The Fourth Sunday of Lent E. Bevan Stanley
March 13, 2021
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
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. In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
Here is the rest of the story: After God brought the people of Israel out Egypt they were camped in the desert. The only food they had was the Manna, the miraculous bread that God supplied each morning. 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.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. hen God gives you bread from heaven, you don’t get to complain about the food. The people come to Moses and admit their fault and ask Moses to intercede for them to God. Moses did pray for the people. 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.” 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.
At one level this is a kind of sympathetic magic. You look at the image of the snake that is poisoning you and then you are heale. Yet there is something more we can take from this story. When the Israelites were being bitten by the poisonous snakes, they repented and apologized for speaking against the LORD and Moses. God does not respond by getting rid of the serpents. Instead, God provides a way to deal with the bites. Often when we sin, the results are not removed. Instead, God gives us a way to deal with the results. In many cases, what God asks us to do is to look squarely at what we did and the results. We have to look at the serpent to be healed.
Paul is more abstract, but has much the same message. He says we were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world. . . All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved. For Paul, the result of sin is death, but God loves us even when we are dead because of our sins. Because God loves us, God makes us alive. When God makes us alive, he does it through Christ. He makes us alive together with Christ. That is, it is by being united with Christ that we share in the resurrection of Christ. The result is that God raised us up with him [that is, with Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
It is important to note that we are not saved only from the results of our sins, but we are saved for a life of good works, a life that God prepared for us lead. We are saved from death for live. We are saved from a life of sin for a live of good. We are saved from a life of alienation and selfishness for a life of community and love.
When Jesus is speaking to the Pharisee Nicodemus, he says, “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. 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. Here again we are saved from perishing and we are saved for eternal life. Then he goes on to emphasize that the perishing part was never part of God’s plan. 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. God has no interest in condemning anyone. People only get condemned by condemning themselves. 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.
And now we come to our work in Lent. 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. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. The spiritual work of Lent is to shine light on our own souls. To see what inside us is self-serving and what inside us is aligned with God’s love for the world.
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. And the reverse is just as true: Those whose deeds are done in God find their lives shined upon by God’s glory.
Here are some questions these texts pose for us today: What are we grumbling about today? What serpent has bit us or what thoughts are poisoning us? What or whom do we need to lift up so that in focusing our gaze there we may be healed? What do we need to be saved from and what do we hope to be saved for? What parts of ourselves would we prefer to remain hidden in the dark, and how can we let God’s light shine on them? When will stop condemning ourselves and allow God’s love to flood our lives?
Whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. This is the Good News of Jesus Christ. Amen.