Posts Tagged ‘snakes’

God says in Isaiah 58:6-7

Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints,
untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated,
& breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
& bringing the homeless poor into your house,
covering the naked when you see them,
and not hiding from your own family?

The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. (John Birch)

May these 40 days before Easter be a time of spiritual spring cleaning, of removing what hinders and renewing what facilitates our relationships with God, the world, and one another.

The Worship of God for Fourth Sunday in Lent

Passing the Peace 
Say to one another, “May the peace of Christ be with you.”
And reply, “And, also with you.”

Invitation to Worship

Listen to the invitation and/or read below.

Friends of God, believe this –
God loved the world,
God loves the world,
we are the beloved!

May the truth of this great love story,
shine through our worship today,
and renew our sense of calling.

So come, with your tiredness,
your frustrations and your discouragements;
come with your doubts, your fears,
and your longings;
come, to discover yet again
how Jesus reveals God’s love and mercy.

Come, in friendship to God
and to each other,
and in friendship to the world,
to listen for God’s Word to us,
to offer our prayers,
and to renew our calling.

Friends of God, let us worship!

Song of Praise
We Will Walk With God
Words: Eswatini Traditional (trans. J.L. Bell)
Tune: SIZOHAMBA (Eswatini Traditional)

Come and walk with me, my brothers.
We will walk with God.
Come and walk with me, my sisters.
We will walk with God.

We will go rejoicing,
til the kingdom has come. (Repeat)

See-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay,
woh woh woh,
see-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay. (Repeat)

Goom-shlah wen-jah-boo-lah,
see-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay. (Repeat)

Come and walk with me, my brothers.
We will walk with God.
Come and walk with me, my sisters.
We will walk with God.

We will go rejoicing,
til the kingdom has come. (Repeat)

Opening Prayer
Let us pray:

Living God,
as we continue our journey through this season of Lent
we are reminded of the steadfast love that the psalmist wrote about.
A love which would endure forever,
through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
A love given not to judge,
but to save,
causing human sinfulness to be encountered by divine compassion.
No wonder we sometimes see the placard thrust in front of television cameras
with the words written large – “John 3:16”.
These words about the depth of your love for us
are etched on our hearts
and made visible through our lives.
Accept our praise and thanksgiving, O God,
for this priceless gift of lives lived eternally with you,
a gift made possible
through the sacrificial love of Jesus, your Son, our Lord,
in whose name we pray. Amen

Psalm 19
Common English Bible

“Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,
because his faithful love lasts forever!”
2 That’s what those who are redeemed by the Lord say,
the ones God redeemed from the power of their enemies,
3 the ones God gathered from various countries,
from east and west, north and south.

17 Some of the redeemed were fools because of their sinful ways.
They suffered because of their wickedness.
18 They had absolutely no appetite for food;
they had arrived at death’s gates.
19 So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,
and God saved them from their desperate circumstances.
20 God gave the order and healed them;
he rescued them from their pit.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love
and his wondrous works for all people.
22 Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices
and declare what God has done in songs of joy!

Song of Adoration
In Deep Distress My Soul Declares
Composer: John Bell, based on Psalm 130

In deep distress my soul declares
its song of lamentation:
“Lord hear my voice. Your list’ning ear
determines my salvation.
If human guilt was your delight,
and sin alone obsessed your sight,
Lord who’d escape damnation?”

Though punishment should be our price,
another gift is given;
for pardon is your property,
the greatest grace of heaven.
We fear your love more than your might
because you exercise the right
to name our sins forgiven.

So now my soul in penitence
affirms the hope I stand on.
Like those who wait to see the dawn,
I yearn to know your pardon.
No pow’r can weaken or deform
God’s will to challenge and transform
abase but not abandon.

Lenten Prayer
Let us pray,

Pray along with the recording above or with the words below.

You have to look your evil in the face to be healed.
The snakes that plagued the Hebrews in the desert
were their betrayal come back to bite them,
their being Eden’s serpent.
The cure was to gaze at their sin.

So we gaze upon the Crucified One, our victim,
and look our awfulness in the eye
and only there grasp forgiveness,
and only then become truly alive.

On the cross is lifted up
our racism, our violence, our materialism,
our deep seated me-first-ism.
Posted there is our last text to God,
“I’ll let you know when I need you.”
We look at it, look at it hard,
to get free of the lie that we’re just fine,
the lie that keeps us from knowing
how deeply we are forgiven,
how vastly we are blessed,
how infinitely we are loved.

silent prayer and meditation

Assurance and Hope

Listen to and/or read the words below.

Even when we were dead, Paul writes.
Even when we turned away from the One who had created us.
Even when we lived in the grip of what drew our gaze from God.
Even when we were oblivious.
Even when we followed a path fashioned of nothing
but our own desires.
Even when we wandered far and willfully away.
Even when we forgot to look past our own feet and to see
the wonders not of our making.
Even when we failed to stand in awe, to breathe thanks,
to lean into the love that had waited long for us.
Even when, Paul writes.
Even when,
even then:

There is a Balm in Gilead
African American Spiritual
arr. Jacques Rizzo

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sinsick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.

