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Worship, prayer and Bible study resources

First Sunday of Lent - Year B

Liturgical Colour - Purple

Opening Verse

 
Collect Prayer
First Reading:
Second Reading:
Gospel Reading
Post Communion Sentence
Commentary:
Meditation:
Hymns
Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead:
Intercessions from our Sunday worship
Sermons

Introduction

Lent is often seen as a time when people 'give things up.' This comes from the practice of fasting and careful preparation for baptism at Easter which once took place. It is associated with the period of 40 days which Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing himself for his ministry.

We no longer endure fast of several days to help us in our spiritual journey, but it is no less important for us to be spiritually focussed and obedient to God. It is only as we really determine to cut out the background noise and listen to God's voice that we can begin to turn our hearts and minds in the right direction and find true fulfilment in living.

So use this Lent as a time to get yourself spiritually fit, you know you'll feel better for it.
 


Opening Verses of Scripture Psalm 25:4


Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long.

Lent LogoCollect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

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, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen  Common Worship

Heavenly father, your Son battled with the powers of darkness, and grew closer to you in the desert: help us to use these days to grow in wisdom and prayer that we may witness to your saving love in Jesus Christ our Lord.   Common Worship Shorter Collects

Gracious Father, your blessed Son Jesus Christ came from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world. Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.   Methodist Worship

First Bible Reading   Genesis 9:8-17

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: "I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you--the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you--every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth." 
And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." 
So God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth." 
The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.)

Second Reading  1 Peter 3:18-22 

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also, not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand--with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

Gospel Reading Mark 1:9-15

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."  At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

Post Communion Sentence


Lord God, you have renewed us with the living bread from heaven; by it you nourish our faith, increase our hope, and strengthen our love: teach us always to hunger for him who is the true and living bread, and enable us to live by every word that proceeds from out of your mouth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
 

Commentary

We have a wonderful reading from Mark today as we start Lent. We are told that Jesus sees "The heavens being split open." The Greek word is ‘schizomenous’. Schizo means "split," schizophrenia, for example, literally means "split mind." Perhaps Mark intends a reference to Isaiah 64:1: "Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down." After the splitting of the heavens, Jesus also sees "the Spirit like a dove descending into him." Not only did the Spirit "come down," it went into Jesus. As Jesus went into the Jordan, the Spirit now goes into Jesus. The plea of Isaiah is answered, and we are given a dramatic glimpse into how Jesus is fulfilling the hopes of generations. So also the baptism reminds us of the Red Sea and the forty days in the wilderness recalls the forty years the Israelites spent in the wilderness. The Promised Land now becomes a reality not in geographic terms but rather as Jesus opens the door to the kingdom of God.
Jesus is baptised and we might expect that afterwards there would be some kind of celebration. Instead we read that Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by Satan. We are told that he is also "with the wild beasts." What is meant by this reference to wild beasts ? People in the first century might have identified the "wild beasts" with those spoken of by the prophet Daniel: "I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another (7:2)." The "great beasts" of Daniel have been identified as the political powers of the world, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Mark might therefore be proposing this confrontation: Satan and worldly political powers on the one side versus Jesus and the angels on the other. This theme will continue throughout Mark, for we are reminded that the worldly political powers are continuing to assert their influence. Immediately after Jesus' encounter in the wilderness, Mark tells us that John the Baptist has just been arrested by those same powers. Throughout the Gospel, Mark delivers a devastating political commentary. He is saying that the powers of the world--the Jerusalem establishment and Rome--are in league with Satan. Jesus' struggle with these demonic powers takes place in the political realm, i.e. this world, but Mark also wants his readers to understand that that struggle is also a spiritual, i.e. cosmic, battle.

