Revised Common Lectionary: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; John 3:14-21; Ephesians 2:1-10

This week of Lent, we take a slight break from the journey through the covenants of the Hebrew Scriptures. Instead, we read this strange story in Numbers, in which the people one last time complain about the journey to the promised land. The formula occurs for the final time: the people complain, God gets angry, God sends some sort of plague or force against the people to dwindle their numbers, the people cry out to Moses for help, Moses calls out to God, and God responds to Moses, relenting from whatever misfortune has occurred and offering deliverance. In this case, poisonous snakes are sent, and the remedy is for Moses to lift up a bronze serpent on a pole, and whoever lifts their eyes up to the pole would live if they were bitten by the serpent. We are reminded that God’s desire for us is always life, not death, and restoration, not punishment.

Psalm 107 reminds us that God brings deliverance to all, even those who sin and go astray. God always provides a way when we seek it. The psalmist sings the story of the people of Israel, and sings our story–when we sin, we are not well–it is as if we are sick, and God brings healing and restoration, hope and a way home.

John 3:14-21 begins by echoing the passage from Numbers. It seems a strange reference, but the writer of John is linking how the people’s only way of hope was to look up to the serpent, and now their only way of hope is to look to Jesus, who will be raised up on a cross as well as raised up from the dead.

So many of us have memorized John 3:16 from our youth, but have forgotten John 3:17, in which we are reminded that God did not send Jesus to condemn the world but to save the world. Jesus goes on to share that there is condemnation for those who reject the light of God, but that God’s desire is not rejection but salvation. God’s desire for us is to live into God’s light and become light in the world, not to live in darkness, where we know only ourselves, focus only on our own desires and own gain, but in the light, we see the needs of our brothers and sisters and see the world God has created, as well as God’s desire for us, which is light, life, and love.

Ephesians 2:1-10 reminds us of the darkness of the world–the sin that we have lived in is the sin of our own desires for our own self-satisfaction. Sin leads us to death, but God has given us the great gift of Jesus, who gives us the promise of new life now and the hope of resurrection. We are reminded that in God’s creation, we were created good, and that God has created us in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life (vs. 10).

The way of the world is sin that leads to death. When we desire only to seek self-satisfaction, our own success and gain, we are dead to the world’s pain, dead to the suffering of others, and dead to relationships. We cannot seek relationship with God when we have no relationships with others. But when we repent–we turn away from sin, turn towards the way of God, care for our neighbors and those in need, live in the way of Christ and not for our own gain–we are alive. We live in the light of God. We remember our true created intention: to do good works, which we were created to do.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (vs. 8). We need to remember the great verses of John 3:16-17–God sent us the greatest gift, God’s only son, Jesus, not to condemn the world, but that we might be saved through Christ. It is a gift. For there is nothing we can do to earn grace, and yet there is nothing we can do to be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Call to Worship:
Leader: Sin once led you into the wilderness, where you focused only on your own survival.
People: The light has come into the world, and we have left the darkness behind.
Leader: Sin caused you to be unhealthy, alone and distressed.
People: We have repented, and turned back to God.
Leader: God has given you the gift of Christ Jesus, God’s son.
People: We accept God’s gift of love, so that we might have eternal life.
All: Come, let us live into this new life, given freely by Jesus the Christ.

Prayer of Confession:
Almighty God, we confess that we have been focused on survival. We have sought success so that we can have the things we desire, instead of taking care of the needs of others as well as ourselves. We have desired things that others have and work harder to have those things, forgetting our relationships and the needs of others. We become exhausted and overwhelmed. Lord, we also confess that as a church we also at times focus on survival. We worry about the budget instead of praying for the courage to go where You have sent us. We care for the building and forget about the people within as well as beyond the doors. Forgive us when we focus on surviving, instead of thriving in You. Forgive us when we allow our worries to consume us instead of trusting in You. In the name of Christ Jesus, our companion on this journey of faith, we pray. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon:
For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. We are forgiven. We are renewed. We are restored. We have been given the gift of new life now, and the promise of resurrection. Go and share this Good News. Amen.

Author of Life, we lift our eyes and our hearts up to You, knowing that when we trust in You, we see the light shining in the darkness. Turn us away from the ways of the world, where violence and vilification fill our mouths and fists. Call us into Your ways of opening our hands to reach out to each other, speaking the words of love and grace. Fill our hearts with hope and love, looking up to You, knowing that You will deliver us from our times of trial, You will calm the storm, You will continue to shine light in the darkness. Help us to reach out to each other, remembering that we are the body of Christ, the family of God, and we do not journey this life alone. In the name of Jesus the Christ we pray. Amen.

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