Up a Pole: the Serpent and the Savior (John 3:14-18)

The Brazen Serpent Monument atop Mount Nebo in Jordan, is a serpentine cross sculpture created by Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni. It incorporates the bronze serpent created by Moses, the pillar of fire which led the people of God through the darkness of the wilderness, and the crucifixion of Christ. Photo by David Bjorgen via wikimedia commons.

John 3:14-18 (NRSV)
Jesus said, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, (Numbers 21:4-9) so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 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. 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.”

What was to be done with the brazen serpent? The text says, “Moses lifted it up;” and we read he was to lift it up upon a pole. Ah, dear friends, and Christ Jesus must be lifted up. He has been lifted up; wicked men lifted him up, when, with nails on an accursed tree, they crucified him! God the Father hath lifted him up; for he hath highly exalted him, far above principalities and powers.
– Charles Hadden Spurgeon, The Mysteries of the Brazen Serpent

“Look to Christ.” For remember the brazen serpent was lifted up, that every one in the camp who was bitten might live; and now Christ is lifted up to you, that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Sinner, the devil says you are shut out; tell him that “whosoever” shuts out none. Oh that precious word, “whosoever.” Poor soul, I see thee clutch at it and say, “Then, Sir, if I believe, he will not cast me away.” I see the harlot in all her guilt bemoaning her iniquity; she says it is impossible that Christ should save. But she hears it said, “Whosoever,” and she looks and lives! Remember, it mattered not how old they were, nor how much bitten they were, nor whereabouts in the camp they lived; they did but look and live. And now ye that have grown grey in iniquity, whose hairs might rather be black than white, if they showed forth your character, for it has been blackened by years of vice. Remember there is the same Christ for big sinners as for little sinners; the same Christ for grey heads as for babes; the same Christ for poor as for rich; the same Christ for chimney sweeps as for monarchs; the same Christ for prostitutes as for saints: “Whosoever.”
– Charles Hadden Spurgeon, The Mysteries of the Brazen Serpent

Just as they who looked on that serpent perished not by the serpent’s bites,
so they who look in faith on Christ’s death are healed from the bites of sins.
– Augustine of Hippo

“Lifted up,” honored, looked up to.
We keep our yes on Jesus, and it gives us life.
“Lifted up” like the bronze serpent: on a pole.
Lifted up on a cross, not in honor but disgrace.
Jesus exposes our violence by suffering it
without cause, without recrimination,
exposes our fear
and our poor, snake-bitten need for healing.
Just suffers and forgives.
And that grace brings us to life.
– Steve Garnaas Holmes, Lifted Up

He must be lifted up, that hereby he may purchase salvation for all believers: all those who look to him by faith recover spiritual health, even as all that looked at that serpent recovered bodily health. – John Wesley

If the solution in Numbers was a snake raised up on a pole — because the problem was poisonous serpents on the ground; so in John if the solution is a human (the Word made flesh) on a pole, the problem must be the humans on the ground.
– Brian P. Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes at Crossmarks

Maybe the problem isn’t the humans on the ground; it’s that humans are of the ground. We are the children of Eden. We are dust and to dust we shall return. We are common, soiled, short-lived, and snake bit. On our own, our condition keeps us more with the serpent than the Savior. Yet, God’s creative love reaches out to us in Christ, supplying what our earthiness needs. The kiss of eternal life is blown our way. Will we reach out and catch it? – Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia <><

The event of the cross isn’t just an advertisement, or a show. It actually does something. The cross is effectual. Just like when the Israelites looked at the brazen serpent they were able to be healed, the cross has the power to heal and give life too. But, according to John, gazing upon it isn’t enough. You need to have faith. You need to be moved to believe. – Rick Morley, Lifted High- a relfection on John 3:14-21

The Cross bridges the gap, heals the breach, and ignites the reconciliation.
In every way, we are “saved.” – Steve Harper

Jesus was hung on— and held together —the cosmic collision of opposites (revealed in the very geometric sign of the cross). He let it destroy him, as his two nailed hands held all the great opposites safely together as one: the good and the bad thief, heaven and earth, matter and spirit, both sinners and saints gathered at his feet, a traditional Jew revealing a very revolutionary message to his and all religion, a naked male body revealing an utterly feminine soul. On the cross, Jesus becomes the Cosmic Christ.
Richard Rohr

Lord Jesus,
You are my righteousness, I am your sin.
You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours.
You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not.
– Martin Luther

The Devil speaks:
Now then, Hades, mourn
And I join in unison with you in wailing.
Let us lament as we see
The tree which we planted
Changed into a holy trunk.
Robbers, murderers, tax gatherers, harlots,
Rest beneath it, and make nests
In its branches
In order that they might gather
The fruit of sweetness
From the supposedly sterile wood.
For they cling to the cross as the tree of life.
-Romanos, as translated by Marjorie Carpenter.

