Fourth Sunday in Lent- Deacon Gill- March 11, 2018

March 11, 2018

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength, and our redeemer. Amen.

Happy Mothering Sunday. Yes Happy Mothering Sunday

So the story goes that during the 16th century, people returned to their mother church for a service to be held on Laetare Sunday ie the 4th Sunday in Lent. Your mother church was either the church where you were baptized, or the local parish church, or the nearest cathedral, that being the mother church of all the parish churches in a diocese. In later times the day was called Mothering Sunday and became a day when domestic servants were traditionally given a day off to visit their mother church, usually with their own mothers and other family members, before the busy responsibilities of Holy Week and Easter. It was often the only time that whole families could gather together for worship.

Eventually, the religious tradition evolved into the Mothering Sunday secular tradition of giving gifts to mothers. In many parts of Europe it is still celebrated today rather then the May date celebrated in the USA. So today I received a card from my son in Wales.

I well remember Mothering Sunday as a child when the whole family went to church and the children were invited to the front to collect bunches of violets which we then gave to our mothers. Yes purple violets were appropriate for Lent. Flowers as a gift of love and purple in color as that is the prescribed color for Lent.

A Simnel cake is also a tradition for many on Mothering Sunday. It is a light fruit cake with two layers of almond paste or marzipan, one in the middle and one on top. It was originally made for the middle Sunday of Lent, when the forty-day fast would be relaxed, The meaning of the word simnel is unclear but we know it is typically made from a very fine light flour.

Today we hear about the Israelites complaining about manna which is described as being “a fine, flake-like thing” like the frost on the ground. It is described in the books of Numbers and Exodus as arriving with the dew during the night and it had to be collected before it was melted by the heat of the sun. The Israelites ground it and pounded it into cakes, which were then baked. They were instructed to eat only the manna they had gathered for each day. The exception being on the day before the Sabbath when twice the amount of manna was gathered so that there would be sufficient to also last the following day when no working was allowed.

The Israelites continually complained about the lack of food and water even though God had provided sustenance. They used words like “light,” as in not very filling, and “detestable” to describe God’s gift. You can understand the Israelites’ frustration can’t you? If you had to eat manna or even pizza every day and every meal for 40 years, you’d get sick of it too. That’s only normal. But complaining to God!

They spoke against God and against Moses. Judgment was inevitable and we see what may happen when you complain too much. Poisonous snakes appear. A strange judgment. They bite and they kill.

God sent poisonous snakes in their midst. God let the Israelites suffer in this way not so much as a punishment, but as a call to repentance for all their moaning. God wanted the Israelites to realize that speaking against the  Lord had a price to pay and it is a sin. Sin infects like a poison and opens wounds that will not close. You know you can’t repeatedly run red lights and think you’ll be fine. Sooner or later your life is going to end in a tragic crash that could have been avoided. The snakes then were like the police who chase down red light runners—not because they enjoy handing out tickets, but because they want to stop behavior that would have lasting harmful effects.

The Israelites confessed to Moses: “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us”. And Moses did just that. He prayed on their behalf. Were they truly sorry, or were they only repenting because they were in a lot of pain and were fed up? Maybe. However Moses sets the example that we are to follow. He took their confession at face value, forgave, and pleaded on their behalf. Are we as quick to forgive as Moses was with the Israelites? Do we refuse to hold a grudge against those who have harmed or spoken against us?

And God was as quick to forgive as well wasn’t he? He suggested a novel solution  to provide healing for the people. Instead of giving Moses medicine to administer, maybe sap from a plant, God told him to turn a snake into bronze and put it on a pole. He promised that all those who would look at that snake would be healed of their bites. The Israelites were a people who for forty years, whilst being delivered, led, and provided for by God, perfected complaining. The turning point came when a pole was raised up in the desert with a symbol of the enemy upon it, a serpent. A generation of wilderness wanderers were called to grow up, cease their constant complaining, enter into the faith of Abraham and continue on their journey.

The way God dealt with the Israelites using the bronze snake reminds me of how God works with us through the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Sometimes people may ask how the bread and wine of Holy Communion can give us the forgiveness of sins and salvation. Well, how were the Israelites healed from their snakebites? Did the bronze snake itself heal the people, or was it their return to faith that overcame? Now while the bronze snake only represented a real snake, the bread and wine doesn’t only represent Jesus’ body and blood. It is also a sign of a pledge of forgiveness of sins.

The symbolism of the serpent on a pole was taken up by Jesus at Calvary. Just as it seemed foolish to look to a bronze snake for healing, many people today think that it is foolish to look to Jesus and expect to be saved from sin. It just seems too easy. Isn’t there another way to ensure entrance into heaven? Yet just as looking at the snake was the only way the Israelites could be healed, so looking to Jesus is the only way we can be saved and forgiven for our sins. He did not send Jesus to condemn us but to save us. We hear in our gospel of John, a definitive statement from Jesus when he said to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life . 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.”

There are very definite parallels in our readings today. If a serpent on a pole was a symbol so is the picture of the broken body of a man impaled upon a wooden cross. This was the lesson he taught. Without the serpent there was no healing for the Israelites who had been bitten by the snakes  and without the cross there is no salvation for any one of us. Looking at the symbol He has commanded brought healing to the poisoned Israelites, and similarly brings salvation to the Christian. And as Paul tells the Christians at Ephesus:  “You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived”

If we were to summarize today’s readings, we might say it is the movement from death to life.  This is the work of God in our lives and in our world:

God is taking the corrupt and restoring it to wholeness and health.

God is rescuing those who are lost and bringing them home.

God is restoring the health of his people.

God finds ways to forgive our sins as we repent. You were lost and needed to be found.  You were exiled and needed to be brought home. By the grace of God this is the mercy that rescues us from the death that is aimed not just at forgiveness of our sins but also the restoration of our relationship with God. By God’s grace and not by our deserving have we been brought from error into truth, from sin into righteousness, from death into life.

Service Schedule

Sunday Services
8:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist, Rite I
9:15 a.m. Christian Formation
10:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist, Rite II

Weekday Services
Wednesday 12:00 p.m. Holy Eucharist


St. Paul's Episcopal Church
5373 Franz Rd
Katy, Texas 77493
(281) 391-2785

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