Lent 4B

image: wikimedia


Voice in the Wilderness:Renee Roederer

Featured Musician:Christian McIvor


Tasty Wafer:

  1. Thursday Night Special with Dwight Ford, author of Never Easy, Always Necessary
  2. Bishops United Against Gun Violence  & Liturgical Resources

Featured Musician: Christopher Grundy


Exegetical Notes

John 3:14-21

Initial Thoughts

  • First part of the story already discussed on Pulpit Fiction for Lent 2A

  • I feel like I’ve heard this verse before. Probably never paid attention to 14-15, but it makes sense when paired with Numbers text this week.

Bible Study

  • Context: Discussion with Nicodemus

    • Takes place at night, immediately after table turning incident in the Temple. Jewish leaders are not happy with him.

    • Nicodemus, a Jewish leader (Pharisee), is convinced by Jesus’ actions that he is “a teacher who has come from God.” Implies that there are others who have this same belief.

    • Jesus responds that this isn’t enough. You must be “born anew” to see God’s kingdom.

    • Nicodemus does not understand, so Jesus explains that people must be “born of the spirit.” Nicodemus still does not understand. This passage is a part of Jesus’ explanation to Nicodemus.

  • v 14-15

    • “Just as Moses lifted up the snake” is a clear allusion to Numbers text for this week.

      • Recalls God’s continued saving work in the world. In the Wilderness, there was a very present danger from which God was able to protect the people.

      • God continues to protect the people, now through raising his Son.

    • Just as the Israelites were saved from death by looking at the bronze snake in the wilderness (Numbers reading) so all people can be saved by looking to Jesus, but what does that mean?

      • Crucifixion? Jesus raised up on the cross.

        • “Lift High the Cross” Hymn:

“Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim till all the world adore his sacred name. Come, Christians follow this triumphant sign The hosts of God in unity combine. O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree, as thou hast promised, draw the world to thee.” George William Kitchin and Michael Robert Newbolt, 1916.
      • Lifted up as a model? Jesus raised up as the Way in which to follow.

        • “Help Us Accept Each Other” hymn:

“Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us; teach us as sister, brother, each person to embrace. Be present, Lord, among us, and bring us to believe we are ourselves accepted and meant to love and live.” Fred Kaan, 1974
      • Resurrection? Jesus raised from the grave?

        • “Because He Lives” hymn:

“Because he lives, I can face tomorrow; because he lives, all fear is gone. Because I know he holds the future, and life is worth the living just because he lives.” Gloria and William Gaither, 1971
  • v. 16-21

    • John often divides things into two distinct categories.

      • Spirit and World

      • Darkness and Light

      • Life and Death

      • Truth and Wickedness

      • Those that believe and those that do not

    • These dichotomies reflect a “minority group defining itself not only within the diversity of Judaism but also defining itself among followers of Jesus. In this context, polemical language against the Jews and secret believers functioned to affirm members of a minority community defining itself in relationship to other communities making similar claims to truth. The purpose is not to exclude others, rather to support those who likely make difficult choices to belong. Likely the intent was to encourage others to join them.” (Marilyn Salmon, from Working Preacher)
      • Purpose of the exclusive language is not actually to exclude, but to invite.

    • The difference is demonstrated in real action

      • All things will eventually be exposed to light

    • Those who hate the light do wickedness. Those who remain in the light do truth.

  • Life and Death/ Spirit and World/ Darkness and Light

    • These divisions reflect a choice presented throughout scripture: separation in Creation; life in the garden/death outside; life on the Ark/death in the flood; life through the Exodus/death in the sea; Matthew 25- sheep/goats; etc.

    • The invitation is to choose life

  • Eternal Life - εχη  ζωην  αιωνιον  (eck-ay zo-ain aionion)

    • εχη - to have or hold - in the present tense - this is not something which is coming but something which begins immediately: “The word here is in the present tense.  ETERNAL LIFE begins NOW.  It is not a future reality, but a present one found in Christ!  Whoever is trusting in God has life which continues into eternity.” (Rob Myallis)

    • αιωνιον - does not mean eternally (aiodios- does refer to everlasting/eternity), but rather refers to a set period of time- an aion/eon. An aion is undefined but could easily mean this life - how we live fully in this moment, this aion which we have been given

Sermon Thoughts

  • Life and Death- the choice presented to Adam and Eve (Genesis 2), given to the Israelites by Moses (Deut. 30) is once again raised by John. Not in terms of immortality or the quantity of life, but rather the quality of life.

