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Sunday Service, 21st February 2021

Led by Rev. Bob Gemmell

Welcome

Call to Worship

Within us, without us, behind us, before us – in this place, in every place – for this time, for all time, Christ is coming to make all things new.

Hymn 166 – Lord of all hopefulness. Listen here.

Prayer

Lord, as we enter this period of Lent we remember the depth of your love for us and we repent of our half-hearted discipleship.

We have been called to deny ourselves; forgive us for putting self-interest before the interests of your kingdom; forgive us that Christ’s Lordship in our hearts has been challenged by our ambition, our appetites, our desires and our needs; forgive us for the times when self-interest hindered our care for others.

Lord, we have been called to carry a cross; forgive us for complaining when it has weighed heavily upon us; forgive us that, having received so much, we have sacrificed so little; forgive us for the limits we have set to Christian love; forgive us that we have settled for mediocrity, resisting the fire and passion of Christ’s love upon the cross.

Lord Jesus Christ, you have walked where we walk and now you help us in our weakness; blessed be your name.

Lord Jesus Christ, you have been tempted as we have and now you come to help us in our hour of danger; blessed be your name.

Lord Jesus Christ, you have suffered for us and now you help us when we reach our wit’s end; blessed be your name.

Lord Jesus Christ, you were deserted and betrayed and now you are with us when all others have gone; blessed be your name.

Lord Jesus Christ, companion Christ, friend and saviour, we adore you, we love you, we need you, help us to follow as we join together in the prayer you taught your disciples:

Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever. Amen

Children’s talk by Mo Brand

Often our holidays and celebrations are a mixture of secular, commercial, religious and individual traditions – so much so that we embrace and shun certain parts of them. But now we are in an exciting and unique time for Christians – the season of Lent. It’s one that doesn’t carry strongly in the shops – I haven’t seen any countdowns with giant number 40s, no links back to 40 days of the flood with Noah, 40 years in the wilderness before the promised land, 40 days of fasting from Moses before the 10 commandments or 40 days of temptation of Jesus in the desert … such a significant number but I haven’t seen it showcased anywhere. Nor were the shelves after Christmas awash with the symbolic colour of violet – the colour of mourning, pointing toward the pain and suffering Jesus would endure on the cross, symbolising royalty and celebrating Christ’s resurrection. I’ve looked for inspiration on Lent and found bold statements: “the faithful are encouraged to surrender a particular vice.” I suppose that’s the part I’m most familiar with, people giving up chocolate or taking up running, something to show self-sacrifice and in doing so being reminded of Jesus and drawing closer to God.

Well, the good thing is that it’s never too late and never the wrong time to spend more time with God, so my encouragement or thought for today is to celebrate Lent. Have a counter counting down to Easter Sunday (just remember that Sundays aren’t included in the 40 days); as you change it each day say a wee prayer; give something up; take something up; donate 40 things; do 40 good deeds – take time to engage with the season.

At Kids at Wardie we thought about a small challenge to help us, like writing a list with the numbers 1–40 and seeing if we can fill it with 40 actions before Easter. From doing chores, cheerfully, to spending time doing things to improve ourselves or spending time for other people – writing down the actions, deeds or prayers can be a great way to engage and mark Lent and prepare ourselves as we get closer to Easter time.

Scripture readings

Deuteronomy 8: 1–10

Do Not Forget the Lord

8 Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.

Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

Luke 4: 1–13

4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted[a] by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’[b]

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

Reflection by Rev. Bob Gemmell: The desert and the mountain top

Today we are at the first Sunday in Lent and we are focusing on the temptations of Jesus in the desert. You could be forgiven for questioning whether or not the church has got a handle on its interpretation of the story of Jesus. Only a week ago the Lectionary included that magnificent account of what is called the Transfiguration, where Jesus, with his three disciples, stood on the mountain top in a blaze of light – brightness that would not be diminished.

