom God all around us, and the attitudes which prevent us from being freed to participate in it.”
Folks, today Jesus intrudes among us. He bursts in upon our lives, calling for repentance. It’s time for a change. So let us help one another find the way. Amen.
A LITANY FOR LENT
L: In response to the word reflected on, let us share a special litany for today as we begin the Season of Lent. Jesus invites us to a way of celebration, meeting and feasting with the humble and poor.
L: Jesus beckons us to a way of risk, letting go of our security.
R: Let us walk his way with joy.
L; Jesus challenges us to listen to the voices of those who have nothing to lose.
R: Let us walk his way with joy.
L; Jesus points us to a way of self-giving, where power and status are overturned.
R: Let us walk his way with joy.
L: Jesus calls us to follow the way of the cross, where despair is transformed by the promise of new life.
R: Let us walk his way with joy.
THE DESCENDING DARKNESS
Each Sunday we will extinguish one of the six lenten candles, representing the ways in which avoid the light. We will use this act to symbolise the movement toward Good Friday. On Thursday evening the Christ candle will be extinguished.
Lent is a time of preparation (pause) but, Lord, I’m always preparing and there’s so much to do, at home, at work, in studies, in the church; and then there are meetings… I’m always preparing. (extinguish one of the lenten candles)
HYMN 643 – “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light”
(We will sing this each week at this point in the service as our stance against the ‘descending darkness’)
OFFERING OUR JOYS AND CONCERNS TO GOD
L: Most Holy Friend, your goodness always tests our readiness to receive it, please increase our eagerness for you and enlarge our ability to share your love around. Steer us through times of temptation,
R: And deliver us from evil.
L: On this first Sunday in Lent we think of those who are being acutely tempted:
- tempted to look the other way when wrong is happening in their workplace;
- tempted to misuse their gifts for a sordid purpose
- tempted to allow untamed emotions to hold sway;
- tempted by the corrupting power of money;
- and those tempted to stay in a rut rather than strike out on new paths for Christ Jesus.
R: And deliver us from evil.
L: We pray also for the many who feel pushed and tested beyond their endurance;
- those in positions of heavy responsibility who feel overloaded to the point of collapse;
- or those pressured from all sides by factions in workplace or community;
- suffering people–and all who must watch a loved one suffer– who feel they can bear no more; kindly folk whose patience with a difficult friend is now at breaking point;
- persecuted Christians whose faith seems stretched beyond their limit;
- and the depressed whose inner being endures a misery which no human word can alleviate.
Steer us through times of temptation,
R: And deliver us from evil.
L: We also pray for those who seem to be in a position of advantage:
- the happy, that their happiness may always be used for goodwill and compassion;
- the strong, that their energies may be used wisely and gently;
- the clever, that they may employ their mental facility for good not evil;
- for the rich, that their wealth may be shared for the uplifting of the poor;
- for the powerful, that they may use their position as a blessing to humanity;
- and those of strong faith, that they may walk humbly and affirm the weaker souls.
Steer us through times of temptation,
R: And deliver us from evil.
L: And now, most gracious Friend we pray for each other in this church. None of us know the extent of the pressures that some may be under this very day. Look upon us all, read our thoughts and weigh our feelings, and by your utter resourcefulness, “save us in the time of trial and deliver us from all evil.” Through Christ Jesus who taught us to pray, Our Father…
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.
R: take it with you into the world.
L: If you have found comfort,
R: go and share it with others.
L: If you have dreamed dreams,
R: help one another, that they may come true.
L: If you have known love and unity,
R: give some back to a bruised and hurting world.
As Christians we are never promised that we won’t be troubled or tested, but that we shall not be overcome. Therefore go out from this place cheerfully and boldly, for the God of Christ is on your side and nothing can ultimately defeat those who are encompassed by so great a love. The inexhaustible grace of Christ Jesus, the all-embracing love of God,and the resilient friendship of the Spirit, is yours today and for evermore. Amen.