Here is our worship service for the 4th Sunday in Lent, March 14, 2021! The worship bulletin can be found here.
And for a fuller at-home worship experience, you may have a bowl of water, some food, and a lit candle in your space. The water will be for the Thanksgiving for Baptism, and we will interact with that. The food is for communion, to be consumed as we sing the Lamb of God. And the lit candle is for the whole service and can be put out when the candles on the altar are during the Sending Hymn.
May God be with you during this service and always!
Almighty God, by the power of the Spirit, open your Word and illumine our darkened world, that we might see more clearly and live more faithfully by the light of your truth in Jesus Christ. Amen.
So, we made it. We’re at the actual one-year mark of this pandemic. I know last week I talked about how a full liturgical year had already passed, and well, this week marks a full calendar year. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t think it’d last this long. I don’t know if anyone did, not at first at least. But here we are. A whole year of this.
And… there have been mixed reviews but I’d say on the most part, it’s been difficult. We had to adjust to a lot of change, we had to get used to different rules and regulations, and we had to learn to rely on technology and the internet in ways we might not have thought we ever would. It’s been hard to pretty much rewrite our daily routines, our usual ins and outs, and what we’ve grown accustomed to over the span of our lives. We had to just accept the fact that we won’t be able to see each other, at least, without a mask covering half our faces, or be able to physically shake each other’s hand, or be able to just spend time with each other and hang out like the days of old. It’s been a long year to say the least. A very difficult year. And unfortunately to many, perhaps even a traumatic year.
To top it off, I read this article a few days ago talking about how these scientists have concluded that this pandemic is actually at the fault of humans in general. Their conclusion came as no surprise to them, as they actually were able to predict this pandemic a while ago from observing human behaviour and our respect, or lack thereof, toward nature and the planet and the animal kingdom. Of course, we want to put the blame of this particular virus on those who allegedly ate the bat that allegedly had the virus that allegedly passed it onto people. But this isn’t the first time that a disease or virus was passed onto us by an animal. This isn’t the first time that people have decided that the world and nature are for their own pleasure and disposal. This isn’t the first time that the consequence of our poor decisions snuck up on us and bit us right where we didn’t really want to be bit.
But you know what, that is essentially what happened to the Israelites in today’s first lesson. I mean, they didn’t go a year without seeing each other in person, but they have to face the consequences of their actions. See after they were freed from centuries of slavery in Egypt, they wandered in the desert for up to 40 years trying to get into the Promised Land. What did they do with their time? They complained. They complained about wandering in the wilderness. They complained that they weren’t taken care of like they were when they were slaves. They complained about the free food that they received from God, because it somehow didn’t live up to their Michelin star standards that they were used to in Egypt. Now I admit that I’ve never been a slave before, but I can’t imagine the food to be that great.
And so in response to and as a consequence of their endless complaining, these poisonous snakes show up and start biting them and killing them. It got so bad that the Israelites admitted their wrong and asked God for help and in a sheer act of almost comedic irony, God tells Moses to make a statue of snake that the Israelites could look at to be cured.
Now, I’ve never been bitten by a snake before either, but I would imagine that being bit, especially by a poisonous snake that has the potential to kill you, would be somewhat traumatic. So the last thing I’d want to help me get better from the snake bite would be another snake. That is kind of like healing a burn with fire, waging a war for peace, or using a knife to pry out the first knife that has somehow been lodged into your leg. But that’s what God said to do and what Moses did, and believe it or not, it worked. All who looked up at the snake in belief that it’ll heal them were in fact, healed.
I know, sounds weird. Could you imagine if something like that happened today? Can you imagine being healed from some sort of trauma just by looking at the object of that trauma? Or being absolved from the guilt of our imperfection by looking at and admitting to our bad decisions? Or being forgiven of our sin just by looking at the consequence of our wrongful actions?
It sounds like it might be easy, but I wonder if it really is. I mean who among us is totally ready to admit our wrongs? We talked about this a few weeks ago, we’re really good at admitting everyone else’s wrongs, but our own? That’s a bit more difficult. How many of us can openly accept that our guilt is from something of our own doing and our own fault? Sure, that is technically the definition of guilt, but don’t we like to place that blame on others instead? Are there any of us who would be able to honestly confess our sin, point to the part that we play in the demise of humanity and ourselves, and fully own up to the ways that we are flawed, broken, and in desperate need of a Saviour?
Not easy, is it? It isn’t easy to admit that our poor decisions could have lasting negative consequences. It isn’t easy to perhaps try to fathom that this pandemic could be our collective fault. It isn’t easy to fully grasp how it was our sinfulness that nailed Jesus on that cross.
Our sinfulness of falling intoxicated with power. Our sinfulness of exercising imbalanced authority over others. Our sinfulness of denying any fault of our own that might need correction, rectifying, or forgiveness.
And in a sheer act of almost comedic irony, the cross shifts from a symbol of condemnation, shame, and death to a symbol of our redemption, salvation, and God’s grace for us. So as Jesus told the Pharisee Nicodemus that he, just like the serpent in the desert, will be lifted up above our guilt, above our shame, and above our sin to reveal to all just how powerful God’s love is for us all. But this isn’t an act of condemnation as we might think, this isn’t to drive the nails of our shame deeper into our hearts, this isn’t to allow us to die under the weight of the consequence of our actions, rather it is an act that brings us to our redemption in God’s mercy, it is a display of the salvation that we receive by God’s love, it is mark of God’s grace in our lives, lifting us above our guilt, above our shame, and above our sin as we are declared God’s beloved children forever.
Yes, our actions have consequences. Negative ones, in fact. But God shows us time and again that even in the guilt of bad decisions, there is healing. Even in the shame of our imperfection and fallenness, there is wholeness. Even in the sinful nature of our selfishness and denial, there is forgiveness. So while we can barely even admit that we are sinners, there is the cross reminding us of the consequences of our actions and also the gracious forgiveness that God gives in spite of them.
This isn’t to give us an excuse to commit any evil imaginable, but it is to remind us that our position in God’s family and love cannot be changed by what we do or what we fail to do. But it is dependant solely on God’s grace and mercy, inviting and welcoming us into God’s kingdom, holding us dear and feeding and strengthening us with God’s own Word of love.
And so as the Israelites were healed by looking to the serpent that caused them the pain as a consequence of their own actions, so we look to the cross where the Messiah hung because of our actions to be reminded of the grace that came in spite of the negative repercussions, the forgiveness that came in spite of the sin, the love that came in spite of our inability to see our own selfishness, pride, and evil. No, this isn’t an excuse to commit evil, but it is a reminder that even in the face of evil, God continues to be merciful and loves us into redemption and salvation.
In this season of Lent, as we continue in our reflection and repentance, may we see our sin both collective and individual, that we might be able to put them at the foot of the cross and know God’s grace, mercy, and love to the fullest degree as we accept God’s forgiveness and salvation. Thanks be to God. Amen.