Tell me, Dear Tree
A Lenten hymn of sacrifice
by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Meter- 86.86 double (CMD)
Suggested tune: KINGSFOLD (UMH #179)

Tell me dear tree on which my Lord,
my blessed Lord did hang,
How could you hold the spotless Lamb,
be party with the gang?
That cheerless day, that shadowy hour,
my blessed Savior died,
to free my soul for heavenly things,
O tree, you must have cried.

Yes all your fibers must have screamed
for you one time did live a green and growing tree, alive,
but your whole self did give
to be the instrument of death,
to be the very tree
to be the place for Christ to die
upon dark Calvary

But do I hear a shout of joy
from somewhere deep within?
Your duty done; the battle won
so all the world might win.
How beautiful your love for Him
He sewed it long ago
You bore the weight. You took the stain,
and now the world must know

The tree of death felt every wound,
felt all the pain and loss.
She loved her maker through it all,
was glad to be His cross.
Teach me dear tree on which my Lord
My precious Lord did die
To treasure grueling duties done
so Christ is lifted high

© 1992, revised 2009 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form. Lisa is especially interested in collaborating with someone to set this text to original music.

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For more information on the scripture translation, photo and the use of this resource in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

2015 Lenten Reading Plan: Gospel of John

2015 Lenten Reading Plan- gospel of john
It is a common practice during the 40 days of Lent to be especially intentional about setting aside time for daily Scripture reading and reflection. This post provides a plan to read through the Gospel of John in 40 days. You will notice Sundays are reserved for worship and rest. You will also notice the reading plan starts on the first Sunday of Lent, February 22, rather than Ash Wednesday. This decision was made so that the post resurrection passages in the Gospel of John are read following Easter.

The plan includes the SOAP method for keeping a spiritual journal, as taught at New Hope Christian Fellowship in Hawaii. For more information on this simple and powerful way of engaging the Word of God, please click here

The reading plan is presented in two formats: a checklist/bookmark and an extended version. The extended version includes an action for bringing each day’s scripture reading to life. While this action is appropriate for persons of all ages, it might be especially helpful for children.

To download a Microsoft Word Document of the bookmark, click below
2015 Gospel of John Lenten Reading Plan

To download a Microsoft Word Document of the extended version of the reading plan, click below
2015 Gospel of John Lenten Reading Plan, extended version

Additional Suggestions:
1. Print the bookmark on cardstock. You will get two bookmarks per page when printing front and back.
2. Add your church name, contact information and/or logo
3. Add special events as a reminder and invitation to attend
4. Use either plan at other times during the year by adjusting the dates

A huge thank you to Nicole Sallee and the Community UMC Worship Design Team for their creative help in designing the extended reading plan. – Lisa <><

Reader’s Theater: Jesus, Bread of Life (John 6:28-40)

christ eucharist bread icon
ALL SINGING:
Eat this Bread
by Robert Batastini and Jacques Berthier
United Methodist Hymnal #628
or
Hungry, verse 1 and chorus
by Kathryn Scott
CCLI Song # 2650364
or
another song of your choosing

The instruments continue during the scripture reading.

VOICE ONE:
The crowd asked Jesus,

CHOIR or CONGREGATION:
What must we do to perform the works of God?

JESUS:
This is the work of God- that you believe in him whom he has sent.

VOICE ONE:
What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

JESUS:
Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven,
but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

CHOIR or CONGREGATION:
Sir, give us this bread always.

JESUS:
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

ALL SINGING:
Eat this Bread or Hungry vs 1, chorus
Or another song of your choosing

JESUS:
You have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.

ALL SINGING:
Eat this Bread or Hungry vs 1, chorus
Or another song of your choosing

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Adapted from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Reader’s Theater: Jesus, Bread of Life (John 6:28-40)
© 2015 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Contact the Lisa for posting and publication considerations.

