Bishop's Lectionary Reflection
Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B
March 14, 2021
Humanity struggles with patience, or rather the lack of it. In this interesting story from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Israelites, who have been wandering in the wilderness after having been liberated from Egypt, are impatient because they are not arriving at the Promised Land as quickly as they had hoped. Their impatience prompts them to speak against God and against Moses, the man God appointed to lead them. They complain. Even though they have food and drink (manna, quails, water), they don’t have the variety of what they enjoyed even as slaves in Egypt. They are nostalgic for their slavery. They see only what isn’t, not what is. The story continues that as a consequence of their complaining, God introduces poisonous serpents into the Israelite community to bite and kill them. The Israelites immediately realize their wrong and go to Moses to ask him to ask God to remove the serpents. God effectively does this by asking Moses to craft a serpent of bronze upon which the Israelites can gaze when they are bitten in order to be healed. In other words, in order to be rid of poison, one has to look poison squarely in the face. In order to be rid of sin, one has to confront sin for what it is.
Negativity begets negativity. Does negative complaining in a community end up uplifting the community? Complaining in a situation without offering positive solutions only adds poison to the situation. Can you think of a time in a negative situation where focusing on and complaining about the negative made things worse? Isn’t it more effective to confront negative situations for what they are realistically and then look for positive ways forward?
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Many Psalms exhort us to give thanks to God, especially when God has been faithful to deliver us from precarious situations. In Psalm 107, the people are being reminded that they have been delivered from the hands of death. What should be their response? The Psalmist commands them to respond with their whole being – with shouts of joy and sacrifices of thanksgiving? This should be no lukewarm response. God’s action is always to assist, to redeem and to regather. What beautiful words these are for us as we contemplate regathering for worship in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic! God stands ready to assist us, to redeem us and to gather us…from the east, the west, the north and the south. We are not a lost and forgotten people!
Take a moment to compose your own Psalm of gratitude to God for the way that He has stood by you during these past few months. How have you been assisted, redeemed and regathered?
In this letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us of the Good News of our deliverance! We were once dead in sin, but now we are alive in Christ! We were once part of a people who were disobedient – predisposed to wrath. We once belonged to a spirit of wrath that is at work among the people. But we no longer belong to that spirit! Now we are alive in Christ, and we belong to Him. We are told that we are created for good works which God actually prepared for us beforehand. Before we were even created, God had prepared our work for us. This means that we do not lead aimless, purposeless lives…but lives of meaning and great purpose! We belong to God!
The work that is set out for you to do today has always been intended for you. Set your heart with great joy to whatever work is appointed. We do not belong to the old way of life that causes us to think we have nothing to offer to the world. We belong to a new way of life, a new way of thinking that calls us forth to partner with God for the coming of His Kingdom. What work awaits your joyful accomplishment this day?
We are afraid of judgment. As Christians we are taught that at the second coming of Christ, there will be a great judgment of the entire world and its deeds – the Day of the Lord it is called. And we are afraid of it. We are certain that when the light is shown on our own deeds, we will not measure up. But this Scripture tells us “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17). God’s judgment then is about salvation, not condemnation. Jesus also tells his disciples, “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.” (John 3:14) Surely when the people heard Jesus say this, they were reminded of how the Israelites were cured of the poison in their community when Moses fashioned a serpent of bronze and held it up for them to gaze upon. The presence of the bronze serpent forced the Israelites to confront their sins. The raising of Christ on the cross has the same effect. It shines the light on the sins of the world and frees the world from the bondage of those sins. The judgment of God shines a light upon the world and exposes all deeds – those done in sin and those also done in God. Then and only then, does poison leave our midst and free us to love and worship God in holiness and health.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation of a Penitent, available in the Book of Common Prayer, helps us to examine our life in God and to shine a light on things we have done that have been good, but also on things that have not been helpful or healthful. As part of your Lenten discipline, you might consider asking your priest to assist you with this examination and this sacrament.
Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Ever more give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God, now and for ever. Amen.