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March 10, 2024

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Numbers 21:4-9

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

Ephesians 2:1-10

John 3:14-21

Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

 grace and peace to you from the one who loves the world.  Amen


This Lent

 we are spending time

with stories of wilderness wandering and coming home

 as we remember Jesus’ last days

 moving with him and the disciples

to the cross and the grave

and ultimately to the new life of Easter morning.


On Ash Wednesday

we heard God call us home to the heart of God

 through the transforming of our own hearts.


In the first week of Lent

we heard about how transitions in life

 are often marked by water.


In the second week of Lent

we heard about how it is never too late

 to start a new journey with God.


Last week we heard about how wilderness times

often begin with cleaning house,

 getting rid of things

with the intention of returning God to the center of our lives. 


This week

we hear about the consequences of impatience

in the midst of the wilderness

 and God’s ultimate response.


We start with the Israelities in the wilderness,

 they’ve been out there long enough

 to be fully in the wilderness,

 but not long enough

to realize just how long they’re going to be there


 and we hear “but the people became impatient on the way.”

 God is taking care of their needs- food and water,

 but they want more,

 so they complain against God and Moses saying:

 “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.”


I love the way this is written,

it’s so real to human life,

 the exaggeration and immediate contradiction.

There’s no food and we hate this food!


 It’s like a teenager looking into a full refrigerator

 and calling out “Mom, there’s nothing here to eat!”

 or a toddler refusing to eat a perfectly fine dinner

 and then five minutes later

requesting a snack.


And God, like many a parent in this situation

 gets fed up and loses it,

 only because it’s God,

 instead of yelling,

God sends poisonous serpents among the people

 who kill those they bite.


 Now we could debate about how this might be a bit of an overreaction

 and wonder what it says about God

 but that’s not really the main point at the moment,


 the people acted

and there were consequences for their actions,

 the people repent,

they confess to God and Moses that they sinned by speaking against them

and they make a humble request

 that God remove the serpents from among them.


God doesn’t do that

just because we’re sorry

doesn’t mean the consequences of our actions go away.


What God does do

and this is the main point,

is to provide a way through the trouble caused by the consequences

 telling Moses to make a serpent out of bronze

and put it up on a pole and if someone is bitten,

if they look at this bronze serpent

 they will live,

 and that’s what happens.


And we see this cycle happen over and over again

with the people and God,

humans act,

 they sin,

 there are consequences,

 and God provides a way to live with the consequences.


 God doesn’t have to

but God is rich in mercy and love

 and so God continually

provides a way through the trouble we encounter and even cause

to the life on the other side,


 and we believe that the ultimate act of love and provision

 is what God does through Christ on the cross. 


As Paul says in Ephesians “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us live together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”


God acts out of love

And offers us the result

Not because we deserve it

But because God loves us.


John in his gospel is a little more technical in his explanation,

 likening Jesus and his lifting up

(both on the cross and later to the right hand of God)

 to the bronze serpent,

 so that like those who were bitten and looked on the serpent lived,

 those who are bitten by the power of sin

and believe in Jesus will live eternally.


Now we could debate what John means by believe

and just how much human participation and will

 it takes to access this salvation


Paul and John seem to conflict a bit,

 or at least the interpretations of their writings do-


 but for today that is not the point-

the point is that God acted out of love,

 and not just love for one certain people

 but for the whole world,

 all of the good creation that God made,

 the creation which is hurting and broken

by the consequences of the actions of sin-

and in response God has provided a way through,

 a way to life.


It is God who does this,

 out of love.


And so whether we understand the particulars,

Or are completely confused

what we do know is this:

 God loves us

and this means

that when we get impatient in the midst of the wilderness,

when we turn against God and others,

 while there will be consequences,

God will help us find a way through them,

a way that will bring life,

 not just for us but for the whole world. Amen 


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