March 20, 2022 - 3rd Sunday in Lent

March 20, 2022 – 3rd Sunday in Lent

Morning prayer: Gracious and eternal God, You call us into a new way of being, and give us so many second chances in life. May Your love wash over us, as we turn toward You from our sinful ways. Mold us as Your people in new and powerful ways, that we may be true disciples of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen. (Ministry Matters)

Call to Worship – Psalm 63

Leader: O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

People: So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.

Leader: Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

People: So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

Leader: My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips

People: when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;

Leader: for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.

People: My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

Leader: But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth;

People: they shall be given over to the power of the sword, they shall be prey for jackals.

Leader: But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

Hymn #189 Fairest Lord Jesus

  1. Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature, O Thou of God and man the Son,
    Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor, Thou, my soul's glory, joy, and crown.
  2. Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands, robed in the blooming garb of spring:
    Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer who makes the woeful heart to sing.
  3. Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight, and all the twinkling starry host:
    Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer than all the angels heaven can boast.
  4. Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations! Son of God and Son of Man!
    Glory and honor, praise, adoration, now and forevermore be Thine.

Children’s Time:  Exodus 4:10-17

But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” But he said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and He said, “What of your brother Aaron, the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him. Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.”

I am so glad we have this time together to talk about one of our foundational stories, The Exodus. Moses has just met with God and God has told Moses that there is an important job for Moses to do. God wants Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. The Israelites have been enslaved there for many years and have grown to be a large community of people. But they are being mistreated by the leader of Egypt, Pharaoh.

 

But Moses is scared to talk to Pharoah, he is actually scared to talk to anyone. Moses acts God if maybe God can find someone else to do it. But God says no, but God does agree to tell Moses’ brother Aaron speak for both God and Moses. This will be the beginning of an incredible partnership between Moses and Aaron.

 

Do you have someone you can rely on? Maybe it is your brother or sister, a cousin or a very close friend. God brings special people into our lives to assist us in all the God desires for our lives and the lives of others. We should always be thankful for those special people and we should tell them how special they are to us and how much we appreciate them.

 

Let’s have a prayer together: Gracious God, thank you for sending special people into our lives. They help us know you better and to love you better. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Prayers of Intercession:  Lord we cry to you for help.  You answer in words, in the deeds and acts of kindness, in the people around us.  Hear the cries of our hearts for those we hold dear.  We now pray as You have taught us: 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 trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen. 

Offering spotlight:  Our choirs and Praise Band are preparing Easter music.  Your tithes and offerings have provided music, robes and equipment for our volunteers to praise God with music.  If you can sing or play an instrument, there is room for you on the stage and/or in the choir loft. 

Offertory prayer: Patient and merciful God, we bring our offerings humbly on this day, hoping they will bring fruit to the ministry of your church on earth. We ourselves have not always set our priorities on bearing good fruit, and yet you are a patient gardener. You have sent saints into our midst to make the soil richer, yet like the stubborn fig tree, good fruit has been scarce. May our journey this Lenten season feed our spirits to bring forth the fruit you desire. We pray in the name of our savior and redeemer, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Hymn of Preparation #381 Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us

  1. Savior, like a shepherd lead us, much we need Thy tender care;
    in Thy pleasant pastures feed us, for our use Thy folds prepare.
    Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Thou hast bought us, Thine we are.
    Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Thou hast bought us, Thine we are.
  2. We are Thine, Thou dost befriend us, be the guardian of our way;
    keep Thy flock, from sin defend us, seek us when we go astray.
    Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Hear, O hear us when we pray.
    Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Hear, O hear us when we pray.
  3. Thou hast promised to receive us, poor and sinful though we be;
    Thou hast mercy to relieve us, grace to cleanse and power to free.
    Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! We will early turn to Thee.
    Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! We will early turn to Thee.

    4. Early let us seek Thy favor, early let us do Thy will;
    blessed Lord and only Savior, with Thy love our bosoms fill.
    Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Thou hast loved us, love us still.
    Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Thou hast loved us, love us still.

Message scripture: Luke 13:6-9

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Message:  Second Chances                             Rev. Ron French

          I believe that second chances are a good thing. Some of you may remember a man by the name of Alan Simpson who served with distinction as a Republican member of the United States Senate from Wyoming from 1979-1997. In his younger years, however, Alan Simpson’s life was not so circumspect. A few years ago, Simpson was involved in a Supreme Court case, Graham v. Florida.

          In a brief in support of the claimant in the case, Simpson admitted that as a juvenile he was – in his own words – “a monster.” At one time he was on federal probation for shooting mailboxes and punching a police officer. One day while in high school, he and some friends “went out to damage.” They went to an abandoned war relocation structure and decided to “torch it.” They committed arson on federal property, a crime now punishable by up to twenty years in prison if no one is hurt. Luckily for Simpson, no one was injured in the blaze. One day Simpson and his friends went shooting fire arms throughout their community. They fired at mailboxes, blowing holes in several and they even shot and killed a cow.

          Finally, federal authorities charged Simpson with destroying government property. He pleaded guilty, received two years of probation and was required to make restitution from his own funds – funds that he was supposed to obtain by holding down a job. As all this was unfolding, Alan saw his parents look at each other in total disbelief, and he saw his father cry. Fortunately Alan Simpson got a second chance, and he became one of the most respected senators of his generation. Do you believe in second chances? Not everyone does. But thankfully, God does.

Jesus told a parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’” (Luke 13:6-7) Now that makes sense to me, doesn’t it to you? What good is a fruit tree that doesn’t bear fruit?

