Sunday 28th February – 2nd Sunday of Lent 


The service is now live-streamed and can be found on the church Facebook page.

Collect

Almighty God,
you show to those who are in error the light of your truth,
that they may return to the way of righteousness:
grant to all those who are admitted
into the fellowship of Christ’s religion,
that they may reject those things
that are contrary to their profession,
and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same;
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

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First Reading

Romans 4.13-25

The promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.  For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.  For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’) – Abraham believed in the presence of the God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.  Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations,’ according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be.’  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  Therefore his faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’  Now the words,‘ it was reckoned to him, ’ were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also.  It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification

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 Gospel

Mark 8.31-38

Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  He said all this quite openly.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’  He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?  Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?  Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

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 Post Communion Prayer

Almighty God,
you see that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves:
keep us both outwardly in our bodies,
and inwardly in our souls;
that we may be defended from all adversities
which may happen to the body,
and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Sermon

It’s amazing that we’ve reached the second Sunday in Lent already. Lots of people say how quickly time passes despite lockdown and we’re the same.

It’s just over a year ago since we first became aware of Covid-19, a new virus far away in Wuhan. Only when Italy and Spain experienced huge, unprecedented demand for hospital care did we begin to realise this would reach our shores and affect us.

We often speak of our ‘lifes journey’. This past year has taken us all on an unexpected journey, posing many challenges and for some, including those in congested urban environments, real hardship. However, in recent days, the Prime Minister and others have encouraged us to hang on in there. Daylight is appearing at the end of the tunnel with the vaccines proving more effective than originally hoped. Even so, it’s been quite a year and we’re all older and wiser as a result. With the deprivations of lockdown: shops closed, leisure activities curtailed, children learning online at home, it’s all had a Lenten feel to it.

We’re encouraged, as Christians, to use these weeks of Lent to take stock of our spiritual lives so we’re ready to celebrate Christ’s glorious resurrection at Easter.

Our gospel today tells us Jesus was teaching his disciples what was coming. He was trying to explain the ‘Son of Man’ would be forced to experience much suffering and rejection before being killed and rising again three days later. For the disciples, and those followers nearby called by Jesus to listen, it must have seemed an extraordinary message. So strange was it that Peter stepped aside and rebuked his Lord. To everyone’s astonishment, Jesus then rebuked Peter, calling him to account for thinking like a human being rather than having God’s perspective in mind. Imagine hearing those condemning words: ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’. He went on to tell them they would have to deny themselves and take up their cross if they wanted to follow him. Jesus added they would need to be prepared to lose their life in order to save it, by serving him. He also spoke of taking up their cross to follow him; this was a reference to Roman justice. It was common under Rome for those convicted of dangerous criminal acts to be executed on a cross, crucifixion. Even worse, they had to carry their own cross to the execution site as a sign of submission to the authorities. Jesus’ reference warned his followers they would be facing danger.

Jesus knew it would be tough for his disciples and followers to follow faithfully but think, again for a moment, about Peter. He was one of the first to realise who Jesus was, the Messiah, and he spoke out ‘You are the Son of God’. He loved Jesus deeply but had a distorted picture in his mind of the sort of king he was. Like so many, Peter saw Jesus as a glamorous, warrior king who would lead the Jews to oust the Roman occupiers. The image of a servant king was the antithesis of his expectations. For Jesus, the temptation of greatness proffered by Peter was reminiscent of his desert experiences with Satan and it had to be contradicted strongly and immediately, just as he was only too aware the decision to follow him would prove one of great personal challenge and no glory. To be told he was behaving like Satan must have been such a shock to Peter. For one who loved his Lord so much he must have felt so hurt, in todays parlance, ‘gutted’. Yet Peter was to become the Rock on which God built his church; a human being with enormous potential and strength as well as the capacity to make mistakes.  

Paul the Apostle, whose own life had been transformed, is writing to Christians in Rome to explain the gift of love God has given them. He uses the story of Abraham to make his point: only faith and trust are needed. God called Abraham to ‘walk before me and be blameless’ as he established his covenant with him. God promised that Abraham and Sarah would have their longed-for son, that the Israelites would be led to the promised land of Canaan, and he would make Abraham the father of many nations. You will remember God had promised Abraham his offspring would be too numerous to count. Despite being promised so much, Abraham simply had to walk in God’s way and be holy… obeying God simply because he was God. Nothing rested on Abraham, it all came from God. Paul explained to the Roman Christians the new covenant established by Christ’s death and resurrection was the ultimate fulfilment of the earlier covenant, there was nothing they could or should do to earn it.

Jane Williams (wife of former Archbishop Rowan Williams) says in her commentary ‘God’s covenant with Abraham came as a series of steps’, all leading him into an ever -deeper relationship of trust with God. As Abraham’s lengthy journey in obedience led him through many vicissitudes to the discovery that God would really deliver, so Paul argues it was the same for the Roman Christians. As he spelt it out, God’s promise to Abraham is a promise to us all.

‘Little steps’ was a phrase used by the Prime Minister as he described his cautious approach to releasing us from lockdown. Lent is a good time for us all to practice little steps of trust which lead us into a deeper relationship with the God who created and loves us more than we can imagine. Those giants of the faith who went before us: Abraham, Peter and Paul, all experienced great personal challenges but all ended by trusting God totally. God’s promise to Jesus’ followers is that they, like Abraham, will have the chance to bring millions into his family as we share the good news of the Gospel. Peter quibbled when he found Jesus’ explanation of his future journey too much to take, but he was given another chance. Whatever life throws at us, however unsure we feel about it, God will continue to be there for us. As we travel on, we develop a deeper trust, a deeper faith, taking our own little steps. Remember those wonderful words in Jeremiah 31,’ This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel’… declares the Lord. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people; they will know me from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.’

This Lent, after such a tough year, let us remember God’s model for living. As we journey on, we learn more of God’s faithfulness to us and marvel nothing is required of us, other than the exchange of our sins for his forgiveness, love and care. That this was made possible for us through Christ’s atonement gives us the chance to witness to that unfailing love which transfigures even the bleakest, darkest moment.   Amen.