St. Mary's Church

Third Sunday of Lent

Third Sunday of Lent

19 Mar 2022 • General news

Collect:Eternal God, give us insight to discern your will for us, to give up what harms us, and to seek the perfection we are promised in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion: Merciful Lord, grant your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Isaiah 55. 1-9

The LORD says this:

1Everyone 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 labour 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.

1 Corinthians 10. 1-13

I 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.

Luke 13. 1-9

1There were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He 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.”’

 May the words of my lips and the meditations of all our hearts be ever acceptable to you, O LORD, our strength and redeemer, Amen.

We are heading towards the midway point of Lent, this season where we remember both Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness at the start of his public ministry, and his last few weeks before his betrayal, trial and death. Easter Sunday is just 4 weeks away, yet before we get to that part of our church’s year, we need to follow Jesus to the cross, and to really think about some of the messages he gave his followers to pass onto the world.

When I first read the three readings allocated today, the note I scribbled was “temptation and faithfulness”. These three readings are both complex and quite grim in reading and I am not going to try and interpret all of them, so although it is a beautiful piece of prose, I am putting to one side the piece from Isaiah and instead am going to focus on the readings from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and the piece from St Luke.

St. Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth, were probably written from St Paul’s base in Ephesus to the gathering of believers that Paul had planted several years previously.This church has grown and flourished in the intervening years, but being both new Christians, and not of Jewish descent, but Roman citizens well used to the way of life in the cities of Corinth and others in the area, their morals and ways of living fell down against Paul’s high standards.

Paul writes several letters to the church at Corinth, at least one of which has been completely lost and bits of the others became amalgamated into the writings we have as Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians. The passage we have heard from today, warns Paul’s readers against being complacent, thinking that because they have accepted the Good News about Jesus, that they can do no wrong. Instead Paul reminds them of the stories from Exodus and Numbers about God’s chosen people, who have escaped slavery in Egypt, over only a few years, managed to forget about the miracle of their Exodus across the Red Sea and during their 40 year wanderings committed many sins, to the extent that several thousand died in one day.

The people who were part of the young church in Corinth, had probably given up, to a greater or lesser degree, the traditional practice of visiting the Temples dedicated to the various gods and enjoying both the feasts, but also the additional activities with the Temple prostitutes. But as we might know ourselves, changing habits, backing away from temptation and not going along with others who we spend time with isn’t always easy, and it seems that some of the members of the church at Corinth, had slipped back into ways that did not conform to the high standard that Paul expected.

Our way of life, may have differences to the city of Corinth two thousand years ago, but human nature doesn’tchange that much. There are still temptations to be overcome, and these are common to most humans I imagine. It is certainly far too easy to view the hardships and difficulties of others in a very “detached” manner. The thought of “I’m okay, so it doesn’t matter..” can be far to easy to slip into. But it doesn’t take much to suddenly find ourselves in an unexpected situation - a poor decision; loss of a job; death or illness of someone close to us and suddenly it feels as though our entire world is falling apart.

It doesn’t take much of a leap, to picture the people of Ukraine who only a few short weeks ago were going to school and work, shopping and visiting. Going about normal family business, and now suddenly over two million people are refugees in various European counties and many others are trying to survive in cities which have been decimated; or the people of Syria, who after 10 years are still engaged in a civil war which began in 2011, and for whom “normal” life is mostly a distant memory.

Paul’s letter encourages us to be careful, not to fall into unexpected traps and temptations, but to be encouraged that whatever we may endure, God is still there for us, faithful to the last, whatever our situation.

Our passage from Luke is along a similar line, Jesus begins by telling his hearers that those who have suffered terribly are not worse people than anyone else - were those who died in a tower collapse greater sinners than others who survived Jesus asks.

Jesus then tells a parable about a fig tree, which for three years has not produced any fruit. When the landowner visits the vineyard, he suggests to the vineyard caretaker than the tree be pulled up and thrown on the fire, but the gardener requests that he gives the tree one more chance.He will give it extra care and attention, providing lots of nutrients and to give the tree the best care in the hope it will flourish.

We too, can be likened to that fig tree. God is patient with us, just as the gardener asks the landlord to be patient with the tree. But we have to be aware of our own shortcomings, to prayerfully think about the errors we may have made during the day or the week - or the things we should have done, but didn’t because the temptation of doing something more enjoyable perhaps, tempted us away from what we knew we should be doing. But, when we do realise our error, or things we have neglected to do, we are always offered forgiveness, and reminded that God is always faithful to us whatever we do, and whether or not we have strayed off the path he hoped for us. Week by week, as we come to church, we can honestly and prayerfully remember our mistakes, reassured that God always forgives us, when we are genuinely sorry for what we have done wrong.

“If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. “ 1 John 1v9.

During the next few weeks we have the opportunity to grapple even more with the amazing, wondrous and sometimes confusing idea that God, Our LORD, the creator of the the whole Universe, cared so much for his creation, that he sent his only Son into the world, to minister to those around him, to pass on his message, but then, perhaps at the height of his earthly ministry, he suffered betrayal, a mock trialand a death sentence in a matter of hours, so that we might live forgiven and reassured of the love of God all of our lives.

I will finish with a verse from of one of my favourite hymns

He died that we might be forgiven, He died to make us good, That we might from our sins be freed,

Saved by His precious blood.

Amen

Intercessions 20 March 2022

Faithful God, we pray for the Church, that through its prayers, actions and public statements it may continue to work towards a world where all are free from the pain of hunger and the terror of war. Help us to be true disciples of Jesus, living the gospel and bringing social change in an unjust world. Give us courage to challenge unfair trade systems and pray for those who have the power to make far-reaching decisions affecting the world’s poor.

As our Lent groups are discussing “Embracing Justice” help us in our thoughts and prayers and discussions to identify where the prejudice and imbalance is around us, and help us to find justice and equality for all.

(Short Silence)

Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer

Creator God, we pray for world leaders, that they may be inspired to work together to tackle the causes of poverty, injustice and ignorance that lead to such horrendous violence as seen in Ukraine, in Syria and in others places in our world. Help and inspire all who lead to use their power, not for their own glory but for the good of all, and peace for all, whatever the creed, colour or gender.

(Short Silence)

Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer

Father God, we pray for ourselves, that we may have the courage to be witnesses to the power of sharing and to the values of global community. As we eat and drink, help us to pray for those who have laboured to bring the food to our table. Fill our hearts with compassion for our brothers and sisters around the world, so that we acknowledge our common humanity and dignity.

(Short Silence)

Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer

Loving God, help us to love more generously and speak up more loudly for those who are treated unjustly. We pray for people in our own community – those who live on very little, children who are vulnerable and older people who are lonely. We pray for those who are in unwell and for those who are of special concern to us at this time

(Short Silence)

Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer

Merciful Lord, your son Jesus Christ wept at the grave of Lazarus his friend. Be with us in our mourning as we pray for all who are coming to the end of their journey here on earth and for all those who have died and now rejoice in the fullness of eternal life.

(Short Silence)

Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer

As we go out into the world help us to live in the warmth of God’s love, to listen to the cries of hurt, to speak words of compassion and to know that we are surrounded by the eternal God.

Merciful father: accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen