3rd Sunday of Lent – March 20th 2022

Welcome

Opening Prayer

Loving God, we have come to worship you.
Help us to pray to you in faith,
to sing your praise with gratitude,
and to listen to your word with eagerness;
through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Worship

Confession

God shows his love for us
in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Let us then show our love for him
by confessing our sins in penitence and faith.

God our Father,
we come to you in sorrow for our sins.

For turning away from you,
and ignoring your will for our lives;
Father, forgive us:
save us and help us.

For behaving just as we wish,
without thinking of you;
Father, forgive us:
save us and help us.

For failing you by what we do,
and think and say;
Father, forgive us:
save us and help us.

For letting ourselves be drawn away from you
by temptations in the world about us;
Father, forgive us:
save us and help us.

For living as if we were ashamed
to belong to your Son;
Father, forgive us:
save us and help us.

Almighty God,
who forgives all who truly repent,
have mercy upon us,
pardon and deliver us from all our sins,
confirm and strengthen us in all goodness,
and keep us in life eternal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Word

The Compassion of the Lord

55 “Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
    a leader and commander for the peoples.
Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
    and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has glorified you.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah
55:1-9

Repent or Perish

13 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

Luke
13:1-9

Reflection

Isaiah 55.1-9

Luke 13.1-9

 

Phil last week grappled with the verses near the end of Luke 13. He looked at the difficult issue of respect for our leaders, their responsibility to the people they lead. He also spoke about the sadness and lament that we see Jesus had for Jerusalem, and that we have for the world as we look at it around us.

 

This re-iterated for us the tension that comes for Christians living in both the physical and spiritual, living in the now and hoping for the Kingdom of God to come – we see the world as it is, and long for something more, the promised Kingdom that is and is to come. We find ourselves at this confluence of our lived reality, and our spiritual hope and it can be difficult.

 

In fact, the verses of our reading today, as well as last week, come from a long middle section of Luke from 12:4 to 16:31 that time and time again exposes this tension – much of it in parable stories. Some of the most well-known of Jesus parables are in this section of Luke: The Lost Sheep. The Rich Man and Lazarus, The Rich Fool, The Prodigal Son…. This is a carefully arranged collection of Jesus teaching, arranged around the central parable of The Great Banquet.

 

Our reading today is unique to the 3rd Gospel and explores the ideas of good and bad people and raises the theme of repentance – what constitutes good or bad, righteous and unrighteous, them and how they can be recognised.  

 

In some ways this means the reflection today will be a relatively simple one – and yet its themes are a bedrock to the Christian understanding of the world. That being the case, I would like to enlist some expertise from the outset in order to keep us on the right path.

 

George Pointon is a minor social media celebrity on Twitter. That’s the blue bird one. He often has threads on the site that are children’s responses to questions he poses. This thread is entitled: “How can you tell someone is a good person?” – lets look at some examples.

 

In all seriousness though – the point is that our human viewpoint, our lens struggles to easily define good and bad, great and evil. Our media love simple attention-grabbing binaries. We can’t help but think of people in those terms based on our own time, culture, personal experience, understanding and empathy. We like to explain away behaviour based on our labels. We want to understand the way people are.

 

We often crave and demand explanation when we see bad things happening in the world too – and there seems to be so much of it right now with people struggling to make ends meet in our own country, wars in Syria and Ukraine; explanation offers order. We seek meaning, solace, and even salvation in structure — organizing the world into our framework, piecing together an explanation that fits into our mental model.

 

It is this desire for understanding that leads to raising of the Pilate incident posed to Jesus in our reading today.

 

Some present in the crowd raise the issue of Galileans, evidently about their normal sacrificial rites at the Temple, who were killed by men sent from Pilate (v1). We don’t know much about the incident itself, there don’t appear to be specific contemporary accounts describing this, though there are others in the same vein.

 

By Jesus answer we can guess the nature of the question: “Why is it that these people were allowed to die? What did they do wrong? Why were they bad”

 

In Jewish thought in the first century the connection between unrighteousness, being wrong in the eyes of God – shorthanded to sin – and suffering was direct. This followed the OT trajectory of obedience to God bringing blessing, and disobedience punishment. Bound up in these ideas were the concept of death and punishment versus resurrection and new life.

