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Lent 04 - Year B
"God's Outstretched Arms"
RCL: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; and John 3:14-21
Catholic Lection: 2 Chronicles 36:14-17, 19-23; Psalm 137; Ephesians 2:4-10; and John 3:14-21
Catholic RCIA: (Second Scrutiny - Year A) 1 Samuel 16:6-7, 10-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9: 1-41
READING: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; and John 3:14-21|
COLLECTFor the Fourth Sunday in Lent (also known as "Laetare" Sunday - from "Rejoice, O Jerusalem..." sounds a note of joy and lightness in the drawn out rigours of Lent; some churches will use rose coloured vestments)
Grant us, Almighty God, the comfort of your grace. Though we deserve to face the consequences of our unworthy words and deeds, be merciful to us when we turn to you. Bring us to rejoicing through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.
The Bronze Serpent
A number of things leaped out at me when I looked at this text. First I noticed that intimacy is a very important part of this story. The Israelites became impatient on the journey and complained against God and against his agent Moses. Their complaints sounded more than a little ungrateful to me. The imtimacy profiled here is the intimacy of presumption. After being afflicted with fiery snakes for the sins of presumption and complaint, the people beg Moses to intercede on their behalf, to talk to God for them. They lack an intimnate relationship with God themselves. Perhaps if they'd been in one, they would have restrained their whining, they would have seen things in a different light.
The second thing that leaps out at me is the severity of the "punishment." Some suggest that a righteous and loving God would not behave this way. The fact that mitigates against this interpretation is found in the confession of the people themselves. They recognized their guilt - "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you...." But, you ask, "Surely this is a little drastic?" Look at the circumstances. Where would their rebellion against God lead all of them eventually? To an even more certain death in the wilderness? God's grace must be seen in the light of the necessity of judgement or it is no grace at all!
Lastly (but I'm sure one could milk this text for a lot more), it strikes me that there is already an "aroma" of death in the very complaining that is done. Do we not kill hope and joy by our negativity? I suspect that we like our negativity, our complaining too much to give it up easily and therefore it is God who must change, not us. God must adjust to sin. The Cross is far too barbaric and the theory of the Atonement just too unpalatable for the modern mind. But I suspect that the whole idea of the Cross (the Bronze Serpent) to the ancient Israelites didn't make any sense until it was needed.
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Interesting psalm of praise. God's mercy heals us, redeems us from the consequences of our sinfulness and iniquities. What? God punishes us for our stupidity? Surely not? Not a compassionate God? Not a loving God? Well, if you believe that, then tell me why you are so down on those who smoke or fill-in-the-blank? There ARE consequences to our acts and our words or lack thereof. Perhaps you believe that we should not escape the consequences. Who then is being harsh?
There is this delicious tension between judgement and grace that I firmly believe we are called to struggle with, not dismiss. God judges? You betcha! God has mercy? Again - you betcha!
"They cried out to the Lord in their trouble... he sent forth his word, and healed them." Wow! I get goosebumps thinking about how awesome God's love and mercy really is. I truly believe that if you let the psalms sink down deep in your psyche through daily inbibing them, then God's nature, God's very being will become clear to you.
Ephesians has to be one of my favourite epistles. I use the prayers in it often. Amazing grace is the theme of this text. Amazing grace. Last Christmas, as at every Christmas, while putting away the decorations, I missed something. Days, weeks later, I discovered a little lamb from the Nativity set stuffed down under the cushions on the couch. That little lamb quickly got dubbed "Amazing Grace, who once was lost but now is found, twas blind (hidden in the couch) but now can see." A long name but a very significant one. Amazing Grace spent the rest of the year adorning the TV in plain view to remind me about God's amazing grace. Do you have an "amazing grace" story of your own?
Out of God's great love for us, He raises us up with Christ. He places in us a thirst for intimacy, for relationship with him and woos us like a lover. He offers us the grace of unconditional love that outlasts our temper tantrums, that loves us enough to drag us, kicking and screaming from our headlong rush over precipices too deep to survive a fall into.
God, in my experience, has not prevented the pain my behaviour has caused me and others, has not prevented the judgement my deeds incurred. But, God has, with the judgement, also given mercy and grace beyond my wildest reckonings, totally undeserved. Amazing Grace!
The texts for today all deal in one way or another with intimacy, with the "yada" of knowing and being known by God, a deep, intimate, experiential, reflective, perceptive, in the "full light of day" kind of knowing. A divine intimacy. From the days of the old testament through to today, as I sit at my computer, God has called, is calling and will continue to call us into a relationship of such intimacy with Him that we can scarce understand it. The closest approximation is to that kind of knowing that is both sexual and marital; the "knowing" of the other that occurs, that is experienced in a marriage. Some of the mystics came close to grasping at the depth of meaning in the "yada" of knowing and being known by God in the spiritual marriages of the cloister.
To be known by God so deeply and to be loved anyway despite ourselves is a pattern for us to follow. To love unconditionally. To love with judgement and with mercy. To love fully. We are called to love like God loves. But we keep trying to find excuses to not have to. God help us in our blindness. Amazing Grace!
The sign of the love offered to us, the mercy and grace extended, is that of the outstretched arms of Christ on the cross. Come unto me....
LENTEN THOUGHTSLent is not just about fasting and self-denial. It is an inward journey that can be very rewarding. I know God in two ways - through my own personal experience and through the community of His love, the Church. I experience the journey that the Church makes on its yearly pilgrimage to the Mystery of our faith, "Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again." I also experience the personal thirst and hunger that Lent beckons me to feel.
My prayer life has grown deeper through this Lenten sojourn. So deep, in fact, that I am finding myself beginning to understand just a hint of what Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Teresa of Lisieux have written of the spiritual journey. There has been a death this week in our faith community. It is a death that has forced me to think of the "dark night of the soul," about being immersed - in the darkness - in the immensity and the intimacy of God like a fish in the sea. It has made me reflect deeply on Psalm 22, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me...?" and on Isaiah 43, "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine..."
Be not afraid. Fear not. Come follow me. Let me "know" you. Know me!
For a strengthening and deepening of your prayer life and your faith, start doing some regular disciplined reading of the Psalms. Soak yourself in them. Get to know, like David, the Shepherd who can be found in them.
copyright - Charlene E. Fairchild 2000- 2006 please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.
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