If you cannot sing like angels, if you cannot preach like Paul,
you can tell the love of Jesus, and say “He died for all.”

Numbers 21:4-9
Common English Bible

Listen to the scripture being read and/or read below.

They marched from Mount Hor on the Reed Sea road around the land of Edom. The people became impatient on the road. 5The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why did you bring us up from Egypt to kill us in the desert, where there is no food or water. And we detest this miserable bread!” 6So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people and they bit the people. Many of the Israelites died.

7The people went to Moses and said, “We’ve sinned, for we spoke against the Lord and you. Pray to the Lord so that he will send the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8The Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous snake and place it on a pole. Whoever is bitten can look at it and live.” 9Moses made a bronze snake and placed it on a pole. If a snake bit someone, that person could look at the bronze snake and live.

Reflection on Numbers
Rev. Tonya Vickery

Listen to Tonya’s sermon and/or read below.

As I flip through the pages of the book of Numbers in my Bible, I like to read the headings. There’s

  • Confession and restitution
  • Offerings, various offerings
  • Aaron and Miriam are jealous of Moses

Then there are things like

  • Keeping the passover
  • Departure from Sinai
  • And of course, complaining in the wilderness

One of my favorite headings is

  • Aaron’s rod bears almonds. 

Numbers is a disjointed book to say the least. It reads like a story and then all of sudden you run into a bunch of legal matters—take this, put this on that, wash this this way, carry this quickly, build this this way, and so on. It is a story that begins at Mt. Sinai, wanders along a wilderness journey, and ends in the Plains of Moab. It begins with a generation of people who had been set free from Egyptian bondage by the wise and mighty hand of God. And it ends with a whole new generation, a generation of orphans actually, l for all their ancestors, save for one or two, have died somewhere along the journey. 

The entire book is about what life is like when God, the Holy One is in your midst. When God lives among us, life is fraught with danger and possibilities. God’s presence makes a radical difference in how we live. Numbers teaches us that it is possible to push God too far. Sin is real and dangerous.  We ignore our sins at our own peril. Numbers also teaches us that God is all about forgiveness.  We read those words in Numbers 14:8, 

“The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

Yes, God justly punishes our sins, but God forgives us with abundant grace. God does not overlook our sins.  At times we are severely punished for putting other things before God. But God’s judgment never, ever overshadows the fact that God forgives those who regret what they have done, and God offers salvation to all who will receive it. 

One of my favorite stories from the book of Numbers is when the Lord tells all the people to add fringes to the corners of their clothes. Fringe reminds me of the 70’s—remember those bobble tassels on our curtains, on the corners of our pillows, and on our ponchos. However, in Numbers fringes are to remind the people about who they are and whose they are. When the people see the fringe on their clothes, and there is to be fringe added to the corners of every garments, they are to remember all the commandments of the Lord so they will do them. They are to remember not to follow the lust of their hearts nor desires of their eyes. When they see the fringe, they are to remember that they are to be a holy people unto their God. They are to remember that God brought them out of bondage, set them free, so the Lord might be their God. 

I sure do like that story better than the snake on a stick story. But there is a reason the snake story is in the lectionary cycle.  In fact, it is the only story from Numbers in all three years of the cycle.

The story of the attack by poisonous serpents comes at the end of a series of stories about the murmuring, complaining, and grumbling mood of the people. They have complained about the conditions of life in the desert. There’s no meat to eat. The food in Egypt was better–remember the cucumbers! Their patience runs thin and they can’t get along with one another. They resent Moses, the leader the Lord has provided them, for leading them out on this wild goose chase. They are thirsty. They are thirsty. Again, they are thirsty. All this grumbling and mumbling comes to a head in Numbers 21. 

By Number 21, the people have continued to fail in trusting God and God is just tired of it. On their journey, they needed to pass through the land of Edom to make the route shorter. But the Edomites refused to let them pass through. So they had to go around Edom. They head south toward the Red Sea, but they are attacked by poisonous snakes. And of course, the people complain. Who wouldn’t. But you see, the snake attack comes after the people became impatient and spoke out against Moses, but also against God. Why did you bring us here? There is no food. There is no water. Well, the food we do have tastes horrible. Why did you bring us here?

All along this wilderness dessert journey, Moses has tried to move the people forward in trusting God. Trust that God will keep God’s word. Trust that God will keep that divine commitment to lead you to a new land. Trust that God will provide. But the people’s ability to trust in God ebbs and flows. At one moment, they sing the praises of the Lord their God and then they fall right back into that lame attitude of unfaithfulness and untrusting. They complain and speak against God. 

Trusting in God is not the same as believing in God. Did they believe in God? Sure. But did they trust God? Not always. Trust is faith. The New Testament tells us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen. Faith means that even though they are tired, even though they are weary, even though the food doesn’t taste the same or has no taste at all, even though the way is hard and laborious, their feet hurt and their legs ache, you trust that God will keep God’s word—the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen.

