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Sermon and Liturgy (2) For The First Sunday in Lent - Year B
I Peter 3:18-22; Psalm 25; Mark 1:9-15
"The Spirit Drove Jesus Into The Wilderness"


READING:  I Peter 3:18-22; Psalm 25; Mark 1:9-15
SERMON :  "The Spirit Drove Jesus Into The Wilderness"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-le01sn 716000

    The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
    for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
    found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
    SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC. 

    Sources:  The Children's Story is by Charles Kirkpatrick 
    "www.sermons4kids.com", March 2003 with some minor changes to the 
    prayer.  Sermon concepts date back from notes taken in 1997 from 
    The Rev. Dr. Michael Thompson, St. Cuthbert's Church, Toronto, 
    Ontario (as sent to Sermonshop, February 16 1997) and from the 
    sermon "Grown Up Religion: Mark 1:9-15" by Susan R. Andrews, 
    Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, Bethesda, MD as found at "The 
    Sermon Mall" in February 1997.


GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* WORDS OF WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP (based on Psalm 91)
L    Good Morning 
P    Good Morning
L    The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God,  
     and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P    And also with you.
L    They who dwell in the shelter of the Most High 
     will say to the Lord, "My refuge and my fortress"
P    Those who abide in the shadow of the Almighty 
     will say to the Lord, "My God in whom I trust."  
L    God says this to all who trust in him: 
     "When you call to me, I will answer you; 
     I will be with you in trouble.
P    "I will rescue you and honour you.  
     With long life I will satisfy you and show you my salvation." 


PRAYER OF APPROACH
Let us Pray - Most loving and gracious God, you who turn deep darkness 
into morning and who darken the day into night, you part the waters from
the waters and bring your people forth into the the promised land, you 
who are indeed our refuge and our strength, be present with us this day
as we call upon and worship you.  Answer our prayers and guide us in 
the way of righteousness.  Help us hear your word and to treasure it in
our hearts so that in good times and in bad we may remain faithful to
you and safe in your arms.  We ask it in Jesus's name.  Amen.


* HYMN:  "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"    	                         - VU 262  


CHILDREN'S TIME:  "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!"
Theme    Following Jesus' example of spreading the good news of God's love.
Object   A newspaper.
Source   Charles Kirkpatrick "www.sermons4kids.com", March 9th 2003 (by
         permission). 

     After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee,
     proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said.
     "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"
     Mark 1:14-15

There was a time when you could walk the streets of a city and hear the
voice of a newspaper boy crying out, "Extra! Extra! Read all about it."  He
called out to get the attention of people who were passing by so that they
would come to him and buy a newspaper. That was the way the news was spread
in those days.  

How do people get their news today? People get their news in many different
ways. For some, the newspaper is still their main source for news and they
read it from cover to cover. Some may get their news from the radio. 
Probably the main way that people get the news today is from television. 
No matter how we get our news, it is important for us to know what is going
on in the world around us.

Did you know that Jesus himself was in the news business?  The Bible says
that Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God.  Listen to
what he said, "The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good
news."  Jesus wanted everyone to know the good news of God's love for them.

How do people get the good news of God's love today?  Some may get it from
newspapers, radio or television.  Some may come to church and hear about
God's love.  But the best way to spread the good news of God's love is the
same today as it was in Jesus' day.  The best way is for you and me to tell
others about it!

You and I should be like the newsboy standing on the street corner crying
out, "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!  The time has come.  The kingdom of
God is near.  Repent and believe the good news -- God loves you!"


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER 
     Dear Lord Jesus  - help us follow your example - help us share
     the good news - of God's love - with everyone we meet. Amen.

And in the word's that Jesus taught us....

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


* HYMN:  "Give Me Oil In My Lamp"                                - SFGP 130


TIME FOR SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS: ANNOUNCEMENTS
- Welcome and Announcements     
- Birthdays and Anniversaries      
- Special Matters      
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


TIME OF SILENCE & AN INTROIT FOR THE WORD  (verse 2 - VU 371)
  Open my ears that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear
  and while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God thy will to see.
  Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!


A READING FROM I PETER 3:18-22
Our first reading this morning is taken from I Peter 3:18-22.  It reminds
us of whose we are and what  was done on our behalf - and in so doing
speaks as well as to the meaning of our baptism.....

