Fourth Sunday in Lent

Sermon Title: FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT

Date: 15th March 2015

Preacher: Rev’d Susanne Chambers

 Church Calendar Date: Fourth Sunday in Lent

Lectionary Reading: Numbers 21:4-9, Ps 107:1-3, 17-22, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21

I was struggling with the readings for today, until some glimmer of hope came on Friday at the memorial service of Kath Chalmers, Gillian’s mum, when we sang, ‘Here I am Lord.’

The words of hymns are theology and are very worthwhile reading (well, most of them!) and teach us a lot about our faith….what we believe.

The words that resonated were (actually all three verses but I’ll just quote the first verse) “I, the Lord of sea and sky.  I have heard my people cry. All who dwell in dark and sin my hand will save. I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright, who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send…”

I’ll come back to these words shortly.

But first I want to briefly look at the amazing story of snakes or serpents!  We have heard that the people were not happy. Certainly they had been through a lot, there’s no denying that. But through the tough periods, they have forgotten the times when God has rescued them; they have forgotten their calling as the people of God led by Moses. They have not learnt to trust the relationship they have with God.

From the Israelites’ perspective, the snakes that come and bite the people and kill many of them they would say ‘we have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you;’ that’s why we are bitten and many die.

And so the people plead with Moses to talk to God and Moses is instructed to make a serpent and set it on a pole and those who have been bitten and look at it will live/be healed.

From the apocryphal book, the Wisdom of Solomon, which tells this story also, it says that when they look upon the serpent on the pole, it’s not the serpent that brings healing, its’ their faith. So they look beyond the deadly snake to find again the God of mercy and love.

I have read various commentaries on this passage, to try to understand the story, and I found this particular view from the Wisdom of Solomon very helpful to me, especially when we look at the Gospel of John.

The part of the story we heard this morning, was told in the context of Jesus talking to Nicodemus. You may recall that he was a Pharisee, and came at night to discuss theology with Jesus but he went away into the dark after not understanding about being born again’ how can anyone be born after having grown old?

So our passage today is part of that discourse. And Jesus says to Nicodemus, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  This reference to the serpent on the pole and Jesus being lifted up, is thought to refer to Jesus crucified on the cross and also Jesus being exalted; Lifted up, to be glorified, praised by God.  ‘Lift up’ can be translated to also mean ‘exalt. It could be that in John’s perspective as he writes this gospel, that  the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension are one single divine movement.

So when we look at Jesus on the cross we look beyond the humiliating image of crucifixion to the God who redeems. Who loves us. This doesn’t take away from the agony and death of Jesus, but helps us know that there is life beyond death and this is what is offered to us.  ‘God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’

The Israelites struggled to trust God through their wanderings in the wilderness and wanted to go back to what they knew; even though it was certainly not life giving as slaves under the Egyptians.

When we struggle as Christians to trust God through our own wanderings in the wilderness, we often want to go back to what we knew…even though it may not have been life giving.   It’s tough.

But through the tough periods, have we forgotten the times when God has rescued us; have we forgotten our calling as the children of God; have we not learnt to trust the relationship we have with God.

God knows the struggles we go through. The anxieties we have in our families, in our work places, in our parish community…especially ours here at St Paul’s in this liminal time, this time in the wilderness as we seek God’s guidance for our future.

Whom will we trust?

“I, the Lord of sea and sky.  I have heard my people cry. All who dwell in dark and sin my hand will save. I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright, who will bear my light to them?  Whom shall I send…?”

The song speaks of God’s compassion for us and our community. God knows and cares for us in the wilderness. But God doesn’t just fix it. God invites us to see and go beyond and to join Him (God) in the divine creating.

May our faith in the crucified and risen Lord, help us see through the troubles, the struggles we have in life, and touch us so that we may have life.

I am inviting a number of parishioners to speak to us of their impressions of St Paul’s and what they are discerning as a result of our listening together for seeds of hope.

Our fourth speaker is: Margaret Irvine 🙁 long term parishioner)

Questions:

What were your first impressions of St Paul’s

What have you found helpful?

What has surprised you?

Have you found anything unhelpful?

As we are in this time of discernment, what are you discerning so far?