Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:4-21
The story is told of a young man who entered a very strict monastic order. It was so strict that members were permitted to speak only two words per year to the abbot. At the end of year one the young man appeared before the abbot and spoke his two words, "bad food." At the end of the second year, the young man appeared before the abbot and spoke two more words, "hard bed". At the end of year three he came to the abbot and spoke his last two words, "I quit." The abbot responded, "Well it is about time. Complain, complain, and complain - that’s all you’ve done since you came here."
We all know those who complain, and especially if you play golf, you will hear all kinds of complaints, the wind blew my golf ball off course, the mud made me miss the shot, etc.
We can find plenty to complain about in our lives (What complaints have you heard lately?) Maybe there is also truth to the abbot’s observation of the young man, perhaps it was more than the two words the man spoke, perhaps like most complainers, the young man also exhibited complaining in his silent state by being late to prayer, not participating fully in the life of the monks daily rituals.
Most complainers do not articulate their complaining by speech; rather their actions speak louder than words.
As we turn to the scripture from Exodus, we find people complaining and becoming impatient with Moses and God. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water!” It was hard to please what have you done for me lately people. It was not that long ago, they were in slavery; it was not long ago God had provided the miracles to allow their exodus from Egypt. Now, when things were getting tough, their trust in God was evaporating in the desert heat.
Now I find myself wondering how they could of forgotten so soon, how could they forget the wonderful works of the Lord, and how Moses had stood up to Pharaoh for their sakes.
Then God does something quite unexpected, God sends venomous snakes among them. They bit the people and many Israelites died. Moreover, you know this worked to wake up the people to their sinning, against God and Moses, and they repent and ask Moses to intervene on their behalf. Which he does. They have learned that their complaining does have consequences, that their lack of trust in God brings punishment, in their eyes they see the snakes as God’s way of punishing them for their sinfulness.
Lastly, we learn God directs Moses to make a snake and put it on a pole, so anyone who is bitten can look upon it and be healed.
The Mishnah, a written form of Jewish Oral traditions rejects any magical interpretations of the story, the point of the story is that as the bitten people raised their heads and looked upward, they would submit their hearts to their Father in Heaven, and this would bring about their cure.
In other words, the people reestablished trust in God. The Bronze serpent was a reminder to seek God when they were in pain, when their lives were threatened, instead of complaining about it.
In the season of Lent is a time to examine our own lives and see where we have strayed away from God. It is a time to ask ourselves important questions like. “Do we trust God? With all our hearts, with all our strength? On the other hand, do we find ourselves complaining about what we do not have, or how hard the journey is, do we find ourselves wanting to quit and go another way?
As we turn to the gospel lesson, we are introduced to the bridge between the old covenant and the new covenant established by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus our Lord.
Instead of a bronze snake on a pole, we have something else to look up to for our healing, to keep us on the right path. We have the cross, an empty cross that testifies to the power of God’s love. 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.
Love is what the world needs to cure what ails us, a powerful love that has raised Jesus off the cross, has conquered death, will reverse the poisons that we encounter each and every day, greed, envy, oppression, and so on.
We're told that when early printers, using handset type, received an order to print a collection of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poems, they immediately ordered hundreds of extra letters L and V for their presses. They knew Tennyson. He used the word `love' so often in his poetry that the average set of type could not possibly supply all the necessary letters.
It is with that same kind of extravagant love that God loves us. God so loved the world.
(King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com)
God so loved the world so we are healed from all that sickens us.
God so loved the world so we find strength in times of weakness
Life in the face of death,
Hope in the face of helplessness
Joy in the face of terror
We might not be typesetters, but perhaps we can wear out the letters L.O.V. E on our computer keyboards, phone keypads, as we express God’s love to a hurting and wounded world. On our journeys with Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we can bring peace to the world by loving one another so profoundly so passionately, we experience healing and bring healing.
We are all on a spiritual journey as we follow the Prince of Peace.
The secret to fulfillment in this journey is to look up and away from ourselves and to the promises of God. When we look to the goodness and graciousness of God, we walk more closely with Christ and are less vulnerable to getting lost in the hurry and hassle of our living.
The cross is a reminder to us all to live in the heart of God. In the intersection of the cross is the place where we dwell completely trusting God, and allow for the Holy Spirit to guide us.
The joy of this season is the realization that our journey has a certain destination. In the time of Moses, the destination was a physical Promised Land. For you and me, the destination is rooted in the words of Jesus:
"...whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
In John's gospel, the manner in which the Son of man was lifted up is superseded by the function for which he was crucified. As Moses elevated the bronze serpent for the people to see, believe, and live, so the Son of man on the cross of Golgotha is raised for us to see, believe and live.
(T. HOOGSTEEN First Christian Reformed Church Brantford, Ontario, Canada)
In our pilgrimage with the Prince of Peace, we will encounter poisons that can kill our spiritual, physical, and emotional selves. In those times we need to lift our heads and look at the cross which reminds us of the healing power of Jesus’ love for whatever ails us. Amen