Readings And Sermons or Talks

Readings for today, the First Sunday of Lent

The Collect for today, the First Sunday of Lent

Holy God, our lives are laid open before you: rescue us from the chaos of sin and through the death of your Son bring us healing and make us whole in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Post Communion Prayer for today, the First Sunday of Lent

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly life: give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive these his inestimable gifts, and also daily endeavour to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Today’s Psalm is Psalm 25 : 1 - 10

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord! Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now and shall be forever. Amen

Today’s first reading is from the second letter of St Peter : 1 Peter 3 : 18 - 22

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God

Today’s Gospel reading is taken from the Gospel of St Mark. Mark 1 : 9 - 15

Hear the Gospel of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. nd 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.” This is the Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today’s reflection is by Denise

There are many situations today in which we are asked to prove our identity. It usually means a picture- looking at our physical characteristics such as our eyes, shape of face etc. as we have on our passports. It might mean fingerprints, eye recognition or even DNA. When my father died I had to help my Mum open a bank account, she had never had one of her own! The Bank wanted some form of ID. and she did not have any. The only thing she had was her bus pass. You can imagine the Bank managers face when I suggested using that. We ended up having to get her a passport even though she wasn’t travelling anywhere, just to open an account and put money into the bank!

Is the picture in the passport the only thing about our identity or is about what we do, such as being a nurse or teacher, and is it about how we live? It IS about physical features, our name, family and our origins, BUT not just these things. There are a lot of people today who are still not sure who they really are, despite knowing about their physical features, family background etc.

At the Baptism of Jesus God says, “You are my beloved Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” MARK 1 V11

His ID, his identity is established in that one sentence. God is endorsing who he is and where he fits in. There are so many people today who need to know God is well pleased with them, whatever other humans might think and say. So many who need to know that if they mess things up, God still loves them and forgives them. Elaine used one of my favourite verses when she delivered a rose to members of the church family on her rounds on Valentine’s Day. It is from Isaiah Ch. 43 v 4 "I have called you by name: you are mine. You are precious and honoured in my sight because I love you.

Despite loving that verse and what it means I can still spend a lot of time worrying about whether I am doing the ‘right’ thing. I try hard, I think, I pray, I talk things through, but still I can feel to have made a ‘pig’s ear’ of something. Then I question. Why has it gone so wrong? Why didn’t God sort it out? Why is it so hard? I feel I am letting people down. The only thing that helps me to answer those questions is that I know my identity is wrapped up in God. He loves me, he is pleased with me, simply because I belong to him, no matter what mess I make. When Claire was growing up I used to tell her I love you unconditionally, but I may not like some of your actions. It is just the same being a child of God.

So Jesus’ Baptism was an act of identification. He was NOT Baptised because he needed forgiveness of his sins, because he is sinless. His Baptism was an empowering moment- a sign of assurance of God’s favour. The very word ‘Beloved’ not only declares affection, but to me it carries the meaning of ‘the only one’. ‘The heavens were ‘torn open’ and the Spirit descended like a dove’ Mark uses the words ‘HE SAW’ , I wonder if Jesus was the only one who saw and heard it?

At his Baptism Jesus begins to identify with those of us who are sinners and he was setting us an example. Showing us the need to repent and say sorry for our sins and then to be washed clean by his Holy Spirit.

In the very next verse of the Gospel, Mark tells us the Holy Spirit sent Jesus into the desert for 40 days, being tempted by Satan. Mark’s account is very brief. He does not tell us about the stones and bread and kingdoms of the world. He does not give us any details of the temptations. I wonder if he leaves it out because the biggest temptation of all for any of us, including Jesus, is the temptation to wonder if God really cares, if we really matter to God at all. This testing time for Jesus is about whether he could hang on to his identity as belonging to God and God loving him through tough times. Being a Christian does not preclude us from temptation and from the trials of life.

Lent began on Wednesday just gone. There are 40 days in Lent to remind us of the 40 days Jesus was in the wilderness. Lent is a time when we look at our priorities and make sure we are on the right track. It is about trying to truly be the people of God. I like Lent, enjoy it even! It is not meant to be a negative time, just about giving things up like chocolate or alcohol, but it is a positive time when we look at the choices we make and try to turn closer to God and not be led astray. A verse from today’s Psalm sums it up perfectly.

Psalm 25 v4 “Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths”

Temptation can help to strengthen us if we make a good choice and choose a better way of living. We sin if we lower our aims, choose a way without God and so live below our potential. In the wilderness Jesus would have asked himself, ‘Who am I? What am I called to do? How will I do it? The time had come for him to make decisions and a commitment that would lead him to the cross. Do we believe what the devil says to us sometimes? ‘You won’t amount to much, you are lonely, why not give in and do what everyone else does? ‘Lent is a time for us to reaffirm and commit to God. – A time for looking at what we have and to make improvements. We should try to get rid of things that hinder our lives, such as bad habits. We need to make sure our lines of communication with God are kept open by daily prayer. The Lent Course for those who are able to Zoom is an ideal opportunity to improve our prayer life. It isn’t too late to join in, or maybe you could use the 40 Acts that we get on email.

So when we are in our desert time, what will you hold on to? In this modern world there are so many things that knock us off track and so many things that shape a sense of who we are- we may live with constant criticism, our family lives may be in turmoil, our work life may be even harder as a result of the pandemic. The Baptism of Jesus reminds us of the need of genuine repentance and then to accept forgiveness from the Holy Spirit, gentle like the dove. Then we will know OUR ID, (identity) is found in Christ. That should improve our confidence and behaviour at this point in our lives and bring us great hope for the future. We need to live as if we belong to God. The biggest temptation of our lives is to let go of our identity of being in God’s family and to let go of the trust in God’s power and love, so that we give up doing things his way and take charge ourselves. It is then we need to remember and to pray that it will become even more embedded in our hearts that we too have God’s voice saying ‘You are my child, whom I love. With you I am well pleased’ Amen.

Let us pray.

Lord, on the way of goodness, when we go astray lead us back to you. When we stumble lift us up. Help us to do what you would have us do and to become the people you would have us be. Help us to reaffirm our commitment to you and to keep our lines of communication open. Fill us afresh with your Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus. Amen.