March 18, 2012
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
The story from the book of Numbers this morning is a difficult one, and open to much interpretation. Did God send snakes after the people because they were grumbling, whining and turning away from God? Or, having been a people of grumbles and whines, when snakes showed up, did the people say, “Uh oh, we have been doing it wrong and here’s proof. God’s gonna get us!”
Events happen every day to which we attach meaning, significance, and importance. I have noticed a tendency among church folks to view the trials of people they like as having been sent by the devil, but the tribulations of people they don’t like are from God.
When people on my side suffer, it must be the devil creeping up on us. When people who are against me suffer, well God is just backing up my judgment, right?
I have also noticed that people who are comfortable feel too much inclined to judge those who are suffering. We should be wary of any god whose judgments match our own.
The cure for this snakebit people is to look upon an image of the snake, lifted up. They have to look upon that which caused the problem. If we have any preferences for avoidance, this may be an uncomfortable story.
Lift up the cause of death, and look directly at it and you will be healed. The Bible does not describe how it happens. There is no medical, psychological or scientific explanation offered. This is not in the manual for medical first responders.
But we do know that it is important to look at things honestly.
We know that if we are going to deal with our addictions we have to face them openly and truthfully.
We know that sunlight is a powerful disinfectant, and bringing stuff to the light of day can make it better.
But we prefer other fixes, don’t we? Take a pill. Drink a tonic. If there are no medications available, self-medicate. If we avoid dealing with it long enough, it will go away, right?
The problem faced is not caused by fiery snakes. The problem is that the people are sustained in the wilderness by manna, given by God, enough for each day. Double portions one day a week so that they can keep the sabbath the next.
But it is not enough to be sustained by God. It is not enough to get what they need. They want what they want. And so they turn from the one who gives life, and they long for the days in the place of death, the brickyards of Egypt.
What is the first descriptive word for the people in this passage? They are “impatient.” Anybody here know anybody with patience problems? Well?! Come on! Hurry up and answer!
And when they realize that they are in trouble, then they turn to Moses: “Pray for us and get God to heal us!” They were not satisfied being sustained. They did not turn to God when they were given what they needed for each day. They turned to God only when they discovered that turning away from God led to death.
How often do we stop and give thanks for receiving what it is we need for today? How often do we turn to God on a good day? Or do we wait for a bad day, when all else has failed, before praying?
John knows the Moses story. Looking at the up-lifted bronze serpent the people were healed. It is not the bronze totem that does it, but the power of God which moves them from death to life. The same God who created the heavens and earth out of the chaos and gave a place for life to live; the same God who took lifeless dust and breathed into it the breath of life; the same God who brought this people out of an unlivable slavery in Egypt into a wilderness and sustained them in the journey towards a livable place – this God offers again a way from death to life in this moment of lifting up.
The claim is made in this brief passage that God is once again healing the people by the one lifted up on the cross. In the death of Jesus, God moves again from death to life. Those in and of this world which is so familiar with the ways of death, the ways of harm, the ways of denying God and demeaning God’s image in one another, to those such as us is given a way from death to life.
John does go from preaching to meddling. He says that we love darkness more than light. We prefer keeping secrets to telling the truth. We prefer avoidance and denial to dialogue and community. We would rather not look at the one lifted up, for fear of our complicity in the ways of death.
This is where God’s love works the hardest. That we too, who once were dead, are now alive in Christ. That we too can not only be healed, but become healers as well. That we too have a share in life with God. Not by our worthiness or our own accomplishments. But because of who God is and what God does.
From death, even death on a cross, to life, and that life eternal.
Thanks be to God. Amen.