Lent 4B + March 11, 2018
Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-21
When I agreed to room with Greg Nelson my senior year at California Lutheran College, (back in the day before it was a university) I had no idea what I was getting into. I will never forget the day I moved into that dorm apartment …
I walked into the room and discovered that Greg had already moved all his things in, claiming all the good spaces. That figures! I had been in the car for the past six hours and my next step was to look for the bathroom. On the bathroom door I found a note that read, "Don't let Sid out of the bathroom." Who is Sid," I wondered? Well I really had to go to the bathroom, so I cracked the door open and peered inside. I didn't see anything, so I opened the door a little bit more and stuck my whole head inside. I still didn't see anything. I wondered, "What is this Sid stuff all about?” I was thinking it must be some kind of joke about one Greg Nelson’s favorite musicians “Sid Vicious.” I thought I might see a life sized cut out of him standing next to the sink. But no, there was no Sid Vicious. Seeing nothing I stepped into the bathroom and looked around some more, once again, I saw nothing.
I was standing next to the bath tub when all of the sudden I heard this noise, a "hiss." I slowly looked up and saw this 8-foot long, 3-inch thick, python snake wrapped around the shower rod. It was only about a foot away from my head. I don't know what you would have done, but I freaked out. My whole body jerked, my hair stood on end, my heart started racing. You see, I don't like snakes, especially really big ones, hanging one foot above my head, hissing at me.
Every time I hear today's reading from the Book of Numbers, the story about the poisonous serpents that attack the Israelites in the desert, - I think of Sid. It's a scary story. Now I know there are a few of you, abnormal people, who for some crazy reason love snakes, but most people, (people with good sense,) would just as soon keep a very good distance from them. Most people think snakes are dangerous and scary. And I have a feeling that even the most ardent snake lovers would find this story of attack serpents, as found in the book of Numbers, a bit disconcerting! It sounds an awful lot like a scene from a Stephen King horror movie, or worse yet “Snakes on a Plane.”
Thankfully for the Israelites, and for us, the story does not end with people dying from these "attack snakes" seemingly sent by God. God provides for them a way for them to be healed, a way to be saved. The Lord said to Moses, "Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live." God calls the people to face their fears, face the objects that have bitten them, poisoned them; and in that process, in the process of turning and facing the snakes, they find healing, they are made whole, and they once again discover life.
So what serpents have you found in your Lenten journey through the desert? What snakes have come out to bite you, to tempt you, to instill fear in you? What snakes have caused you to doubt? What serpents have been daring you to stop, turn, and face them, - to look them in the eye? What has been revealed as “poison” in your life?
Meeting up with these “snakes” or “serpents” is what the Lenten journey is all about. It is not an easy journey, but more often than not, a hard and painful journey. Lent is about breaking up the comfortable routines in which we hide our brokenness and our pain; our incompleteness, our sin. In Lent; in the self-reflection, the giving up, the silence, the retreats, in the fasting, in the prayers; we find ourselves in the midst of a conflict, we are called to confront our whole self, we are opened up to the heart; all that we move from death to life.
Carl Jung writes about such a Lenten journey, what he calls “the meeting of one’s own shadow,” Carl Jung, "This confrontation is the first test of courage on the inner way, a test sufficient to frighten off most people, for the meeting with ourselves (our true selves) belongs to the more unpleasant things that may be avoided as long as we possess living symbol figures in which all that is inner and unknown is projected."
Lent gets at the part of us that needs to be reconciled, the part of us that we often hide away, the part of us that is broken, the part of us that is even dangerous, the part of us that needs to be brought back to “life.” And that can be frightening, because snakes are scary.
Thankfully these are not the only words that comes to us today. Find courage in God's word of hope and promise from today’s Gospel. We are reminded that God is rich in mercy and love, and that in grace we will be delivered up into new life. Jesus lifted up on the cross, came into the world not to condemn but in order to save. The light of God shines on the serpents and snakes of our lives - not to expose and humiliate us, but in order that we might see them clearly and thus be able to turn and face them, and in doing so find a healing that will bring about in us a bold and abundant life!
As your Lenten journey starts to come to a close, I encourage you to take the time in the remaining weeks to turn and face the snakes in your life, the things that frighten you, the things that have you on the run, the things that poison you. If you've been hiding from them on this journey, step out into the light. If you have been running from them, stop and face them. Fear is only increased and exaggerated in our hiding and in our running,
altering our perception of the world and our self-understanding, even distorting our understanding of God’s grace and mercy. In the light of truth, the light of the cross, we are defined not by doubt and fear, but only by God’s unconditional love. This morning we are called to gaze upon the cross, upon the one lifted up on the cross, and remember that we don't have to run and we don't have to hide. We just need to look up, look deep into love, grab hold of that love, - and live. Amen!
14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 "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. 17 "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. 18 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. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."
4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5 The people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food." 6 Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, "Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live." 9 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.