Fourth Sunday of Lent (March 18, 2012)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Ps. 107:1-3, 17-22; Num. 21:4-9; Eph. 2:1-10; John 3:14-21
This week we have been accompanying a team that is reviewing several MCC country programs in the region. Cindy took the group to northern Iraq, Mar. 11-13, and Daryl took them to Palestine/Israel, Mar. 13-17.
In Amman, MCC sponsored gathering of Christian leaders from eight countries in the region, who met to talk about why Christians are leaving the Middle East and what can be done to reverse this emigration. Christianity in the Middle East: Where to? was hosted by the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies. Jordan’s Prince Hassan spoke and listened to the group and promised to do what he could to address their concerns.
Bishop Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, Metropolitan of Aleppo of the Syriac Orthodox Church, said that the issue of Christian emigration from the Middle East is even more important in the midst of instability in the region. Conference participants emphasized the importance of maintaining religious pluralism, freedom of belief, equality of citizenship and acceptance of others.
In the region this week, a U.S. soldier killed 16 civilians in Afghanistan, further fueling anti-American sentiment in that country.
Kofi Annan, U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, called for a united U.N. Security Council response to the situation in Syria. Twin blasts rocked Damascus on Saturday morning, resulting in several dozen deaths.
Egypt brokered a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas and Islamic Jihad, after a week of cross-border fighting that resulted in the deaths of 25 Palestinians.
Egypt’s Pope Shenouda IIIdied Saturday, at age 88.
The Common Lectionary readings remind us that God offers a way of deliverance from destruction and death.
The psalmist describes difficulties that afflict people, even to the point 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.” (Ps. 107:19-20)
In the Old Testament reading the people are bitten by poisonous serpents after they complain against God and against Moses. “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.” (v.9)
In the Epistle reading Paul writes that, although we were once dead through our trespasses and sins, God has “made us alive together with Christ” (v.5) and has created us to do good works (v.10). This deliverance is a gift of God, not of our own doing (v.8).
In the Gospel reading, John writes that Jesus came to deliver the world, not to condemn it. God’s love for the world is demonstrated by the suffering that Jesus absorbed. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15).
Serious issues face the region. From the emigration of Christians, to violence in Syria and Gaza, to the threat of war against Iran, unsettling news dominates the headlines. The Common Lectionary readings offer hope that, in spite of the human condition – indeed because of the human condition — God offers a path of deliverance.