The Touch of the Towel, a poem based on John 13:1-17

towel-and-basinThe Touch of the Towel, a poem based on John 13:1-17, the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet

Jesus, you kneel before me
You remove my shoes and I am exposed
My feet are grimy
full of calluses and cracks
pungent with sweat and toe jam
I’m embarrassed by them
I pull back but you reassure
You’re not offended
I feel welcome in your hands
vulnerable, yet safe

The cleansing begins
I see your reflection in the ripples
I see me, too
Your water brings truth and life
Who I am and who I can be

I am whole and home in the touch the towel
You look at my neighbor and hand it to me

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Click Here for another reflection on John 13, entitled Jesus Washes Feet
Click Here for a reader’s theatre version of John 13
Click Here for a worship resource entitled Christ’s Call to Serve
Click Here for quotes and a worship resources entitled Lord Make Me Kind

The Touch of the Towel © 2011 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Prayer for Pentecost

The descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and Mary at Pentecost. © Elizabeth Wang, radiantlight.org.uk

What does the Spirit do? His works are ineffable in majesty, and innumerable in quantity. How can we even ponder what extends beyond the ages? What did He do before creation began? How great are the graces He showered on creation? What power will He wield in the age to come? He existed; He pre-existed; He co-existed with the Father and the Son before the ages. Even if you can imagine anything beyond the ages, you will discover that the Spirit is even further beyond. -St. Basil the Great

This Pentecost, I find myself hungering for revival, for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to awaken God’s people to the fullness of faith. This prayer (or song lyric) was born out of that hunger. Each verse was inspired by scriptures relating the work of the Holy Spirit. The first verse uses images of the Holy Spirit as sacred breath, as found in the gift of life in Genesis 2:7 and Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit in John 20:19-23. The second verse relates the empowerment of God’s people by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. (Acts 2:1-40) The last verse draws together images of the Holy Spirit’s transforming power at work in those who believe. (Acts 2:41-47; Galatians 5:22-23; 1 Corinthians 12; Ezekiel:37:1-14) May hungering become happening- Lisa <><

Come, Holy Spirit
Breathe into us the breath of new life
Come, Generous Spirit
Bring peace and bring hope
Bring courage for change
Bring freedom from all falsehood and fear

Come, Holy Spirit
Embolden us with the fire of your heart
Come, Pentecost Spirit
Bring light and bring strength
Bring tongues filled with truth
Bring passion for the world to know you

Come, Holy Spirit
Unify us in the ways of Christ
Come, Creating Spirit
Bring gifts and bring fruit
Bring life to dry bones
Bring wisdom to live justice and love

Come, Holy Spirit
Come, Holy Spirit
Come, Holy Spirit…

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Prayer for Pentecost © May 22, 2012 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form. Lisa is especially interested in collaborating with someone to set this text to original music.

Please patronize the exquisite work of Elizabeth Wang at Radiant Light

For more information on the use of the art, scripture translation and this post in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

Love One Another as I Have Loved You

love_one_another_John 13:34-35 (NRSV)
Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Romans 13:8-10 (NRSV)
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

“Love one another” is philosophy–good philosophy–something every major religion advocates. But Jesus did not stop there. He added, “as I have loved you.” Word became flesh. A concept became concrete–truth illustrated. Jesus’ example was both the source and confirmation of the message. The pattern is still the same–the word must still become flesh in order to be understood.
– Steve Harper reflecting on John 13:31-35 in The Holy Gospel: April 28, 2013 (Year C)

In an age when the word “love” is greatly abused, it is important to remember that the primary component of biblical love is not affection but commitment. Warm feelings of gratitude may fill our consciousness as we consider all that God has done for us,  but it is not warm feelings that Deuteronomy 6:5 demands of us but rather stubborn, unwavering commitment. Similarly, to love our neighbor, including our enemies, does not mean that we must feel affection for them. To love the neighbor is to imitate God by taking their needs seriously. – Douglas Hare

What does love look like?
It has the hands to help others.
It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy.
It has eyes to see misery and want.
It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men.
That is what love looks like.
-Augustine of Hippo

To love your neighbor
is to welcome them
into the home of your heart
where God is.
– Steve Garnaas- Holmes, Heaven Grows Around You

If there is anything in which this life, this way, can be expressed, in which God has revealed Himself most clearly, it is the reality of love. You are someone only in as far as you are love, and only what has turned to love in your life will be preserved.
– Rule for a New Brother

Alas. It is so easy to talk, and so hard to do. It is easy to love people in theory.
– Dorothy Day

[Jesus said love] as I have loved you:
* radical love of enemies, the poor, tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, lepers;
* the relentless challenges to the righteous and pious, truth telling, table overturning,
* and finally cross bearing and death embracing, laying down his life for his friends.
It makes me want to hide under my desk. I’d feel better if Jesus really ascended far away into heaven, remotely busying himself at the “right hand of the Father.” Unfortunately, the enthronement takes place within our own hearts. Loving one another as he loved us, is, indeed a most intimate commandment.
Suzanne Guthrie, At the Edge of the Enclosure

