A moment of contemplation for yourself or on behalf of others on everything from the life-altering to the mundane.

Prayer: A conversation with The Higher Other who lives within each of us. An invitation to vent, to re-think, to ask, and to rest.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Prayers of the People: With Opened Eyes ~ First Sunday "in" Lent '23 Yr A

For Sunday, February 26, 2023, Readings: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7Psalm 32Romans 5:12-19Matthew 4:1-11

   Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew they were both naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. [Genesis 3:7] 

    Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not conceal my guilt. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD." Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin."  [Psalm 32:6-7]

    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...the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness... [Romans 5:15b, 17b]

   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.'" [Matthew 4:3-4]

     This day, in some Christian denominations, is the First Sunday in* Lent, a season of prayer, reflection, and repentance. While Lent officially began last week on Ash Wednesday, we now begin in earnest over forty days, symbolic of both Moses’ time on Mt. Sinai and Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. Temptation is the theme that undergirds this season. Genesis tells us about the man and woman, later known as Adam and Eve, who succumb to the temptation offered by the serpent, thinking they understood the consequences. With their eyes wide open after partaking of the forbidden fruit, they are suddenly aware of being naked. Paul reflects on the difference between the couple in the Garden and how Jesus stood firm on the mountain. Matthew’s Gospel is more explicit about Jesus' confrontation with the Devil.  
    Temptation is, simply, the lure of the wanted, the desired. Our mortal time is filled with unlimited varieties of attractions that entice and stimulate our appetites. Temptation is as small as an unhealthy sugary delight, a second glass of wine, or a third helping at the buffet table, and as large as a forbidden relationship, abuse of power, or murder. Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist theologian, ethicist, and preacher once said: Temptation starts with a question of identity, moves to a confusion of the desires, and ultimately heads to a contest of futures. In short, there’s a reason you want what you do not want to want. Temptation is embryonic, personality specific, and purpose directed.** We cannot free ourselves of it which is why we have this season – and beyond – to consciously examine what triggers the desires, and what, as in the case of Adam and Eve, keeps pulling us to the knowing “fall” into the clutches of the wanted-not-wanted. That brings us to repentance and a renewed desire to improve our resistance to those enticements.
      The word repent in Biblical Hebrew is represented by two verbs: to return and to feel sorrow. In the post-Resurrection New Testament of Christianity, it can be defined as: to think differently after; to make a change of mind and heart.  Unlikely as it is that many of us will find ourselves in an actual wilderness for these forty days, it still is an opportune time to take ourselves away symbolically for a few minutes or more each day. We can look for ways to simplify our wants in this temporal life, to dig down into our deepest selves to find the living Presence of God in Christ within us. We can seek and experience a positive change, to feel sorrow for our sins, and with open eyes, return to the conscious work of living as God intends. It is far less about giving up a piece of chocolate/beer/or bad habit, and more about taking on a spiritual practice to discover again, or for the first time, what true life is all about and how to live it in an authentically Christian way.  
      Resistance builds on itself and looks ahead rather than in the heat of a momentas having a spare tire in the trunk of the car. When we summon the courage through the grace of God to resist even mild temptation, we invite the spiritual growth that gives us ever increasing strength and grace to resist more, and so, to grow into the Life in Christ that beckons us. Moore tells us further: Don’t let your urges scare you. Let them instead drive you to pray for the wisdom to see what you were created to be and to do…seek to direct your appetites toward the ways in which the Word of God…tell us they can be fulfilled.   
      Lent is the perfect time to examine the temptations and distractions, the emptiness or even destructiveness of some activity in our lives, the nakedness in our souls. Through prayer and reflection, meditation, etc., within small groups, on one's own, or both, or even with a pastoral counselor or spiritual director, we can discover ways that bolster our ability to resist evils small and big and bigger. Whether through a Lenten study guide online or in hand, the practice of Morning and Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer or another source, or the daily reading of Scripture, among many other ways, one small step begins the journey. The more we resist the glitter and lure of the temporary earthly delight, the less prone we will be to sliding into the cold chill of the shadows of sin, leaving behind the warmth of God's embrace. We can build on the fortitude of Christ within us. Yes, we’ll fail, often, and perhaps spectacularly. So fill that spiritual trunk with the spare tire of prayer and repentance and begin again and again. You won’t be turned away. 
      Jesus, ultimate Resistor of Temptation, give me strength to walk consciously on the path toward You with opened eyes, as my grace-filled heart and soul seek renewal and strength of faith in each step and each moment of each day.

*FYI: The Sundays in the Season of Lent do not “count” in the time span of 40 days which is why the heading is the x/th Sunday in Lent rather than of Lent. The Sundays of Epiphany or Advent do count in the time up to their Holy occasions, Christmas and Epiphany. The Sundays beyond the Epiphany and also Pentecost are noted as the # Sunday after...

**from ”Tempted and Tried” by Russell D. Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention


Leader:  ~ Creator Lord, You have given us eyes to see ourselves as we truly are and the heart to accept Your free gift of grace through Christ. Fill us now with the courage to step forward in faith, to repent of our sins, and to turn the life we have been given to Your guidance and to Your service.

                                                         O God of Mercy
RESPONSE:                  We now confess and begin again

~ Creator Lord, impel the political leaders in our World, in our Nation, and in our Community, to rally to Your call and forsake the temptations and vanity of the power of power, and to govern with integrity, equity, and truth. We pray especially for: add your own petitions

                                                       O God of Mercy
                                                       We now confess and begin again                                       
~ Creator Lord, sustain the faith and dispel the despair of all who are chronically ill in body, mind, or spirit, and of all who attend to their needs. We now join our hearts to pray aloud for those in need… add your own petitions

                                                       O God of Mercy
                                                       We now confess and begin again 

~ Creator Lord, lift us from our grief into the hope of eternal life and joy, reunited with all who now live again in glory with You. We pray especially for… add your own petitions

                                                       O God of Mercy
                                                       We now confess and begin again

~ Creator Lord, we pause in this moment to offer You our other heartfelt thanksgivings, intercessions, petitions, and memorials, aloud or silently… add your own petitions

                                                       O God of Mercy
                                                       We now confess and begin again  
~ Creator Lord, fortify and energize all who are anointed to bring us Your Word and Sacraments. As they shepherd us in faith, we walk together toward wholeness in You. We pray especially for: add your own petitions

                                                       O God of Mercy
                                                       We now confess and begin again                                                                                            
The Celebrant adds: Most Holy God, You sent Jesus into a world of temptation and trials not so different from our world of today. Accepting obedience to Your Law, he triumphed over it all to save us. Shield us from the lures of false prophets as we begin our own 40 days of reflection to keep our hearts true and trusting in Your Eternal Grace. We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Great High Priest; and the Holy Spirit, our Sanctifier; who reign with You, as One God, forever and ever.  Amen. 


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