Collect and Readings for The First Sunday of Lent – Genesis 9.8-17, Psalm 25.1-9, 1 Peter 3.18-end, Mark 1.9-15

The Prayer for today

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ did fast forty days in the wilderness, and was tempted as we are, yet without sin: give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to thy Spirit; and, as thou knowest our weakness, so may we know thy power to save; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This week we begin the season of Lent, committing the next six weeks to preparing ourselves for the festival of the Resurrection by looking seriously at the implications of turning to God at our baptism. So, it is appropriate to start at the point of Jesus’ baptism filling him with God’s Spirit and promptly driving him into a six-week ordeal of vocational testing and spiritual battling.

Jesus’ ministry did not begin with warm glowing feelings but rigorous self-discipline, painful soul-searching and cost-counting. When he later spoke about our need to count the cost of discipleship he was talking from personal experience. Committing ourselves wholeheartedly to God’s service is indeed a costly business, and one it is quite natural to back away from as we start to realise the full implications. Are we really willing to say to God, ‘Thy will be done; thy kingdom come’? Wouldn’t we prefer it to be our will and kingdom with God’s blessing! Most of us feel fine about obedience until it differs from what we want in life; at which point we start jumping up and down complaining about the unfairness of it all.

One of the precious, valuable things we can learn from Jesus’ example is to recognise the conflicts as a valid part of the process. Jesus knew he had some difficult things to face, and he knew he would not be ready for his ministry until he had taken time out to face them squarely, however unpleasant that might be. All too often our reaction is to deny our fears and questions, or edit them before approaching God with them, as we consider them inappropriate prayer material.

But the truth is that God wants our real, honest selves, and can’t start working in earnest with us until we are willing to share with him everything – and that includes misgivings, things which embarrass us to mention to anyone, recognition of things we had hoped for and dreamed about and which we dislike the idea of giving up. If there is anything we feel ashamed to mention to God, then that’s probably the most important thing he wants us to say.

Of course, we are not going to come to any of this lightly or easily. We are wonderfully inventive when it comes to rewriting the agendas we find threatening to us or prefer to ignore. That is why we all need a wilderness, and time to be alone with God, without distraction. The wilderness is honesty, and we need to get used to its bare and uncompromising landscape, where conflicts are bound to confront us, but from which we will emerge stronger and more integrated as people, ready to go out in God’s power.

Noah and his family are at that point as the rainbow of God’s saving promise marks the end of the storms and floods, and they can walk as new people into a new landscape.

Some things to think about:

1. Why can God only work with us in earnest when we are totally honest with him?

2. What is it that makes us decide whether or not discipleship is too costly?

God bless

Rev’d Fiona Robinson