The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared? – Martin Luther

There comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now. – Wangari Maathai

Immense humility, and tender care and gratitude are always fitting for Christians. Being right is interesting, but love for those Christ loves is always one step higher in Jesus’ scale of values. – from the blog of James Howell

I can say that that eternal world is like the white light of the sun, in which all the colors of the rainbow are present and in which each retains its own distinctive character. Or I can say that it is like a symphony in which all the notes are heard in a single perfect harmony, but in which each has its own particular time and place. Or I can say that it is like a multitude of thoughts gathered together in a single mind which comprehends them in a single idea embracing all. Or going deeper, I can say that it is like a communion of persons in love, in which each understands the other and is one with the other. “I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one.” This is as far as human words can go. – Bede Griffiths, Return to the Center

For who can truly rejoice who loves not good as the source of his joy?
Who can have true peace, if he have it not with one whom he truly loves?
Who can be long-enduring through persevering continuance in good,
save through fervent love?
Who can be kind, if he love not the person he is aiding?
Who can be good, if he is not made so by loving?
Who can be sound in the faith, without that faith which worketh by love?
Whose meekness can be beneficial in character, if not regulated by love?
And who will abstain from that which is debasing, if he love not that which dignifies?
– Augustine of Hippo

Loving God,
you have made all races and nations to be one family,
and you sent Jesus Christ to proclaim the good news of salvation to all people.
Pour out your Spirit on the whole creation
and hasten the coming of your reign of justice and love among the nations of the world.
God of love, grant our prayer.
by Bosco Peters, from his free electronic book Celebrating Eucharist

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Click here, for an incredibly powerful reflection by Steve Garnaas-Holmes on the steadfast and sacrificial love of God through Jesus’ death and resurrection entitled Victory.

Jesus the Vine: Abiding = Loving

Deep Abiding Love by Megan Aroon Duncanson

John 15:4-6, 9-10, 12-13
(NRSV, emphasis added)

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned…. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love… This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Psalm 15:1-5 (NRSV)
O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honor those who fear the Lord
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be moved.

1 John 4:16 (NRSV)
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

“I do not understand how the teaching of the Spirit is given—where or how I can discern His voice. If the Teacher is so unknown, no wonder the promise of His teaching about the abiding does not help me much.” Thoughts like these come from an error which is very common among believers. They imagine that the Spirit, in teaching them, must reveal the mysteries of the spiritual life first to their intellect, and afterwards in their experience. And God’s way is just the contrary of this. What holds true of all spiritual truth is especially true of the abiding in Christ: we must live and experience truth in order to know it. – Andrew Murray

You, then, are my workers. You have come from me, the supreme eternal gardener, and I have engrafted you onto the vine by making myself one with you. Keep in mind that each of you has your own vineyard. But everyone is joined to the neighbors’ vineyards without any dividing lines. They are so joined together, in fact, that you cannot do good or evil for yourself without doing the same for your neighbors.
–Catherine of Siena

This hymn text was written at the request of a pastor friend many years ago. She wanted a hymn which expressed the themes of John 15. I share it today remembering her; thankful for her friendship, love and encouragement back when I was first beginning to write. I pray you would feel the abiding love of God and others this day and every day. – Lisa <><

You Are the Source
a hymn text based on John 15:1-8
Meter- 86.86 with Refrain (CM with Refrain)
Suggested Tune- GIFT OF FINEST WHEAT (United Methodist Hymnal #629)

Refrain–
You are the Source of grace and life,
The Root of all that’s true
You join us to this mystery
As we abide in You

Verses–
Dear children of this fallen sod
The Gard’ner knows our need
In grafting us to Christ the Vine
We gain eternity (Refrain)

For we are branches of the Vine
Joined cross both time and place
No fruit is grown apart from Christ
For what is grown needs grace (Refrain)

You prune our lives with utmost care
So we might bear more fruit
The fruit of justice, peace, and love
Lived out in all we do (Refrain)

Eternal Vine, most Holy Seed
Sewn as Your willing Son
So intertwine Your family vine
That we might be as one (Refrain)

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You are the Source © May 19, 2000 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form. Lisa is especially interested in collaborating with someone to set this text to original music.

For a devotion based on this passage, click here

Click here for a powerful and beautiful reflection by Steve Garnaas-Holmes entitled Gardner God based on a passage with similar themes, Luke 13:6-9

For more information on the use of the art, scripture translation and this post in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.