Morning Service for the first Sunday in Lent 2024

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The name Satan comes from the Greek, Satanas, which is in turn a transliteration of the Aramaic, satana. The character first appears in Jewish literature in the book of Job, where he is simply hassatan, the accuser, one of the servants of God.  In later literature he developed into an evil power, the opponent of God, seeking to destroy the relationship between God and man.  It is difficult not to ascribe this development to the influence of the dualistic religions of Israel's near neighbours, such as the Zoroastrians in Persia.

Morning Service for the first Sunday in Lent 2024

 

HYMN – Forty days and forty nights NEH67 – Aus der tie

1 Forty days and forty nights

Thou wast fasting in the wild,

Forty days and forty nights

Tempted and yet undefiled.

2 Sunbeams scorching all the day,

Chilly dewdrops nightly shed,

Prowling beasts about thy way,

Stones thy pillow, earth thy bed.

3 Let us thine endurance share,

And awhile from joys abstain,

With thee watching unto prayer,

Strong with thee to suffer pain.

4 And if Satan, vexing sore,

Flesh or spirit should assail,

Thou, his vanquisher before,

Grant we may not faint nor fail.

5 So shall we have peace divine,

Holier gladness ours shall be,

Round us too shall angels shine,

Such as ministered to thee.

6 Keep, O keep us, Saviour dear,

Ever constant by thy side,

That with thee we may appear

At the eternal Eastertide.

PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen

PRAYERS OF PENITENCE
Our Lord Jesus Christ said: The first commandment is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Amen. Lord, have mercy.


Father eternal, giver of light and grace,
we have sinned against you and against our neighbour,
in what we have thought, in what we have said and done,
through ignorance, through weakness,
through our own deliberate fault.
We have wounded your love and marred your image in us.
We are sorry and ashamed and repent of all our sins.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who died for us,
forgive us all that is past and lead us out from darkness
to walk as children of light. Amen

May the God of love and power
forgive you and free you from your sins,
heal and strengthen you by his Spirit
and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen

THE COLLECT

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,

and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:

give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit;

and, as you know our weakness, so may we know your power to save;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen


FIRST READING – Genesis 9.8-17

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

HYMN – Lord Jesus think on me  NEH 70 – Southwell

1 Lord Jesus, think on me,

And purge away my sin;

From earthborn passions set me free,

And make me pure within.

2 Lord Jesus, think on me,

With care and woe opprest;

Let me thy loving servant be,

And taste thy promised rest.

3 Lord Jesus, think on me,

Amid the battle’s strife;

In all my pain and misery

Be thou my health and life.

4 Lord Jesus, think on me,

Nor let me go astray;

Through darkness and perplexity

Point thou the heavenly way.

5 Lord Jesus, think on me,

When flows the tempest high:

When on doth rush the enemy

O Saviour, be thou nigh.

6 Lord Jesus, think on me,

That, when the flood is past,

I may the eternal brightness see,

And share thy joy at last.

GOSPEL – Mark 1.9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. 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. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

SERMON

‘And the spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness for 40 days, tempted by Satan.’

The name Satan comes from the Greek, Satanas, which is in turn a transliteration of the Aramaic, satana. The character first appears in Jewish literature in the book of Job, where he is simply hassatan, the accuser, one of the servants of God.  In later literature he developed into an evil power, the opponent of God, seeking to destroy the relationship between God and man.  It is difficult not to ascribe this development to the influence of the dualistic religions of Israel’s near neighbours, such as the Zoroastrians in Persia.

We can see in the idea of evil personified the sum of all that divides us from God, all that stops us experiencing God to the full.  Whether you see that as a force from outside yourself, or as a reference to forces from within and of yourself, is up to you.  In either case we have a picture of struggle and contest.

And what of Noah? It is a story of God’s journey into accepting us for who we truly are – a journey of God learning to live with our sinfulness.  Read the full story for yourself from genesis 6.5 to 9.17.  Hear the pain God feels because man’s sin, and notice God’s unconditional covenant that ends the story.  It is an ancient meditation on the problem of sin from God’s point of view.  No talk of Satan here – the sin is all mankind’s.

Back to Jesus in the wilderness… Notice the order of things in Mark’s account.  First Jesus is baptised, he shares in the rite of initiation of the kingdom of God, he experiences the spirit of God descending upon him, he hears the voice of God calling him, encouraging him, affirming him, then the same spirit, drove or cast  him into the wilderness.  And there he faces Satan.  I think that to describe what occurred there as temptation is a little on the weak side.  The Greek could just as well mean testing – a trial of strength.

There is no mention of fasting, though that might be inferred – the desert is hardly a place for a good feed.  There is no detail in Mark as to what the temptations were.  We are merely presented with this odd scene of Jesus with Satan and wild beasts and angels.  Not in fact very far from the experience of the old hermits that went out into the desert, some 200 years after Jesus.  The writings of these desert fathers are littered with references to all three – the wild beasts, angels and even Satan. Of course, in that utter nothingness of sight and sound men do go a little mad.

In the very next verse we see that Jesus goes to Galilee and proclaims that the kingdom of God is near. So in a few short verses, we are still in chapter one, Mark tells us how Jesus’s ministry starts. First with baptism, then with testing, then finally comes the proclamation, and the mission of Jesus has begun.

