Review: What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism by Dan Rather

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This past couple of years have helped highlight how divided we are as a nation. It seems to appear that you have to be either on one side of the political debate or the other. There is no room for middle ground. Yet, it is this middle ground that we must meet and enter into conversation with one another. It is only in our Utopian dreams that we are all going to get along and conflict will not exist.

In summary, this is a major part of Dan Rather’s presentation, along with Elliot Kirschner, in their book, What Unites Us. There is a common ground that we can all stand on and begin to vision what the future of our county looks like. There is not one right solution and at times there are valid points that can come from both sides of the aisle. Where our leaders are tending to fail their country more and more is in their believes that they have the only right solution.

Rather discusses what Patriotism looked like during World War II and his early years as a reporter. He shares his experience with Watergate and what it means for him to be a true patriot and love the country that he grew up in. Too often, we mix patriotism with the idea of nationalism. The United States was not created in the scope of nationalism. It was created in the hopes and dreams of founders that were seeking freedom and a better life for their families. Somewhere along the line this message got misinterpreted.

The United States is the nation that it is because of our diversity. The many cultures and identities that have came together to form a country that should be welcome to all. Rather does not wax poetically at this, he simply calls for a rationality to return to public discourse.

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Are You Ready to Believe?

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April 15, 2018

Luke 24:36b-48

Emotions are powerful!!! However, being emotional, is often seen as weakness. We are encouraged to keep our emotions in check so that we do not appear weak. Whether that emotion is one that brings tears or anger, there are individuals that will chastise us when we show either of them in the workplace. At times, those emotions are justified and are calling us internally to pay attention to what is happening.

Jesus was no stranger to emotion. He cried when his friend Lazarus died, and we know that he showed anger in the Temple when he overturned the tables of the money changers. It seems quite often, the emotion that emanates from the disciples is one of fear when they struggle to understand the divine that is in their presence.

In this morning’s gospel, we learn that Jesus, “opened [the disciples] minds to understand the scriptures” (v. 45).  This is after various times when they were left understanding nothing about the things Jesus said.  We too may feel like that when we read scripture. The sermon is one way for you to get a little better understanding of scripture, yet it is usually one sided. Christian education is a great way to enter into dialogue with one another over scripture and various topics.

A way that you can do it on your own is through Lectio Divina. If you are not familiar with it, Lectio Divina is a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation, and prayer. In Lectio Divina, we welcome the word of God to live among us and listen and pray. There are four movements to Lectio Divina. We will quickly move through them this morning, not too quickly though.

  • Lectio (“read”): perhaps several times. Meditate on it as it is read.
    • What do I notice?
    • What feelings does that word or phrase bring up in me?
    • What might God be saying to me through my reaction, the emotion that is drawn?
  • Meditatio (“meditate”): Listen for the Holy Spirit, how is it moving you?
  • Oratio (“pray”): enter into dialogue with God. Listen.
  • Contemplatio (“contemplate”): A chance to just be silent and still

I pray that as we walked through that process you were able to listen and perhaps hear something different in the word that you may not have heard before. It is even better when you can spend more time with the word and an extended dialogue with God.

Each of us heard different things. Different words and phrases that spoke to us. Different emotions that developed within us. As I do this weekly with our Sunday lessons, it usually leads to the culmination of my sermon. This is the word that I need to hear from God at this present moment, and also one that the Spirit guides me to speak to Trinity Lutheran as well.

The disciples first response when Jesus appears to them in this passage is not much different than when they encountered the divine previously. Even though they heard of the previous two times Jesus appeared after the resurrection, they were startled nonetheless. They may have been joyful, but their disbelieve was still present.

I wonder if it was too soon! In their mourning, they did not want to see Jesus yet. Jesus reappearing to them means that they must get up and leave that upper room where they have been sulking. They must start living out the calling Jesus has placed on them to proclaim the good news and baptize. I wonder if they are ready to step up to these tasks and Believe. There seems to be a bit of reluctance and dragging of feet.

Whenever we are pushed out of our comfort zone, it creates an uneasy feeling and causes us to drag our feet. Change will do this. Change means that things as we knew them are no longer the way they used to be. The disciples no longer had Jesus to lead them on their journey through the countryside and beyond. The change of having to go out on their own and become leaders is startling and terrifying.

While there are similarities and skills I can take from my previous career in retail management, I will admit that the calling of a pastor brings much more anxiety. I had the answers when working for large corporations and was given directions to follow. That does not happen in the church. Each of our churches are in different context and different ministries are required in each of those contexts. It takes time to learn those contexts and the communities that we minister.  Many of you may have experienced similar situations in your careers or if you have moved from community to community.

