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Sermon Illustrations for Lent 4 (2021)

Illustration
Numbers 21:4-9
In 2012, I had heart surgery to have a mitral valve repaired in my heart. For heart surgeons, that’s not necessarily a difficult operation. There are more delicate heart procedures than repairing a valve, but that’s easy to acknowledge when it isn’t your heart. When it is your heart, everything they must do is a big deal. It was clear that I couldn’t fix this myself. I don’t want to minimize in any way the importance of prayer. I put the situation in the Lord’s hands. On the human level, though, I had to put my trust in my surgeon. I had to look to him.

I was reminded of those days when I read this passage again. As Moses is traveling with the Israelites, they begin to grumble. As a consequence, God sends poisonous snakes that bit them, and many died. The people acknowledge their sin and repent. Moses seeks the Lord on their behalf, and he tells Moses to put up a bronze image of a poisonous snake. When the people are bit, they can look up at it and live. The Nehushtan, the name of contempt given to the serpent Moses made, would later be noted in John’s gospel (John 12:32) speaking of how he would die for the sins of all people.

When you are in trouble, look up to the one who can save you. Look up to Jesus.
Bill T.

* * *

Numbers 21:4-9
The people had murmured several times during their journey across the wilderness. In this passage they seem to outdo themselves. In Numbers 21:5, after saying there is no bread and there is no water, they complain about the manna. The word sometimes translated “loathe” is based on the word nefesh, incorrectly translated as “soul,” which refers to their breath, their being, and even, as Robert Alter notes in his recent translation, their “gullet.” They are saying that they can’t eat the gift of God without gagging. And this leads immediately to God’s retribution, perhaps because of the absolute lack of respect for what God has done for them. They have gone one step too far.
Frank R.

* * *

Ephesians 2:1-10
Grace is a gift from God. How many of us really believe that? And how many of us think we need to or even can earn grace? Paul is clear that it is through faith that we are in relationship with God. Grace is freely given. There’s a tendency among human beings to think we have earned everything we have received. Sure, we work hard, and some success is a result of that, but I know many people who work doubly hard and have very little – maybe not even a home, or food to eat, or health care. We Americans, and maybe others in the world, somehow believe that if we have a lot it is solely because of our own efforts. Maybe we need to look around us and see the advantages with which we began. I am a middle class, college-educated woman who has been blessed with a dedicated family who nurtured me. Yet had I grown up with brown or black skin, the dedication of my family would not have been enough. There were, and are, systems in place that would have disadvantaged me. God’s grace is freely given to us all, but we humans need to shift the systems, open the gates, tear down the walls, and move the mountains that prevent all people from fully experiencing that grace.
Bonnie B.

* * *

Ephesians 2:1-10
God’s grace and what it does to us warrant celebration. Playwright and dramatist Eugene O’Neil said it well in The Great God Brown: “Man is broken... The grace of God is glue.” Famed American Puritan Jonathan Edwards reflected on the happiness saving grace provides:

We needed only to have God’s wrath appeased, and our sins pardoned; but we needed to have the favor of God. To have God, not only not our enemy, but our friend... We needed not only to be delivered from hell, but to have some satisfying happiness bestowed. (Works, Vol.2, p.145)

This happiness and friendship with God make people eager to do good works, for as the lesson says we are now created to do good works (v.10). Martin Luther put it this way:

Our empty Law is ended by Christ Who fills the vacuum first by being outside of us, because He Himself fulfills the Law for us; then He also fills it with the Holy Spirit Who begins this new and eternal obedience in us... (quoted in Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther, p.234)

It seems that when we are caught up in grace and belief in a loving God, the brain’s prefrontal cortex is activated. This part of the brain is then flooded with the amphetamine-like brain chemical dopamine. These dynamics help us to have better control of brain, feelings of rage, and render us more compassionate and sociable (Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman, Why We Believe What We Believe, pp.266-267).
Mark E.  