    • This echos Jesus’s call to repentance/metanoia/ to change your hearts and lives toward God

    • Moses calls the Israelites to follow the commandments

    • God calls Adam and Eve to obey God

    • When we obey God’s commandments to love God, self and other - then we live life to the fullest. When we do not- this leads to death.

    • “How can we experience life without its Author? Shame, eating disorders, gender-based violence, climate change, shattered families, racism, oppression, war, and death itself all are natural consequences of humanity’s small and monumental choices to reach for peace in their own way.” Lisa Sharon Harper, The Very Good Gospel

  • What does it mean to “do truth.” How can we as a church do more truth? It cannot be just about telling the truth, although that is an important part. Expanding on the concept of “doing truth” could make for a sermon. Truth, Justice, and Love seem to be linked by this passage. Part of loving the world is acting for justice. Part of doing justice is telling the truth. Part of doing truth is living in love.

  • Memorizing John 3:16 separates belief from action.

    • Belief is important, but verses 19-21 reveal that judgment comes not based on belief, but on action.

    • Remain in darkness or live in the light. The choice might start with belief, but it is only revealed in actions.

Numbers 21:4-9

Initial Thoughts

  • Numbers only appears 3 times in the lectionary! (Pentecost A and Proper 21B)

  • Separating this from John 3 and Christian interpretation

  • Covenant theme?

    • Psalm 107

Bible Study

  • Context!

    • Grumbling stories: Exodus 16, Numbers 11, 14, 16, 20 - all stories of the Israelites failing to trust God (and or Moses)

    • Occurs immediately after God has answered their prayers (Number 21:1-3)

  • Grumbling/Complaining and Repentance

    • Sin, Confession and repentance occur in community- not as individuals

      • Many sins happen in a community - those that don’t speak out, that enable, justify or passively condone sins

    • Craig Kocher, Feasting on the Word - every church has it’s “Let’s go back to Egypt” committee: a group of people that will never be content with the present but want to return to the nostalgia of the past.

    • Communal and individual- while the sin, confession and repentance are communal- the acceptance of grace- looking at the staff - is  individual

  • Faith: Belief or trust? The Israelites are not asked to believe in any specific creed, religion or doctrine, they are simply asked to trust God (sometimes the creed, symbol or doctrine can get in the way - 2 Kings 18:4)

  • Magic Stick (not to be confused with the Lil Kim song)

    • A symbol of death is transformed into a symbol of life - it is not the “thing” in and of itself but the meaning we put on it. What symbols hold meaning in our lives?

      • poisonous snakes - bronze serpent

      • blood of the lamb- passover

      • cross - crucifixion

    • A tool to reveal the faithfulness of God - not something holy in and of itself

    • Could be seen as a false idol- snakes were often used as images for deities in the ancient near east

    • This actually happened- people began to make sacrifices and offerings to the Bronze snake- so Hezekiah (the good king) had it broken and removed from the temple (2 Kings 18:4)

    • See Sermon Notes

    • Interesting Side note: The symbol of the snake and the staff as a symbol of healing also appears in Greek mythology as the Rod of Asclepius (Asclepius being the Greek God of healing) and is used currently as a symbol of healing and medicine.

Sermon Thoughts

  • The Israelites acknowledge that their sin was communal and subsequently their confession and repentance was communal as God’s grace. How do we raise the communal aspects of sin, confession and forgiveness other than a unison prayer in the service? Should we do more to acknowledge the communal sins of our churches and society in general and take responsibility?

  • What are things that have  been lifted up as examples or tools of God’s faithfulness that have become idols in their own right? What Bronze snakes live in our temples that need to be broken and discarded?

  • A symbol of death is transformed into a symbol of life - it is not the “thing” in and of itself but the meaning we put on it. What symbols hold meaning in our lives?

Ephesians 2:1-10

Initial thoughts

  • A LOT is said in this short passage.

Bible Study

  • Quick Ephesians Review

    • Disputed author. Perhaps the most deeply contested of Paul’s letters. Good arguments can be made on both sides of this debate.

    • Disputed audience. The phrase “in Ephesus” seems to be added at a later date.

