Sunday Worship 26 February 2023

Order of Service

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Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 26 February 2023

Today’s service is led by The Revd Dr Elizabeth Welch
Call to Worship

Let us worship God, who, at the beginning, freely offered the gift of creation and who calls us to care for this gift. Let us worship Jesus, who struggled in the wilderness and offered himself for us on the cross, before rising to new life, in which we are invited to share. Let us worship the Holy Spirit, poured out on God’s people, leading us to follow in God’s way and giving us strength for wherever the journey takes us. 
Hymn    Lead Us Heavenly Father Lead us
James Edmeston (1821) Public Domain  BBC Songs of Praise
Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us o’er the world’s tempestuous sea;
guard us, guide us, keep us, feed us, for we have no help but thee;
yet possessing every blessing, if our God our Father be.
Saviour, breathe forgiveness o’er us: all our weakness thou dost know;
thou didst tread this earth before us, thou didst feel its keenest woe;
lone and dreary, faint and weary, through the desert thou didst go


Spirit of our God, descending, fill our hearts with heavenly joy,
love with every passion blending, pleasure that can never cloy:
thus provided, pardoned, guided, nothing can our peace destroy.
Prayer of Adoration 
Loving God, you brought the world into being. We praise you for your gift of creation, given as a blessing for all time.
Gracious God, you offered the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, to be one of us, wrestling like us, and yet opening the door to your gift of new life, even in the heart of suffering. We praise you for what you offer us in Jesus.
Holy God, in your Spirit, you lead us on the journey you have in store for us, sometimes a journey of struggle and wrestling, and at other times a journey of healing and joy. We praise you that you are with us, in difficulties and in rejoicing.
But as we come before you, we are also aware of our own shortcomings. We turn to our prayer of confession.
Prayer of Confession 
We aware of all that you offer us and we see ourselves as we are:
a mixture
–      of hope and despair, 
–      of joy and sadness, 
–      of love and hatred, 
–      of self-giving and self-seeking
Forgive us when we have neglected your gift of creation.  Forgive us when we have gone astray and not let your love flourish within us.   Forgive us when we have given into temptation rather than wrestling with it.  Forgive us when we have wanted to put you to the test, instead of placing our trust in you. Forgive us for when we avoid difficult issues or forget to love our enemies.
A moment of silence for reflection on what we regret in our own lives.
Words of forgiveness
God says, See, I am making all things new.                 Rev 21.5
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.         2 Cor 5.17
In Christ God was reconciling the world..                      2 Cor 5.19
Through Christ your sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God.

Introduction to Theme 
Today’s the first Sunday of Lent. Lent is the time we observe in memory of Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness, being tested. Today we begin our journey, in Jesus’ footsteps, following in his way, travelling into the wilderness, looking at what the temptations can mean for us.  Lent is traditionally a time of giving up something for 40 days. However, we only need to do this 6 days a week, as Sundays are not included, as these are always the day for remembering the resurrection!
In Lent we can give something up – eating or drinking or a particular activity. Or we can take something up – e.g. working with the poor and the homeless, or spending more time in daily prayer and Bible study. 
·     Have any of you resolved to give up something? Can you name this?
·     Have any of you thought about taking up something? Can you name this?
Most of all Lent is about reflecting on where God is taking us in our journey of faith, and what we’re tempted to do or not do.
·     How often do you wrestle with particular temptations? Can you describe this?
·     Are they easy or difficult to resist? Can you describe this?
Let us journey together into the wilderness, trusting in God’s presence with us.
Hymn    Praying and Fasting and Giving
Elizabeth Welch m Rod Boucher 2009 London UK  Performed by Rod Boucher
Praying and fasting and giving
in Lent
 this gives meaning to living.
Help us to pray, everyday, 
Jesus please show us
your wilderness way.
Help us to pray, everyday, 
show us your wilderness way – please.
Help us to fast, so we can last, 
Jesus please keep us
faith-full to the Cross.
Help us to fast, so we can last, 
keep us faith-full to the Cross – please.


Help us to give, all that we live,
Jesus please teach us
your generous love.
Help us to give, all that we live,
teach us your generous love – please.

