Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sermon: March 22

Snakes in Scripture…

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made…The woman said, ‘The serpent tricked me, and I ate.’ The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” (Genesis)

“So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did as the Lord had commanded; Aaron threw down his staff before Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. Each one threw down his staff, and they became snakes; but Aaron’s staff swallowed up theirs.” (Exodus)

“The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.” (Isaiah)

Snakes in Popular Culture…

Snakes on a Plane & Indiana Jones

36% of adults in the US fear snakes (from a recent Harris poll)

Fear is part of who we are – we all fear something: snakes, taxes, death, UConn losing…

But running away from fear we cannot do…

The Israelites in the wilderness had tried that, and died. Their constant complaints and murmuring led to the poisonous snakes ravaging the people. Its only when they stopped and confessed their sin, asking Moses to intercede on their behalf that God put a stop to it. The cure that God offered was staring at the very thing they feared. The serpent on the pole was offered to allow the people of God to face their terrors, to heal them and set them free. They looked into the image of death on that pole, not to worship it, but to see the power of God at work and know it was God who was saving them.

“For when the terrible rage of wild animals came upon your people and they were being destroyed by the bites of writhing serpents, your wrath did not continue to the end; they were troubled for a little while as a warning, and received a symbol of deliverance to remind them of your law’s command. For the one who turned towards it was saved, not by the thing that was beheld, but by you, the Savior of all.” (Wisdom of Solomon)

That symbol of a serpent and a rod is connected with the rod of Asclepius (an ancient Greek symbol of the god of medicine in Greek and Roman mythology) now tied to health or medical organizations.

For us, it is Christ who becomes the serpent on a pole.

"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.” (Gospel of John)

Looking at Jesus on that cross, we see what we fear; agonizing suffering and a bloody death. But it is that fear, that horrible picture that is transformed by God, for now we look to it, we see that indeed if we believe we will have eternal life. It is God’s promise, for just as God promised in that wilderness that the power of God would heal those looking at the serpent, God promises to those who look to the cross will be saved. And not only look but to believe and live that faith in our lives. For our faith is not just understanding with our minds and hearts but an active faith of what we say and how we live.

"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.” (John)

Christ was lifted up, so all could come to him, to find release, healing, freedom, life.

As one author put it, “That promise is about facing the terror of pain and death in the world, and being blessed in the facing of it. That story underlies all the other terrors we need to deal with, and if we do not face it, we cannot face them. We need to turn and face that serpent because only by looking steadily on its face can we hope to gain healing for our other ills.” (Rosemary Hannah)

For we look to the cross, to see in it, not just fear, death and crucifixion, but the one was lifted up for us, who brings us healing, brings us eternal life, and that is Jesus Christ. Through the cross of Good Friday, comes the joy of that empty tomb on Easter. Through the cross, our fears will be transformed into hope and life. And that journey to the cross is one of faithful repentance for the cross shows us God’s forgiveness and healing in our lives.

May the rest of our Lenten journey remind us of the cross that stands before us to make us whole again even through the darkest and most fearful of times. For the light of the world has come and is ready to bring hope and life where fear and doubt existed. May we be ready for that light. Amen.

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