Fourth Sunday in Lent
Introduction & Welcome
Welcome to worship today, God’s gift to us because God is good!
all the time!
and all the time!
God is good!
The fourth of the Old Testament promises providing a baptismal lens this Lent is the promise God makes to Moses: those who look on the bronze serpent will live. In today’s gospel Jesus says he will be lifted up on the cross like the serpent, so that those who look to him in faith will live. When we receive the sign of the cross in baptism, that cross becomes the sign we can look to in faith for healing, for restored relationship to God, for hope when we are dying.
Confession and Forgiveness
Blessed be the holy Trinity, ☩ one God,
the keeper of the covenant,
the source of steadfast love,
our rock and our redeemer.
God hears us when we cry and draws us close in Jesus Christ. Let us return to the one who is full of compassion.
Silence is kept for reflection.
Fountain of living water,
pour out your mercy over us.
Our sin is heavy, and we long to be free.
Rebuild what we have ruined
and mend what we have torn.
Wash us in your cleansing flood.
Make us alive in the Spirit
to follow in the way of Jesus,
as healers and restorers of the world you so love.
Beloved, God’s word never fails.
The promise rests on grace:
by the saving love of Jesus Christ,
the wisdom and power of God,
your sins are ☩ forgiven, and God remembers them no more.
Journey in the way of Jesus.
Prayer of the Day
O God, rich in mercy, by the humiliation of your Son you lifted up this fallen world and rescued us from the hopelessness of death. Lead us into your light, that all our deeds may reflect your love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
First Reading: Numbers 21:4-9
Though God provides food and water for the Israelites in the wilderness, they whine and grumble. They forget about the salvation they experienced in the exodus. God punishes them for their sin, but when they repent God also provides a means of healing: a bronze serpent lifted up on a pole.
4From Mount Hor [the Israelites] set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” 6Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
Psalm: Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
You deliver your people from their distress. (Ps. 107:19)
1Give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good,
for God’s mercy endures forever.
2Let the redeemed of the Lord proclaim
that God redeemed them from the hand of the foe,
3gathering them in from the lands;
from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
17Some were fools and took rebellious paths;
through their sins they were afflicted.
18They loathed all manner of food
and drew near to death’s door.
19Then in their trouble they cried to the Lord
and you delivered them from their distress.
20You sent forth your word and healed them
and rescued them from the grave.
21Let them give thanks to you, Lord, for your steadfast love
and your wonderful works for all people.
22Let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving
and tell of your deeds with shouts of joy.
Second Reading: Ephesians 2:1-10
While we were dead in our sinfulness, God acted to make us alive as a gift of grace in Christ Jesus. We are saved not by what we do but by grace through faith. Thus our good works are really a reflection of God’s grace at work in our lives.
1You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,* so that everyone who believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Gospel: John 3:14-21
To explain the salvation of God to the religious leader, Nicodemus, Jesus refers to the scripture passage quoted in today’s first reading. Just as those who looked upon the bronze serpent were healed, so people will be saved when they behold Christ lifted up on the cross.
[Jesus said:] 14“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
Meditation by David O’Brien
Lord, we thank you for the gift of your Word and as we think on these things, open our hearts and our minds to hear you. Amen.
The ancient Israelites sure liked to complain. They had just been taken out of slavery in Egypt and were on their way to the promised land, flowing with milk and honey, and are they grateful? No! They want to complain about the food that is being provided for them during the journey. I have to admit that I might get tired of having the same thing, day after day, if it went on for too long. I suppose it’s human nature to always want more than what we have. That is the essence of greed. Perhaps it’s part of the original sin that all humanity is afflicted with. Our human nature is to be sinful, to not trust God. Because of their sin, God showed them the error of their ways. They thought they had it bad with the manna and the water flowing from the rock! God showed them that the wages of their sin was death by sending the venomous snakes to bite them. This caused the Israelites to repent and apologize to Moses and to God. God had Moses make a bronze snake and place it on a pole so that all who look upon it may be healed from the snake bites and once again trust in God. While the Israelites may have deserved death, God showed mercy and love by healing them of their wounds.
Christ remembered this when speaking in today’s Gospel. The parallel is rather striking to me. Just as the bronze serpent was raised on a pole to save the Israelites from their sin, so was Jesus raised on the pole of the Cross to save us from our sin. Sometimes we, like the ancient Israelites, like to complain. The pandemic and the restrictions it has placed on us, is going on too long, we might say. I know that I have said or at least felt that. I don’t like having to wear a mask everywhere I go, especially when I’m acting as the assistant minister in Church. It makes it hard to breath and say everything that I have to say. I need to trust God that He will see us through this. We all need to look to the Cross and to Christ for healing and trust in the salvation that He has provided.
God loved us all so much that He sent His only Son to pay the wages of our sin. It is by His grace that we have been saved from our own sin. That grace comes to us daily through the Holy Spirit. It is by the Holy Spirit that our eyes are opened, and we are able to look at the Cross of Jesus and believe. As Paul said to the Ephesians our faith is “not of our own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works”. Though we deserved death due to our own trespasses and sins, God has shown all of us His mercy and love by saving us through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
May God send the Holy Spirit to us all so that we may look upon the Cross and to Jesus Christ and believe in His saving grace.
Prayers of Intercession
Relying on the promises of God, we pray boldly for the church, the world, and all in need.
A brief silence.
Gracious Lord, You sent Your Son that the world might be saved through him. Inspire the witness of the church throughout the world. Empower missionaries, Bible translators, and ministries of service in your name. Give your grace to Daniel & Elizabeth, our bishops, & Howard, our pastor. Bless our partners in ministry, our ELCA global partner churches, and Young Adults in Global Mission. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
From east to west your steadfast love is shown. Nourish seas and deserts, wilderness areas and cities. Give water to thirsty lands; nurture spring growth that feeds hungry creatures; bless farmers as they prepare for the growing season. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
You sustained your people in the wilderness. Give courage to all who lead in times of crisis and scarce resources. Prosper the work of those who aid victims of famine and drought, winter storms and floods. Bring peace in places where scarce resources cause violence. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Your mercy endures forever. Deliver all who cry to you, especially those who are hungry or without homes. Give life in places where death seems triumphant; give healing to those who are sick and comfort to those who mourn, especially all those on our prayer list and those we lift up to you in our hearts. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
By grace we have been saved. Fill this congregation to overflowing with that grace, that we show mercy to others. Nourish any in our midst who are hungry, especially children, and bless our ministries of feeding and shelter. Give us patience and courage when the way seems long. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Bless our Church council, our transition team and our call committee, that you might guide them in the deliberations, for this Church community. Heal our divisions so that we may more perfectly reflect your love to all the world, and for all the intentions we speak now and those we hold in our hearts, that if they be in conformity with your will, you will see fit to grant them to us. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Your Son was lifted up that whoever believes might have eternal life. We praise you for all who have died in Christ. Bring us with all the saints into the fullness of your promises. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
We entrust ourselves and all our prayers to you, O faithful God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Together, let us profess our faith using the words of the Apostles Creed:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.* On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
And now, as our Savior, Christ is teaching us, we boldly pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.
you walk beside us in desert places,
and you meet us in our hunger with bread from heaven.
Accompany us so that we may pass over from death to life
with Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
You are what God made you to be:
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
chosen as holy and beloved,
freed to serve your neighbor.
God bless you ☩ that you may be a blessing,
in the name of the holy and life-giving Trinity.
Go in peace. Share the good news.
Bless the world and be God’s grace!
Thanks be to God.