February 17, 2021

Worship Service for the First Sunday in Lent – 21st February 2021

Passage: Mark chapter 1 verses 9-15

Worship Service for the First Sunday in Lent – 21st February 2021

Opening Prayer
God, you are the light for our path
And the joy in our hearts,
the hope in our lives and in our world.
We praise your holy name
and rejoice in your love and protection.
Grant that we may always keep our eyes fixed on you
And grant that our lives may bring joy to your heart. Amen

Bible Reading:
Mark chapter 1 verses 9-15

Sermon
It has often been said that if the playwright William Shakespeare was alive today and took an exam on his works he would fail.

I’m sure a few of us have studied Shakespeare at school or college; I studied ‘King Lear’ for ‘A’ level and before that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and I actually enjoyed reading and studying those plays. However, the amount of literary dissection that was involved should be considered as ‘subjective’; how do we know what Shakespeare’s thoughts were when he was writing his individual plays? Were there really the hidden meanings many scholars have searched for over the centuries and interpreted, possibly incorrectly? Would Shakespeare ‘laugh’ and say ‘that’s not what I meant at all it’s simply a play; why look for something that isn’t there? What you see is what you get!’

Conversely Shakespeare may have put a lot of hidden, deeper meanings and references in his plays and should quite rightly be considered a ‘genius’. Shakespeare’s plays, when they were written, will have had the ‘entertainment element’ that all people could understand and enjoy and, if further study was required, literary scholars could ‘dissect’ and study the plays heaping more praise on the playwright.

In Mark’s Gospel there is an element of ‘what you see is what you get’; Mark gives a very succinct and vivid account of Jesus’ ministry that focuses more on what Jesus did, rather than what Jesus said.

Mark moves rapidly from one part of Jesus’ life to another and in our Bible reading today we can see that in just seven verses so many things happen; there are so many ‘highlights’ including Jesus’ baptism; the ‘appearance’ of the Trinity in verses 10 and 11; the Holy Spirit sending Jesus into the wilderness; Jesus being tempted for 40 days by Satan and Jesus declaring ‘The kingdom of God has come near’. This is just a summary that doesn’t even mention John the Baptist; wild animals and angels! Phew, we hardly get chance to draw breath!

….but, let us stop and draw breath and consider these Bible verses. Is there any part of these verses, from our initial reading, that we don’t understand? Are there any parts that require further dissection and study, or is it really a case of ‘what you see is what you get’, which is a simple, straightforward text that is easy to understand. The beauty of Mark’s Gospel is that further study can be conducted, but Mark also says in a few hundred words what other authors may take a few thousand words to say.

Mark presents a clear and concise message and text for all, you may consider the comparison to Shakespeare tenuous, but did Mark ever think that in hundreds or thousands of years after his life that his writings would be dissected with so many differing interpretations? Would Mark pass an exam on his own Gospel? At this point I am not criticising biblical scholars who are a lot cleverer than I am and have devoted their lives to studying the Bible, but there are a lot of commentaries that interpret these verses differently.

Mark’s Gospel may seem hurriedly written, but, as previously stated Mark says what he has to say and then moves on without losing any impact. Mark’s Gospel could be described as ‘the Bible on the go’ and often our lives are ‘very hurried’ and we don’t always have the time to study the Bible or pray as much as we would like. For some it’s easy to be critical and say to others ‘you have to make more time for God’, but sometimes an individual person’s time is very limited, through no fault of their own, due to work; study; health issues or family commitments. I have been in situations in previous jobs where I’ve literally arrived home late from work and just ‘flopped’ mentally exhausted after my exertions during the day.

Society and working hours are no longer what they were twenty or thirty years ago; society is a lot more hurried and working hours are no longer ‘9 ‘til 5’ with weekends off. People can’t always attend church on a Sunday and for me and others church attendance has always been vital in order to be spiritually ‘refuelled’ through worship and fellowship.

One thing that is for certain is that God understands our circumstances and the pressures we are under in this life and speaks to us saying:

‘You are my children, whom I love’

And just because we sometimes have to ‘pray as we go’ or read a Bible passage that is easy to interpret without much thought due to time constraints, it doesn’t make us any less of a Christian.

As part of our Lenten journey we can reflect on Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness, Mark Chapter 1 verse 13:

‘…he was in the desert for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and the angels attended him’.

God still provides protection for his beloved son reassuring us that He has not abandoned Jesus to Satan or the wild animals of the desert. Some scholars have argued that the wild animals or wild ‘beasts’ in the desert have not been made ‘safe’ but are ‘kept at bay’ through God’s protection.

Angels attended Jesus just as they had attended Israel in the wilderness in the Book of Exodus showing that God has not forgotten His people through the centuries.

Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness would have been a challenging and stressful time, both physically and mentally, but God never left him. The last year has been challenging for every one of us maybe mentally; spiritually or physically (I’ve really missed the gym, I’m ‘older but wider’) but has God left us?

In these difficult and challenging times God still walks alongside us and carries us and I find it encouraging how much people miss the ‘physical’ church service on a Sunday. There was an audible sigh of disappointment in the church when it was announced we would have to close again; but closure of our churches was the most sensible action and the right action to take.

The enthusiasm and anticipation people have shown for churches reopening gives hope that the church still has a relevant place in our society. I’m sure God will look at us, as His children and servants, and say ‘with you I am well pleased; thank you for trusting Me; thank you for loving Me’.

As we see hope for our future Jesus himself said, later on in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 9:23):

“Everything is possible for one who believes.”

A straightforward, powerful, sentence that states if we truly believe there are no limits to what God can do and what God can do through us. Just as in Mark’s Gospel God’s message doesn’t have to be complicated, yet it will still be the most powerful message ever heard. Amen
Sermon by Nigel Mawdsley February 2021

A Lenten Prayer for Others

God of mercy and love let us serve you in our world.

We pray for desert people,
who live in a dry, parched land
who lack water
who travel constantly
so that they might live.
Give them living water.
Let the deserts bloom into flower.

We pray that those who work on climate change
may find solutions so that the erosion of soil may be halted or reversed.
We pray that water and other vital supplies might not be used as a weapon of war
in countries where resources are scarce.

We pray for countries where justice seems far away,
where human rights are ignored.

We pray that the dignity of life is respected
and remember those who have lost that dignity
through age or infirmity or neglect.

We pray for situations
where the sex of a baby may lead to abandonment,
where women are not offered the same opportunities,
or are actively demeaned or mutilated.

May we act to challenge injustice
and seek to affirm your love for all humankind.

We pray for those who have no peace -
for those who are troubled and torn apart by lack of self esteem
for those who torment and victimise the vulnerable.

We pray for men and women affected by violence in the home
and for those who live by violence.

We pray for those who are trafficked
and for those who organise and profit from selling other humans.
May they learn of your love
and somehow come to newness of life
even in the midst of despair.

Loving Lord let us not stand aside and tolerate:
lack of basic human resources,
dehumanising practices,
or the use of violence to disempower your people.

Give us strength to act and challenge hatred,
and instead bring your justice and mercy.
In your name we humbly ask that we may be a channel for your peace and love.
God of mercy and love let us serve you in our world
Amen.
BLESSING
As Jesus resisted temptation by the devil in the wilderness,
help us reflect on his faithfulness to God,
his rejection of worldly values and hold these thoughts in our hearts throughout Lent and beyond. Amen

Opening prayer is © 2013 Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes, written by Beryl Wakefield, Nuthall Methodist Church.
All other prayers © The Methodist Church and can be found at
https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-faith/worship/lent-and-easter/prayers-for-lent-and-easter/
All prayers reproduced with permission.

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