Fourth Sunday in Lent Lessons & Meditation

4TH SUNDAY IN LENT   03-14-2021

FIRST READING:  Numbers 21:4-9

The FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT we were reminded of the covenant God established with all living creatures, using a rainbow in the sky as a self-reminder of the promise not to ever decide to destroy the earth again with a flood. That covenant, the first in the Old Testament, was an assurance of God’s abiding love. God spoke it to Noah and his wife, to their three sons and their wives… eight chosen survivors.

The SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT we looked at a second covenant, the one God made with Abraham and Sarah, an old and childless couple that God chose to become the ancestors of many. God promised them “a multitude of nations”, the land of Canaan that would become theirs, protection and blessing along the way, and blessing to other nations through them. God required circumcision of all males (both family and any that became linked to the household through purchase) as a sign of the covenant, a concrete way to ratify acceptance, to show commitment.

The THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT we remembered the covenant God established at Mount Sinai after delivering the Israelites (the descendants of Abraham and Sarah) out of slavery in Egypt. In this covenant God instructed his people how to live together in community as the people of God. Last week’s reading focused on the Ten Commandments: humility, faith, and obedience toward God… honesty, trust, fidelity, and respect for life, family, and property in our relationships with each other.

Today’s reading, like last Sunday’s, arises from the time of Israel’s wandering in the desert wilderness. That journey was a time of preparation, testing, and punishment all mixed together, because Israel was not immediately ready to move from slavery to the “promised land”. Even though God had delivered the people out of Egypt and had been providing for their needs on the journey, they whined and complained – it appears often enough in the written story that it is called the “murmuring motif”. In previous acts of murmuring in the wilderness the Israelites had received divine help, but in this instance punishment is given out through poisonous serpents. The [covenant] promise – offered after the people humble themselves and confess – is healing and life when they look up at a serpent made of bronze. God’s anger is yet again not the final word, and God continues to lead the people toward the land promised to their ancestors. 

In your life’s journey, which is sometimes like being in the “wilderness”, how much murmuring against God have you done, how impatient have you been? When has your complaining distorted your sense of reality and “shaded” God’s presence, power, and promises in your life? It is all too normal, human, for us to have foggy remembrance of how we have been blessed long ago or even just yesterday… and for us to allow present fear or pain to poison us.

We all ought to praise God for love and mercy that we do not deserve and certainly have not earned! Isn’t God’s grace a truly amazing experience?    

SECOND READING:  Ephesians 2:1-10

During former U.S. President Donald Trump’s single term (though he still falsely insists that he also won in 2020!) physical and legal walls and barriers of separation and division were quite popular politically. And the human historical story has been full of “us” and “them” distinctions that have resulted in exclusion, hurt, hate, and even harm in our world. But this letter of Paul talks about UNITY between God and humanity and UNITY between people and even a UNIFYING HARMONY of all cosmic forceseverything is UNITED in Christ!

Because of Jesus Christ, it is a whole new world, a whole new existence!

Note that, in verses 1-3, when Paul speaks of “you”, he is speaking of the Gentiles; when he speaks of “us”, he is speaking of the Jews, his fellow people by race and ethnicity and religion. In this reading he shows how terrible the Christ-less life was for Gentile and Jew alike. For both, that life was lived in trespasses and sin, and that daily living was more like walking dead. But God’s love for humanity – both Gentile and Jew – led God to “make us alive together with Christ” and “raise us to sit next to Christ in the heavenly places.” Note how    Paul emphasizes “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

From death to life. From sin to salvation. No more walls and barriers of distinction and division as we live here on earth. The promise of a place for us in heaven. An eternity to celebrate the gift of God’s love. Isn’t God’s grace amazing? 

 

GOSPEL READING:  John 3:14-21

You might read the entire passage, John 3:1-21, an account of Jesus teaching Nicodemus. Both a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin (the ruling council… so he had both prestige and power in the Jewish faith), Nicodemus had come to speak to Jesus in the shadows of secrecy.

[You might also read the two additional mentions of Nicodemus in the Gospel of John: John 7:50-51 and John 19:39-42.]

To explain the salvation of God, Jesus refers to the scriptural passage quoted in today’s First Reading. As God provided in the brass serpent on a pole an unlikely means to deliver the Israelites in the wilderness, so God has provided in the death of his Son the gift of eternal life. Some people are drawn to the light. But some people seem to love the darkness, even seek to extinguish the light out of fear about what it will expose seem to be afraid of being exposed. In your life right now, are you in “the shine” or in “the shadows”? Are you “hiding” or are you “seeking”? Why would anyone refuse the gift of eternal life? Why do people oppose Jesus and reject his offer?

How often have we heard or recited those words from John 3:16? And how quickly have we forgotten them as we walked in the shadowy wilderness of our own sin and the sins of others? The truth about even the best of us is that within every heart there is something which is not quite of God, something sinister and selfish and evil that we cannot self-correct. The truth about the worst of us is that no one deserves only and all of the fault-finding, finger-pointing, guilt-slinging, or hell-wishing of others. The bold bare truth about each and all of us is that we are worthy of the judgment and condemnation, punishment and destruction at the hands of God. But the greater truth about God is found in those outstretched arms nailed to the cross at Calvary. In the shadows of the cross – where to the mystery of underserved suffering has been added the deeper mystery of unmerited love – Jesus the Son of God is lifted up in death to offer us the dawn of new life.

Always remember that God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn the world. In your ministry, embody that through your words, your deeds, and your faith active in love.    

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