The promises of the Lord are everlasting. The grace of the Lord is forever. The love of God which is for the world, and that includes us, the love of God towards us abounds and remains steadfast and sure. Trust that God loves you. Trust that God will never abandon you. The suffering, the bad food, the darkness, the long nights, the pains, the lack of meat, those struggles of the day, those disappointments, they do not define God’s love for us. Can you imagine the relationship between a child and a parent if the child measured the love of the parent by how good or bad their day was? We shouldn’t treat God this way either. We can recognize the silliness of the complaining and murmuring in the story of these people on their journey. You are going throw out your faith in God because you don’t have any meat to eat? You are going to abandon your faith in God because you are tired of walking? Because your feet hurt? It is easy for us to see that the uncertainty of the future was brewing a fear within their hearts that became greater than their faith in God.

Eventually God has had enough of the whining, and sends a pack of poisonous snakes to grab their attention. The fringe didn’t do it. The blooming rod didn’t do it. The water from the rock didn’t do it. The pillar of fire by night and the cloud in the sky by day didn’t do, so let’s give them some snakes. And for some reason, this gets the people’s attention. They own their lack of trust in God. They admit they have done wrong. And yes, they regret it. They ask God to take the snakes away, but God doesn’t. Instead, God provides them another way to practice their trust in God. God has Moses make a snake out of bronze, and set it on a pole. And everyone who is bitten by the snakes can look at the pole and they will live. The snakes don’t stop biting. The snakes don’t go away. They are still there. But if you are bitten, look up at the bronze snake and the snake bit won’t kill you like it did others.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather look at the fringe on my clothes to remember that God loves me and expects me to behave like a child of God, than to have to be snake bitten and look up at a bronze snake on a pole to remember how to act like a child of God. But you know, God will do whatever it takes to make sure we know that God expects us to live like God’s people. And repentance and forgiveness are always options in our relationship with God. God will judge our sins, yes, for they make us less than what God created us to be, and they really do disappoint God. But from God’s view point, repentance is always a possibility and faithful repentance is always met with God grace.

When we recognize and own the wrongs we have done, when we come before God, when we admit our mistakes to our Creator, when we admit how they have harmed us and others and the world, then by the grace of God we start making things right again, for we have been forgiven. When we take responsibility for our wrong doings, our sins, God’s forgiveness and God’s healing are readily available. The Holy One has called us to be more than this and provides us a way.

In the writings between the two Testaments, Old and New, these words are written in a book called the Wisdom of Solomon:

   For the one who turned towards the bronze serpent was saved,
   not by the thing that was beheld,
   but by you, the Savior of all. Amen.

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Thank you, God for constant love.
Please help our church family grow
deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith
God’s People Were Impatient
Author: Carolyn Winfred Gillette
Tune: ANGEL’S STORY D (“O Jesus, I Have Promised”)

1 God’s people were impatient and spoke against the Lord:
“This wilderness is dried out and we detest the food!
We can’t find any water and so we ask you why,
O God — if you still love us — you’ve brought us here to die.”

2 As sinning leads to judgment, the people soon knew fear.
For snakes were in the desert and danger lingered near.
So Moses made a bronze snake and placed it on a pole;
Whoever looked upon it was once again made whole.

3 O God, this Lenten season reminds us of our sin;
We know our lack of trusting, the times our faith wears thin.
We also know your promise to lead us on our way,
To faithfully be near us, to guide us day by day.

4 Though sinning leads to judgment, repentance is God’s plan;
So on the cross was lifted the suffering Son of Man.
God, may we look upon him and in his suffering see
The one who brings redemption for all humanity.

Sending Out

Let us rejoice: God so loves the world!
May God your Maker
send you out into the world with creative energies refreshed.
May Christ the Light
illuminate your darkest moments.
And may the Holy Spirit of steadfast love
guide you until we worship together again.
This day and forevermore. Amen!

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. 
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  


  • The words by John Birch are posted on “Prayers for the season of Lent (” Accessed February 18, 2021.
  • The image was retrieved from
  • The Invitation to Worship is offered by Emily and was written by Ann Siddall, and posted on the Stillpoint Spirituality Centre website.
  • We Will Walk with God is sung by Mindy, accompanied by Kendall on the djembe.
  • The Opening Prayer is offered by Robin and was written by Moira Laidlaw.
  • Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 is read by Kristin, Addie, Alyvia, and Alizabeth.
  • In Deep Distress My Soul Declares and God’s People Were Impatient are sung by Mindy, accompanied by Tonya on the piano.
  • The Lenten Prayer and Words of Assurance are offered by Jeffrey and were written by Jan L. Richardson as posted on The Painted Prayerbook.
  • There is a Balm in Gilead is sung by Ally, Elizabeth, Michelle, Tonya, and Mindy, accompanied by Tonya on the piano and Michelle on the guitar.
  • The Sending Out is offered by Jeffrey and was written by Rev. Dr. Ginny Brown Daniel, in So Loved: Service Prayers for the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Posted on the Worship Ways page of the United Church of Christ website.

    Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.

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