Preparation for Worship
Meditate on the following verse (Psalm 25:6):
Yahweh, remember your tender mercies and your loving kindness,
for they are from old times. (WEB)
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
In our separate places,
we acknowledge your presence,
knowing that as we pray,
you unite us through your Spirit.
Though our eyes cannot see those we gather with,
though our ears cannot hear those we pray with,
though our hands cannot reach those we join with,
we know through Christ, we are one.
Here, in the places we find ourselves,
we settle into your presence,
offering our lives to your renewing love
and seeking your wisdom as we come to discover more of you.
You are the source of all we seek,
our strength in the wilderness,
our protection in exile.
Forgive us when we fail to recognise your love
or struggle to trust in your goodness.
Forgive us when we don’t recognise your angels
in those who tend to our needs.
God knows the fragility of our humanness.
God knows the struggles we face in faith.
Before we even utter the words of our confession, God forgives each of us.
God’s love embraces all and we are forgiven.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Hebrew Scriptures: Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm: Psalm 25:1-10
Gospel: Mark 1:9-15
I used to be a purist when it came to pancakes: lemon and sugar only! But this year I found myself gorging on a pancake overflowing with chocolate and squirty cream. Don’t judge me. I needed it. For me, this year, it wasn’t the end of a period of lavish excess. It wasn’t the usual routine of clearing the cupboard so I could approach Lent and deny myself the things I love. I already felt denied. This was a moment of pleasure in a time where few pleasures exist.
I don’t know how you’ve decided to mark Lent this year. Maybe you’ve already decided to give up something. Maybe you’ve decided to do something extra. Maybe you’re just hoping the world will be brighter when we get to Easter. But if you’re like me, maybe you feel like last year’s Lent never ended and it’s just rolled into this one. Aren’t we already in wilderness territory?
Aren’t we already being denied time with loved ones? Aren’t we already limited in the things we can do? What I’d give to go out for a nice meal, or sit in a café with a hot cuppa and watch the world go by. What I’d give to be dancing in a club and glimpsing what it might be like to party in the new heaven and earth. What I’d give to be gathered in a church singing my favourite rousing hymns.
It got me thinking though. Am I supposed to deny myself further? Am I supposed to take actions to push myself deeper into the wilderness? Am I supposed to be proving how much of a disciple I am when right now it’s taking all my strength just to hold on? Is this what being loved by God is all about?
Jesus, driven into the wilderness, had already been affirmed as loved by God. The voice at Jesus’ baptism declared God’s love for him before he’d proven or done anything. What happened in the wilderness wasn’t about God’s love. Perhaps it was Jesus learning to be in the world, learning to tackle all that was thrown at him: facing the accuser, the beasts, and learning how God tends through the angels. Ultimately, it was about learning to trust in God’s love in the face of realities that seem to suggest God’s not worth trusting.
We often find it hard to believe that before we’ve done anything, before we’ve shown any sign of goodness, God loves us. We have this urge to prove we’re good. And if we don’t find ways to do that, we feel shame. It’s almost as though capitalism has seeped into our faith and that our worth is found in our productivity: the more we prove, the more we do, the more we know, the more worthy we are of God’s love.
We glimpse the nature of God’s love in our Genesis reading. God takes the initiative and cuts a covenant, not just with Noah, but with every living creature. It’s a difficult one to comprehend at first. Where does God, who has just destroyed so much, suddenly find this vast grace and mercy? God’s covenant is a commitment to the whole cosmos saying that whatever happens, I will love and I will show mercy. So much so, that God doesn’t even ask anything of Noah or of all humanity or of all living creatures. It’s a one way obligation, whatever happens.
Did God change? Did God regret? Did God realise that only love can change the world? However you interpret this passage or God’s actions, the writers are clearly trying to demonstrate God’s love and commitment to all. This is God loving all, with hope that through love humanity will be transformed and find a way to echo this love, doing what is right and what is good.
But there’s no doubt that something had changed. God hangs up the bow, the war image of a bow and arrow. The arrows had been fired and they didn’t do what God had hoped. Now it’s time for love. The bow, or as we interpret it, the rainbow, is a sign across the sky. We can see it and remember God’s commitment and find hope. But that’s not why it’s there. God puts it there as a reminder to Godself. God wants to be reminded of the covenant and the commitment. Does God really need reminders?
This idea of God needing to be reminded is an interesting one. Yet, we find echoes of it in our Psalm: “Be mindful of your mercy, O Yahweh, and of your steadfast love, for they have been of old.” It’s almost as if the psalmist is saying, Don’t forget God. You’re a God of love, of mercy. Remember that God.
I like to think of the Psalms as permissions for how we can and how we should pray. Perhaps it’s time we reminded God about God’s commitments and all that’s been done “from of old.” Perhaps it’s time to remind God of the love and mercy and salvation God has committed to: commitments through Noah, through Abraham, through Moses, through the prophets and ultimately through Jesus.
This Psalm gives a good basis to our Lenten journey. It’s not about self-denial and attempts at the holy life. It’s about learning to be with God, to trust God, to learn from God and to walk in God’s way. It’s about recognising the real enemy, recognising those things that take away from life, and trusting God to do what is right – even if we have to make a few reminders.
It’s not about denying ourselves to prove we are able disciples. It’s about recognising we live in a world which already denies people so much. For many, life is wandering in the wilderness, life is living in exile, life is one of being denied those things that make us able to live life to the fullest. And in that place, God comes to us and sustains us through God’s Spirit and through others that touch us with love: the earthly angels sent by God.
Richard Rohr in one of his meditations this week said the following: “The world insists that we are what we do and achieve, but contemplation invites us to practice under-doing and under-achieving, and reminds us of the simple grace and humility of being human.”
This Lent, don’t focus on doing, focus on being, on being with God. Don’t deny, for you’ve been denied enough. Take time to be in places where you feel close to God: listen, talk, feel God’s love, know God’s love, and learn from God as you walk in God’s way. And just as the psalmist does, remind God of all that’s been promised, trusting that the angels are tending to you and that through the wilderness, through exile, through pain and through sorrow, there is a place of new hope and love.
Prayer of Remembering
God of all time,
You made your creation and declared it good,
loving all that you had made.
You made a covenant with Noah and all creation,
placing your bow in the sky,
promising to remember your mercy.
You blessed Abraham so as to bless all nations,
choosing a special people so you could share your love with all humanity.
You saved a people from slavery and promised
to guide them to a new place, a new hope.
You protected them through their wilderness journey,
feeding them, guiding them and caring for them.
Even when they worshiped other gods,
you never gave up on them.
You called all sorts of people, prophets, kings, foreigners,
to show your people how to walk in your way,
always hopeful that your people would respond to your love.
And in your chosen time,
you stepped into this world as Christ Jesus,
teaching, healing and loving humanity,
modelling a new way of living even in the face of death:
your love concentrated on a cross
and unleashed through glorious resurrection.
And as you affirmed your love for the whole cosmos,
you sent your Spirit to be with us and within us
throughout time and space.
O God, your goodness has echoed throughout the ages,
your love and mercy is stamped throughout the centuries.
Remember all you’ve done and promised,
not forgetting us in our time of need.
Remember your love for creation
and your desire to save all people.
O God, remember, and once again show us your steadfast love,
your vast mercy and your eternal goodness. Amen.
Prayer of Intercessions
God of all life,
We come to you remembering all that you have done.
We come to you reminding you of all that you have promised.
Hear us as we pray for the world’s needs.
We pray for those who are struggling at this time:
the lonely, the bereaved, the jobless, the sick…
those suffering with depression and affected by mental health.
We pray for those who do their best to care for others:
family members, nurses, doctors, carers…
those neighbours who reach out to help others.
We pray for those who lead and make decisions:
headteachers, leaders of nations, local councillors, members of parliaments…
those in organisations who are trying to do what is right.
We pray for those who commit to their daily work:
shop staff, teachers, office workers, delivery drivers, farmers…
all those who we depend on for services and goods.
We pray for all disciples in their ministry:
ministers, volunteers, preachers, chaplains…
all those who in response to God’s call do God’s work in the world.
We pray for ourselves and bring our needs:
our worries, our hurt, our hopes, our desires…
give us strength to hold onto your promises
and to trace the rainbow through the rain. Amen.
May God’s promises be a blessing to us all.
The blessing of God – Maker, Word and Spirit –
be with us all as we journey forward. Amen.