It is easy to just sit back and hope that everything will take care of itself. There always comes a time that we must step up and believe what has been told to us and what we have seen. Jesus wants us to be transformed as we encounter the living word.

Before Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to understand scripture, he showed them how human he was. He encouraged them to touch him and feel that he is real. He is standing right there in their presence, not as a ghost, but in his physical human form. He has flesh and bones just like them. After that, he eats. Once again, to show them that he is physically with them. In their heightened anxiety, he brings them peace. That is the grace of God at work. When the disciples are exhibiting the most human emotions of fear and anxiety, Jesus comes to them bearing peace. A glimpse of the kingdom to come. He shows them that he is truly real and once again sits down to eat with them.

When we are called to be transformed, Jesus is with us. Jesus is with us in our own anxiety and fears. Jesus is with us in our doubts and uncertainties. Jesus is present to guide us when we have no idea where the road is going. Our emotions are a great indicator that something is about to happen or may not be quite right. They are our own internal thermometer that measures how we are as people of God. Jesus is present with us in all our emotions.

Whether we are fearing that next step that we must take or are joyful of the promotion that we just received. Whether we are depressed over a relationship that just ended or elated over the birth of a child. Whether we are angry with a co-worker whose errors seem to be overlooked or happy that we made our quota for the month. Jesus is present with us all the time to provide us peace. A peace that gives a glimpse of the kingdom to come. A peace that gives us the resurrected Christ.

Let us pray…All comforting God, we give thanks for the times you bring us peace and we are unaware. May we be open to the indwelling of your Spirit and the living word that resides among us. In whatever emotions we bring to you, may you still the waters with a love that knows no bounds. Amen.

Picture: Fish & Pita, Mark Hewitt, April 2012. Pastel 290W x 210H.

The Good News is New Life!

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Easter Sunday

Mark 16:1-8

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

Encountering the unexpected is scary! It can be especially challenging when you have preconceived expectations that do not match up with the reality of the truth that you encounter.

I am sure that at one point in your lives you could relate. Whether moving and starting at a new school and having to make new friends, or beginning a new job and getting to know the details of that job. Personally, I never changed school districts growing up, but my children have had the opportunity to go to several different schools. I encountered more change in my professional life. Going to college I had originally thought I would become a CPA. My sophomore year I started working retail, and for some strange reason fell in love with it. Later in that sophomore year, I discovered that I could major in retail management in the business school, thus leading to a decade spent in the retail industry with a handful of location and company changes. I always went in with my own personal expectations, which would be met sometimes, but more likely than not, they did not match reality.

Can you imagine what the women that are waiting for the sun to rise in our story this morning are going through? Did they get any sleep, or are they just waiting for the sabbath to be over so that they can make their way to the tomb.

They have witnessed the journey of Jesus from his entrance into Jerusalem  to his death on the cross. Throughout our gospels, the women are one of the constants that have been with Jesus, supporting him and caring for him in the aftermath of his crucifixion. I imagine the three women in our story are in deep mourning. They are distraught over what they have witnessed these past few days, and they are garnering just enough strength to go do what is necessary to care for Jesus’ body. Their conversation on the way to the tomb was probably minimal. Perhaps, talking about what needed to be done, and especially worrying about how they were going to roll the heavy stone away from the entrance to the tomb. There is a song, Beautiful Things by Gungor, that could speak to their worries and mourning. The song begins,

All this pain, I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change, at all
All this earth, could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come out from this ground, at all?

They had the expectation of arriving at the tomb with a challenge in front of them. Would the three of them be able to roll that heavy stone away? They are so caught up in these questions and their mourning that they look up and they are there. Yet, what they see is not what they expected. The stone has already been moved! They enter the tomb to be welcomed by a man dressed in white, and the body of Jesus is nowhere to be seen. They are left speechless. It is the words that they hear next that leave them with terror and amazement:

“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” Mark 16:6-7

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

In the terror and amazement, they rush from the tomb, only to remain silent. And here is where our reading ends! This is the original ending of Mark’s gospel. Mark leaves it quite open ended because the work of the disciples is never complete. Several verses would be added later so that it would come to a resolution! Our own need to be to tie a bow on it and make it complete! We do know from our other gospel authors that the good news was spread from the women. If the women had not shared that good news, we may have not been here this morning.

Good news is scary! The good news is holy and it brings word to us of the divine. Encountering the divine can leave us in terror and amazement. In their reaction, the women knew fully well what they had encountered in the tomb and it may have taken them a little time to contemplate the words and to share it with the disciples.

Why do we get those butterflies in our stomachs and a heightened anxiety whenever we encounter something new?