    • “The virtual consensus has been reached that 1) Ephesians is not an epistle in the usually accepted sense of the term, that is, an apostolic letter to a Christian congregation in a specific area; and 2) the destination of the epistle is much wider than the local Christian community at Ephesus.” (Ralph Martin, Interpretation: Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, p. 3)

      • It seems as if the letter were intended to be a circular - shared by many communities addressing problems that were facing many of the early communities. Namely, the rapid growth of the early church among Gentiles and existing as subjects of Rome as well as subjects of Christ.

    • “A great benefit of the letter’s general character is that it gives us a good summary of Paul’s basic understanding of Christian thought and Christian living.” (Timothy Gombis, Common English Study Bible notes on Ephesians).

  • You cannot separate Paul’s teaching from the community. This letter was meant to be shared with many communities, not individuals. The idea of sin and salvation is one for the body of Christ, not individual believers.

    • “It is only after defining the meta-structures operating in this world that Paul then comments on the individual transgressions and missteps in following the flesh (which Paul does not say is inherently evil or sinful). Our individual actions are products of the house and its environment, under the operations of its ruler.”  (Kyle Fever, Working Preacher)

    • “As Paul goes on in Ephesians, he will stress the importance of reconciliation. Not just our reconciliation with God, but with each other. This new house under the Lordship of Jesus has no place for divided humanity. The “other” is no longer the “other” but sister/brother. We have been saved and remade in Christ for this, for the “good works” that are simply part of the mode of life in the new house under the benevolent and gracious house Lord. We’re not saved by good works, but saved so that the good works that reconcile and are evidence of reconciliation would be our mode of life.” (Kyle Fever, Working Preacher)

  • Past, Present and Future of the people

    • This section “is a placing side by side of two contrasting panels. The first panel is verses 1-3: the previous state of the readers; the second is verses 4-10: the new life in Christ which has become theirs. The hinge is at 4a: ‘But God, who is rich in mercy.’”

    • Verses 1-3

      • 1-3 is the past - a Gentile people who pursued nothingness.

      • V 3 NRSV “children of wrath” vs CEB “children headed for punishment”
        • 2:3 The word wrath here has no article; technically, then, it should be "by a nature of a wrath." It does not indicate the wrath of God here.” (Rob Myallis)

        • I prefer “Children of Wrath,” because this implies that the people were going to get exactly what they pursued. When you pursue nothingness, or the way of the world, your reward is of the world.

        • It is not that God actively punishes those children, but that they justifiably achieve exactly what they are pursuing.

    • V. 4-5 Common English and NRSV treat these differently, but hold together the important themes of God’s love, dead in sin, alive in Christ, saved by Grace

      • Important note - the “US” language, this is first person plural. God’s love and Christ’s salvation happens in community.

      • Paraphrase: The God of love made us alive in Christ while we were dead in sin. That is what grace is.   

      • Where is your starting point? Dead in sin, or alive in Christ?  

        • Some say you can’t be made alive in Christ until you realize that you are dead in sin (rock bottom). Say the sinner’s prayer, and then you’re alive.

        • Some say that I am alive because of God’s love, and realizing that God’s love comes even in the midst of my sin brought me back to life. Respond to God’s love with love.

    • V. 7-10 pushes the story into the future.

      • V. 10 “When it says that of we are a work of God, the literal word here is "poiehma" or poem. We are the poetic act of God, created for good works!” (Rob Myallis, Lectionary Greek)

      • We are God’s poetic work.

      • All of Creation is God’s poetic work - remember the poem of Genesis 1.

      • In other words, we are God’s work of art, created to do works (of art?).

Preaching Thoughts

  • V. 10: We are God’s created to do good work. By God’s grace, we were created to create goodness.

    • When do we create goodness?

    • When are you most alive?

    • How can the Church provide ways for people to be fully alive? In service? In arts? In worship? In generosity? In friendship?

  • The hinge verse is 4a “But God who is rich in mercy.” All things flow from this truism about the nature of God. God is rich in mercy, and puts an end to the death to which we cling. Grace begins with God’s mercy even while we are pursuing other things.

  • God has set up a new way of living. Following Christ is a standard that is over and above the ways of Rome, Gentiles, or the World. Following Christ is “the way that we live our lives.”


Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).