On Sunday March 9th our deacon David Hunt led worship. As it was the beginning of Lent we began a Lenten liturgy, developed by Jeanyne Slettom and modified by our minister Trevor and David. The first verse was this; ‘Tree of life and awesome mystery, in your death we are reborn, though you die in all of history, still you rise with every morn.’ We heard a meditation which reminded us that it was the first Sunday in Lent and we were advised to close our eyes, be still and listen. We would be re-telling the story of Jesus’ betrayal suffering and death of Jesus, but that God will transform that into the resurrection and new life. Jesus’ pain and suffering speaks to every pain and loss we have endured and offers us the promise of transformation. Jesus is calling us from the ordinary to follow him on the journey to the cross. We are to listen in silence for Jesus is calling us. One candle was extinguished in acknowledgment of the darkness, pain and injustice in the world. After the meditation closed with a prayer asking that the Lord might give us strength and courage in our journeys through Lent to make the changes needed in our lives, we sang ‘How great Thou art.’
David then led the opening prayers for the first Sunday in Lent, after which we sang, ‘Lord, who throughout these forty days, didst fast and pray.’ Before members of the congregation read the set readings from Genesis 1 v15-17;3 v1-7 the Fall and Matthew 4v1-11 the temptations of Jesus, David gave us a short talk. He told us how easy it is not to take the message from these passages which are almost too familiar for us. We need to open ourselves to finding something more in the readings so that we become more receptive to the message we hear today. There is always something new to find in scripture even though we think we know the passage well already. After the readings we sang a new hymn for us from Singing the Faith, ‘Christ our redeemer knew temptation’s hour in desert places, silent and apart; and three times over met the tempter’s power with God’s word written, hidden in his heart.’
The theme of the sermon was making choices. God made the choice make the world and humanity in his image and everything he made he saw as good. In the centre of the garden he had the tree of life. God told Adam and Eve that they could eat the fruit of any tree but the tree of life, lest they die. God had made them human, allowing them to make choices.
Before going out for the evening David’s wife Gail took some time to choose what to wear and although they were a little late, it was not a matter of life or death choice. A young Englishman came at the end of a day’s work to see a young American woman and went down on one knee and proposed. Once that proposal was accepted, the consequence was that David’s son then moved to live in America. Choice gave people a life with emotions of pain and joy; freedom of choice meant they did not always make the correct choice. Wrong choices had consequences as we know, but it makes us human to have that freedom of choice.
One of David’s favourite films was called Bicentennial Man in which Robin Williams played a robot called Andrew who was programmed to do all the housework and cook meals for the family. It was the age when robots did all the household chores but although they were as efficient as human beings they did not have human emotions. However Andrew began to have feelings and explored becoming fully human, but he would then face pain, suffering, health and joy and would inevitably die. Those were the dilemmas he faced. To be human is to experience sorrow and joy, and pain and inevitable death.
God gave the garden for human beings, but with that gift came the responsibility of caring for the garden; that is we have been given the responsibility to care for our environment, the world God has given us to look after. We have to make the choice to care for the world or to exploit it.
We have to choose whether we have God at the centre of our lives or to put ourselves in the centre. Only when we chose to put someone or something other than God at the centre of our lives, do we make the wrong choice. People cannot meet our needs as God continues to do, nor can other people help us improve ourselves; only as we put God at the centre of our lives can we grow closer to him and gradually be changed into his likeness.
God made the choice to send Jesus to show us how much he loved and accepted us; Jesus showed us in his life how important it was to be in constant communion with his Father through prayer and how to be obedient to his Father. Jesus faced temptations after he had been affirmed as God’s beloved son when he had submitted to baptism. He was hungry and tempted to turn the stones into bread, but he knew that however hungry he was greater need was for God’s word. He was secondly tempted to put God to the test by jumping off the highest point of the temple, as God would not allow him to harm himself; but he had not come to win people to God through spectacular acts. He had come to serve. The final temptation was to bow down and worship Satan then he would get the whole world, but he used scripture to confirm that he would worship and serve God alone. Jesus chose to serve his father and reveal his father’s love in his actions and healing, to choose the path of suffering even to death. All of us face choices as human beings but God did not make us robots, but gave us free will. With God’s help we can make the right choices. God is merciful and will lift us up again and set us on the right path even when we do make wrong choices deliberately or by mistake. David then led the intercessions before we sang the concluding hymn, ‘Lead us, heavenly Father lead us.’