 

There is much we can’t unpack in that this morning, but it boils down to the same kind of thinking that led the disciples to ask Jesus in the gospel of John (9:1-2): “Who sinned to make this man blind? Him, or his parents?”

 

In many ways Jesus response cuts through the tension and moral handwringing, and all the theological issues raised in the question – he re-frames the board and re-sets the baseline (v2): “Do you think these people were worse than others, than you, because this happened?”. Then again (v4), picking up another contemporary event:  “What about those killed by the falling tower in Siloam?”

 

In both cases, Jesus’ emphatic answer is no – of course not. Those present are in exactly the same position as those that died. In fact Jesus picks up on the tacit connection between the spiritual and physical and states that unless the people repent, they too will die – implying not just a physical death but an absence of resurrection.

 

The basic tenet for Jesus statement is echoed by Paul quoting Ecclesiastes in Romans 3:10: “There is no one righteous, not even one”. That is Jesus baseline. Everyone is in the wrong by default, destined for physical and spiritual death, and it is only repentance that changes that paradigm. That is one of the most basic principles of the Christian faith today – we, and everyone, need to repent and follow Jesus.

 

Interestingly, Jesus immediately launches into a parable than then qualifies this repentance. The owner of a vineyard plants a fig tree, allowing it to reach maturity. But at that point it isn’t bearing fruit. The hand of the vineyard owner is stayed from cutting down the tree at the ask of the gardener – one more year.

 

Here we have a picture of God, the nation of Israel and Jesus. John the Baptist and Jesus had been preaching the message of repentance throughout Israel – a repentance to righteous lives, justice toward one another and piety toward God.

 

But repentance was not forthcoming. John the Baptist warned the people about the Messiah and told them to change because them relying on being named the chosen people of God wasn’t enough (Luke 3:8-9). The Jews were offended by the idea they needed to repent, they had the revelation of God, the prophets, the Scriptures, the covenants, and the adoption (Romans 9:4-5). They had it all, but had turned away from God. The fig tree was planted, bore no fruit, and judgement from God was coming, but with Jesus interceding and therefore grace being extended.

 

This parable of course translates to Christians directly as well – the grace offered by God, the necessity of a fruitful, faithful, repentance is the same. In the letter of James (ch2:14-17) we read about the same necessity for fruitfulness:

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

And so what is the point for us today?

 

The point is that when we try to understand the world around us, the people in it and the way things turn out – we must do so through the lens of the teaching of scripture. Our labels of good or bad, our understanding of events around the world must be underpinned by that direction. It can be hard to give up our own notions of right and wrong, good and bad – it can be frustrating and upsetting for us when there are no ready answers or explanations for events. The last verses of our Isaiah reading this morning remind us of the hard truth that there will be things we don’t understand, times we can’t explain what is going on:

 

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 

However, it is in these words from Isaiah that we also have an important reminder: A reminder of the inclination of God to compassion – a call to all who are thirsty to come to him freely and be satisfied, to be a part of something greater. By the grace of God the offer to seek God and to find, to come to him because of and despite the position we are in, by the work of Jesus Christ to be brought into the Kingdom. A Kingdom that is now and not-yet – one wherein we can have life to the full, and be fruitful citizens to the glory of God.

 

Witness

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray


Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant,
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation:
give us the courage to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father.

Amen

Community

The community of S17 has drawn together during these unusual times in a very special way. This is reflected in the great work of the S17 COVID-19 Community Support group.

The group aims to support those in the community who may be in need and to provide a support network to the S17 community at this time.

“If there are needy people in our community let’s ensure we help them out with things like bringing shopping to their door.”

The Wardens of All Saints Totley have been producing regular newsletters with helpful links, thoughts and resources. The latest of these is here.

We have also started to add resources for the younger members of our church, to add to this virtual service. They can be found here, and here.

Reminder

If you have any feedback on this service or any other ideas, suggestions or contributions, for future services please do send these to comments@allsaintstotley.church