COCU19B.Lent 1B

Readings Lent 1B

Genesis 9:8-17
God promises Noah that God will never again destroy all life through a flood, and God gives the rainbow as a sign of this promise.
Psalm 25:1-10
A plea for God to be merciful and to not remember the sinfulness of the psalmist’s youth, but to teach the psalmist God’s ways and deliver him from his enemies.
1 Peter 3:18-22
Jesus died for us and was raised to life, having preached to the “spirits in prison” who disobeyed in Noah’s time. And now we are given the sign of baptism to show that we are saved & cleansed within by Christ, who now rules with God in heaven.
Mark 1:9-15
Jesus is baptised by John, affirmed by God and sent into the wilderness to be tempted. Then after John is arrested he begins his ministry calling people to repent and believe in his Good News message.
(Bible readings summary by John van der Laar, Sacredise)

Background for OT readings: Howard Wallace
Background on NT Readings: Bill Loader

Follow Me (For Lent)
Here is a story of grace and truth –
of love received, life revealed.
Here is a saga of freedom and cost –
of pasts forgotten, futures chosen.
Here is biography of found and lost –
of paths taken, homes forsaken.
Here is a meeting of here and when –
of earth’s place, heaven’s embrace.
Here is a testament of claim and call –
of breath’s gasp, Spirit’s grasp.
Here is a testing of desert and dreams –
of challenge spoken, powers broken
Here is a chorus of lament and longing –
of doubt singing, hope springing.
Here is a journey of step and stumbling –
of death walking, life stalking.
(source: Craig Mitchell 2015)

Weather Forecast (inspired by Genesis 9:8-17)
God needed some way of remembering,
Or we needed some way of remembering
that God would remember,
Some sort of Post-It note,
“That pretty bow you tied around your finger”*
As it’s also been called,
A reminder that God would never smack us again,
Which shows up at the oddest times.
Yet many seem to have forgotten
What sort of “us” is meant here.
It’s you and me, yes;
But it’s also “them” over there,
The people with different
looks and lives and even so-called beliefs,
Next door and across an ocean.
Oh – and every other living creature, too.
O God, I trust you remember the details.
But when will the rest of us remember
That we’re all in the same boat?
With the sun shining, I hope we get some rain soon.
(Source: Scott L. Barton, Lectionary Poems)
(*The phrase about the “pretty bow” is from Leonard Bernstein’s “Kaddish” Symphony #3)

A wonderfully evocative poem on the Gospel reading (Mark 1:9-15)
across the universe
through one immutable rend
in heaven’s curtained sphere
she descends upon you here
as rising you collide
in Jordan’s waters deep and wide
a voice speaks, pouring through the gash
of these ripped worlds
and blessing claims, names and re-frames
then she that bears you, births you
into enforced wilderness
and it becomes your task, your test,
you taste the tempter’s first but not his last caress
while angels wait
and forty days play long
and then, and only then,
the time is right for gospel song.
(Source: Jennie Gordon 2008)

Call to Worship
Following God’s ways is not easy;
 We are called to step out in faith.
We do not know what will happen tomorrow;
 We are called to put our trust in God.
We know that God’s love is always with us;
We know that God never abandons us.
Come, join together in this time of worship;
 Come, join together in following Jesus.
(Source: Rev Mindi, Rev-o-lution)

Prayer of Confession
Jesus Christ boldly faced the wilderness, its dangers and wonders.  He struggled with his mission to make known God’s loving purposes for all people. Guarded and guided by God’s Spirit, he was triumphant and began to proclaim the Gospel, and the hope that the reign of God would bring to an end of oppression and deliverance for those held captive.
On our lack of repentance and our failure to believe the good news: Lord, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, your victory in the desert assures us that as you followed the way of the cross there were victories over evil in its many forms until its powers were broken on the cross, and you were raised triumphant forever.
On our lack of repentance and our failure to believe the good news: Christ, have mercy.
Grant us vision and courage that in our time we may recognize and struggle with all oppressing and dehumanising forces in the world, and become signs of the in-breaking of the reign of God.
On our lack of repentance and our failure to believe the good news: Lord, have mercy.
(Source: Jennie Gordon, adapted from Rev. Ron Gordon)