Genesis 2.15-17; 3.1-7
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’  The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;  but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.”’  But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die;  for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Psalm 32 
Our God, you bless everyone whose sins you forgive and wipe away.
You bless them by saying, “You told me your sins, without trying to hide them, and now I forgive you.”
Before I confessed my sins,
my bones felt limp, and I groaned all day long.
Night and day your hand weighed heavily on me,
and my strength was gone as in the summer heat.

 So I confessed my sins and told them all to you.
I said, “I’ll tell the Lord each one of my sins.”
Then you forgave me and took away my guilt.
We worship you, Lord, and we should always pray
whenever we find out that we have sinned. 
Then we won’t be swept away by a raging flood.
You are my hiding place!
You protect me from trouble, and you put songs in my heart
because you have saved me.

You said to me, “I will point out the road that you should follow.
I will be your teacher and watch over you.
Don’t be stupid like horses and mules
hat must be led with ropes to make them obey.”
All kinds of troubles will strike the wicked,
but your kindness shields those who trust you, Lord.
And so your good people should celebrate and shout.

Romans 5.12-19
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned —  sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification.  If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.  For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
St Matthew 4.1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’  But he answered, ‘It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone, 
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,  saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you”,
and “On their hands they will bear you up, 
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’
Jesus said to him, 
‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, 
‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, 
and serve only him.”’
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Hymn    Forty days and Forty Nights
© George Hunt Smyttan 1822-1870  BBC Songs of Praise

Forty days and forty nights
Thou was fasting in the wild;
forty days and forty nights
tempted, and yet undefiled.
Let us thine endurance share,
and awhile from joys abstain
with thee watching unto prayer,
strong with thee to suffer pain?
Then if Satan vexing sore,
flesh or spirit should assail,
thou his vanquisher before,
grant we may not faint nor fail!
Keep, O keep us, Saviour dear,
ever constant by thy side,
that with thee we may appear
At th’eternal Eastertide.


 In our readings at the beginning of Lent, we are taken back to the beginning of creation, and to the origins of the story of God’s world. This is not just a good world in which all things are lovingly made in God’s image, but also as a world in which, from the beginning, there exists the reality of sin and disobedience and evil.

