Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B
March 11, 2018
Lessons: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people recognize that divine love is amazing beyond measure and respond with gratitude.
Key Scripture: But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-6
God must have amazing patience and a really good sense of humor to put up with humankind’s antics and foibles. How else might one explain the fact that God continues to work with us? Sure, God probably does excel in both the patience and humor departments, but it is divine love in its never-failing and far-reaching scope that truly defines the Creator of the Cosmos.
In my fifty-seven years, I’m pretty sure I’ve put God to the test and broken God’s heart more than a body should, and yet still I know (and sense deeply in my bones) that God walks with me every day and hasn’t given up on me yet. I sure don’t deserve such beneficent treatment, but isn’t that the point Paul is making in the letter to the Ephesians? God is in the business of taking death and bringing forth new life. “You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world,” Paul writes, continuing that God, who is rich in mercy, out of love makes us alive with Christ.
When you really stop to think about this, it’s an amazing proposition—and it’s a gift for all people. Our gospel lesson this week from John reminds us that God shows love for this world by sending God’s own self in the form of Jesus, Finally, we get a glimpse in the flesh of what such love looks like, and through the Son we are saved. Further, Jesus came not to condemn us for our brokenness but rather to save the world through his radical and self-giving love.
God’s been at this love business for a mighty long time, too. Having spoken the world into being—itself a great act of creative love—God continues to provide humankind with a way forward, no matter how much we grumble or how abysmally we fail at loving God in return. From the Israelites complaining in the wilderness to the disciples letting Jesus down to Paul’s early Christians making mistake after mistake, through it all God is faithful.
The even better news is that while we don’t deserve God’s love, there’s not a blooming thing we can do to separate ourselves from that divine love. We can hide in the dark and pretend that love is not there, we can turn our backs and look away, but we cannot find a place beyond God’s gracious grasp. When we turn from the dark, from seeking our own willful and sinful way, there God is—waiting to catch us in the grip of grace.
Now that we’re more than halfway through Lent, this amazingly beautiful message offers hope and light for the journey. We are not alone, even when the world is too much with us. God continues to call us home for, as Paul reminds us, “we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life (Eph. 2:10).” Come, live in the light. Raise you head and look at the Son.
In a world filled with division, strife, pain, and suffering, it is always good when God’s people gather for worship and praise. In the Body of Christ, we find unity that the world cannot destroy. Consider singing “We are Called” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship #720), perhaps even interspersing the verses with your sermon. Remind worshipers that when we look up to Jesus, we automatically turn our faces to the light the darkness could not overcome.
Youth may well be familiar with zombie films like Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, Jayne Eyre and Zombies, or the original classic Night of the Living Dead. Consider using a clip from one of these films to introduce this week’s epistle lesson about being dead through trespasses and sin and made alive with Christ. What does it mean to be “dead” in our sinful ways? How are we made alive in Christ? What does that look like in everyday life?
Invite the children to talk about the best gift they’ve ever received. Did they like how the gift was wrapped? Was it fun to try to figure out what was inside the box? Then ask them if that gift is still something they treasure. Tell them about your favorite gift; if you have a photo be sure to share it. Then bring out a nicely wrapped empty box. Make it wrapped so that it is easy to open without tearing the paper. Perhaps use purple to match the liturgical season of the year. Inside the box on a simple card, write “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Tell them that God gives all of us a very special gift. Open the box carefully and let them look inside. Read the card to them and talk briefly about how thanks to Jesus, God has given us the gift of real life forever—not because we earned it or deserved it or did anything for it, but simply because God loves us so much. Give each child a card with this verse written on it. If you want, give it to them in a small gift box that they can keep and share with others.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
We are stewards of an amazing gift—God’s love that saves us through grace. This is a gift we cannot earn, do not deserve, and cannot work for. It is gift pure and simple. We can, however, respond gratefully by loving God and neighbor and serving others. Doing so is good stewardship!
Stewardship at Home
This week shine the light on good deeds. Whenever anyone in your family or friends circle does something kind or wonderful for someone else, be sure to thank them. Pay forward a good deed without expecting something in return. Talk about what it means to have ripples of goodness in response to the gift of grace that God freely gives to us.
Photos: Bob Brennaman and Alex Bellink, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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