The New Testament gives us this idea of Satan who is the arch-enemy of God. And Jesus is engaged in a titanic battle and goes out for confrontation, note that Jesus is not tempted into the wilderness, it is the Spirit which takes him there. The Holy Spirit of God takes Jesus directly out into the desert for a confrontation with the Devil. That confrontation will be prominent throughout the pages of the Gospels as Jesus is seen to confront evil and go about restoring to wholeness that which had been corrupted. It is God’s intention to take on evil and not to see Jesus avoid it. What is evil and what should we do about it, does it exist and should we be afraid?
You might like to ask yourself whether you really believe in evil at all. Just as some people take God out of their world view and deny his spiritual force in the universe, so too others deny any evil force. On a daily basis we are confronted by stories and newspaper reports of terrible things taking place in our world. It can be tempting to think that humanity is progressing, becoming more civilised. But we know that the world doesn’t just advance steadily towards a better future. As soon as we become optimistic about human behaviour or the world in which we live, we are confronted by the terrible reality of all that is wrong within and around us. History repeats itself and as we look back we see the world express the same shock and surprise when things go wrong. It happened with events such as 9/11, or the holocaust. .
Some people do refuse to acknowledge the existence of evil and suppose that the world is basically a good place but they do so in the face of so much evidence to the contrary. The world and its problems are not solved by human means. Technology, education, development or ‘westernization’, political ideals of western democracy. None of these save us. There is no day when we will make things better, we must recognise the inevitable truth that there is no moral evolution, no social Darwinism. There is no steady march towards freedom and justice. Humankind does not have the solution to its core problem and so is not able to make itself advance. It’s not all about money as Marx said, it’s not all about sex as Freud said, neither is it all about power as Nietzsche said. There does exist evil and we must recognise evil so that we are not surprised by it and are able to deal with it.
Christian tradition has spoken of evil very seriously. Since the enlightenment there has been a tendency to move away from the personification of a Devil, to drop the ‘D’ and speak more of an impersonal force of evil. Nevertheless evil and its effects have been recognised. An understanding of evil resonates with what we instinctively know to be true. There is no need to go into great explanation of what is meant in ‘Star Wars’ when it speaks of the ‘Dark Side,’ because we all have one!

Christians believe that evil really does exist as a power separate from God. Call it by whatever name you choose it was a real choice which Jesus had to make of what authority to follow. There is such a thing as a force, or forces, of evil which are supra-personal, supra-human, which appear to take over humans as individuals or, in some cases, as entire societies. Is it not also true that big commercial enterprises, corporations and institutions, industrial companies, governments and indeed churches, all of these have a have a kind of soul themselves? This corporate soul can become corrupted to the extent that even those running the enterprise can be subject to the power of the corruption and evil which has become endemic within.

But as Christians we do not believe in any dualism, that is, an equal power like God. Evil comes out of creation, Satan is described as a created being, God has no equal and cosmic order will be restored. So we know that it is entirely to be expected that evil will not triumph over God. Humanity is seen locked in a struggle with evil. A battle is waged in every human heart and by heart I mean our spiritual, emotional and intellectual centre. The battle with evil is not something which was reserved for Jesus alone. We too are called to recognise evil when we see it and refuse to go down without a fight.
Life is about choices and decisions, how we live our lives, bring up our children, spend our money. The values which we think are important, education, consideration of others. When we do bad things, we can blame someone else, our upbringing our peers, yet most decisions are at least partly our own choice. In those choices we can all be influenced by God or evil. As Jesus had difficult choices to make so must we. We can choose as individuals to follow evil, it cannot overpower us. The choice is yours and mine.

