February 18, 2024

First Sunday in Lent






Loving Lord, 

at the beginning of this Lenten season, 

we are met with the challenge of handing over 

every bit of our lives that do not come from You. 

To rid ourselves of what clutters our lives, 

and all that distracts us from the simple truth 

of Your love for us.


Your prophets have called us to change the way we worship—

to make internal sacrifices instead of external ones. 

To seek justice, and love kindness, 

and walk humbly with You

each and every one of our days. 


If we don’t give anything up for Lent, 

then let us at least give up this: 

that we might live cease living in ways that disconnect us from You, 

for every one of our steps is like a circle around Your temple. 

Perhaps this Lent, 

we can give up our way 

and give ourselves to Your way for us. 


So, lead and guide us on this Lenten way. 

May we walk with Jesus toward the hill just outside of Jerusalem. 

May we like Him take up our cross and follow, 

spending each moment of our lives living responsively to You, 

just as Christ Himself did. 

For that is the faithful way. Amen.


PRELUDE                   “A Song in Lent”                   Paul Taylor



O God, in you we trust.

Lead us in your truth and teach us,

for you are the God of our salvation;

for you we wait, for you we worship.


*HYMN No. 209                    My Song Is Love Unknown”

1 My song is love unknown,
my Savior’s love to me,
love to the loveless shown
that they might lovely be.
O who am I
that for my sake
my Lord should take
frail flesh, and die?

2 He came from heaven’s throne
salvation to bestow;
the world that was his own
would not its Savior know.
But O my Friend,
my Friend indeed,
who at my need
his life did spend!

3 Sometimes we strew his way,
and his sweet praises sing,
resounding all the day
hosannas to our King.
Then “Crucify!”
is all our breath,
and for his death
we thirst and cry.

4 Unheeding, we will have
our dear Lord made away,
a murderer to save,
the prince of life to slay.
Yet steadfast he
to suffering goes,
that he his foes
from thence might free.

5 Here might I stay and sing,
no story so divine:
never was love, dear King,
never was grief like thine.
This is my Friend,
in whose sweet praise
I all my days
could gladly spend.



We pause here to examine our lives, our temptations, and the ways we have fallen short before our God. Let us confess our sins together.



Gracious God, as we begin this Lenten wilderness journey with Jesus, we confess our neglect of you and our faith. We make idols of nation, money and power. We build walls instead of better relation- ships. We fail to follow Jesus to the poor, the destitute, the stranger. Empty us this Lent, Holy God. Guide us in our faith so we can leave this wilderness season in right relationship with you. Amen.




*RESPONSE No. 551             “Lord Have Mercy”

Lord, have mercy;
Christ, have mercy;
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy;
Christ, have mercy;
Lord, have mercy upon us.



Remember and receive these hopeful words from John 8:31-32, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Receive God’s truth. Receive God’s grace. Accept the freedom God provides. Amen.


*RESPONSE No. 522            “Holy, Holy, Holy”

1 Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

2 Blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest,
hosanna in the highest.



Christ is our peace.

He has reconciled us to God in one body by the cross.

We meet in his name and share his peace.

The peace of the Lord be always with you.

And also with you.


ANTHEM                   “Without His Cross”             Joseph Martin





Please join me in the unison prayer…

God of grace, help us seek you and the truth you intend for us today. Let us not be distracted by worldly pursuits or pleasures. Help us to focus our hearts and minds on you and your Word read and proclaimed. Amen.


SCRIPTURE               Mark 1:9-15

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove upon him. 11 And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tested by Satan, and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited on him.


14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news[i] of[j] God 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;[k] repent, and believe in the good news.”[l]





This is the Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God!!


SERMON                   “In the Wilderness”

The aim of Lent, of course, is to get us appropriately to Easter. Easter takes preparation. The simple gladness, the almost unspeakable joy of Easter, requires a little disciplined work, a little honest pondering of the human condition. Resurrection doesn’t happen in a bubble. It comes after suffering, crucifixion, dying.

From the beginning, Christian people have gotten themselves ready for the big day by traveling with Jesus on the way to the cross, sometimes making sacrifices themselves to identify with his self-sacrifice, stopping along the way to ponder the ways his journey and our journeys intersect. And the way it begins, in each of the accounts we have of his journey—the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—is with a character called John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus, a life-changing experience of God and a sense of new direction, new vocation, and then three of the four Gospels—the earliest, Matthew, Mark and Luke—all agree that the very next thing that happens is that Jesus goes into the wilderness. For forty days, to be exact. While he is there, he is tempted by Satan, and at the end of it, angels come to him. Then he emerges, and the story of his remarkable three-year campaign of teaching, healing, reconciling, and saving commences.

