The Fourth Sunday of Lent
Readings – Numbers 21: 4-9; Psalm 107: 1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2; 1-10; John 3: 14-21
The freed slaves, the Hebrew people, were complaining again as they journeyed toward The Promised Land. They detested the “manna from heaven” that God was providing for them in the wilderness. They were “impatient on the way”, as children in the back seat of a car mumbling, “Are we there, yet?” The text from the Old Testament book of Numbers states that God sent “poisonous serpents” among them, and many died. I believe as the Psalmist wrote, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures for ever”. While serpents may have appeared, I really don’t believe God sent them. However, I do believe that in the midst of this crisis, the Lord God provided healing in the midst of their murmuring complaints and the fiery serpents. “God is good and his mercy endures for ever”, even when people are rebellious, discouraged, impatient, and complaining.
As the wandering Hebrews were saved from destruction by God, St. Paul declared to the congregation in Ephesus, Greece that “by grace, you have been saved… raised up with him”. St. Paul wrote to them that they have been saved by grace which is “the gift of God”. The people of Ephesus did not earn this grace, God gave it to them, just as God gave the gift of healing to the serpent attacked Hebrews in the wilderness. Sometimes we readily accept that gracious gift and accept the good fortune of being saved by grace without completely hearing the fullness of that grace. St. Paul put it this way to the Ephesians – “…we are what [God] has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works”.
My first point is that we are all saved by God’s grace from a life of darkness and misdirection, and invited and expected to live God’s Way, to live the eternal values, and by doing “good works”. As it says in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we are not to hide our light, our goodness, under a basket, but rather, we are to use our goodness to illumine life for others that they may see their pathway more clearly, and not stumble and fall. We are blessed so that we may be a blessing to others. Our blessing is not a possession to be clung to but is a blessing to be shared, to be given away.
My second point for today is that our Gospel reading makes even more precious the graciousness of God. We know this passage well. John 3:16 – “God so loved that world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life… in order that the world might be saved through him”. We usually note that this makes clear the depth of God’s love for us, especially knowing how that gift ended up betrayed, whipped, mocked and hung on a cross with nails and a spear thrust. That always reminds us of the cost of that gift, and our unwillingness to accept it, just like the wandering Hebrews’ unwillingness in the wilderness. But just as we easily overlook the blessing given to us to pass on from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, so it is easy to overlook the gift of Jesus given to us and to the world. Recall the passage— “God so loved the world…” and “… that the world might be saved through him”. The Greek word is actually larger than our world, our planet, the Greek word is “cosmos”. WOW! The scope of our sharing the grace of God, our sharing the blessing of God, just expanded dramatically.
With Spring just about here, what are some good works we all can participate in?
We can plant some flowers and care for them – in a pot or in a garden. Flowers help us remember how God cares for us in our uniqueness. Flowers help us cooperate with God’s goodness. Flowers help us celebrate our being raised up with Jesus from the depths of winter into the warmth of the sun.
We can plant seeds through our own good works. Phone a friend; greet strangers as you go about your errands; donate an unused book to the library, unused clothes, and household items to the Mustard Seed; offer to drive for Meals on Wheels; give food staples to the Selinsgrove Area Council of Churches.
We can recycle our paper, cardboard, and plastics. Leigh and I only have one small kitchen bags for the Waste Management people to pick up each week.
While we cannot reduce all the space debris circling our planet, we can reduce the debris around our homes and neighborhood.
We can invest in our world’s future through institutions like our schools and universities, our libraries, our churches, our local governments, and our public places and parks.
The opportunities for doing “good works” surround us as we open our eyes of love to the world.
“God so loved the cosmos…”, and God continues to love it.
We “have been saved” from darkness and despair, and we have been “raised up” with Jesus to be illuminators, to be bearers of light.
We have been given the gifts of God, and we are “created in Jesus Christ for good works”.
Let us not be impatient along the way. May we continue to look to Jesus as our companion and our guide.