St. Matthew’s Sermon 03-11-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 03-11-2018

God’s Steadfast Love

Numbers 21:4-9, Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

It is easy enough to see a connection between our Old Testament reading and our Gospel reading for today. The first is the original story of Moses, at God’s command, making an image of a snake and lifting it up on a pole so as to miraculously heal anyone bitten by a snake just by looking at it. The second is Jesus’ reference to that story as a parallel to his life and teaching and, perhaps, to him being lifted up on a pole, a cross, in his near future.

A little less obvious, but there nonetheless, is the connection between the Epistle and the Psalm and how, together, they tie into the other readings. In fact, this is the first time I’ve noticed it and the first time, in my recollection, that I’ve found a thread running through all four of the lectionary readings in the same day.

I discovered this when I read today’s Psalm; not just the verses assigned, but the entire 43 verses; and noticed the repetition of the phrase “…his steadfast love…”

We heard it in the first verse of the section I read this morning; “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever”, but it is repeated five more times (a total of six) in the full reading.

Going from here; Today’s Old Testament reading relates the story of the people complaining to Moses about their unpleasant situation in the wilderness, subsequently being plagued with venomous snakes and, yet again, in spite of their lack of trust and grumbling, God’s steadfast love for them comes through; not by driving out the snakes, as they requested, but by giving them a cure to their bite.

From there we can look at our Epistle reading from Ephesians which opens with the line “You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived…” Yet, even here we are reminded that “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”.

And then, in our Gospel reading we are able to see, not only the stated connection between Moses’ serpent and Christ being “lifted up” but the thread that, once again, in the rest of the text emphasizes God’s steadfast love. “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. 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”.

With this thread in mind we can circle back to the Psalm in order to expand our thoughts even further.

After the opening words, which we hear in verses 1-3, the author gives us 4 examples in 4 verses of his song of people being the beneficiaries of God’s steadfast love.

The first and the last of these speak of salvation from chaos (struggles resulting from natural and manmade forces in the world around them) while the two, in the middle, speak of salvation from sin (struggles resulting from personal disobedience).

Verse 1) Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.

Salvation from chaos.

Verse 2) Some sat in darkness and in gloom, prisoners in misery and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. Their hearts were bowed down with hard labor; they fell down, with no one to help. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their bonds asunder. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he shatters the doors of bronze, and cuts in two the bars of iron.

Salvation from sin.

Verse 3) Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

Salvation from sin.

Verse 4) Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep; For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity; they reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

Salvation from chaos.

It’s a beautiful Psalm! Not only does it bless us with the sense of God’s steadfast love for his people, it helps to define who his people are; or, more accurately, what God’s people are. It allows us to see that God’s people are not perfect; not without struggles in weakness of faith or struggles in living in a chaotic world; yet they are still counted as God’s people!

And, from this, it allows us to change our focus on many other Bible messages. It allows us to move ourselves from thoughts of the sinfulness of life without God to spotlighting the graciousness of God’s redeeming, life-giving power!

Now we can look at our Old Testament reading with thoughts of God’s steadfast love rather than the sin of a faithless moment! We can read our Epistle for today with the fresh view of the “gift” of God’s steadfast love rather than the lack of our merits! And we can read our Gospel lesson with confidence in God’s steadfast love rather doubts in the adequacy of the strength of our own faith!

Now we can realize, make real in our hearts and in our souls, that where we were, and what we were; as well as where we are and what we are does not, and never will, lessen God’s steadfast love for us!

Amen

 

Numbers 21:4-9
21:4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way.
21:5 The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.”
21:6 Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.
21:7 The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
21:8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”
21:9 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.

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
107:1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
107:2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble
107:3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
107:17 Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction;
107:18 they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.
107:19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress;
107:20 he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.
107:21 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.
107:22 And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

Ephesians 2:1-10
2:1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins
2:2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.
2:3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.
2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us
2:5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–
2:6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
2:7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God–
2:9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
2:10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

John 3:14-21
3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
3:16 “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.
3:17 “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.
3:18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
3:19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.
3:20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.
3:21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”