Confession: We don’t want to understand
Holy God, we like to claim that your way is mysterious and we are uncertain how to follow. We confess that we don’t want to understand the fast that you choose. You call us to loose the bonds of injustice, to let prisoners free, to break every yoke, to bring the homeless into our house, to feed our neighbours and pray for our enemies. We make it sound like a difficult metaphor so we don’t have to act on your word, because we don’t like to be uncomfortable. Forgive our apathy, our wilful ignorance, our false modesty, and our unexamined privilege. Create in us a clean heart, and lead us into a Holy Lent…and beyond, to abundant life for all your creation. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
(Source: Rev. Teri Peterson, LiturgyLink)

Temptations (could be used to frame a prayer of confession)
Jesus was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.  — Mark 1.13
What are your temptations?
Not sex and chocolate, OK?
Not beauty, not pleasure.
I mean the things that ruin you,
things that get in your way,
that lead you away from deep life.
What gets in the way of your perfect love?
What distorts your wisdom and vision?
What inhibits your kindness and courage?
Now. Remember when you fell in love?
You didn’t work at it, did you? It was a gift.
You bring the gift with you to the desert.
You’ll never vanquish your temptations.
You just have to remember the gift:
you already love God more than those things.
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light, Feb 16th, 2018)

God of our ancestors, You have called us forth into a new day, but we tread the path of our ancestors, their teachings and traditions handed down to us. You call us into New Life but have shown us the way through the faithfulness of those who have gone before us. Grant us the wisdom to set out on new paths, knowing that You are with us, and that the whispers of our ancestors still help us to find the way. May our traditions of old help inspire us to forge new ways of living into Your love, peace and justice. Amen.
(Source: Rev Mindi, Rev-o-lution)

Facing a Barren Desert
Today, like Jesus, we may be facing a barren desert
We may be tempted to do the wrong thing
To do something selfish
To do something hurtful.
Or perhaps we have become lost
Not sure which way to turn in our lives
The desert sand gives us no help.
In these bleak moments
We need to reach deep into ourselves
And find the sacred spark
That represents all that is best in us
Which knows who we really are
And who we can be
And remind ourselves that we are here
To share this spirit of live and love with others
To blossom in the desert
Or the concrete of the city
And help others to blossom too.
(Source: Roger Courtney, Progressive Christianity)

Reflections on the desert (Diana Butler Bass)
it is impossible to go to the desert and not think of Jesus, the scripture, and Christian spirituality. In my faith tradition, the “desert” is one of the richest metaphors for understanding the spiritual life. As I reflect on my week, three things stand out:
First, the desert is an actual place – a beautiful but scary one. Many ancient peoples believed that demons, devils, evil spirits, and tricksters dwelt in the desert. That is because the landscape is harsh and home to plants and animals that adapted to the rugged environment. And the weather is harsh as well. In the summer, it is brutally hot with relentless sun. In the winter, the days are pleasant, but the nights are surprisingly cold.
There was a lovely Palo Verde tree near my room, one at the edge of a landscaped pond with a water fountain. Every morning, when I woke, the fountain had lightly sprayed water on the tree and frozen its twigs. My husband said of it, “Poor tree! Each day, it lives through all four seasons! It must be one tough plant.”
That is the desert: A landscape where you learn resilience in order to thrive.
Second, the desert is a state of mind and heart. The early Christian preacher John Chrysostom urged, “Let us seek after the desert, not only that of the place, but also that of disposition.”  Even 1800 years ago, spiritual leaders recognized that the desert, free from urban distraction, was a sacred geography that fostered both clarity and tranquility. You see yourself, your life, and God differently, as the stark landscape envelops you with its natural solitude. And, in its enormous silence, it is as if you are afloat on an arid spiritual sea.
I’ve often heard the desert called “an escape.” Some criticize desert spirituality as a way of checking out from the “real” world. As I walked through the high desert, however, I actually felt the opposite. I could feel the isolation of life in Washington, D.C. and its suburbs, how people are close together but disconnected. But, amid the solitude of the rocks, I experienced a profound sense of oneness and enormous compassion with and for the world. Fewer distractions actually nurtured a deep awareness of connection and community.
That is also the desert: An experience of centering and connection that can be cultivated through practices of wisdom and peace. We carry “the desert” within.
Third, the desert is an icon for a meaningful life. In the biblical traditions, the desert is a place of remarkable promise, possibility, and creativity. It is the landscape of God’s provision and prosperity. The wildness is a land of wells and springs, which flow with milk and honey, where the land brings forth bountiful harvests and its people practice hospitality. It is a place of unexpected transformation. Hope where there had been none, where no one hungers or thirsts. This is the place where God will establish a new “city,” one whose foundations are abundance and mercy.
Most ancient deities lived up in cities. Their “homes” were temples, encrusted with gold and jewels, attended by rafts of priests and worshippers. But the God of Israel revealed the divine presence in the desert, in a flaming shrub, and called the place of encounter “holy ground.” Early Christian spiritual writers often conflated the “kingdom of God” with the desert. The “citizens of this world” were those who trafficked in the commercial concerns of the cities; the “citizens of the desert” were those who were building a “new city” of virtue and grace in the wilderness.  The desert inhabitants would, they believed, one day save the world.
This is the desert as well: A sacred location where scarcity becomes abundance, where what seems improbable and impossible in human community becomes real through creativity and compassion.
Now I’m home. In the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where the lush landscape isn’t a desert. There may be trees and rivers and budding spring flowers, but my city’s spirit is parched.
As so, I carry within the memories of the desert’s harsher geography, the desert’s deeper clarity and peace, and the promise that every wilderness will bloom with love and justice. The real wilderness is a life-giving place, and I discovered that, at heart, I am a citizen of the desert.
(Source: The Cottage, Notes on life and writing, with Diana Butler Bass) 

