Lent IV – March 14, 2021 – Daylight Savings Time Begins
Lenten Liturgy of the Seven Candles: Rev Gloria
It is Sunday morning. Last week, with all its demands, is over. The coming week, with yet another round of demands, is not quite here. I invite you to close your eyes and be in the moment. No matter where you are in your thoughts and feelings – relieved about what you have accomplished, anxious about what is left undone, concerned about people or projects – no matter where you are in your journey this day – I encourage you to set all that aside and consider where you are right now. Whatever is true for you right now, in this moment, whether it be joy or sadness, gratitude or anxiety, let it come forward. When it is fully present, then listen … for God is present in these moments, too. God meets you where you are and calls you forward, moment by moment, guiding you slowly but surely toward transformation.
Bring-to-mind the seven candles, see that three have been extinguished, and now with your minds eye blow out the fourth candle. As we extinguish this light, we acknowledge the darkness and pain caused by the lack of basic needs – lack of food for children, of shelter for the addicted teens in Vancouver, of education for the poor, of healthcare for those on the street, and lack of love for the lonely.
https://youtu.be/CNkNHu3_3oM “Lousia’s story”
Let us pray:
Loving God, we thank you that you are with us, and that we may call upon you no matter where we are, or what we are feeling. Keep us mindful of your presence and trusting in your promise – that you are working with us in the moment-by-moment unfolding of our lives. Amen.
CALL TO WORSHIP
Lead us God, into your future. Touch us with the power of your truth. Bless us with your spirit of inspiration. We are alive to God’s presence, eager to receive Christ’s insights, committed to live our lives in the presence of the spirit of truth.
PRAYER FOR FAITH AND HOPE:
As we prepare for today’s celebration Holy One, let us express our regret for the limits we have put on your Spirit at work in us, for our lack of courage to say yes to your Voice within, for our unbelief and lack of understanding of your presence in us, for acting as if we were disconnected and separate from you, our neighbour, and our world. May faith and hope burst forth in our apathy.
ASSURANCE OF THIS FAITH AND HOPE:
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.” It so hard to hunger and thirst for items of food or drink unless you can imagine what they taste like. May we be assured that if work up a strong enough hunger and thirst for justice that we can taste it. May we stay hungry and thirsty long enough to change the world.
“Tree of Life and Awesome Mystery”
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Fourth verse of Lent IV
Gentle Jesus, mighty Spirit, come inflame our hearts anew, we may all your joy inherit if we bear the cross with you, if we bear the cross with you.
Numbers 21:4-9 “The Bronze Serpent”
4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea,[a] to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5 The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” 6 Then the Lord sent poisonous[b] serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous[c] serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
John 3:14-21 “God so Loved the World”
14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.[a]
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”[b]
My dad and I would always laugh about one of the strangest dinners we ever shared. He and my mom had come to visit us—mainly to see our then two young boys, their grandchildren—and so we all went out to eat to celebrate our time together. After we ordered delicious food and were beginning to imagine the wonderful meal ahead, one of my children turned to my father. And, with a gleeful look on his face he said, “Now, Papa, tell me all about venom.” Being the good grandfather he was, dad decided that despite the meal we were about to enjoy, he would comply and went into what I believed to be a little too much detail about venom and poison. He talked about rattlesnakes who let us know if we are threatening them by shaking their noisy tails. He talked about copperheads who don’t usually strike the first person that steps over them…they wait for the next. He talked about the coral snake who has such a small mouth and teeth that, really, they aren’t a threat…unless you give them enough time. But the story we read today from the Hebrew Bible is about the same sort of thing. Poison. Venom. Things that kill you.