Let’s focus, just for a moment, on the way Mark presents this story.  Mark is in a hurry for some reason. The book he wrote is much shorter than the others by about half, which is the reason Mark is a good place to begin if you have never read the Bible before. Mark is in a hurry. He uses the word immediately a lot. He doesn’t dawdle or editorialize much. He gets right to the point. In his introduction to the story of Jesus of Nazareth, he packs a lot of material into a few sentences. Jesus, Mark says, was baptized by John. He saw the heavens ripped open and the Spirit of God descending, a little like a dove. He heard a voice say, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Then that same Spirit drives him into the wilderness, where he remains for forty days, tempted by Satan. There are wild beasts out there in the wilderness, and at the end of it, angels come to him.

Think first about the Spirit that descended on Jesus. Notice that Mark says that Jesus is the only one who saw it. This is intensely personal for him. It is not a public display. Mark says the same thing about the voice. Jesus alone heard it. It was for him, personally. Notice that the Spirit that comes to him gently, like a dove, also drives him—doesn’t invite him, doesn’t gently lead him—drives him into the wilderness, or desert. Mark chooses very strong language. The Spirit literally “throws him out” into the wilderness. That is quite different from the way we mostly think about the Spirit of God: gentle, calming, reassuring, comforting. Sometimes we even call the Spirit the Comforter. But here the Spirit discomforts, shakes things up, rearranges the spiritual furniture, sets Jesus on a new path, and puts him down in the wilderness.

Wilderness, by the way, is an interesting idea in the Bible. In one of our oldest stories, Moses is tending sheep “beyond the wilderness” of Midian and God appears, accosts Moses in a burning bush. Moses, at the moment, is not just tending sheep; he’s on the run, hiding in the wilderness. He’s wanted for murder in Egypt, and it is in the wilderness of all that complexity—physical, geographical, emotional, and spiritual—that God comes to Moses, blindsides him, turns him around, and sends him back to Egypt to lead his people to freedom. That’s the kind of thing that happens in the wilderness.

When Moses succeeds in his unlikely venture of liberating his people from slavery and leading them out of Egypt, it’s back to the wilderness. As the twelve tribes wander in the wilderness of Sinai for forty years, Israel is born, tribes become a people, a law is given, a covenant made. That’s the kind of thing that happens in the wilderness. You may not volunteer to go there. You may not like it there at all. But the strong biblical suggestion is that in the wilderness it is highly likely that God will come to you and things will change and you will never be quite the same again.

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright says, “You are never far from the wilderness when you are in the promised land.” The wilderness of unexpected illness, for instance. An author, who lived hundreds of miles away, enjoying the retirement he earned and deserved, watching the Reds, watching the horse races he always loved, sitting in a chair for eight hours on Wednesdays, in a hospital gown, while chemicals dripped into his arm. Randy Pausch, sailing along in his successful academic and high-tech research career, loving his wife and three children, and out of the blue receiving the devastating verdict that he had just a few months to live. Pausch decided to live fully in that wilderness, share it with students and write a book before he died, The Last Lecture.

Frederick Buechner, in an autobiographical memoir, remembers the lonely wilderness of his daughter’s anorexia nervosa. He wanted to be a father who could and would do anything to protect his daughter and make her well, until finally he understood that he could not solve her problem because he was, of course, part of the problem—“I was in hell” (Telling Secrets, pp. 24–25).

The entire nation finds itself in a wilderness this morning.  We are in a liminal place. We are in a new place, an unsettling place, and while I do not believe God is in the business of correcting and restructuring our country, I believe in God, and I do believe that there are always—because God comes in the wilderness—possible redemptive, creative, and good outcomes. No good, of course, comes from losing your home, your health insurance, your job. But there is the possibility that the change in our nations since the pandemic will remind us and teach us something important.

The wilderness can teach us about values and the value of things, the true value of what you treasure most: your dear ones, your friends, your music, your books.


The late Tim Russert, NBC News Washington Bureau Chief, editor and host of Meet the Press, wrote a wonderful book about his father, Big Russ: a strong, gentle, and always modest man who worked hard all his life, raised his family in a blue-collar neighborhood of South Buffalo, and was always admired and respected by his friends.