Notice that it had been three years that the owner had the fig tree growing in his vineyard and yet it yielded nothing. Three years is the length of time that it takes a fig tree to become an established, fruit-bearing tree. That it was not bearing at this point makes it highly unlikely that it would ever bear fruit. So the owner of the vineyard was making a practical business decision. The tree is taking up room. It’s using fertile soil in which another tree might prosper. “Cut it down!” he said to the gardener who cared for his vineyard. “He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:8-9)

Obviously the man who cared for the vineyard saw possibilities in the tree that the owner of the vineyard could not see. The owner could only see that the tree was not pulling its weight. But the man who looked after the tree was more familiar with it and believed that the tree deserved another chance.

Here is something we should note: A second chance implies that something we did was wrong. We need to consider this truth for a few moments while we still have the word “sin” in our vocabulary. Brothers and sisters, I am very serious here. The whole concept that God would pass judgment on human beings is fast disappearing from American religion. Writer David Brooks in his recent best-selling book The Road to Character says that we have done our young people a disservice in letting this ancient word sin slip from the modern lexicon. We have made it very difficult for our young people to even talk about right and wrong. And I think he’s right.

You have heard me preach for the past four years and you know that almost all of the time I talk about God’s grace and God’s love. But from time to time we need to face the facts. It is absurd to think that a Creator God has no expectations from those whom he has created.

Dr. Tom Long tells a story about one of his students who hailed him one day as he walked across campus. “Dr. Long,” she said, “could I speak to you for a minute?” Long replied that he was going to get a cup of coffee, if she wanted to join him. She did, and as they were sharing coffee, she told him what was on her mind. She said she was serving as a field education student in a local church and that her supervising pastor was requiring her to preach the next Sunday. Long said, “Good.” She said, “It’s not good. Have you read the lectionary passages for this week? They’re all about judgment. I don’t believe in judgment. I believe in grace. I believe in mercy. I believe…it took me three years of therapy to get over judgment.” She concluded by saying, “I am not going to preach judgment.” They talked about it for a while and then moved on to other things.

She started to tell Dr. Long about her family life. She and her husband have several children, only the youngest of whom – a teenage boy – was still at home and he was driving them crazy. He was into drugs, maybe dealing them, in trouble with the police. She said, “Last night we were sitting at supper, he comes in the back door and I said would you like some supper and he exploded at us. Then he just stomped down the hall to his room and slammed the door.” She went on, “My husband got up and turned on ESPN. That is always his response to this.” Dr. Long said, “Caroline, I think you just preached a sermon on judgment. God loves us so much that he will not put up with the foolishness in our lives. We have foolishly hungered for success and power and status, and God says through Jesus, ‘That’s foolish. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice. That’s what makes life free and good… Jesus says that it’s foolish to hunger for success and power and status. I love you so much I’m not going to put up with that.”

To say that God gives us second chances is to imply the fact of God’s judgment on our sometimes foolish lives. Sisters and brothers, God created us to bear fruit – the fruit of love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (see Galatians 5:22-23) To think that God would forever put up with our lack of fruit…and even the bearing of wrong fruit…simply defies logic. We don’t know what form God’s judgment may take, we don’t know whether it will be in this world or the next, but God does judge.

The late humorist Lewis Grizzard once said that thinking about God’s final judgment over our lives scared the “you-know-what” out of him. He said one day he received a questionnaire in the mail titled “Heaven: Are You Eligible?” Grizzard said he took the test and scored “To close to call.” I suspect that all of us might score “too close to call.” Thankfully God allows second chances.

But remember that a second chance implies that we are not living our lives up to the highest level and we need to do something about that. And that’s called repentance. “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” (6-7) And who can argue that the owner had the right to cut down the nonbearing fig tree? Look around you. That is how all life is ordered. It’s part of the law of sowing and reaping. Sow all the wild oats you want to, but eventually there will be a harvest. What kind of harvest can you expect under such circumstances – certainly not a good one. “Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” (7) The need for a second chance implies that something we’ve done is wrong, and we need to do something about it.

Life’s second chance is what the cross is all about. “He said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ The gardener replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (7-9)

The gardener of the vineyard obviously represents Jesus. Someone once called Jesus “the forgiving side of God.” That’s not a perfect statement theologically, but for us that is close enough. Second chances are what the cross is all about. Jesus lives with God to make intercession on our behalf. The question is, what will we do in response to the second chance God gives us? Do we continue to make the same foolish mistakes?

We are making a pilgrimage through the Lenten Season. On the first Sunday of the journey, Pastor Becky dealt with Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. We call those temptations tests and that is how we should always look at temptations. These are not tests designed to defeat us, but opportunities for us to become stronger.

In the same way, second chances are designed to help us learn and grow stronger as we make our pilgrimage through life so that we might bear more and better fruit. I like the way Louisa Tarkington once put it. She wrote: “I wish there were some wonderful place called “The Land of Beginning Again.” Where all our past mistakes and heartaches, and all our poor selfish grief, could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door and never be put on again.”

Well, sisters and brothers, there is such a place, this Land of Beginning Again. It’s at the foot of the cross. Lent is a reminder to us that we all have missed the mark. God offers us a second chance through the cross of Jesus Christ. Won’t you accept that gracious offer and make a new beginning today?

Closing Hymn #144 This Is My Father’s World

  1. This is my Father's world, and to my listening ears
    all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
    This is my Father's world: I rest me in the thought
    of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought.
  2. This is my Father's world, the birds their carols raise,
    the morning light, the lily white, declare their maker's praise.
    This is my Father's world: He shines in all that's fair;
    in the rustling grass I hear Him pass; He speaks to me everywhere.
  3. This is my Father's world. O let me ne'er forget
    that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
    This is my Father's world: why should my heart be sad?
    The Lord is King; let the heavens ring! God reigns; let the earth be glad!

Benediction:  Go into this week with the blessings of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

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