This passage from Mark is traditionally read at the beginning of Lent.  Indeed the 40 day period was chosen to underline the connection.  Spending time in the wilderness was seen as an essential part of taking God seriously.  We need times when we take our attention from the world about us and instead focus on where we are going with God.  Are we growing closer, or are we drifting further apart?

It is paradoxical but true to experience that when we begin to look within, to withdraw from distractions all sorts of things come to us, thoughts and feelings not always welcome to us – the beasts within. This may well have been the experience of many during the period of national isolation.  We sometimes discover in the honesty of silence attitudes and opinions that make us ashamed.  But if we chose to, we can also discover that God can feel extraordinary close to us also – and extraordinarily patient with us. 

None of this was in the mind of Mark, for him the desert is the place where Jesus first meets the foe and begins his contest with him.  It marked the essential beginning to his work, instigated by the very spirit of God.

It is essential for us also.  In one form or another we must regularly find a desert, a deserted, place – a place without electronic devices that ceaselessly chatter, a place that doesn’t feel like a prison cell, a place of tranquility and peace. We must face our demons or risk becoming unaware of their presence. We also must understand that God can be experienced, he is not merely a concept, a structure of the mind.  He is there to be met and communicated with, even understood, if but a little.  He is there to help.

So where do we find this desert? Some find an hour spent in solitary walking or weeding takes them far enough from their distractions, for me an empty church is perfect. Of course, for people who are living on their own in these Covid days, they have had enough of their demons, enough of their deserted place – for them Lent has been going on since Christmas – they need no more. But for the rest of us it is important that each day we make for ourselves a small patch of desert. Each day we need to both confront our true selves and find that we are still in the presence of God, accepting us for who we truly are.

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH 

Let us declare our faith in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures;
he was buried; he was raised to life on the third day
in accordance with the scriptures;
afterwards he appeared to his followers,
and to all the apostles: this we have received,
and this we believe.  Amen.
1 Corinthians 15.3-7

HYMN – Forgive our sins as we forgive  NEH 66 – St Bernard

1. ‘Forgive our sins as we forgive,’

you taught us, Lord, to pray,

but you alone can grant us grace

to live the words we say.

2. How can your pardon reach and bless

the unforgiving heart,

that broods on wrongs and will not let

old bitterness depart?

3. In blazing light your cross reveals

the truth we dimly knew:

what trivial debts are owed to us,

how great our debt to you!

4. Lord, cleanse the depths within our souls,

and bid resentment cease;

then, bound to all in bonds of love,

our lives will spread your peace.

INTERCESSIONS – Sheila Forbes

As we begin the season of Lent, we pray Lord that whatever we fix on:  fasting, meditations, discussions, reading (and our prayers) all guide us towards a richer understanding of who we are in God’s eyes. A clearer grasp of what is needed of us. A greater confidence in what we are able to contribute in our world – thus offering us a closer relationship with God. 

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

God of creation and plenty, who has given us a planet filled with minerals and fossil fuel, we watch as a number of world leaders seek out these gifts in order to dominate and control. We listen to speeches written to light the flames of hatred against another race, another flag, another faith. We pray most earnestly that those who lead are men whose vision encompasses responsibility for the weak and the vulnerable. We ask that leaders have a vision of your kingdom Lord and bring before you all peoples trapped in war zones remembering especially, those on Gaza and the Ukraine.

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

God of caring, we pray for all the volunteers who quietly give of that most precious gift: TIME. We know schools need governors, churches need officers and charities need help to raise money. All these rely upon a consistent army of those who seek to give from a sense of duty and generosity. We pray also for all who volunteer in our benefice to offer refreshments, to arrange flowers and to clean and dust.  Keep us mindful Lord of how we are so dependent upon one another.

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

God of healing, we bring before you all whose spirits are breaking and whose strength is sapping. May they turn to you Lord to find strength and hope. We ask that you reach out a hand of comfort that offers reassurance in the darkest moments of fear or despair. We pray for those in our hearts for whom we are anxious

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

God of life, we give you thanks for lives which have given so much and left us with so much to treasure. We commend them to your safe keeping. 

In this benefice we remember Joan Hayes and her contributions to the church. May all who mourn find comfort in your presence. 

Merciful Father, 

accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

THE PEACE

In the tender mercy of our God the dayspring from on high has broken upon us, to give light to those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

The peace of the Lord be always with you

and also with you

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:
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.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive 

those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation 

but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, 

and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

BLESSING

Christ the Son of God perfect in you the image of his glory 

and gladden your hearts with the good news of his kingdom; 

and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, 

be upon us and remain with us always. Amen

HYMN I heard the voice of Jesus say NEH 376 – Kingsfold

1 I heard the voice of Jesus say,

‘Come unto me and rest;

Lay down, thou weary one, lay down

Thy head upon my breast:’

I came to Jesus as I was,

Weary, and worn, and sad;

I found in him a resting place,

And he has made me glad.

2 I heard the voice of Jesus say,

‘Behold, I freely give

The living water, thirsty one;

Stoop down, and drink, and live:

I came to Jesus, and I drank

Of that life-giving stream;

My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,

And now I live in him.

3 I heard the voice of Jesus say,

‘I am this dark world’s Light;

Look unto me, thy morn shall rise,

And all thy day be bright:’

I looked to Jesus, and I found

In him my Star, my Sun;

And in that light of life I’ll walk

Till traveling days are done.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord

In the name of Christ. Amen

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