The power of God is not compromised by evil, Satan is defeated, there is nothing about which we need be afraid. John Bunyan used the description of the Christian facing an adversary like a lion. Christian is walking down the road when to his horror he discovers a ferocious lion barring his path. There is no way that he can avoid this animal! Then to his delight he notices that the lion has been chained to a post. Someone has been that way before him and tamed the fearsome beast. Of course it is Jesus who chains evil in this episode and ultimately in the cross of Christ and we should recognise his struggles as our own. From this episode we know that we too have a choice to follow the higher power of God. Today you too can know that power of God in your situation. We should know that there is no power greater than God. Of what are you afraid? Why do you worry? There is no power stronger than the power of God and nothing of which we need be afraid. Charles Royden

There are flood accounts from the Ancient Near in other places apart from the Bible. The Atrahasis Epic and the Gilgamesh Epic speak of the chief god Enlil becoming angry at humankind and sending a flood to eliminate the ‘noise.’ the god Ea manages to warn a king and instructs him to build a boat for him, his family and skilled citizens. The pitch covered boat has seven stories. The storm last seven days and at the end birds are sent out to find land. The stories date from the second millennium and use material from the third millennium. Of course cultures looked at the flood and came to their own conclusions at that time. It is the same when natural disasters happen today, some religious folk will call a tsunami the punishment of God upon a particular wicked people who deserve punishment, others will see it as a natural disaster into which we must offer aid and support.

Epistle
In the New Testament reading 1 Peter we have a much more hopeful message. He compares the water of the flood to the water of baptism. Although only eight were saved in the Flood, baptism brings salvation to all. Baptism is something which cleanses, not physical dirt but the soul. It is not that the water used at baptism has some special effect, it is effective because baptism is the way that we express our trust in Jesus and in what he has achieved for us. The writer of 1 Peter, perhaps the Apostle Peter himself or his disciples, knew clearly the condition of humankind, troubled in conscience. The gift of God in Christ was to release us from that inner conflict and set us free to serve God. Peter knew that in Jesus we had God’s reassurance of sin forgiven because Jesus had gone into heaven and is at God's right hand--with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. ‘ There was therefore no power from whom the Christian need be troubled or afraid.

Gospel
The Gospel reading records an episode from the life of Jesus in which he is shown to battle with the enemy in that conflict which will eventually be determined by victory over sin and death on the cross. After the baptism of Jesus he is led away into the desert and the inner turmoil of the human condition is shown to take place in the life of Jesus also. Jesus is shown tempted, surrounded by wild beast and angels. Many people will be able to look inside their own souls and understand the imagery of beasts and angels, the good and the bad at war within our own spiritual nature. In placing Jesus with wild beasts in the wilderness, Mark is making an important point. Protection from wild beasts was considered a sign of God’s blessing, remember Daniel and the lions? Yet there is more than this, the episode has the message of paradise restored. Where Adam had failed, Jesus was now setting things right. The peaceful existence with wild animals, the service of angels, overcoming Satan, all form part of the new order which Jesus brings. No wonder Jesus is shown to speak the words ‘ The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" Charles Royden

Meditation

Clean your room well, for good spirits will not live where there is dirt."

At this time of year many people will be thinking of spring cleaning. Lent is a time when we are able to start clearing up after winter, it is not to cold to open the windows and clear away accumulated dust. This spring cleaning is something which Christians are encouraged to do in their own lives. We have an invitation to share with Christ in tackling our demons, to face temptations and to confront within ourselves the things which need clearing out. This is the time to sweep out the destructive habits that keep us focused on ourselves and our own selfish desires in order to focus on the truly important things of God. This takes time, which is why we church meetings in lent, to make a symbolic and practical statement about the need to think differently. Hopefully people will take time to share in our Lent Course which will have new things to think about. We can take time for special prayers and perhaps use the Bible reading scheme which Sam has prepared for us. Time will allow us to uncover the broken areas of our lives and have Jesus build us into people fit for his kingdom and ready for Easter !   Charles Royden
 

Hymns

  1. As we are gathered

  2. When morning gilds the skies Tune: Laudes Domini

  3. God is building a house

  4. As the deer pants for the water

  5. The Kingdom of God Tune Hanover

  6. To him we come Tune Living Lord
     

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Prayer encouragement in the Christian life

Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian,
if it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die

 

Lord take our minds and think through them
Take our lips and speak through them
Take our hearts and set them on fire
With the desire to do your holy will
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Loving Father, today is the first Sunday of Lent.
Over the next six weeks, with your help, we are going to prepare for Easter.
From today we are making a new start with a bigger effort to be more loving and kind.
Help us to show concern for the less fortunate, the hungry and the poor, and especially help us to speak to you more often.
We ask this through your Son, Jesus, whose death and resurrection we will be thinking about in the next few weeks. Amen. Tony Castle.

Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord, that by the observance of this Lent we may advance in the knowledge of the mystery of Christ, and show forth his mind in conduct worthy of our calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Gelasian Sacramentary

Come, our Light, and illumine our darkness.
Come, our Life, and raise us from death.
Come, our Physician, and heal our wounds.
Come, Flame of Divine Love, and burn up our sins.
Come, our King, sit upon the throne of our hearts and reign there.
For you alone are my King and my Lord. Dimitrii of Rostov
 

Additional Material

The passage from Mark tells us about the titanic struggle with evil which took place right at the start of the ministry of Jesus. He has just been through the uplifting experience of hearing the voice of God and seeing the heavens torn apart, then it is back down to earth with a bump and he is tempted to do the wrong thing. 

This is a struggle of cosmic proportions, Jesus takes on the Devil and the scene is played out in the wilderness where the nation of Israel had spent 40 years after their escape from Egypt. Jesus was in the wilderness forty days and the number is significant. Forty is a number often associated with intense spiritual experiences. God caused it to rain for forty days and forty nights to cleanse the earth (Gen. 7:12). The Israelites were in the wilderness forty years. Moses spent forty days and nights on Mount Sinai (Exod. 34:28), and Elijah journeyed forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8).

We might think that, following the baptism, the angels would come to minister to Jesus or there would be some sort of celebration with the song of heavenly hosts. Nevertheless in all of the Gospels Jesus goes straight from his baptism into his temptation. We might think of his baptism as a commissioning and his temptation as a strengthening, toughening, hardening experience. Having made his choice of service to God, he immediately goes through basic training. 

We might be surprised that it is when Jesus makes the right decision and accepts the path of God that he is thrown into such immediate confrontation with the Devil. But if we are honest, it is when we are seeking to do the right thing that we are often brought into situations of conflict. If we want an easy life then we turn a blind eye, we avoid trouble and in so doing become collaborators, we are tainted also. 

Through the life of Jesus we can clearly see that he was not prepared to keep quiet about the abuses which surrounded him, much of which was organised by the religious leaders. It is good to remember that peace and tranquillity is not promised to the faithful Christian. Jesus lays down the expectation that the life of a Christian will not be characterized by a long series of high moments, but a rhythm of hills and valleys.

Mention is made of Jesus being with wild beasts, why would Mark mention wild animals? It is thought that Mark's Gospel was probably written in the 60s when Nero was having Christians torn to pieces. Given the ravaging of Christians by ferocious animals during Nero's reign, it is not difficult to imagine Mark including the unusual phrase 'with the wild beasts' in order to remind his Roman readers that Christ, too, was thrown to wild beasts, and as the angels ministered to him, so, too, will they minister to Roman Christians facing martyrdom. 

Wild animals also intensify the foreboding character of the wilderness, as Jesus confronts the horror, the loneliness and the danger with which the wilderness is fraught. Throughout Israel's history, the wilderness has been where the Israelites have been tested, often failing, but it is also where they have been deepened spiritually. Unlike the Israelites, Jesus will not fail his testing.

People do speak of evil, we all remember President Bush who famously declared that there was an ‘axis of evil’ out there somewhere, and that we have to find the evil people and stop them doing any more evil. Prime Minister Blair once declared ambitiously, that our aim must be nothing short of ridding the world of evil. The public and press cry ‘Evil’ at events such as the terrible Soham murders; and we say the same about the sudden rise of gun crime on our streets. 

