Worship Service for the 4th Sunday in Lent

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship for this 4th Sunday in Lent, which lands on March 10, 2024!

The bulletin for this service can be found here. You can follow along with it or with the words that will appear on your screen. The sermon is in the bulletin as well as on this page below the worship video.

To enhance your online worship experience, you are invited to have a candle in your space to be lit at the beginning of the service and extinguished near the end after the sending hymn, when the altar candles are extinguished. And if you wish to participate in communion, you may do so by having something small to eat and drink ready for the appropriate time in the service. Further instruction will be given then.

May God’s unchanging love change you, that you may dive deeper into God’s will for your lives!

Almighty God, by your Spirit may the world be illumined by your Word, that we might see clearly and live faithfully in the truth of Jesus, through whom we pray.  Amen.

Anyone here the youngest in their family?  It’s great, isn’t it?  As you might know, I’m the youngest of 4 siblings, and I know I was spoiled growing up, I can admit it.  I mean, I helped that I was pretty dang adorable for… well… my whole life, so my parents’ friends always wanted to get me stuff and treat me different from my older and less adorable sisters and brother.  It was just clear that I was the baby of the family, all the way up until like my mid-20s I think.

But as I’ve learned over the years, all that being babied and doted on came with a price, but it isn’t what you think.  It isn’t that I had issues growing up, maturing, or gaining independence, no as you can see I was able to do all that just fine, thank you very much.  The major consequence that I’m talking about is that my relationship with my dad suffered simply because he didn’t approve of the special treatment that I got because of where I landed in the birth order.  At least, that is how it was explained to me, he saw how spoiled I was and didn’t like it, so he was extra strict and harsh with me over my siblings.

Now, I should say that I’m aware that there was probably a lot more that contributed to our somewhat broken relationship, like my rebelliousness, my bad attitude, and my slight tendencies to feel entitled.  Apparently no amount of adorable can hide all those, make no mistake.  These are the woes of being the youngest, because I think a lot of my bad habits and mentalities came from that.  I’m not saying that I don’t have any fault in how my dad and I were, but I’m just saying that it wasn’t 100% my fault.  Maybe just 99%.

But it wasn’t until my dad’s funeral that our relationship really came into perspective.  My mom had asked each of the 4 of us to give a speech about him, and I didn’t know what I’d say. Then when I heard what my siblings said their speeches, how he was so caring, loving, and present with them, I couldn’t help but wonder who on earth they were talking about.  I mean, was this the same guy we were commemorating?  Because he wasn’t any of those things to me.  So much not that I couldn’t even fathom what that would even look like.

But my siblings weren’t lying.  These were their genuine experiences.  It just so happened that they were completely different from what I had experienced growing up.

So it came down to a matter of perspective.  This was indeed the same man we were talking about, I double checked, but we saw him so differently.  We were raised under the same roof, ate the same food, and harshly disciplined by the same rules.  Yet we remember our childhoods differently, we interpret our memories differently, we perceive this man whose DNA we share very differently.

And that’s the funny thing about perception, isn’t it.  Things completely change depending on where you’re looking at it from.  The image of the landscape shifts depending on what window you’re looking out of.  Your perspective of whatever it is you’re looking at, can vary greatly depending on what piece of the puzzle you’re holding.  Just like that Hindu story about the unagreed on number of people in a dark room with an elephant.  Or maybe they were blind, there are many different versions.  Either case, everyone in the room was able to experience only one part of the elephant also in the room, and depending on which part they had access to only through touch, they all had very different opinions of what this elephant even was.

We see this change in perspective in all of scripture.  In fact, one might even say that the whole point of scripture to begin with.  And so today’s texts are no exception.  These passages should be familiar, they all have some kind of big symbol in them.  Like John 3:16 is like the most recognisable passage in the world.  Ephesians 2:8 is a pretty popular one too, especially in Lutheran circles, it’s like our theme verse.  And of course the serpent on a pole has evolved into our common symbols for healing and medical assistance. 

Interesting, huh?  That the symbol of two intertwining snakes is known for something positive.  But it wasn’t always that way, was it.  Right before the serpent was lifted up and became a symbol of the cure, the serpent was the thing that they needed a cure from.  These snakes started as a fearsome messenger of death, what with their venomous bites and slithery scariness.  I’d imagine getting bit by one of those things wasn’t pleasant, especially when you see others around you getting bit and dying from it.  And now Moses wants them to change their perspective and see these satan incarnates as something that can help?  Something that can heal?  Something that can be trusted?

That must have been difficult to do.  Even in these “cancel culture” days, just suggesting to look at your source of trauma as a place of healing would be unheard of, seen as ridiculous, it might even be seen as offensive.  And that is what God chose to do to bring healing, to welcome the people back into wholeness, to change their perspective on the black and white evils in the world.

And so in his explaining of salvation to Nicodemus, Jesus alludes to this lifting up of the serpent because he too, must be lifted up.  Not to bring glory to himself, mind you, but that the perspective that the Pharisees and religious leaders had of him might change.  Their perspective that he was a fraud, a charlatan, a lunatic that thinks that he could be anything more than a poor carpenter’s boy, needed to be transformed to see how he is actually the Messiah, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world.

But that perspective didn’t change, right away.  Instead, they got the ball rolling to have Jesus tried for sedition, which in those days was grounds for capital punishment.  And they succeeded.  They were able to convince the officials, the masses, and even his disciples that Jesus wasn’t worth their allegiance, their devotion, even their admission that they were his students and friends, and had him hung on a cross, the symbol of condemnation, shame, and death.

At least, that is how the people at the time would have seen the cross.  But Jesus changes that perspective.  Instead of a symbol that struck fear in the hearts of anyone who would look at it, the cross became a symbol of love and grace and welcome for all who would accept it.  See the cross itself didn’t change, but the people’s position changed, allowing them to see the cross differently.  Instead of looking at the cross from a place of oppression, brokenness, and fear, we can now look at it from a place of community, wholeness, and love.

For God so loved the world. 

We know all this.  I’m not telling you anything new.  But I believe the message in these texts is that while Jesus and God had changed our perspective on these objects that were to be detested into symbols that we could lift up and revere, perhaps our perspective on ourselves need change as well.  Perhaps how we regard ourselves could be tweaked by God’s grace and love.  Perhaps the opinions that we hold of our own identities, our value, and what we can contribute to God’s mission need to be more aligned with how God sees us: as beloved people worthy of being healed, forgiven, and saved.

See just as the serpent and the cross now mean different things to us through God’s grace, so are we different in our perspective, how we are perceived, and where we stand with God and in this body of Christ.  And as we look at the cross and God’s love from a different angle, not from a place of being condemned but from a place of being saved, then we can see more fully just how God’s wisdom, that which seems like foolishness to the world, is the key for us to live the life that truly is life.  That is, the life that is full of community, service, and love.

So as we near the end of this season of Lent, may we continue in our contemplation of the cross and the shame that it tries to bring, and turn our heads to be reminded of the emptiness of the cross, that we might see, in spite of death, the glorious resurrection that is to come.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.