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Lent 4 (B)
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Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Cycle B

1. II Chronicles 36, 14-16 and 19-23
  • The crash course in salvation history continues.  The writers of Chronicles brought their spiritual hindsight to bear on the glories and tragedies of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah several centuries after the fact. 
  • The first time through, the passage reads like a dry history lesson from a far-off and forgotten place.  A kingdom, practicing all the abominations of the nations, is destroyed, and its people carried captive to Babylon, but then the captive nation is given a second chance.  But why should we care?
  • The God of Israel and Judah is the same God whom we adore today, who favored this out-of-the-way people whose undying faith we share, who consecrated the temple in Jerusalem and sent messengers to them.  This God has a patience that was stretched to the limit.
  • This is a God who was inflamed with anger against them, because they despised his warnings and scoffed at his prophets.  I am especially touched by the description of the destruction of the house of God, the walls of Jerusalem, the palaces and precious objects, but above all the reduction of the people to servants of the king of the Chaldeans.  I will find the sympathetic voice I need.
  • But this God did not disappear when the holy sanctuary was obliterated.  He had compassion on his people and his dwelling place.  Everything happened to fulfill the word of the Lord.
  • Finally there is the command that sounds more like an invitation, and that like the psalm verse “seemed like a dream.”  A pagan king, Cyrus of Persia, pays tribute to the God of heaven, and says that he has charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem.  The final words of commendation are once again appropriate for a rejoicing day in Lent: Let him go up, and may his God be with him!
  • Climax: Jeremiah’s words are central here.  Until the land has retrieved its lost Sabbaths it shall have rest.  Let me pronounce them as sentencing judges might.
  • Message for our assembly: Can we learn to be patient, as our God is patient and compassionate?
  • I will challenge myself: To speak in the same faith with which the scribes wrote, a vibrant faith in God who acts through all of history, who suffers the rejection of his creatures, but will see to it that the chosen people lives again. 

 

2. Ephesians 2, 4-10

  • This passage may sound like another remote treatise, especially inaccessible when it is translated so literally as required by the Lectionary.  I will listen attentively for a truth that my listeners can appropriate for themselves. 
  • It begins: God is rich in mercy.  This mercy is revealed in action, the great love he had for us such as we heard in the first reading and as we have seen in Jesus. 
  • As the reading progresses, we are always with Jesus: brought us to life with Christseated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus.
  • And it ends with this awkward rendering: The good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.  It is an echo of the Torah invitation to follow God’s commands and enter into life.  The apostle insists once more that any good that we do is born of God and not of ourselves. 
  • Underneath all that I say is that divine longing that we can sense if we only bothered to pay attention.  In the ages to come he might (that is, he longs to) show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ. 
  • Central point: God is in charge of our lives and has given them their final meaning.  His kindness toward us, his handiwork.
  • The message for our assembly: Jesus began it, and God shows us through him how we are to continue such a life of faithfulness in our own lives.
  • I will challenge myself: To insist, at this middle day of Lent, on God’s work as bringing our own good intentions and efforts to perfection.

 

Gospel. John 3, 14-21

  • I hear the word believe five times.  John wrote that if we believe in Jesus we will have eternal life.  Now we do not hear the word Jesus here, but we do hear four times Son of Man and God’s only son.
  • Again I hear the invitation: that the world might be saved through him.  God does not condemn; that fate is in our own hands.  Whoever does not believe has already been condemned.  This is the verdict: Their works were evil. 
  • We are also brought face to face with a time of decision, which is so appropriate for Lent.  Will we take our place beside Jesus, living the truth and coming to the light?  It is not so easy, but rather a struggle, because many around us prefer darkness to light.
  • I hear that word light five times, culminating in the expressive phrase Whoever lives the truth comes to the light.  As I read this I remember all those in the church today who speak openly with honesty to each other, and I pray for such a spirit of candor throughout our communities. 
  • Part of the church tradition put these words in the mouth of Jesus, and that is what our introduction says.  More recent scholarship treats them as reflections by the evangelist, and that is how I will read them. 
  • Climax: God so loved the world.  Many evangelicals find in these words a concise summary of what they believe.  They would be in our top ten list, too.
  • Message for our assembly: Believe or not believe, prefer darkness to light!  Who among us can remember making so decisive a choice?  Is it so easy to confess the Lord before the world?  And why have so many men and women given their lives for this confession?
  • I will challenge myself: To plant some seed of curiosity within the church today, concerning the terrible freedom to believe in Jesus and its decisive consequences.

Word to Eucharist: We see upbeat color and reminders of God's unending love.  What will be the ending of our church's life?  And what will we do to help make it a happy one?

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