To the Desert
I came to you one rainless August night.
You taught me how to live without the rain.
You are thirst and thirst is all I know.
You are sand, wind, sun, and burning sky,
The hottest blue. You blow a breeze and brand
Your breath into my mouth. You reach—then bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
You wrap your name tight around my ribs
And keep me warm. I was born for you.
Above, below, by you, by you surrounded.
I wake to you at dawn. Never break your
Knot. Reach, rise, blow, Sálvame, mi dios,
Trágame, mi tierra. Salva, traga, Break me,
I am bread. I will be the water for your thirst.
(Source: Benjamin Alire Sáenz)

Lent and the Mystical Jesus
Lent marks the sacramental period of deep and sincere reflection on the meaning of Easter and the miracle Jesus’ death and resurrection. Its 40-day duration symbolizes Jesus’ 40-day prayer fast in the desert in preparation for the completion of his work on Earth and his ultimate spiritual transformation. For Christians, it’s a time of moderation, repentance or purification in like preparation for the powerful – and mystical – events and significance of Easter.
Like many religious activities, our spiritual practices during Lent are meant to help us, in some small way, experience, participate and appreciate what Jesus went through. So we, too, go into the desert by choosing to give up some aspect of our worldly life in order to understand Jesus’ preparation for his final days on Earth. In this way, we share in His profound journey.
In the mystical dimension, however, Jesus’ death and resurrection takes on additional meaning, representing the death of the familiar everyday self and the birth of the Divine Self. In giving up things important to the small self during Lent, we are actually giving up parts of that self. In His Crucifixion, Jesus gave up everything and fully experienced the Divine Self, so we are just getting a taste of this great transformation. But as we will see, what we give up makes a space for the divine to shine through us because our imagined self actually stands between us and God. Thomas Keating puts it this way, “Lent is not about doing a few practices like fasting, giving to charities, or doing vigils. We are called by God to enter into a change of heart, to open to a new reality that is our True Self and beyond…the image and likeness of God. This discovery of ourselves is always a losing of ourselves….a death and a resurrection.” Here is the mystical purpose of Lent: We surrender our everyday self and worldly life in exchange for the awakening of Christ Consciousness.
I want to say one more thing. I believe that Jesus was a forerunner of a transformation of consciousness coming to all of us. And Lent is a perfect opportunity to experience that by leaving chronos time of clocks, calendars, schedules, roles, identities, and appointments, and entering chiros time – or time outside time, sacred time, time in God, in other words, mystical consciousness. That’s the goal of mysticism and it’s our destination in the Lenten season. Easter represents the possibility of dying into spirit. Are you ready?
(Source: an excerpt from a post on Progressive Christianity by John C. Robinson, a clinical psychologist with a second doctorate in ministry, an ordained interfaith minister, the author of nine books and numerous articles on the psychology, spirituality and mysticism of the New Aging, and a frequent speaker at Conscious Aging Conferences across the country. You can learn more about his work at

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Rev Sandy Boyce is a Uniting Church in Australia Minister (Deacon). This blog may be a help to people planning worship services.
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