Year B, 4th Sunday in Lent
Whenever something was lost in our house and then found in the most likely place – even though we had “looked” there many times – my mom would say, “If it was a snake, it would have bit me!” Or “bit you”, depending on who was looking for the item. And as a teenager it was often me. (She would also say, “Jane, did you look under the things on your bed!) How often do we overlook the very things we are searching for in life? And how often are they “hiding” in plain sight? Finding them seems to be a matter of looking with new or renewed sight. Maybe even being still for a moment and “calling” them to us so that we will recognize them when we see them.
“Recognition” is a primary action in each of our lectionary texts this week. The Online Etymological Dictionary describes the word “recognition” as a “noun of action”. The verb, “recognize” comes from the Latin, “recognoscere” with the meaning of “knowing again”, “understanding”, “examining” and “acknowledging”. (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=recognize&searchmode=none)
In our texts this week we find the call to see God’s grace with us again and again hiding in plain sight. These passages call us to recognize and acknowledge the saving presence of God’s grace that is always available even – and especially – when we have lost sight of grace.
In Numbers the Israelites in the desert are called to look upon a poisonous serpent that the Lord tells Moses to lift up before them so they will be cured from the poisonous bites of serpents. Curious cure since – as the story goes – the serpents were sent by God to shock the people out of their poisonous complaining that God had left them to die in the wilderness. They had lost sight of God’s providing presence and so the snakes did bite them! And looking at Moses’ bronze snake as the recognition of their sin of losing trust in God cured them of the literal poisonous bites and, we hope, of the complaining and distrust.
Psalm 107 tells poetically of the same saving dynamic between God and God’s people as the story in Numbers. The gospel passage from John, a passage holds the first Bible verse I was taught as a child. “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” (John 3:16). There is much to untangle here theologically from the enigmatic writing of John as this verse has been use for condemnation as well as redemption down through Christian history. Seeing the gospel text as a story of recognition sheds new light upon the verse I learned so long ago. God has sent the Son of Man, Jesus, so we can recognize the grace of God rather than a doctrine of who’s in and who’s out of heaven. Eternal life is living in the recognition of God’s grace and begins when we see the grace again in Jesus just as in the children of Israel found grace in the desert when they looked upon the serpent of Moses.
Ephesians brings the dynamic of finding and trusting God’s grace into focus with a call to act upon our recognition. The writer describes the people of his/her age as “children of wrath”…could this be like the complaining children of Israel centuries before? Those who live only by the world’s material concerns do not see the grace of God in Jesus the Christ. Yet God has come and is present in Christ and we can recognize the gift of God’s grace through faith, through trust in God. ”For we are what [God] has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works…”, the writer calls out to the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 2:10). Not only is the call to recognize God’s presence in Christ, but to also recognize ourselves and one another as created by God for good work in the world. It seems recognition leads to our participation in the transformation of the world into the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed. And God’s call to grace is present each moment, even when it seems we are in the snake pits of life, because “God so loved the world.”
This week I want to share a wonderful website I discovered in a great new book on using story with children in worship, Feasting on the Word: Guide to CHILDREN’S SERMONS by dear friends of mine, David L. Bartlett and Carol Bartlett. This is a wonderful book for honing your skills in crafting children’s sermon. It could also be used to teach others in your congregation to learn to give an effective children’s sermon.
The stories I suggest for this week come from a website resource I found in the book, Storypath, www.storypath.upsem.edu. This is website connected to Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. It is lectionary based and is a rich resource for stories from children’s books that connect with the lectionary texts for the week. Each book is given a brief synopsis and a connection is made for use with the suggested text. I particularly liked the book they suggested for the Numbers story, Monsters Eat Whiny Children by Bruce Eric Kaplan.
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2015 and beyond. Text and photos can only be used with permission.