Worship Service for the 3rd Sunday in Lent

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship for this 3rd Sunday in Lent, landing on March 3, 2024.

The bulletin for this service can be found here. You can choose to follow along with it as it has most of the words you need to know as well as the sermon. Most words will also be on your screen along with the hymn lyrics. The sermon is also included on this page below the video.

To enhance your online worship, you are welcome to have a candle nearby, lit at the beginning of the service and extinguished near the end after the sending hymn. And you are also welcome to participate in communion with something small to eat and drink ready for consumption at the appropriate time. Further instruction will be given then.

May God’s humbling welcome and mercy grant you joy and peace, this day and always!

Holy God, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be honouring and pleasing to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

A number of years ago I was travelling abroad and I had the opportunity to visit this particular location’s “celebrity mega church”.  I’m not going to name of the church as that doesn’t really matter for the story, nor do I want any of the thousands of people hearing these words thinking that I’m putting down another congregation.  Either case, this church was known for its really good music.  They were led by some very talented composers and artists that were able to write worship song after worship song that just sounded like they belonged more on a secular top 40 list than on a church’s hymn board.  Let’s just say that “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” these songs were not, and they had the cd sales to prove it.

Anyway, visiting this church was a bit of a trip for us, as it was like going to a concert where we’ll see some celebrities.  I remember driving up to their parking lot and just being in awe with their modern architectural feat of a building.  It was huge and so innovative looking.  Sort of like the Hall of Justice from the old Justice League comics and cartoon if you remember those.  I thought it was pretty cool, at least (the building, not the comics… those were awful).

I admit, I went in with some mixed emotions.  While I was a bit excited to be in the presence of pseudo-royalty, I was also somewhat skeptical, because I knew that they were going to be acting like full-on royalty.  And when we walked in, my excitement dropped and my skepticism was confirmed.  Because the first thing I saw through the door, literally the first thing anyone would see… was their bookstore that took up basically the entire foyer.  This behemoth bookstore was full of self-published books by their pastors and founders.  This gigantic gift shop had shelves and shelves of paraphernalia with their names on it.  This massive marketplace housed a seemingly endless supply of their albums and cd’s, overpriced in my opinion, and tempting every visitor to spend their hard earned money.

I couldn’t help but think, uhhh isn’t there a story about a place like this in the bible?  Don’t all the gospel accounts that we have include a somewhat negative reaction to people profiteering in the temple courtyard?  Haven’t these people heard of Jesus turning over the tables of the merchants, the money changers, the marketplace mallrats that brought disgrace to God’s house?

Isn’t that what was happening here?  Couldn’t they see that?  Don’t they get their folly and… sin?

So yeah, I was pretty disappointed.  Disappointed that they didn’t know better.  Disappointed that my skepticism was confirmed the moment I stepped in the door.  Disappointed that I literally couldn’t even find their sanctuary because their bookstore completely covered it up.  It felt like for them, making money was first and worship was second.

So I think it’s pretty clear why I told you this story.  In today’s gospel reading, we get that exact account that instantly came to my mind when I walked into this place.  Jesus overturning those tables.  Jesus calling out their selfishness and taking advantage of others.  Jesus denouncing this marketplace.  Most people that I talk to don’t like this angry Jesus, but they understand him.  I mean, no one likes those kinds of churches that seem to only focus on money and how to get more of it.  No one likes those congregations that look like they spend more money on themselves than on helping the poor.  No one likes those pastors who are all flashy with their nice clothes and fancy cars and transformers collections.

I mean, even if Jesus didn’t overturn those tables, we know that focussing on money is bad, right?  Doesn’t it say somewhere else in the bible that the love of money is the root of all evil?  Aren’t we warned against greed and selfishness, and the hurt and pain that it brings?

These were the thoughts that I couldn’t help but have when I was at that church I was talking about.  I mean, not only was their bookstore, their biggest money grab, the first thing anyone sees when walking into the church; not only was it actually a task and a half just to find the sanctuary that, by the way, was devoid of any Christian images whatsoever; and not only do their pastors drive some really nice cars that I could only ever dream of ever even sitting in, let alone owning one; but all around their space, everywhere you went, even in the bathrooms were these posters and sign boards and really expensive looking propaganda pieces advertising their special “Giving Sunday” that we apparently were so fortunate to be present for that very day. 

To me, they were clearly worshipping money.  To me, they were obviously turning God’s house into a marketplace, something that triggered Jesus’ zeal for his father’s house making him completely lose it.  To me, they were, without a doubt, not living or worshipping in the way that they should, the way God wants, the way I would do it.

Oh wait a second.

As much as I don’t like this money-centric model, as much as I feel like it misses the mark, as much as I think that Jesus would back me up on this, Jesus’ overturning the tables in the temple all those years ago wasn’t about money as much as it was about attitude.  Not his attitude as poor nomadic prophet and preacher with no fixed address, but the people’s attitude of narrow-minded piety, extreme religious legalism, and spiritual and cultural supremacy like they and only they are the bee’s knees in practice, custom, and tradition.

And I see that I share in that mentality with my thoughts and distain against this church that I can’t seem to let go of.

Yes, it’s not good to be focussed on money over God.  It’s not a good idea to shift the point of our work toward our pocketbooks over compassion, charity, and community.  It’s not good form for any church to promote their own brand over the message of the gospel.  But at the same time, it’s also not good to assume this is the case for churches, pastors, and people that we don’t even know.  It’s not right for us to judge others for things that we have already decided to be true before even meeting them.  It isn’t loving to others to think that they need to be more like us or what we want them to be instead of seeing them as God’s beloved, forgiven, and saved people, just like we are.

This isn’t to say that we should start making our own music cd’s, because you know, I’m pretty tone deaf.  This isn’t to say that anything should be permissible when it comes to worship and service.  This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have our own preferences and opinions around our own customs and traditions and what works for and speaks to us.  But it is to say that we needn’t be legalistic and judgemental in our ministry.  It is to say that we aren’t to be rigid in our expressions of faith.  It is to say that there is more than one way to serve our God and neighbour.

See Jesus is constantly overturning the tables of our lives, attitudes, and conventional and narrow-minded thinking.  Jesus is always reminding us that God’s love comes without requirement, prerequisite, or condition.  Jesus continues to reveal to us all God’s grace, mercy, and salvation that comes not from what we do, but through the sole decision and action of a benevolent God who welcomes us all into God’s kingdom, community, and family.

So while I still don’t really like the practices of that other church that I’m talking about, I can be thankful for the ministry of music that they provide that helps people see God more clearly in their lives.  While I continue to have my way of worship and expression of faith, I can see and honour the diversity of others in their own ways of finding meaning and purpose.  While my attitudes remain imperfect but forgiven, I can accept that is true for all others as well, those that I can relate to and those that I cannot. And above all, we can be reminded and accept that we are all collectively called not to be legalistic but to be forgiving, not to be judgemental but to be communal, not to be rigid and narrow-minded but to be open, compassionate, and loving just as we have first been loved.

As we are halfway through this season of Lent, may we continue to allow our hearts to be softened by the gracious salvation offered by God to all people, those we like, those we don’t, and even to each one of us.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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