Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, Toledo, Ohio
A congregation of the Northwestern Ohio Synod
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Sunday, March 20, 2022
Third Sunday in Lent
Introduction & Welcome
Welcome to worship today, God’s gift to us because God is good! all the time!
and all the time! God is good!
Though we sometimes doubt and often resist God’s desire to protect and save us, our God persists. In holy baptism, God’s people have been called and gathered into a God-initiated relationship that will endure. Lent provides the church with a time and a tradition in which to seek God’s face again. Lent provides another occasion to behold the God of our salvation in the face of the Blessed One who “comes in the name of the Lord.”
Confession and Forgiveness
All may make the sign of the cross, the sign that is marked at baptism, as the presiding minister begins.
In the name of God,
who makes a way in the wilderness,
walks with us,
and guides us in our pilgrimage.
Silence is kept for reflection.
we confess that we have wandered far from you:
we have not trusted your promises,
we have ignored your prophets in our own day,
we have squandered our inheritance of grace,
we have failed to recognize you in our midst.
Have mercy on us!
Forgive us and turn us again to you.
Teach us to follow in your ways,
assure us again of your love,
and help us to love our neighbor.
Beloved in Christ,
the Word draws near to you,
and all who call out to God shall be saved.
In Jesus, God comes to you again and again
and gathers you under wings of love.
In ☩ Jesus’ name, your sins are forgiven.
God journeys with you and teaches you how to live in love.
Prayer of the Day
Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son. Help us to hear your word and obey it, and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
First Reading: Isaiah 55:1-9
To those who have experienced long years in exile, the return to their homeland is a celebration of abundant life. God calls them into an everlasting covenant of love. Those who return to God will enjoy new life and forgiveness, because God’s ways are not our ways.
1Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
4See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
5See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
6Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
7let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
9For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Psalm: Psalm 63:1-8
1O God, you are my God; eagerly 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.
2Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place,
that I might behold your power and your glory.
3For your steadfast love is better than life itself;
my lips shall give you praise.
4So will I bless you as long as I live
and lift up my hands in your name.
5My spirit is content, as with the richest of foods,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,
6when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the night watches.
7For you have been my helper,
and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.
8My whole being clings to you;
your right hand holds me fast.
Second Reading:1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Paul uses images from Hebrew Scriptures and prophecy to speak the truth of Jesus Christ: He is our rock, our water, our food, and our drink. Christ is the living sign of God’s faithfulness.
1I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3and all ate the same spiritual food, 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.
6Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. 7Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” 8We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. 10And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
The Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)
Gospel: Luke 13:1-9
Asked about current tragic events, Jesus turns a lesson about whether suffering is deserved into a hard call to obedience. He then tells a parable that holds out hope that the timeline for ultimate judgment will be tempered by patience.1At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.2[Jesus] asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
6Then 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. 7So 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?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”
Meditation by Pastor Howard
What gets most of the attention in this reading from Luke is the question of people’s getting killed for no good reason that anyone can figure out. Pilate slaughtered a group of Galileans. They must have been worse sinners than most, or God wouldn’t have let that happen to them, right? “No,” says Jesus, “they weren’t.” “Well, how about those eighteen people who were crushed to death when a tower collapsed? I’ve seen tee-shirts that say everything happens for a reason. Hadn’t they somehow escaped punishment for bad things they’d done but had managed to keep hidden? And didn’t God arrange for them to be there when the tower came crashing down, so that they wound up getting what they deserved after all?” “No,” said Jesus, “and, instead of dreaming up silly theories about other people’s sins, you might consider thinking about your own, and repenting of them.”
Then he tells a parable about patience and valuing those who aren’t going along with your program.
Fig trees were cherished in ancient Palestine. They bore sweet, nourishing fruit. It was good to have one. So good, that, paired with a grape vine, the fig tree was a symbol of a good secure life, evoked often in the Scriptures. Times were good when Solomon was king. How good? “During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all of them under their vines and fig trees.” (I Kings 4.25) When the king of Assyria was trying to persuade the Israelites to surrender to him, he would give them that good life again: “Make your peace with me and come out to me; then every one of you will eat from your own vine and your own fig tree.” (2 Kings 18.31) A threat of disaster might include the loss of them: “I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees.” (Hosea 2.12) And it’s never each one’s own vine and pomegranate tree, or vine and olive tree, or vine and apple tree. If you’re blessed, you get to sit under your own vine and fig tree. Fig trees were great!
