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The fourth Sunday of Lent

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The fourth Sunday of Lent

March 22, 2009

Year B

John 3: 14-21

St. Francis, Norris

Everybody I know has a snake story. Think about it; do you know anyone that does not have a story about an encounter with a snake? I’ll bet not. What is it about snakes? Most people are afraid of them, at least a little bit. Some people are absolutely terrified, even when they know it is a non poisonous brand of snake.

Horror Movies are full of snakes. Indiana Jones has only one fear… snakes. We recently had a movie about snakes on a plane. There have been many movies about anacondas, pythons and the evil cobra of course. I remember a movie named pssssss when I was a kid. It was terrifying. A good cowboy movie always has the famous rattlesnake scene, doesn’t it?

The story, in Numbers, of poisonous serpents in the wilderness, sent by God to bite the Israelites, is only one story in scripture about serpents. Of course the most famous is that of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. There is story of Paul being bitten by a snake and not dying that spawned the belief of the snake handlers of Appalachia. And it is not just Christianity that has the symbolism of snakes. All the major religions have serpents represented as evil and or powerful creatures. Even the religions that perceive them as positive also realize that there is great danger present in a serpent.

The Israelites were grumbling, once again about Moses leading them into a life of misery and hardship. All they had to eat was manna and thirst was a constant companion for them. They had forgotten, at this point, that they had been liberated by Moses and that Moses had talked to God and made a covenant that they would be given a promised land of milk and honey.

Maybe they hadn’t forgotten at all. Maybe they were just fed up with the trials and tribulations they had been required to endure on that journey to the Promised Land. Either way they had grumbled about what they did not have and God sent the serpents.

You cannot watch a news report of any form these days where there is no grumbling. Madoff has stolen billions, AIG is taking tax dollars for huge bonuses, 401k’s are plummeting downward, GM needs another bailout, unemployment is at record highs, recession, depression and so on and so on and so on. It has gotten so bad that the mainstream media is actually going out and finding “feel good” news stories to report on from time to time. We are grumbling about capitalism and socialism. Democrats or republicans, more taxes or tax cuts. Is it going to get better soon? Or is going to continue to get worse?

Who are we grumbling too, though? At this point it seems like we are grumbling to one another for the most part. Most of us are grumbling as much about what we no longer have or are afraid we will lose. I have no intentions of slighting the situation. Especially those who are unemployed or otherwise struggling just to make ends meet because of the financial crisis we are experiencing. We all understand or should understand that we are not moving our finances in the direction we wish.

As I think back just a few years ago, when things were going well, we still were grumbling about many of the same things. We hope we can get back to the point of grumbling that were in before the bottom fell out.

We are the Israelites aren’t we? We grumbled about food and received manna. We grumbled about water and the rocks sprang forth water. We grumbled about our slavery and we were set free. We grumbled about our freedom when things got tough. We grumbled and we continue to do so even today. We grumble about the price of gasoline to power our air conditioned, leather seats, cruise controlled, fm radio, cd player, power window, power lock automatic transmission chariots, just like the Israelites grumbled that their feet hurt because their sandals were worn out.

I guess you would have to say that grumbling is a part of human nature. Actually, it is all a part of our greed and it seems like we all have it. Just like the Israelites, when our situation improves, it will not be long before we start our complaining for something more. It seems as though we are insatiable in our wants. Multi-millionaires want to be billionaires. Poverty stricken welfare recipients demand that they be given more. Rare are the people that really feel content…that they have enough. Rarer still are thye ones who have enough and are willing to share their enoughness.

God sent snakes on the Israelites and many died. The survivors were scared that they would be next and they went to Moses to have him fix it. Fix it he did. He did so by following God’s instructions. He made an image of the snakes and if a person was bitten, all they had to do was look at it and they would live.

Today, we have a very different set of adversaries. Everyone is scared, not of snakes but of financial serpents. We are scared of the serpents we call old age, cancer, crime, pollution, addiction, terminal sickness and death. We fear that at some point in our life we face all or any one of these serpents. And we are right to fear them. We are right to ask that someone speak to God on our behalf, to protect us from the serpents. Just as the Israelites did with Moses.

We are fortunate, in that someone has already asked for us; for protection from life’s serpents. Jesus did so by sacrificing himself on the cross and this is what we heard in today’s Gospel from John. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent, Jesus was lifted on the cross. And just as looking to the serpent saved the Israelites from death from a serpent; the cross will save us from that same fate…with one huge difference, that is.

The bronze serpent in the wilderness protected from snakebites. The cross protects from death from any source. Looking to the serpent brought temporary salvation until death, while looking to the cross provides eternal life.

The other significant difference in these two scenarios is that this salvation for the Israelites is only for the Israelites. The salvation Christ offers is for the whole world. The rest of the Gospel informs us that people who do evil things are not believers in the light and actually hate the light. Only those who do that which is true come to the light so that it may be seen that their deeds have been done in God. John 3:16 is only the beginning of the faith. Whosoever believeth in him must also do their deeds in God. We are the descendents of the Israelites…we are the descendents of Christianity. We have covenants wit God and with Christ and it is through these covenants we attain eternity.

Grumble if you must. You probably cannot help it, anyway. But when the serpent is striking remember from whence cometh your protection. Look to what has been raised up for you and anyone else to see. When all is said and done, it is the only protection you have from the serpent that takes our mortal lives. It is also the only protection you will ever need.

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