     (NIV)  Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the
     unrighteous, to bring you to God.  He was put to death in the
     body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and
     preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God
     waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being
     built.  In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through
     water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also
     - not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good
     conscience toward God.  It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus
     Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand  
     with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

L    This is the Word of The Lord.     
P    Thanks be to God.


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 25 (Voices United 752) & Gloria Patri (sung)

     Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.  
     As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.  
     World without end.  Amen


* ANTHEM: "We Have Come At Christ's Own Bidding"


A READING FROM MARK 1:9-15 (NIV)
     At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by
     John in the Jordan.  As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw
     heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.
     And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I
     am well pleased." 

     At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the
     desert forty days, being tempted by Satan.  He was with the wild
     animals, and angels attended him. 

     After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the
     good news of God.  "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God
     is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

L    This is the Gospel of our Lord.
P    Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


* HYMN:  "One More Step Along The Road I Go"                       - VU 639


SERMON: "The Spirit Drove Jesus Into The Wilderness"

     Let us Pray - Lord God, Creator and Maker of us all, speak in the
     calming of our minds and in the longings of our hearts, by the
     words of my lips and in the thoughts that we form. Speak, O Lord,
     for your servants listen.  Amen.

          "And immediately God's Spirit drove Jesus into the
          wilderness.  He was there for forty days while Satan
          tested him.  And wild beasts were all about him, but
          angels took care of him."  (Mark 1:12)

What are we to make of this?  We who pray each day, as Jesus taught us,
"lead us not into temptation"?
     We who are used to such soft language about the Holy Spirit - so used
     to speaking about how we have "felt led by the Spirit" - like the
     spirit is a soft marshmallow or billowy cloud inviting us into a
     place.

What are we to make of the fact that the Spirit 'drove' Jesus into
wilderness?  That the Spirit compelled Jesus to go - alone - to where the
wild beasts prowled and howled and where the forces of evil tested his
every resolve and purpose?

It really catches my attention, this phrase - "And immediately God's Spirit
drove Jesus into the wilderness" coming as it does just moments behind
another event involving the same Spirit - a high  moment where, during the
baptism of Jesus, the Spirit has descended upon him like a dove - and God
has spoken directly to Jesus and said: "You are my own dear son, with whom
I am well pleased."

It really catches my attention that after that high moment of the Spirit,
that moment of approval - of affirmation from God above - that we find
another dimension of Spirit, a dimension that seems less satisfying....

Think of it for a minute: The Spirit descends with blessings - and the
Spirit drives the one blessed out into the wilderness 
-into the barren place 
- the dangerous place
and allows him to be tested - to be tempted - to be placed at risk.

I suspect that a lot of us divide the world of the Spirit:
- that we see the high moments, the good moments, as God given, God filled,
moments like that at Christ's baptism; like that of the transfiguration of
which we spoke last week;
- and that we see the wilderness experiences, those time when we are alone,
those times we are surrounded by dangers and assaulted by the temptation to
take the easy way out - or to just plain give up - as moments that are bad,
as moments which are not God given or God filled.

The reason that today's gospel reading works for me is that it reminds me
that such a division is unwarranted - that wilderness experience is, or can
be, just as much a part of God's plan for my life as other, more obviously
blessed experiences.

The journey of Jesus is like our journey 
- it progresses through stages:
- growing to maturity -
- being called to do the work that God wants us to do 
- and being equipped for that work 
- and then the wilderness - the testing of our skills, our faith, our
trust, followed - so we pray - a time of truly being able to serve God,
truly being effective in what we do in his name.

The striking feature of Jesus is his willingness to be Spirit-driven; 
his willingness to enter into the wilderness.

I wonder, is it because of the immediacy of his experience of God and of
his vision of God's reign that he is able to embrace the wilderness and
then later in his life - his trial and his cross?  

The journey of Jesus into the wilderness, and then out of it again to
perform his work in the world seems to have the quality of confident
direction that our journeys sometimes lack.

Certainly it helps to be prepared to enter the wilderness, it helps if we
have learned the lore that we need to learn and if we carry the equipment
that we need to carry - which for Jesus was the sacred stories that he
learned from his youth - the scriptures and the self-same Spirit that drove
him into the wilderness.

