From Sand to Stream

I’m captivated by the selection of Scriptures for this first Sunday in Lent  (lectionary readings) which have much to do with this sacred time of preparation for Easter being a period of promise as  God’s draws ever nearer in the acts of repentance, affirmation, retreat, and testing.

Below is an idea for entering a time of worship and fellowship with the call to worship being taken from the Gospel for a refreshing change and the Psalm being used later in the service as a responsive prayer of confession/promise after the sermon/meditation.

The altar/focal point should be set up with a tray or box (preferably perspex) of sand covered with small pebbles and a blue flowing scarf to resemble water or a jug and bowl into which water can be poured during the prayer of invocation.

Call to Worship: Mark 1: 9-15 (NCV)

Reader 1:
At that time Jesus came from the town of Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. Immediately, as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven open. The Holy Spirit came down on him like a dove, and a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love, and I am very pleased with you.”

Reader 2:
Then the Spirit sent Jesus into the desert. He was in the desert forty days and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and the angels came and took care of him.

Reader 3:
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, preaching the Good News from God. He said, “The right time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Change your hearts and lives and believe the Good News!”

 

Prayer of Invocation

God.

God, You are.

God, You are everywhere.

God of sand,
God of stream,
God of everywhere
in between…

God of the dry places
where the sun beats down
and the rivers dry up
and the grasses brown …

God of the streams
where creatures meet
to quench their thirst
and escape the heat …

God of hearts
as hard as stone,
struggling through life
as though alone…

God of children
called by grace,
to meet You
in this sacred space …

bless us
in this time of Lent;
change our lives
as we repent;

give us eyes to see
and ears to hear:
the time has come,
our God draws near.

Deserted?

One of my favourite places on earth is the Namib desert.

Over 50 million years old and covering over 80 000 square kilometres, this vast place seems, at first glance, to be completely inhospitable and sterile. But to those with the wisdom to fix their gaze beneath the seductive purple hues of the horizon to the shimmering, shifting sands under their feet, life triumphs in the number of unusual and rare plants and animals who have adapted to survive the harsh conditions.

I was astounded by our guide who wove tales of this living desert from the faintest tracks upon the sand; who stalked a chameleon over 500 metres of rock and scrub; who stood upon a sidewinder in his attempt to locate one for us; who pointed out the tunnels of invisible spiders right beside our feet; who barrelled out of the 4X4 and into the side of a mammoth dune to emerge with a little lizard held tenderly in his enormous hand; who spoke reverently as the sun set of the fog that would creep over the coast at night allowing nature to flourish in a land where rain is so scarce and unpredictable.

As I journey with the Gospel reading this week (Matthew 14:13-21), I am equally astounded that a crowd of over 5000 people would so readily forsake the comfort and convenience of home and community for the solitary, deserted place into which Jesus had withdrawn to pray.

What did they see in Jesus that they would follow him on foot from their towns to a remote place without any certainty about how he would receive them, or concern about what they would feed their families with that day?

Did they see beneath the surface of an inhospitable, sterile place to the possibility of healing and spiritual sustenance?

Were their lives perhaps more inhospitable and sterile than the deserted place to which they flocked in order to find real satisfaction, true abundance?

Just a few chapters before, we read of Jesus speaking to the crowds in parables which confuse his disciples. When they question him on his methods, he responds:

But blessed are your eyes because they see,
and your ears because they hear.
Matthew 13:16 (NIV)

Though we may find ourselves in a deserted place;
though some of our relationships may be on rocky ground;
though our finances may look bleak
or our jobs may be unrewarding
or there may be no job at all;
though we may struggle to get through all we have to do in a day
and fall each night into bed exhausted,
or have no reason to get out of bed each morning
and lose each day to a suffocating depression that no one seems to understand;
though we are barely holding onto hope by our fingertips,
may we have eyes to see the Christ who turned 5 loaves and 2 fish into a feast for 5000
and have the courage to follow the One who will not send us away empty-handed.