In Jesus’ parable, a man had a fig tree that was not great. It was not bearing any figs. So, what good was it? “Cut it down,” he said to his gardener. “Let’s not, just yet,” said the gardener. “Let me coax it a little, and cultivate it, give it some extra water, and maybe some Miracle-Gro. (He didn’t really say Miracle-Gro, but this is a family newsletter, and I don’t want to be indelicate.) Let’s see whether it bears fruit next year.”
Like many of Jesus’ parables, we don’t hear how it comes out. The parable doesn’t get to next year.
Mark’s story of a fig tree that’s not bearing fruit suggests that the fig tree may symbolize the religious establishment in Jesus’ day. Going into Jerusalem, in the last few days before he lays down his life for us, Jesus see a fig tree, and looks for a snack from it. There are no figs on it. (It’s not supposed to have ripe fruit on it. It’s spring, and fig trees bear in the late summer and fall. But that’s material for another discussion.) Jesus curses the fig tree. Then he goes into the temple, which is similarly disappointing. What’s going on there is not what God hopes for in his worshiping community. Next day, the fig tree Jesus cursed has withered. Is Mark suggesting that God is going to allow the temple to wither away?
In Luke’s telling, though, this parable is not linked to the temple. Jesus won’t get to Jerusalem for six more chapters. The parable seems to be about patience with trees that are accepting space, and nourishment, and care, but are not doing what they’re supposed to do. They’re accepting lots of benefits, but they’re not doing anything that would benefit anyone else. The owner is tired of blessing it and getting nothing in return. The gardener asks for patience.
Could it be that Jesus wants his hearers to think about themselves? Are his hearers receiving blessings, and not responding as God hopes they will? Might he want us to think about our congregation? Does Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Toledo Ohio receive extravagant blessings from God? Are we responding as God hopes we will? Or maybe Jesus wants us to think about our national life. It’s “the nations” that are gathered before God for judgement in Matthew 25.31-46. What nation has been blessed as richly as ours? How are we doing, caring for the widow and the orphan and the alien, the hungry and naked and sick and imprisoned?
The gardener in the parable asks the owner to be patient.
The owner has been patient, living in hope. Do you think that’s been wise of him?
Prayers of Intercession
Drawn close to the heart of God, we offer these prayers for the church, the world, and all who are in need.
A brief silence.
We pray for the church around the world in all its forms: for pastors, deacons, bishops, chaplains, and mission developers; for church councils, committee chairs, and all lay ministry leaders; for congregations that contemplate difficult decisions about the future of their ministry. Merciful God, receive our prayer.
For the health of this planet and the well-being of its creatures: for lands impacted by droughts and at risk of wildfires; for fig trees and vineyards that produce fruit for our nourishment and delight; for animal habitats threatened by climate change. Merciful God, receive our prayer.
For those called into positions of civic responsibility: for judges, attorneys, and court administrators tasked with uncovering truth and delivering justice; for activists and community leaders who cast a vision of a more compassionate and equitable society. Merciful God, receive our prayer.
For those who call upon you for mercy: for all who live in poverty and experience hunger; for any who feel tested beyond their strength; for those who are hospitalized or near death, and for all in need of healing (especially). Merciful God, receive our prayer.
For the advocacy efforts of this congregation: for those whose faith leads them to speak difficult truths and engage in difficult conversations with policymakers; for those who promote mercy over vengeance or retaliation. Merciful God, receive our prayer.
For those whose earthly journeys have ended, we give thanks. With (names and) all the saints, we praise you for the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Merciful God, receive our prayer.
Accept the prayers we bring, O God, on behalf of a world in need, for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Together, let us profess our faith using the words of the Apostles Creed:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
And now, as our Savior, Christ, continues to teach us, we boldly 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.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,
now and forever. Amen.
You are children of God,
anointed with the oil of gladness
and strengthened for the journey.
motherly, majestic, and mighty,
☩ bless you this day and always.
Go in peace. Jesus meets you on the way.
Thanks be to God.