The story of the serpent and the temptation of the woman and the man is not so much a rational explanation of the origins of evil, as a story told of the reality of the results of disobedience. God asked one thing of his created beings – that they not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  But God had also given people the freedom to choose. And as soon as the possibility of choice popped up, people gave in to temptation and did what God, their Creator, had asked them not to do.  From the beginning of time, people wanted to be like God, to be at the centre of the universe.
The reading from Romans points to the wrestling that goes on in the life of faith.
Over the centuries people have struggled to make sense of the ultimate questions of good and evil.  Why do bad things happen, the question is asked, especially when bad things happen to good people?  If God is good, why did he make a world in which things go wrong?  If God is all-powerful, why can’t he just put an end to mishaps and disasters?
In the early centuries of the church, there was a greater acceptance that this world contained both good and evil, and that we were each caught up in the struggle between good and evil.  There was a greater sense of the otherness of God, who was both mighty and mysterious and whom people couldn’t just pin down.
Today there’s an expectation that everything should be immediately perfect, and if it’s not so, the question is raised as to why we should go on believing in God.  And it’s usually those in our society who have least to do with the church who would argue this line most strongly. Our culture is one of material success – in which money and fame are the two key players. God’s call to be on the side of creation, of the poor and the oppressed, is too often sat lightly too.
In the church we are not immune from the wrestling that takes place about the role of good and evil in our lives and the life of the world. We are not immune from the struggles with temptation, as seen at the beginning of creation and in the life of Jesus.
Jesus’ humanity is shown in his own wrestling..  Was he the Son of God? And if he was, couldn’t he just put the world right at a stroke?
Matthew writes of Jesus being led by the Spirit into the wilderness.  It wasn’t just his own volition that was taking him into the desert; it was part of God’s purposes that he endure this time of testing.  For forty days and forty nights he prepared himself. There’s a parallel between the Israelites being in the wilderness for forty years, a time of temptation in which they often gave in, and Jesus, fasting for forty days and then being tempted and being able to resist the tempter. 
Lent is a time for our renewal and self-examination, focussing on where we are with God and what God is looking to from us.
We do this through journeying with Jesus as he begins his journey to the cross.
Our self-examination isn’t about navel-gazing, but about seeing ourselves in the light of Christ.
Lent is a six week journey, in which we put a particular emphasis on praying, on giving to others, on seeing what we can do without.
We look back in particular to the journey of Jesus.
There’s a debate that goes on – was he really 40 days and 40 nights without anything to eat and drink? It talks about him fasting – but doesn’t actually say whether that meant no food or just a limited amount of food. It doesn’t refer to refraining from drinking. 
This journey was not a journey Jesus chose. It’s one he was led into – by the Holy Spirit. In Mark’s Gospel, it even says that he was driven into the wilderness, not by some whim or fancy, wanting to spend a few days away from it all, but by the Holy Spirit.
For Jesus, it was a journey of testing – what did it mean to be the Son of God?
The three temptations lead us into seeing who Jesus is for us, and help us to enter into our own time of self-examination as we look at the ways in which we are tempted.
We can look at the way we’re each tempted in different ways, depending on the kind of people we are. E.g. some of us like lives full of activity and are tempted to be too busy; others like a slow pace and are tempted to put things off until another day.
Starting with Jesus at the beginning of Lent prepares us to travel on with our Lord to the cross.
There’s a particular thread which runs through the temptations – the thread of power.
Each temptation opens up a different aspect of power and the way in which power can be used or misused. And in opening up different aspects of power, the temptations point us both to our inner struggles with power and take us to the kind of God in whom we can place our trust.
The first temptation is about bread. The devil says to Jesus ‘turn this stone to bread’.
Jesus was hungry, after fasting for forty days. There would have been a real temptation to feed himself. But the temptation was wider than this. Why not feed the world? Wouldn’t it have been an instant success story if Jesus had been able to provide bread for everybody at the drop of a hat? Doesn’t God want people to be fed?
We see here the invidious nature of temptations. We’re most tempted by those things which would seem to have a good outcome. Wouldn’t it be great if we could feed the world, just like that?
Jesus’ response is both about his own self and about the life he’s bringing for the world. Bread wouldn’t be sufficient to feed him. Feeding is about body and mind and spirit, not just one of these.
If he were only to offer the world bread, and not the nourishment of the spirit, he would be buying into a materialist agenda which ends up making us all consumers rather than persons.
Being offered bread, and offering bread to others, is a big attraction, but it’s only part of the story. God engages the whole person, not just part of the person. Jesus quotes the Hebrew Scriptures ‘One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’. 
The second temptation is again about power – the power of putting God to the test.
If I were to fantasise, I could see Jesus thinking ‘yes, I am the Son of God, why shouldn’t I just leap off the Temple? Then everyone will know who I am and what power I have.’
One of the curious aspects of faith in our present day is the tension between people wanting God to act and being disappointed when God doesn’t act in ways they think God should. It can be a real temptation to think ‘if only God would do what I want’. And ‘if he’s a God that cares, shouldn’t he respond to my needs?’
One of the commentators wrote ‘God’s all-encompassing care is not a commodity to be gained by human beings through wheedling’
Walking the Lenten journey is about putting our needs in the context of God purposes. The relationship we have with God is not about us testing God, but about God testing us. Can we trust enough in God that we don’t need to worry about leaping off high buildings to prove God?
The third temptation is even more clearly about power – power over the nations of the world. Jesus could have thought – isn’t this what I’ve come for? If at a stroke, the nations are mine, I won’t need to do any more. But the Gospel refers to the way it was the devil who was offering him this power, on the basis of Jesus submitting to the devil’s reign. The cost of this route would be the taking away of the nations from God and condemning them to a life of darkness and evil.
Jesus’ responds ‘worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’
The challenge is both personal and political.
On a personal level, the key question is ‘who do I worship?’ ‘Who is at the centre of my life?’ ‘What are my main priorities?’ 
Lent is about reflecting on the grace and mercy of God as these touch our lives. In the tradition of observing Lent, each Sunday is free from what observance we might take up. And that’s so that we can keep reminding ourselves that the road we follow is not only to the cross and to death. When we follow in Jesus’ way, we know we are walking to the resurrection and the promise of new life. So we continue, through Lent, celebrating each week the day of resurrection.
On a political level, the question in the 3rd temptation is about the way God exercises power. God’s power isn’t imposed on the world, forcing people to do what God wants. God’s power comes out of the relationship that is built with God’s people, through worship and service. 
In God’s world there aren’t easy options and quick fixes. There’s a long, slow steady work of building the kingdom. This work can go through many ups and downs and face many setbacks. For this work to move forward, it needs people who choose to live in God’s way, people who can resist the temptation for short term gain, in favour of a long term commitment to the one from whom real life comes.
Let us travel this Lent journey, in the sure trust in the God who is with us in settled places and on our travels into the unknown.
Let us take time again to see our own lives in the light of Christ’s life. Let us take the risk of travelling with Jesus to his lonely destination of the cross. Let us travel confidently, for we already know the life that is beyond death.
Hymn    Will You Come And Follow Me?
Graham Maule | John L. Bell © 1987 WGRG, c/o Iona Community, Glasgow, Scotland (Admin. by Wild Goose Resource Group) CCLI Licence No. 1064776 Sung by Joy Everingham and used with her kind permission

