|Proper 5, Second Sunday in Pentecost||June 10, 2012||Sermon, Proper 5, Year B (Second Sunday of Pentecost)||Psalm 130, 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1|
|Trinity Sunday, Year B||June 3, 2012||Trinity Sunday, Year B||Isaiah 6:1-8; Ps 29; Romans 8:12-17;John 3:1-17|
|Day of Pentecost, Year B||May 27, 2012||Day of Pentecost, Year B||Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15|
|Sixth Sunday in Easter, Year B||May 13, 2012||Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B||Psalm 98, 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17|
|Fifth Sunday in Easter, Year B||May 6, 2012||Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B||Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30; I John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8|
|Fourth Sunday in Easter, Year B||April 29, 2012||Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B||Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18|
|Third Sunday in Easter, Year B||April 22, 2012||Second Sunday of Easter, Year B||Luke 24:36b-48|
|Second Sunday in Easter, Year B||April 15, 2012||Second Sunday of Easter, Year B||John 20:19-31|
|Easter, April 8, 2012||April 8, 2012||Sermon, Easter Sunday, Year B||Mark 16:1-8|
|Good Friday, April 6, 2012||April 6, 2012||Good Friday||John 18:1-19:42|
|Maundy Thursday, April 5, 2012||April 5, 2012||Maundy Thursday||John 13:1-35|
|Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B||March 25, 2012||Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B||John 12:20-33|
|➤Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B||March 18, 2012||Sermon, Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B||Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21|
|Third Sunday in Lent, Year B||March 11, 2012||Third Sunday in Lent, Year B||Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22|
|Second Sunday in Lent, Year B||March 4, 2012||Second Sunday in Lent, Year B||Mark 8:31-38|
Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B
Sermon Date:March 18, 2012
Scripture: Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21
Liturgy Calendar: Sermon, Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B
Where is God when life isn’t going our way? When the going gets rough, and we’ve had just about all we can take? When God’s mercy seems to be lacking?
In the passage from Numbers, we’ve just heard a story about the bitter complaints of the Israelites against God and against Moses.
God sends poisonous snakes among the people, and many of them die from the wounds the serpents inflict on them.
So the people go to Moses and confess that they have sinned and they ask Moses to pray that God will take away the poisonous snakes.
But God, in his mercy, does not take away the poisonous snakes.
Instead, God tells Moses to make a poisonous serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.
So Moses made a serpent of bronze and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
Now let’s jump to our own time and place, and go to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and meet Mary Johnson. Her only son was gunned down in 1993 by Oshea Israel, a sixteen year old teenager, who shot and killed rival gang member Laramiun Byrd, Mary’s only son, at a party that both gangs attended.
Mary said that she considered Oshea an animal that deserved to be caged. He received a twenty-five year sentence and went to prison. Meanwhile, Mary was so devastated by her son’s murder that she became a recluse. She couldn’t even look at photographs of her son. She couldn’t forgive Oshea for what he had done.
You see, Mary had a poisonous snake of the unwillingness to forgive in her heart and it kept biting her over and over, keeping her from feeling mercy for Laramiun’s killer. Her heart stayed inflamed by hatred and resentment.
Mary was a devout Christian, however, and she kept praying about her situation. How was the Lord calling her to deal with this terrible loss in her life?
Ten years passed, and one day Mary read a poem about two mothers in heaven who got into a conversation. Turns out that these two mothers were Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the other mother was the mother of Judas Iscariot, and they had mercy for one another.
Mary knew immediately after reading this poem that what God wanted her to do was to bring together families of victims and the families of those who had done harm. And she knew that she could not answer this calling without getting rid of the serpent in her own heart. Mary knew that she had to forgive Oshea before she could help other mothers in pain.
So Mary contacted the prison and asked to meet with Oshea. He refused to meet with her. He was not yet willing to take responsibility for what he had done. The last thing he wanted to do was to talk to the mother of the man he had killed.
So Mary waited. Some time passed, and she tried again.
This time, Oshea said yes. He had begun to see that taking responsibility for his actions was an important part of preparing to return to society.
So Mary and Oshea met. She asked Oshea why he had taken her son’s life. The conversation turned to forgiveness. Mary could feel herself being set free.
At the end of the conversation, Oshea and Mary hugged, and Mary said that she felt all of the hatred and bitterness that she had carried with her for all those years just pouring out of her body. The poisonous serpent had left her heart.
This is the way that the bronze serpent on a pole works in our Old Testament reading from Numbers. God didn’t remove the poisonous serpents, but God, in God’s mercy, provided the Israelites with a way to find healing and new life in the midst of death.
The Israelites had to take a good hard look at what was killing them and seek God in their pain. When they saw God’s healing mercy through the bronze serpent that God had provided for them, the inflammation from their snake bites left their bodies.
After forgiving Oshea, Mary Johnson went on to found a non-profit organization called From Death to Life that supports mothers who have lost children to homicide. The organization encourages forgiveness between families of murderers and victims.
She and Oshea, who are now next door neighbors, travel to schools and prisons to share their story, in hopes that this story can provide healing for others in similar circumstances.
Now we turn to this very familiar passage from the gospel according to John, “For God loved the world in this manner, so that he gave his only son, that whosoever should believe in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
John goes on to say, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
And as we read on, we find that what we believe, and what we do as a result of our beliefs, by taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions, matters tremendously.
In the gospel, John points out that in our lives we judge ourselves by how we respond to Jesus, who is God’s revelation to us. The ways we accept or refuse God are evident in the good and bad decisions that we make in our lives.
Our story of salvation is the story we find in our Bible, the story of God, who created us and loves us. As long as human beings have existed, we have caused God pain with our unwillingness to forgive and our hardness of heart toward one another, our lack of mercy for one another.
Our salvation is that instead of striking us down and getting rid of us as we so justly deserve, God took a good long look at what caused him such pain and agony, a good creation gone bad, full of poisonous hatred.
And God lifted up Jesus, his only son, on a cross. God absorbed all of that poison and hatred that belong to us, and took it into himself.
And through the crucifixion, God transforms all our evil and darkness into the loving and light filled mercy that flows eternally from the cross.
Through the cross, God forgives us for being the merciless people that we are.
God longs for us to do no less for one another.
The cross reminds us that God is with us, especially when life isn’t going our way. Looking at the cross reminds us that when we seek God in our pain, God transforms us and lifts us up and makes us alive together in Christ, filled with mercy and love for one another through God’s grace filled mercy.
And life comes out of death, eternal life that begins here and now.