* * *

John 3:14-21
“And this is the judgment,” says Jesus in John 3:19. But the situation he describes is one where we judge ourselves. Light comes into the world, but many people choose darkness instead of the light to hide their deeds. The word translated judgement is krisis from which we get our word crisis. Clearly, the moment of choice, when we accept or reject Jesus, is a crisis. It is a crisis that cannot be put off or put aside. Are we going to accept the light? Are we going to choose the darkness?
Frank R.

* * *

John 3:14-21
When I was a kid in 1972, I enjoyed watching the movie Poseidon Adventure. If you aren’t familiar with that movie, it’s the fictional story of a ship that capsizes and begins to sink. Passengers on the ship are left to find their way out from the top of the ship to the bottom which is now the only part on the water. The tension mounts as the ship also starts to sink. Those who are trying to get out don’t have much time. I remember that a small group, led by a minister were trying to get out through the boiler room. One of the ship’s officers was leading a larger group the opposite way. I remember the passionate pleas from the minister for the officer’s group to turn around. The path they were on was going to lead to death. They wouldn’t listen, though. The only ones saved from the capsized ship were those who went with the minister.

I thought about that movie again as I looked at this passage. We are close to celebrating Jesus’ death and resurrection. I am reminded, once again, of the urgency of our message. There is only one way to salvation. It is the path articulated in John 3:16. All other roads lead to death. May we be passionate about sharing the truth with those around us.
Bill T.
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The Immediate Word

Thomas Willadsen
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For May 9, 2021:
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Waking Up to Racism
by John Sumwalt
Psalm 98

Let the floods clap their hands;
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 at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
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He will judge the world with righteousness,
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In the mid-1960s, a popular song declared, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It's the only thing that there's just too little of.”1 It was an era of both national and international unrest. And the American landscape was reeling from the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and opposition to both. Amidst headlines so marked by unrest and division, therefore, the sentiment of the song struck a chord with an American audience. 
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Acts 10:44-48
Prejudice is always wrong. Nat King Cole is a well-known artist who was the first African American to host his own national television program. In 1948, he purchased a beautiful home in an exclusive Los Angeles neighborhood. When the local neighborhood association confronted him and informed him it didn’t want any undesirables to move in, Cole responded, “Neither do I. If I see any coming in here, I’ll be the first to complain.” He lived in that house until his death in 1965.

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John Jamison
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (vv. 9-12)

Hi, everyone! (Let them respond.)

The Village Shepherd

Janice B. Scott
Call to Worship:

Jesus gave up his life for us. In our worship today let us explore how to love one another as he has loved us.


Invitation to Confession:

Jesus, sometimes our love for each other is thin and pale.
Lord, have mercy.

Jesus, sometimes we pretend to love but fail to care.
Christ, have mercy.

Jesus, sometimes we don't know how to love.
Lord, have mercy.

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John E. Sumwalt
Jo Perry-sumwalt
One evening, when I was 26 years old, beleagered by guilt for acknowledged sins, I was deep into an hour-long prayer of repentance. In despair, I grieved that I had broken the commandments and that I was not worthy of God's love.

Near me lay the Bible, unused and unfamiliar. I had never, ever read from the Bible. Yet my hands reached out and took the Bible to open it. I knew not where, nor why. But my hands knew the way. They opened to John 15:9-11 and as my eyes began to read, my mind knew the meaning with clarity. My eyes read verse 10 first:
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Theme of the Day
God's love brings us together.

Collect of the Day
It is noted that God has prepared great joy for those who love Him. Petitions are then offered that such love may be poured into the hearts of the faithful so that they may obtain these promises. Justification as a reward for our deeds (love) is communicated by this prayer.

Psalm of the Day
Psalm 98
Stan Purdum
(See Christmas Day, Cycles A and B, for alternative approaches.)

Richard E. Gribble
Once upon a time a great and powerful king ruled over a vast territory. There was something very strange about this kingdom, however -- everything was the same. The people ate the same food, drank the same drink, wore the same clothes, and lived in the same type of homes. The people even did all the same work. There was another oddity about this place. Everything was gray -- the food, the drink, the clothes, the houses; there were no other colors.

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