This is truly one of the oddest passages in the bible. It is probable that the only reason that it even shows up in our lectionary is because this weeks’ gospel passage actually refers to it. Here we find the people of Israel in the wilderness. They have been delivered from their captivity and about to enter the promised land and once again, as they have done before; they are complaining, “murmuring” about how bad they have it. “why have you brought us up out of Egypt,” they cry to Moses, “to die in the wilderness?” As nonsensical as the complaint has become, this time, the grumbling goes one step further. Now the Israelites not only blame Moses. They also blame God. God is understandably frustrated and a little fed up. He has led them right up to the border of the promised land and still his people have failed to trust him. Not only that, they are blaming God for their predicament; for there being no food and no water and we hate this miserable food that we do have.” So, God sends poisonous snakes which bite the people. Now, they beg him to pray to God to make the snakes go away. So, as the rabbis interpret the story, God decides that since his people do not appreciate his care and protection, he will take it away. And the vipers and snakes that have been in the desert with them all along now begin to bite the Israelites and kill them. The people don’t know what to do. Once again confronted by the consequences of their own bad choices, they turn to Moses. And Moses in turn prays to God. But God’s answer is strange enough to get our attention. God sends a strange remedy. God tells Moses to make an image of a snake and set it on a pole then when a person is bite, all the person must do is look at the pole and live.
From the very beginning of Creation, the snake has slithered on its belly and eaten dust without a word of complaint. The snake comes to teach humility and patience. Many are hungry in this world; children among the hardest hit so stop complaining Israel! This is my message to Israel, today. The snake is a way of teaching them to look at their fears, to look at themselves, to look at those things that get in the way of life. God sends snakes to combat snakes. God does not destroy the snake as evil instead God recreates the image of the snake as healing. Incidentally, our medic alert-bracelets show a symbol of a snake wrapped around the pole.
We would prefer not to talk about venom and snakes and all these things that scare us, even still. Except that when we turn to our Gospel reading for today, Jesus has brought this story of serpents and poison back up in his conversation with Nicodemus. As they talk, Jesus draws a parallel between the ways that Moses lifted-up the serpent on a pole and the way that he too, as the Son of Man, will be lifted up. For Jesus, both images—the serpent and the cross—are reminders of the saving action of God. At first this seems confusing. After all, the serpent is the very image of the thing that was killing the Israelites. And the cross is a weapon of torture and death. But perhaps that is the point. For just as the snake on the staff showed the Israelites what was killing them, the cross shows humans the thing that is killing us. And it isn’t Jesus. It is us, for child poverty and homelessness need our actions. It is what we, in our self-centredness, would do to another human that is killing us. These stories—the stories of Moses’ serpent on a stick and even the story of the cross— remind us of how far we have gotten off track. And in them we recognize that reminders of God’s grace are not enough to fix things. We must, at some point, face the issues of our day. Our own mistakes. Our own brokenness. In other words, in order to be healed and brought back to life, we have to face the things that are killing us. We must face hunger in the world with action. May the bronze serpent and the cross move us from seeing them only as symbols of our brokenness to signs of healing and hope; for God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, to save us.
We don’t often like to talk about the things that scare us or the things that we suspect might be killing us. Just as Jesus scared the moneylenders on the temple ground and while his lash was swinging and tables were up-turned and like that dinner-talk of snakes from years ago, often we are relieved when the conversation about those things comes to an end. And yet, perhaps our Scripture reminds us of something we have forgotten or ignored. It is only when we are willing to look issues full in the face… it is only when we can name the ways that we have been poisoning us, our relationships, our world…that we can also fully recognize how much we need God to help us, redeem us, and save us. And when we come face to face with that kind of power, that kind of love, we are changed. We are saved. So, let’s not turn away, my friends. Let’s look up. And live. Amen
God of ever-flowing love, with trust in your overflowing grace as we have gathered this day. By faith we come before you not as strangers but as friends. By faith in your grace, we have worshipped you, knowing that you do not belittle our patchy praise. By faith in your grace, we expect to hear your Word, and by faith we hope to fulfil it. Encourage us, loving God, to be bold in our trust, enthusiastic in our worship, and humble in our service. Through Christ Jesus our Redeemer. Amen!
May the Peace of Christ be with you,
The Love of God protect you,
The Holy Spirit inspire you and those you love,
In our time and beyond our time. Amen.