Be that as it may - today I speak to you not about being prepared for the
wilderness, but rather about what to make of the wilderness experience
itself.

There is a true story told by Stephen Covey about a man who experiences a
time in his life when everything seemed flat, boring, dull. 

     He went to this physician who found nothing wrong with him
     physically.  The doctor then suggested that he take a day for
     some spiritual renewal.  He was to go to a place that had been
     special to him as a child. He could take food, but nothing else. 
     The doctor then handed him four prescriptions - one to be read at
     9 AM, one to be read at noon, one at 3 PM, and the final one at 6
     PM.  The patient agreed and the next day, drove himself to the
     beach. 

     At nine AM he opened the first prescription, which read. "Listen
     carefully."  For three hours do nothing but listen???  Our friend
     was annoyed, but decided to obey.  At first he heard the wind,
     the birds, the surf--predictable beach sounds.  But then he found
     himself listening to his inner voice, reminding him of some of
     the lessons the beach had taught him as n child--patience,
     respect, the interdependence of the different parts of nature. 
     Soon, our friend was feeling more peaceful than he had in a long
     time. 

     At noon he opened the second prescription, and it said, "Try
     reaching back."  His mind began to wander, and he discovered
     himself being overwhelmed by all the moments of joy and blessing
     and giftedness he had been given in the past. 

     At three he opened the third prescription.  This one was harder. 
     It read, "Examine your motives."  Defensively, this man listed
     all the motivating factors of his life - success, recognition,
     security - and found satisfactory explanations for them all.  But
     finally it occurred to him, in a shattering moment, that those
     motives were not enough, that the lack of a deeper motive
     probably accounted for the staleness and boredom of his life.  

     "In a flash of certainty," he wrote, "I saw that if one's motives
     are wrong, nothing can be right.  It makes no difference if you
     are a scientist, a housewife, a mail carrier, or an attorney.  It
     is only when you are serving others, that you do the job well and
     feel good.  This is a law as irrefutable as gravity." 

     At six PM he read the final prescription.  It said, "Write your
     worries on the sand."  He took a shell, scratched a few words,
     and then walked away, never turning back.  He knew, with a great
     sense of relief, that the tide would come in, and his anxieties
     would be washed away."

My friends, The Wilderness - the aloneness - the solitude that the
wilderness affords - the hardship - is an opportunity - a blessing - from
the Spirit of God.  It is a place where we can be tested - a place where we
can grow into the maturity that we require so that we can indeed face the
world, in both good times and in bad, and do there those things there that
God would have us do.

Jesus matures in the wilderness.

He listens to his inner voice, 
     he connects the blessings of the past with his need to rely upon God
     and God alone for the day at hand and for the days to come
          He finally understands who God has called him to be and what it
          requires of him, not just in his head (as when Spirit descended
          upon in the Jordan), but in the nitty-gritty of actually facing
          trial and adversity and temptation on his own (with no help other
          than that of the word of God he has learned and the presence of
          the angels that are present around us all) 
and when Jesus goes through all this - then he is able to move back out
into the world and be fully ready to serve. 


In the loneliness of the wilderness Jesus discovers in his own experience
that he is not really alone - that  God goes with him - that the angels
care for him - and that with the aid of God's prescriptions, with the aid
of God's word, he can survive - and in fact prosper - no matter what the
situation.

I said just a few minutes ago that journey of Jesus is like our journey. 
This can be turned around, so as to say - our journey is like that of
Jesus.

How many times have we had experiences like his?
     - filled with the Spirit, we are determined to go forward with a new
     commitment and serve God, we get pumped up and ready to take on the
     world after a special experience of God, a special blessing;
and then the difficulties begin....
- the time of testing comes - almost as if we are being driven into it.


Many marriages are like that.  

After the courtship we have that crowning moment, that fantastic sense of
approval - of acceptance - of joy  on our wedding day.  We know who we are
and whose we are and it is wonderful.

And then - then the reality of learning how to live with another person in
a deep and intimate way - of learning how to really trust another person
and what they are doing when they are not doing things the way we expect
them to be done - sets in.  And it can be very hard.  Our relationship is
tested - sometimes greatly so by the unexpected, by the unexplained, by the
just plain irritating.