Big Russ loved cars, always drove used cars, and used to say that someday he’d love to own a new Cadillac. His son, Tim Russert, used to say, “Dad, someday I’m going to buy you a brand-new Cadillac.” “Yeah, right,” Big Russ would say.

A few days before his father’s seventy-fifth birthday, Russert, now very successful, called and said, “OK, I’m finally in a position to buy you a new car. When I come home for Thanksgiving, we’ll pick it up.” He sent his dad catalogs for Cadillac, Mercedes, and Lexus. “Look them over. . . . You can have any car you want . . . with options.”

When he came home for Thanksgiving, he said, “OK, which one did you pick?” “Let’s go for a ride and I’ll show you,” Big Russ said, and they drove to the local Ford dealership.

“A Ford? Dad, what do you want a Ford for?”

They walked into the showroom and the salesman showed Tim Russert his father’s choice, a black Crown Victoria.

“Dad, it’s a cop car!”

“Isn’t she beautiful? Show him the trunk, Charlie. It’s huge—you can put three suitcases in there and two cases of beer.”

They drove the big Ford out of the dealership, and Tim Russert said, “I have to ask you something. When I was a kid you always said you wanted a Cadillac. Why the Ford?”

His dad pulled over and said, “Do I think it’s a better car? No. But if I came home with a big, fancy Cadillac, do you know what people would say? ‘What happened to Tim? He’s showing off. He got too big for us. His kid made it and now he’s driving a Cadillac.’ No, I can’t do that. This is what I want. This is who I am” (Big Russ and Me, pp. 215–218).

If there is a bright side to this wilderness, it is that we will learn again virtues we may have forgotten: modesty, frugality, responsibility, community, kindness and the real value, the precious value, of the things we love most – relationships.


Kathleen Norris, in the book, Acedia and Me, describes in wilderness terms the illness and death of her husband, David. Stuck in a cheap motel room because it was near the hospital where David was receiving treatment. Television was the only diversion. Snacks from the vending machine were warmed in the room’s microwave. It was a depressing wilderness. She knew how serious his respiratory situation was. Nevertheless, when he died, she was “numb with loss. . . . I had lost my identity as a married woman. The community of two that had constituted my marriage was no more, and I had no idea how I would inhabit the devastating word, widow. As for prayer, I was not surprised . . . that when I needed the consolation that prayer can bring, I was unable to pray” (pp. 249–250).

That is the wilderness of grief, the terrible loneliness of grief that feels like utter abandonment, isolation.

Finally, Kathleen found a prayer she could pray in the wilderness:

This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. (Acedia and Me)

God comes into our wilderness. That is the promise. We are not finally alone there. In the lonely wilderness of illness and grief, angels come to wait on us. The church is there, friends are there, reaching out to touch and comfort and hold us, reminders that God is there, that we are held tightly by the One who loves us.

Angels came to Jesus in the wilderness, reminders of the voice he heard that day before the wilderness: “You are my beloved Son: with you I am well pleased.”

Rodney Hunter of the Candler School of Theology writes, “Is it not precisely this message that we are privileged to hear . . . in the gospel of Jesus Christ—in our own unique way we are the beloved daughters and sons of God?”

“Must we not also recognize that through him we too have been given a name, an identity, a worth and dignity as human beings that is rooted and grounded with all the saints in the eternal, unconditional, unalterable being and love of God?”

That is the news that ripped open the heavens that day long ago when Jesus was baptized and driven by the Spirit into the wilderness.

And that is the news—you are a beloved daughter, a beloved son of God—in whatever wilderness you find yourself this morning. In Jesus Christ, the beloved Son, we are all God’s beloved children.


Commentary and Liturgy from the Book of Common Worship (PCUSA), “Call to Worship” Website, AJ Levine, Teri McDowell Ott, John Buchanana, Karoline Lewis, David Lose, and The New Interpreter’s Commentary



I am empowered by God and led by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.  I will be a living witness through prayer, preaching, teaching, and outreach to all people.  I will encourage and challenge all to grow spiritually, to care for others, to share the Good News, and to do so with a loving, joyful heart.


*HYMN No. 213                     “In the Cross of Christ I Glory”
1 In the cross of Christ I glory,
towering o’er the wrecks of time;
all the light of sacred story
gathers round its head sublime.

2 When the woes of life o’er-take me,
hopes deceive, and fears annoy,
never shall the cross forsake me;
lo, it glows with peace and joy.

3 When the sun of bliss is beaming
light and love upon my way,
from the cross the radiance streaming
adds more luster to the day.

