Sermon for IV Lent, Year B
Based on Num. 21:4-9
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Life is a journey. In our journey of life, we all travel through the wilderness. Today's first lesson is a story of the ancient Israelites' journey. They are travelling in the wilderness. Travelling in the wilderness proved to be a dangerous, disheartening, and trying experience for the Israelites.
They found it difficult to believe that this was a necessary journey for their own good. They lost sight of the fact that God was with them Every Step Of The Journey. God provided for their needs in the wilderness. God would lead them safely out of the wilderness to the Promised Land.
William R. White, in his book, Stories For Telling: A Treasury for Christian Storytellers, has this very instructive tale:
"Once upon a time there were two men who set out on a journey together. They took a donkey to carry their packs, a torch to light their way at night, and a rooster, who was a friend of the donkey. The rooster sat on the donkey's head during the entire journey."
"One of the men was deeply religious; the second was a skeptic. On the journey they frequently spoke about the Lord. "In all things, God is good," said the first companion."
"We will see if your opinion bears out on the trip," said the second."
"Shortly before dusk they arrived in a small village and sought a place to sleep. Despite their frequent requests, no one offered them a night's lodging. Reluctantly, they traveled a mile outside of town, where they decided to sleep."
"I thought you said God is good," the skeptic said sarcastically."
"God has decided this is the best place for us to sleep tonight," replied his friend."
"They fixed their beds beneath a large tree, just off the main road that led to the village, tethering the donkey about 30 yards away. Just as they were about to light the torch they heard a horrible noise. A lion had killed the donkey and carried it off to eat it away from the two men. Quickly the companions climbed the tree to stay away from danger."
"You still say God is good?" the skeptic asked with anger."
"If the lion hadn't eaten the donkey, he would have attacked us. God is good," his companion declared."
"Moments later a cry from the rooster sent them further up the tree. From this new vantage point they saw a wildcat carrying the rooster away in its teeth."
"Before the skeptic could say a word, the man of faith declared, "The cry of the rooster has once again saved us. God is good."
"A few minutes later a strong wind arose and blew out the torch, the only comfort of the men in the black night. Again the skeptic taunted his companion. "It appears that the goodness of God is working overtime this evening," he said. This time the believer was silent."
"The next morning the two men walked back into the village for food. They soon discovered that a large band of outlaws had swept into town the previous night and robbed the entire village of all its possessions."
"With this news the man of faith turned to his friend. "Finally it has become clear," he cried. "Had we been given a room in the village last night, we would have been robbed along with all of the villagers. If the wind had not blown out our torch, the bandits who traveled the road near the place where we slept would have discovered us and taken all our goods. It is clear, that in all things, God is good."
You and me ~ like the two men in this story and like the ancient Israelites ~ must travel through our wilderness. When we journey through our wilderness, whom do we identify with the most? The skeptic and the grumbling, impatient Israelites or the man of faith and Moses? Do we have the eyes, the insight, the humility and perception to see and experience God working through the events of our world and our lives?
The Lenten season is a reminder to us all that We Are Travellers In This World; That We Must Travel In The Wilderness For Our Own Good And The Good Of Others. The World Is Not Our Permanent Home. One day, all of this world's pains, conflicts, sufferings will be over. One day the hurts, the hatreds, the evil, corruption and destruction shall end. One day wars will cease, and the brokenness of humanity, along with that of all creation shall be healed.
Until then, we must travel in the wilderness ~ just as Jesus said that he must go to Jerusalem to "be lifted up" on the cross; to be despised and rejected; to be taunted and tortured; to die for us and the whole world.
The Good News of Lent is that Jesus Travels With Us; That Travelling In The Wilderness Is For Our Own Good And The Good Of Others; That Jesus Does Not Leave Us In The Wilderness Forever.
Lent gives us a clearer picture of where we have come from; where our wilderness journey is leading us; how we reach that final destination. We ~ like the Israelites ~ have been set free by God from our land of exile. We have been delivered from the exile of our sin.
Our wilderness journey leads us to the cross. We are given healing and new life through the cross ~ just as the bronze serpent brought healing and new life for the Israelites. We ~ like the Israelites ~ are given the gift of faith to journey safely through the wilderness into the Promised Land.
May we, like Moses and the man of faith in our story always trust in the goodness of God working in all circumstances of life. For Jesus Christ has freed us from the land of slavery. By dying on the cross, he journeys with us through our wilderness into the Promised Land ~ his Realm.
So, with a confident and grateful faith, may we join the countless throng in singing Samuel Rodigast's hymn, translated into English by Gracia Grindal:
"Whatever God ordains is right; His will is just and/ holy. He holds us in his perfect might; In him, our lives are/ godly. He is our God and all we need, The Father/ who preserves us still; To him we bend each heart and will./ Whatever God ordains is right, And he will not de/ ceive us. He leads us in the way of light And will not ever/ leave us. In him we rest, who makes the best Of all the/ stumbling turns we take And loves us for his mercy's sake./ Whatever God ordains is right; All that he does is/ for us. He heals our souls and gives us sight And puts no ill be-/ fore us. Our God is true; he makes us new; Our lives are/ built upon his rock, Our cornerstone and building block./ Whatever God ordains is right; He guides our joy and/ sadness. He is our life and blessed light; In him alone is/ gladness. We see his face, the way of grace; He holds us/ in his mighty arm And keeps us safe from every harm."
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