But then - then there is the passageway back - where we have passed the
tests - when we have learned the lessons of what it means to live as one -
we are able to continue on in life - to continue on in our relationship as
a much stronger, much more able persons - as two truly become one before
God and before the world.

The reality is that we, like Jesus, are tested whenever we try to truly
serve God, to use our God given gifts and powers.  

This may not happen immediately (though it usually does) 
but, despite appearances to the contrary, when the testing comes, 
it is a blessing  
if we let it be so,
     - if we let the angels minister to us - as they ministered to Jesus,
     - if we hold onto the faith that we profess and exercise it in the
     circumstances that come to us, as did he.

I can only speak for myself...but when I have made it through a time in the
wilderness, I have always felt stronger, more focussed on what needs to be
done, more able to help others -to love others - to do what God has called
me to do.

I would like to end with something I found in one of my old files -  it
will be familiar to some of you.  It is "The Testimony of a Confederate
Soldier" from the period of the Great Civil War the United States.

It seems appropriate as a closing to this sermon because of how it
describes what God can accomplish in us through our wilderness experiences,
through our times of testing.  It goes like this:

     I asked God for strength that I might achieve 
          I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey. 
     I asked for health that I might do greater things 
          I was given infirmity that I might do better things. 
     I asked for riches that I might be happy 
          I was given poverty that I might be wise. 
     I asked for power that I might have the praise of men 
          I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God. 
     I asked for all things that I might enjoy life 
          I was given life that I might enjoy all things. 
     I got nothing that I asked for - but everything I had hoped for. 
     Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered. 
     I am among all men, most richly blessed. 
 

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE  (Singing #400 at the start of the prayer time.  Our
     prayer response to "Lord, hear our Prayer" is "And in Your Love
     Answer")
               
          Lord, listen to your children praying,
          Lord, send your Spirit in this place;
          Lord, listen to your children praying,
          send us love, send us power, send us grace!

Lord God - sometimes you call us into the wilderness - into those places
where we must rely totally upon you for our survival - at other times your
Spirit drives us into those places - and each time we have entered those
places we have been tempted and tested - tempted to turn back before the
time is right for turning back, tempted to give up before the time you have
appointed for our testing and for our growing is past.  Help us, Lord,
should this be a time in our lives when we feel alone - a time in which we
feel oppressed by the evil one - help us to claim the blessings that you
have prepared for  us in the middle of the wilderness - lead us on our
journey - and bring us safe to the other side...  Lord, hear our prayer
('And in your love, answer')

Lord God, there are many among us who face barren times - wilderness times
in their lives.  Help us to minister your loving presence to them in those
times so that they may come through the wilderness and enter the promised
land. Help us to bring food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, shelter to
the homeless, courage to those who faint, and hope to those who are tempted
to despair...   Lord, hear our prayer...

Lord God, in this time of impending conflict between nations - this time
when we are being tested to see if we will do justice as well as love mercy
- we pray for guidance - and for your light to lead the way of the rulers
of our nation and the nations about us....  Lord, hear our prayer...

Lord God, hear our prayers for those among us who are in need - those whom
we name before you now....

........ Bidding Prayer

We ask these things  through Jesus, our brother, our Saviour, and our Lord. 
Amen.


MINUTE FOR MISSION


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) and Prayer of
Dedication

     Gracious God, you led your people through the wilderness into the
     promised land - and your Son from a time of testing to a time of
     glory beyond all glories.  As we take our lenten journey with
     him, accept these gifts from our hands and grant that our lives
     may be fully dedicated to your purpose so that we may inherit all
     your promises and bring praise unto your name.  Amen


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah"                - VU 651


* COMMISSIONING:  In the power of the Holy Spirit, we now go forth into the
     world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the body of Christ.


* BENEDICTION
Go in peace, love and care for one another in the name of Christ;
- and may the Spirit of the Lord show you the path you should walk 
- may the Word of God provide you with wisdom and knowledge 
- and may the Love of God direct all your actions and thoughts and words
this both now and forevermore.  Amen.


* THREE FOLD AMEN & CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"            - VU 964

 
copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2000 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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