And today suddenly there is such a dramatic change. We meet Jesus alone in a dry and arid place, struggling with the hospitality of his environment. What has gone wrong? Last week we were witnessing Jesus’ identity being confirmed and affirmed. We heard the clarity of the voice of God coming to Jesus through the brilliance of light, affirming Jesus as his Son. It’s a lovely moment. And yet one brief week later we find ourselves going back in time, as we become onlookers at a desolate scene. No words of affirmation or reassurance are heard. The sky is not ablaze with the glory of God. We have a right to feel confused and even let down.

On the first Sunday in Lent we stand with Jesus amid a harsh and bleak landscape – that of the desert where Jesus, having survived in it for 40 days, finds himself in the midst of bitter inner struggles, wrestling with all he believed himself to be about.

How do you think you would survive for 40 days in the wilderness? Most of us, I think, would find ourselves struggling with 40 days alone without the days being spent in the wilderness.

We have all, at least to some extent recently, experienced the loneliness of isolation from our friends and family during lockdown. For the vast majority the past year is one that we would gladly put behind us; much as we may at times enjoy our own company we have certainly missed the closeness of other relationships.

I well remember walking from John o’ Groats back to Glasgow. I did it as a charity walk to raise funds for the Elpis Centre where I was working at the time. The walk was spaced over four weeks starting in the north, coming down to Inverness and then along the Moray Coast and down to Aberdeen and Dundee, across the Tay Bridge, through Fife and eventually back to Glasgow. Not the shortest route, but one that took in as many Baptist churches as possible for sponsorship. Four weeks is not exactly forty days and at least at the end of each day I enjoyed the company of my hosts and over each weekend had the opportunity of speaking in various churches. Not exactly a parallel to our Lord’s experience but at least during each day hours of isolation.

Any of you who seriously climb our mountains or set out on epic single-handed sails will know something of long periods of isolation. People who do these kinds of things require great inner resources. What massive resources sustained Jesus of Nazareth when he spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness? 40 days and nights is a bit of a marathon, especially with the arid landscape and the sun blaring down. The conditions would have been enough to make anyone feel disorientated. There are probably similarities to solitary confinement, even though the desert doesn’t have constraining walls. I can’t think of anything worse than being in solitary confinement, losing track of time, never seeing anyone or hearing human voices. At least in prison the guards would come round to feed you. Jesus was totally alone in the wilderness. If you started today you wouldn’t finish until 2nd April. What resources would you need? You would definitely need determination and it would have to last. Jesus would need to remember who he was and what he was made of.

He’d also need to have a strong sense that failing was not an option. He would be subjected to mockery if he failed. It would be important to deny anyone – including Satan – the opportunity to sneer: “If you are the Son of God…” says the devil. That’s a subtle invitation to Jesus to doubt himself and perhaps do some magic to reassure himself.

He also needed self-belief. Jesus knew why he came to earth and he knew what he had been born for. And he needed to keep reminding himself of that in the desert.

He would also be able to look back on those who had gone before him. The prophets had not had an easy time. They had been tried and tested and they had won through. Jesus would remember them and follow their example but, much more difficult, I think he would also know that there would be people coming after him, people in the early church, and also people down through the centuries, like you and me, people who would need his steadfastness of purpose, his resolve and his leadership.

And I suppose too, in a position like Jesus found himself in, adrenaline would kick in. It does for all of us when we have to do things we find difficult or challenging – like preaching!

But would adrenaline last you for 40 days and 40 nights?

Perhaps these are some of the resources which would have sustained Jesus in the wilderness. It’s tempting to think that it was easy for our Lord. He was the Son of God after all and he knew his final destiny. But I think this time in the wilderness was when Jesus was at his most human – so not easy.

First he was tempted to practise magic: “Command these stones to become loaves of bread”, says the voice of temptation. Not a temptation for you or me because we can’t do it. But presumably Jesus can – and he was very hungry.

Next he is urged to call on God for special protection: “Throw yourself down from the Temple and look to God to save you.” And then he is tempted to take control of all the kingdoms of the world and prove himself a super hero: “All of these could be yours if you only fall down and worship me.” You can imagine the kind of thoughts which might have been going through Jesus’ mind. The devil would be quick to remind him that God’s Son should be able to expect more of God. Why should God’s Son be punished? Why should he stub his toe or be subject to Caesar when Caesar should be subject to him? I think given the circumstances the first temptation would be the strongest. If you are very hungry you’d be prepared to go to any length to get food.

