4th Sunday in Lent
Psalm 107: 1-3, 17-22
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who is responsible. Amen
Who is responsible?
This question is rarely asked
after something good happens.
A parent walks into a room
to find children standing in the midst
of a disarray of couch cushions and a broken lamp,
“who is responsible?” They ask,
as small eyes suddenly find something very interesting
about that corner of the ceiling
“Who is responsible?”
A manager cries out
after getting off the phone with an unhappy client,
gazes avert in this situation as well
“Who is responsible?”
The people cry
out after a storm leads to a flood,
“was it the poor construction of the barriers?
Was it government neglect?
Was it God?”
God tends to take a lot of the blame for things,
it used to be and maybe still is in some cases
that natural disasters were referred to as “Acts of God” on insurance forms.
As I said,
the question who is responsible?
Rarely follows something good
And the answer,
at least the answer provided by those asked
is usually “someone else”
We see this today in our first reading.
The Israelites are tired of wandering in the wilderness,
they are getting impatient,
because they are impatient they think they are suffering
“why have you brought us out of Egypt into the wilderness where there is no food?
To die? Oh and we hate this miserable food” they whine,
even though God gives them food each morning,
and when they complained about the lack of variety in the manna
God added quails to the menu,
and when they complained that the water was bitter,
God made the water sweet,
now it seems like they are complaining about God’s saving actions in the Exodus
and it is too much,
and we are told that God sends poisonous serpents among the people
and many people die.
Who is responsible?
God for sending the serpents?
Or the people for all their complaining?
As it turns out,
The people realize
that the snakes are the consequence of their actions
and they repent,
they come to Moses and confess:
“We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you,
pray to the Lord to take the serpents away from us.”
So Moses prays to the Lord
and God has a decision to make,
the snakes were the consequence
for the people’s actions,
does God remove the consequence like the people ask?
In the end
God does not remove the serpents
from among the people,
being sorry for an action
does not make the consequences of the action go away,
but God does give the people a way out,
God tells Moses to make a serpent out of bronze,
put it on a pole
and place it in the middle of the camp.
When someone is bit by one of the serpents
all they have to do
is look at the bronze serpent
and they will live
God is gracious to the people
and finds a way through the consequences of their sin
to give them life.
The gospel of John
understands God’s actions in Jesus
through the story of the bronze serpent.
In the course of our lives
we do things that turn us away from God
and as a consequence
our relationship with God is broken,
like the Israelites
we realize what we have done,
we repent and confess our sin.
And like with the serpents in the wilderness,
God does not take away the consequences of our actions
but works through them
and gives us a way forward to new life,
Jesus lifted on the cross.
This is the good news that we share with the world
we share it using the section of John
that we read today.
how many times have you seen that verse
on signs at sporting events,
scrawled as graffiti or on billboards by the road
and though it proclaims good news
John 3:16 has become shorthand
for the idea that unless you believe in Jesus
you’re going to hell.
Frankly, I’ve never understood this evangelistic strategy
using God’s ultimate act of love
to inspire fear that leads to someone “accepting Jesus as their personal savior”
According to this perspective
the one who is responsible for your salvation
and this is a choice
that you’re making
not for right now
but for the future,
your eternal future,
heaven or hell
the choice is yours,
you’re responsible, what are you going to do?
The trouble is as humans
we can’t seem to stop sinning
and separating ourselves from God.
Even when we try as hard as we can
In fact, God knows that it is impossible for us
to do and say all the right things
that would lead to being in the presence of God,
of bridging the gap between human and divine,
so God takes care of it all for us.
God works through Christ to make us alive,
and through Christ brings us into the presence of God as a gift,
A gift that is given right now, in this life.
Jesus says a little later in the gospel of John
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”
And considering all the healing and teaching
feeding and forgiving Jesus did among his followers and the crowds
it’s safe to say that Jesus meant abundant life now, as well as later.
This is the grace of God,
That God wants the same quality of life for all creation,
abundant life lived in the presence of God
and God offers this life to all, freely,
as Paul says in Ephesians:
“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…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.”
Who is responsible?
(here is one of those rare positive moments for this question)
who is responsible for salvation?
God is the one who is responsible,
God is the one who works through the brokenness and failings of humanity and the world
to make abundant life possible,
and not only possible but a reality.
and it becomes a reality in our life
when we trust the promise
and begin to live in the presence of God
and even this trust, this faith is a gift of God
who continually reaches out to us,
turning us toward life.
Give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good,
for God’s mercy endures forever. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.