Worship Service for the 3rd Sunday in Lent

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship for this 3rd Sunday in Lent, March 20th, 2022! Thank you for being here!

The bulletin can be found here. The bulletin will have the order of worship, all the words of the liturgy with your responses in bold, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon. You can download the bulletin to follow along with, or alternatively all the words you need to know will be on your screen and the sermon is also on this page below the video.

If you would like to enhance your worship from home, you are encouraged to have a lit candle for the whole service until the sending hymn, and something small to eat and drink for communion. Further instruction on how to take communion will be provided in the service itself.

May God’s gracious blessing be on you, today and always!

If the video does not work, you can try to click here for a list of all our videos and hopefully the correct one will show up there.

O God we seek your face in your Word and in this world, that by your Spirit we might all be satisfied by the rich feast of your love, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

So much to our daughter’s delight, the Pixar movie “Turning Red” was finally released last weekend on Disney+.  Seriously, she was asking to watch it since the first trailer dropped like last summer sometime and we never said that she couldn’t watch it, but we told her that she had to wait for it to come out just like everyone else.  Still, that didn’t stop her from asking and asking and begging sometimes even for some strange reason.  It’s like she doesn’t get how movie release dates work. Anyway, if you haven’t heard of the movie before, this was the trailer that got her all hyped up about it. 

Prayer List for Congregations

I know right, it’s just basically a Pixar version of the Incredible Hulk.

But after watching it, I found that this story was a bit more complex than the Hulk.  I mean, yeah, the mostly mild mannered main character does change into a giant rage monster when her emotions get out of control, but it was more of a coming of age story, where the main protagonist, Meilin Lee I think her name was, or Mei Mei for short at least, learns that her family has this thing where all the women turn into a red panda once they hit their puberty years.  She finds this out when she turns into a red panda herself, much to her surprise.  As if puberty isn’t hard enough as it is, imagine being unable to control when you look human or like a fluffy red animal.

This isn’t something that Mei Mei asked for, not something she wanted, and it definitely wasn’t something she expected as her parents were completely quiet about it, thinking that they had a few years yet before she went through that transformation.

But what struck me about the movie though was just how difficult life can be, and how those around us may tend to brush it off.  Not in a malicious way, mind you, but because they have their own things to deal with themselves.  I know, none of us (that I know of at least) turn into a giant red panda when we are overrun by our emotions, but we are often overrun nonetheless.  We often face sorrow and pain and perhaps it feels like we are changed because of it.  We often run up against the realities of life where our backs feel up against the wall and we might feel like we’re about to explode out of our own skin in frustration and anger and maybe even shake our fists in God’s general direction and ask why.

Why us?  What did we do to deserve this?  How could such things happen the way they do?

And even though we might feel bad for asking such questions, like we have little faith or trust in God’s good graces, I wouldn’t blame any of us for doing so, not now, not ever, and especially not during this very long pandemic that we just went through.  It’s natural to wonder like this.  It’s normal to question these things.  It’s not unusual to sometimes be angry and frustrated with the way things are.   

I mean, that’s what happened in our gospel lesson for today, when Jesus was told about an untimely end to some Galileans by Pilate.  He then addresses the questions they must have had about why, why did these folk meet such a fate?  And those others who died from some engineering disaster, why did that happen?  And to answer those questions, Jesus responds with a very confusing parable.

I say it’s confusing because we aren’t told exactly what it means.  I’ve heard people say that we’re the fig-less fig tree that couldn’t produce figs if our life figgin’ depended on it.  And that God is the owner of the fig-less fig tree that expected some figs.  And Jesus is the gardener who saves the fig-less fig tree from facing a fig-less death.  Maybe you’ve heard the same.  And sure, that sounds fine and dandy, but is that really what this parable is saying?

It might be, but upon some pondering I have some issues with the story itself.  Looking closer at the whole thing, it becomes clear that both the owner of the tree and the gardener have no idea how fig trees work.  Mind you, neither do I, really, but after some research and digging around (see what I did there?), I found that fig trees produce the most fruit when you leave it alone and allow it to do its fig business in peace.  It doesn’t need you to care for it or help it along, in fact from what I read that could actually be detrimental to its development.  So for the gardener to suggest that he can save the tree by digging around and fertilizing it with cow poop just shows us how he doesn’t know what he’s doing.  Also, it takes time for fig trees to grow and mature and start producing fruit after it’s been planted, likely longer than the three years the owner gave it.  So for him to come every year for just three years and be that frustrated at no fruit, well he’s just asking too much of the poor tree that just doesn’t work that way.  So with this in mind, the point of the story seems to change a bit, the focus seems to shift off the tree and onto the gardener.

Because as bad as the gardener is at gardening, one thing is for sure, he cares a whole figgin lot about this fig-less fig tree that is seen as worthless.  The chips are stacked up against it, but the gardener puts his perhaps not-so-good reputation on the line to protect this tree, even when he doesn’t know how.  The world doesn’t believe in the usefulness and goodness of this tree, but the gardener chooses to do so, chooses to see it, chooses to love in spite of all the reasons not to.   The tree didn’t choose this fig life, and it didn’t choose to be fig less, but the gardener chooses to see its worth and stand between it and its owner and plead for its life by caring for it the best he can.

We don’t know if it worked.  We don’t know if the tree was actually saved.  We don’t know how the following year’s crop did.  But we do know that the tree was cared for, watched over, and loved.

And so I think Jesus is telling the people here wondering who sinned and why did this happen, to not care so much about where to cast the blame, but care for those left behind mourning their loss.  Jesus is saying who cares if the eighteen killed from a falling tower were worse offenders, people were hurt and damage was done that needs to be dealt with.  Who cares why bad things happen to good people or to anyone for that matter, the fact is that bad things are happening and we are here to battle it with good, comfort each other with grace, and love each other in spite of it all.

In the movie Turning Red, while Mei Mei was going through all these changes in her body and in her life, it was her friends that she leaned on for strength and comfort.  While she continued to be the dutiful daughter that she was raised to be, she needed to see the love that she has because she is who she is, not because she can do what she can do.  While her life seemed to have flipped completely upside down by circumstances absolutely out of her control, she never lost her value and worth from her friends, her family, and the greater community to which she belonged.

This isn’t to belittle the things that are going on around the world, this isn’t to demean the hurt and pain that we face day in and day out, this isn’t to pretend that life doesn’t sometimes get too difficult for us to handle.  But it is to say that when we see someone hurting we needn’t have to find out if they deserved it or not to sit with them through the pain.  It is to say that if we notice injustice we don’t have to dissect the reasons for it to speak up against what is wrong.  It is to say that when we ourselves are at a loss and in need, we don’t need to be shy about asking for help because before we know it, we might be surrounded by a cloud of support and care, a community upon which we can depend and rely, and a God who declares us all as beloved and worth it.

As we move through this season of Lent, a season of scarcity and depravity, may we lean on God’s strength and the strength of our community, knowing that while life is difficult, it is easier when we walk through it together.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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