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known?
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company I’ll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.
Prayers of Intercession
Loving God, help us to walk unafraid into the places of wilderness in our lives. Give us the strength to struggle with what tempts us and leads us away from following your path to life. May we discern this Lent what to take up and what to give up.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
Gracious God, we pray for your church, that we may resist the temptation to be popular, and rise to the calling of being faithful, whatever difficulties and challenges we may face along the way.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
Creator God, we give thanks for the gift of your created world. May we care for creation and for all those affected by hunger and floods and other misuses of this gifts of this earth. Grant wisdom to our leaders to bring about change and climate justice.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
Peace-making God, we pray for this troubled world, and those who are suffering through injustice, abuse and oppression. We pray for all who govern, that they may have the gift of wisdom and discernment for all the peoples within their care. We pray for places of war, that there may be peace.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
Merciful God, we pray for those we know personally who are suffering, in body or mind or spirit. Come with your Holy Spirit and your gift of healing to those who we name in the silence before you.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
Eternal God, we remember those who have died, giving thanks for their lives, and we pray for all those who mourn their loss, that they may be comforted.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
Loving and merciful God, we give you thanks that you hear our prayers, both spoken and unspoken. Receive now all that we have offered in words and silence, that it may be your will that is done, and your kingdom that comes.  In Jesus name we pray. Amen
Offertory Prayer
We offer to you ourselves and all that we have.
We give you thanks that you pour out your gifts on us, 
even in our times of struggle and difficulty.
Help us to give us freely to you and the work of your kingdom, 
as you have given to us.
We dedicate these gifts of money 
as a token of the dedication of our lives.
Receive what we offer and all that we have, 
and bless us in your service.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Hymn    Do Not Be Afraid For I Have Redeemed You
Gerard Markland © 1978 Kevin Mayhew Ltd CCLI Licence No. 1064776
sung by Justin Stretch from St Laurence’s Church, Chorley and used with his kind permission.
Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you,
I have called you by your name; you are mine.

When you walk through 
the waters I’ll be with you
you will never sink 
beneath the waves.
When the fire is burning 
all around you,
you will never be consumed 
by the flames.
When the fear of loneliness 
is looming, 
then remember 
I am at your side.
When you dwell
in the exile of the stranger,
remember you are 
precious in my eyes.
You are mine, O my child; 
I am your Father,
and I love you 
with a perfect love.

Go, ready to face the wilderness.
Go, with the strength to resist temptation.
Go, to live in the way that God opens up.
Go, knowing that God is present each day and surrounds you with love.
And the blessing of God Almighty,
Father and Creator, 
Son and Redeemer, 
Spirit and Sustainer,
rest upon each one of you, now and always. Amen.
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