The story stands in very sharp contrast to the glory of last week’s Gospel. But we need both. Luke is asking us to take seriously both the desert and the mountain, both the cross and the resurrection, both a world where evil seems to dominate and a world where love radiates. Our lives as Christians are a paradox and we need to acknowledge the wilderness as well as the mountain top or else we are betraying the Gospel.

In today’s Gospel evil is personified in the form of the Devil. I don’t know whether you find that helpful. We live in a very different cultural context and world view from the early Christians. We’re not familiar with devils, forked tails and so on. But we do know that evil exists in our world. History has shown us the extermination of so many Jews; we have seen people taken hostage; and we have seen people killed by drunken drivers or even by their parents.

These kinds of things make headlines but there are other evils that are much more personal – jealousy, lack of forgiveness, retaliation insecurities that keep us closed in on ourselves and distant from one another.

The desert asks us to confront evil and to face up to the part we play in the wrongs of the world. The desert calls us to stand with Christ and acknowledge some of the conflicts and clashes within us which may be causing us anxiety and fear – perhaps conflict in relationships or about our own self-worth. Perhaps conflict about the way we organise our lives and about our priorities.

The desert must be taken seriously. When Jesus returned down the mountain the shining light had gone from his face and he had to come down to the reality of life and join people in the everyday challenges of human living. But the experience of the mountain top shaped him and his experience of God’s glory helped him challenge others – as he challenges us – to step into the transfiguring light of God’s glory. We must never lose sight of the mountain top.

As Christian people we are called to live lives which believe in the Transfiguration; we are called to believe that we can change the world.

The Christian life is a sham without the desert. We must face up to the failings, temptations and evil in our hearts. But the Christian life is impossible without the mountain top. We need to go there, breathe in the air, catch a glimpse of God’s glory so that we are inspired to create the sort of world we know God wants.

As we step into Lent I invite you to try a little gymnastics. Place one foot in the desert and face your devils in whatever form they are. And place the other foot firmly on the mountain top, breathing in God’s glory and hearing the good news that God’s transfiguring love is greater than any evil we can ever imagine.

Intercessory Prayer by Susan Dyer

On this first Sunday in Lent the image on the Communion Table Cloth today is of solitary footprints on the ground. It is perhaps symbolising the path Jesus took in the wilderness as he prepared for his ministry, or the path you will take in this year’s Lenten pilgrimage, or maybe it echoes Jesus’ invitation to “Follow Me”.

Let us pray:

Loving God, we ask you to hear our prayers for the world and show us how we can follow you in whatever ways we can.

We pray for the homeless near and far away. For people who have no settled place to call home: who have lost their places of safety; who have been forced out of their land by war and aggression. Lord Jesus, walk with them in their fear, and show us how to follow you in anger at injustice.

We pray for people who feel powerless and useless: ignored because they have no voice in society; people despised just because of their circumstances; people who feel diminished because their skills are obsolete or they have lost their jobs; those ignored because they suffer disability or mental ill health; people who have simply grown old and frail. Lord Jesus, walk with them in their despair, and show us how to follow you in practical compassion.

We pray for all the lonely people: those in this time of pandemic in care homes and hospitals and separated from their families; older people isolated from normal human contact; children and young people unable to meet with friends; and those who have lost those dearest to them and now have no one close to turn to. Lord Jesus, walk with them in their loneliness and pain and show us how to follow you in kindness.

As we make our way through Lent, Loving God help us to know your presence, and when we forget you, as we will, walk with us and reaffirm us in our faith, and give us grace to follow in your footsteps.

Amen

Hymn 338 – Jesus tempted in the desert

Blessing

May the mystery of God beckon you;
May the wisdom of God direct you;
May the forgiveness of God heal you;
May the energy of God send you into the world to exercise justice and love and be a blessing to others.
And now may the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, rest and remain with you, and with all whom you love, now and always. Amen.