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Mar 05

4th Sunday in Lent (Year B)

Numbers 21:4-9

  • Ok.  Let’s face it.  This is a weird text.  It usually leaves people (including pastors) scratching their heads and wondering why we have such a bizarre story in our Bible (though, I would argue that it isn’t the strangest tale found in our scriptures).  And yet, it is referenced in the text which contains (perhaps) the most well-known verse in the New Testament: John 3:16.
  • God seems to show two, radically different sides to the Divine Personality in this passage.  First, God strikes out against the impatient complainers by sending poisonous snakes to bite them (and kill them).  I have to wonder whether or not God was really the “cause” for the snakes (that God sent them as punishment).  Could it be that it was simply the perception of guilty spirits (of the ungrateful complainers) that God had it out for them?  In any case, God had a change of heart once the people beg Moses to intercede on their behalf.  God gives Moses the task of creating a rather interesting craft project, and thus provides means for grace and mercy.
  • The behavior of the Israelite people has always fascinated me in this passage — especially in regards to the words they say.  In the same sentence, they claim that “there is no food” and “we detest this miserable food”.  So, there is food, but they don’t like it?  Is the second reference to “food” metaphorical in nature?  I doubt that it really matters, honestly.  The point is that they are focused on only the negative things and their own wants and wishes.  They seem to forget that they were slaves and are now free
  • The image of a snake (or snakes) on a pole (being a source or symbol of healing) is not unique to the Bible.  The Nehushtan is found in this passage, but there is also the Rod of Asclepius (found in Greek Mythology) and the Caduceus (again, found in Greek Mythology).

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

  • This Psalm can be used/read in a variety of places in the worship service.
    • It can easily be adapted to be a Call to Worship.
    • It can also make a really nice Invitation to Communion (especially because of the references to the 4 directions, which are mentioned in most traditional invitations to the Table).
  • It can also be presented in some creative ways.
    • When you read this Psalm, place 4 readers around the worship space — 1 in the North, 1 in the South, 1 in the East, and 1 in the West.  These readers could read the passage in unison, or take turns reading verses, or even read it in canon.
    • If you want to read it in canon, here’s what I suggest… Have all 4 readers read it in unison once.  Then the reader in the “East” begins reading it again.  When “East” gets to verse 2, “West” begins reading (from the beginning).  When “West gets to verse 2, “North” begins reading.  And when “North” gets to verse 2, “South” begins reading.  The result is a canopy of sound, with words overlapping.  When “South” finishes, pause — and then all 4 voices can join in saying verse 1 in unison.
  • If you have movable seating, set up your worship space according to the 4 cardinal directions, with the pulpit and Table in the center of the worship space.  When it comes time for Communion, the people will be able to come to the Table — quite literally — from the East, West, North, and South.

Ephesians 2:1-10

  • What a fantastic message of hope for the world today!  There is nothing that we can do to “earn” or “buy” the grace of God!  God simply gives it to us.  We don’t deserve it, but God gifts us with salvation anyway.  That is the whole point of “grace” — if we have to “earn” it (by any action, belief, etc), it ceases to be grace.
  • Decorating idea: wrap up a large box to look like a fancy present, with an oversized gift tag that says, “To: YOU  From: GOD”.
    • If you want to be able to interact with this “prop” during worship (perhaps during the Children’s Time, or even the Sermon), use a box with a lid, and wrap the outside of the box and lid separately (so you can just take the lid off the present, instead of having to rip the paper off).
    • If you are interacting with the box during the service, it could contain different things.  It could contain an empty cross.  It could contain a cardboard cut-out of the word “Grace” or “Love” or “Salvation” or “Faith” (as these are all gifts from God).  It could even contain large wooden (or craft foam or paper mache) letters that can spell one of these words (you could then have the children – or adults – help you spell the word you are featuring).  *Wooden, craft foam, and paper mache letters are easily found in most craft stores – or the craft sections of stores like Walmart and Target.

John 3:14-21

  • This passage contains what is possibly one of the most (if not the most) well-known passages of scripture in all of the New Testament.  We see it on Bible tracts, jewelry and t-shirts sold at Christian bookstores, and homemade signs at sporting events.  Vast numbers of people have heard or read the words of John 3:16.  But, I’m not sure that everyone really understands or appreciates what is said in this passage.
  • I think it is important for this passage to be read along with the Ephesians passage.  Too often we read this text from John and conclude that if someone believes they receive the gift of grace.  But, God’s grace is unconditional
  • How sad for those who refuse to see the gift that God has given them.  Does it mean that God takes the gift back?  I don’t think we are supposed to be the judge of that.  What God ultimately decides to do is completely up tp God.  What we are called to do is love God and love one another.  There’s no mention of finger-pointing in any of the great commandments.
  • Items that you may want to feature in your worship display: a cross, a globe, and/or a model of the solar system (for God so loved the “cosmos” is what is says).
  • If you use projection equipment, pictures of space and the planet earth could be used.  Also, pictures of men, women, and children from all over the globe would truly fit the text.

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