4 Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure,
by the cross are sanctified;
peace is there that knows no measure,
joys that through all time abide.

5 In the cross of Christ I glory,
towering o’er the wrecks of time;
all the light of sacred story
gathers round its head sublime.



O God, your Word is holy and hope-filled. We read these words from the Gospel of Mark today with joy and thanksgiving: “The Kingdom of God has come near.”


On this First Sunday of Lent, we give thanks for all the ways you come near and make yourself known to us, Great God. We give thanks for the boundaries you break on our behalf, crossing the heavens to come to earth, moving from the spiritual to the physical in the life and flesh of Jesus. As we follow your Beloved Son and our Beloved Savior into the wilderness of Lent, we pray for more signs of your “Kingdom come near” in our lives, the lives of those we love, and our world.


God of all nations, the kingdoms we have built have desecrated your creation and established hierarchies of domination. We pray for an end to violence, war, hostage taking and terrorism, the abhorrent methods by which one tribe seeks to dominate another. May your kingdom come near, enlightening us to the error of our ways, to the consequences and costs of our sins, to alternative structures that promote peace, justice, and dignity for all life. Just as your Spirit possessed Jesus on the day of his baptism, may your Spirit fill us with the passion and the courage to pursue a more just world for all, the building of peaceful kingdoms, not hierarchical kingdoms, where all can flourish, and all creation can be renewed.


God of the incarnation, we praise you for the intimacy of knowing you through your son, Jesus Christ, and the way you come near in human flesh. You know our joy and our pain.


You know our need and that which truly satisfies. You know our suffering and the path to healing. Your presence is balm to our wounds. Your love is an unfathomable grace. God be with those we know who are suffering and struggling, as well as those known only to you.


We pray for the innocent trapped beneath falling bombs and warring nations …


We pray for those forced from their homes, unsafe and insecure and seeking asylum …


We pray for the unhoused and the hungry, struggling to survive …


We pray for the overwhelmed and exhausted, in need of respite, rest and relief …


We pray for those who are ill and their caregivers …


We pray for those who are struggling under the weight of grief …


God, come near to those who are suffering. Also, come near to those in our community, those on our prayer list, those we name silently before you now ….


We lift these prayers to you, Gracious God, confident that you hear us and even know the prayers we are too afraid to pray. Hear us now as we join our hearts and our voices to pray the prayer Jesus taught us to pray by saying, “Our Father ….”


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 debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.





God calls us to lives of grateful generosity. Let us praise the Giver of all good gifts through our offering today.




*RESPONSE N0. 605                        “Praise to God the Father”

Praise to God the Father;
praise to God the Son;
praise to God the Spirit:
praise to the Three-in-One.
Sing praise, sing praise to the Lord on high.
Praise to God Almighty;
praise to the Holy One.

Da n’ase! Da n’ase! Da Onyame ase!
Da n’ase! Da n’ase! Da Onyame ase!
Efiase oye n’a n’adoe doe so.
Da n’ase! Da n’ase! Da Onyame ase!



God of grace, you provide for us in amazing ways. Accept these offerings as signs of our gratitude and bless them to further Christ’s ministry and mission among the poor, the suffering and the destitute. Amen.


*HYMN No. 159                     “O Sing a Song of Bethlehem”

1 O sing a song of Bethlehem,
of shepherds watching there,
and of the news that came to them
from angels in the air.
The light that shone on Bethlehem
fills all the world today.
Of Jesus’ birth and peace on earth
the angels sing alway.

2 O sing a song of Nazareth,
of sunny days of joy;
O sing of fragrant flowers’ breath,
and of the sinless boy.
For now the flowers of Nazareth
in every heart may grow.
Now spreads the fame of his dear name
on all the winds that blow.

3 O sing a song of Galilee,
of lake and woods and hill,
of him who walked upon the sea
and bade its waves be still.
For though, like waves on Galilee,
dark seas of trouble roll,
when faith has heard the Master’s word,
falls peace upon the soul.

4 O sing a song of Calvary,
its glory and dismay,
of him who hung upon the tree,
and took our sins away.
For he who died on Calvary
is risen from the grave,
and Christ, our Lord, by heaven adored,
is mighty now to save.



Beloved people of God;
I invite you, in the name of Christ, to observe a holy Lent
by self-examination and penitence, by prayer and fasting,
by works of love,
and by meditating on Gods’ Word.

May the grace, hope, peace and love of God our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer be with us all, now and forever. Amen.