The awareness of Evil and the willingness to use this spiritual word is perhaps surprising. As Christians our message must be clear, Jesus is not overpowered by evil - he has triumphed over the Devil and trust and obedience to him is the only way for us to defeat evil in all of its forms. Charles Royden

Commentary

There are flood accounts from the Ancient Near in other places apart from the Bible. The Atrahasis Epic and the Gilgamesh Epic speak of the chief god Enlil becoming angry at humankind and sending a flood to eliminate the ‘noise.’ the god Ea manages to warn a king and instructs him to build a boat for him, his family and skilled citizens. The pitch covered boat has seven stories. The storm last seven days and at the end birds are sent out to find land. The stories date from the second millennium and use material from the third millennium. Of course cultures looked at the flood and came to their own conclusions at that time. It is the same when natural disasters happen today, some religious folk will call a tsunami the punishment of God upon a particular wicked people who deserve punishment, others will see it as a natural disaster into which we must offer aid and support.

Epistle
In the New Testament reading 1 Peter we have a much more hopeful message. He compares the water of the flood to the water of baptism. Although only eight were saved in the Flood, baptism brings salvation to all. Baptism is something which cleanses, not physical dirt but the soul. It is not that the water used at baptism has some special effect, it is effective because baptism is the way that we express our trust in Jesus and in what he has achieved for us. The writer of 1 Peter, perhaps the Apostle Peter himself or his disciples, knew clearly the condition of humankind, troubled in conscience. The gift of God in Christ was to release us from that inner conflict and set us free to serve God. Peter knew that in Jesus we had God’s reassurance of sin forgiven because Jesus had gone into heaven and is at God's right hand--with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. ‘ There was therefore no power from whom the Christian need be troubled or afraid.

Gospel
The Gospel reading records an episode from the life of Jesus in which he is shown to battle with the enemy in that conflict which will eventually be determined by victory over sin and death on the cross. After the baptism of Jesus he is led away into the desert and the inner turmoil of the human condition is shown to take place in the life of Jesus also. Jesus is shown tempted, surrounded by wild beast and angels. Many people will be able to look inside their own souls and understand the imagery of beasts and angels, the good and the bad at war within our own spiritual nature. In placing Jesus with wild beasts in the wilderness, Mark is making an important point. Protection from wild beasts was considered a sign of God’s blessing, remember Daniel and the lions? Yet there is more than this, the episode has the message of paradise restored. Where Adam had failed, Jesus was now setting things right. The peaceful existence with wild animals, the service of angels, overcoming Satan, all form part of the new order which Jesus brings. No wonder Jesus is shown to speak the words ‘ The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" Charles Royden

 


Prayers

Holy God, You make and remake us in your image; renew us now through the power of your Spirit that we may live our lives with integrity, not clinging to the ways of the world but choosing the way of your truth. Amen.
Holy Lord, you made water a sign of your kingdom. Through the waters you saved Noah and his family. Through your Son, you promised forgiveness to those who are baptized. By the gift of the Spirit we are inheritors of eternal life. When our lives are shaken by the storms and droughts of this world, remember your promise and bring us to life in you. Amen

A Prayer for Reconciliation 
Gracious God, ruling the earth and its people not by terror but in love; we worship you. We confess that too often our words hurt others and our deeds are selfish; forgive us. In this time of uncertainty and fear, help us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, in the name of Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Two Prayers for Peace 
Almighty Father, whose will is to restore all things in your beloved Son, the king of all: govern the hearts and minds of those in authority, and bring the families of the nations, divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin, to be subject to his just and gentle rule; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
O God, who would fold both heaven and earth in a single peace: Let the design of thy great love lighten upon the waste of our wraths and sorrows: and give peace to thy Church, peace among nations, peace in our dwellings, and peace in our hearts: through thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
 

Meditation

 

 

 

Hymns
 

  1. At the name of Jesus (Tune: Camberwell) 

  2. I want to walk with Jesus Christ 

  3. Forty days and forty night (tune: Glad with thee) 

  4. As the deer 

  5. Be thou my vision

Sermon from 2003

Sermon for 2009