Because new life is scary! Just like the good news. It is the good news that brings us new life. That is what the goods news of Jesus Christ is all about. With Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are brought to new life. It is a life, where resurrection has conquered sin and death. It is a new life that brings hope to a world that is broken and lost. It is a new life that rises through the old. It is a new life that fulfills the promise of God.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

The Resurrection is not the end of the story! It is just the beginning of new life! A new life that can be scary, but a life that is saturated with hope. A new life that is the seed for transformation for each and everyone of us. A new life that abounds in a never-ending love.

Yes, you can stop what you are doing and be enamored in the awe of the resurrection, but don’t let yourself remain there. What if you were to look beyond the resurrection and begin to live your life the way that Jesus wanted you to? To reach our to your sisters and brothers with the same love and compassion that he did. To embrace the stranger among you and give them shelter. To proclaim the good news of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through not only word, but through your actions in caring for others. This is the new life that Jesus is hoping for in the promise of the resurrection. This new life is beautiful!

Beautiful Thingshas the following chorus:

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around,
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found, in you

This morning we are reminded of the new life that is found in Jesus Christ. A new life that is for each and every one of us. A new life for those that have been Christians their entire life. A new life for those that have struggled with their faith. A new life for those that have followed in Peter’s path and denied Jesus.

To live life is chaos! To live life in Jesus Christ and the resurrection is a beautiful thing!

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

A Servant Love

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March 29, 2018 Maundy Thursday

I left you this past Sunday with the words of Paul from his letter to the people of Philipi:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. (Philippians 2:5-7)

This evening we enter into the Three Days. The opportunity to listen to our gospel stories of Jesus’ final days. The opportunity to see how in our own deaths, we too rise to new life.

Let us take a moment, and pause. Let us take inventory of where we are.

  • Where we are physically
  • Where we are mentally and emotionally
  • Where we are in our relationships with one another
  • Where we are in our relationship with Christ
  • Where we are this very evening as we begin to contemplate on the cross and our own beings

Physically we are all present in body, in this sanctuary. We are able to reach out and embrace one another. We can feel the pews beneath us. We can see the lectern, the altar, the cross. How are we physically? It is a little later in the evening, after most of us have ate dinner. Perhaps you are tired from a long day of work, completing chores around the house, or running countless errands. Yet, you have made the conscious decision to come and worship this evening.

How are you mentally and emotionally? Are you hurting and trying to overcome loss? Are you living in denial of things that are happening around you and are not quite ready to confront those things? You may be happy, sad, angry. All very human emotions. Emotions that Jesus experienced himself. It could be possible that you are just present. Feeling as though you are just going through the motions.

All are very acceptable realities. It is a reality of who we are. A reality of the human experience. You may have come here this evening seeking an answer to your relationship with Christ. Wondering what these three days have in store. You may very well know what these three days mean, and are looking forward to living every one of them out. You may not know where God is at in your life currently; longing for an experience with the living God that so many others have spoke of.

As we look towards the cross, we may see our own brokenness. In these three days, it is possible to be broken even more. In that brokenness we can be left wondering where to turn.

Your brokenness. My brokenness. They are not unique. It is a part of the human experience. It is part of who we are as God’s children. The disciples place their full brokenness on display. Once again, Peter speaks before he thinks and is corrected by Jesus. His perceptions that he has of Jesus are not correct and he believes that Jesus is above those things that he is about to do. Surely, he is too good to be getting down on his hands and knees to wash feet. Surely, he can find someone else to serve and feed them. We are left wondering, will Peter ever get it.

The disciples that have followed Jesus around for the last few years are not any different from us. They have their own flaws and idiosyncrasies. They think that they are too good to do some of the mission work that Jesus has called them to do. They are left wondering if they have heard him correctly. They have a set picture in their mind of what the Messiah is suppose to look like, and when Jesus speaks of his pending death, they are left in denial.

One of the twelve’s brokenness plays through the betrayal that we will witness during these three days. Judas, out of greed or something entirely different, is propelled to betray Jesus. To turn him over to the very authorities that he knows will lead Jesus to his death. The disciples are far from perfect. Yet, they still follow in Jesus’ path.

It is in this path that they are brought to the upper room during this last Passover feast in which Jesus will participate. Jesus could have easily kicked back and let the others serve him. There most likely was a servant nearby that could have washed everyone’s feet. Surely, there were people to serve the food.

This was not just another Passover meal. This was the last meal that Jesus would eat with his disciples here on earth. This was an opportunity for him to show them what it truly meant to love. To love them so deeply, he was willing to get down on his hands and knees to wash their feet. To show them what it truly meant to be a disciple. There is no job that is below them. By washing their feet, the water is a sign of the community that he has established with them. A community that has been washed clean and loved fully. A community that now is called to lean on each other and to go out and do the same for others. James Lamkin speaks to this love:

Holy Thursday is a call to a juxtaposed life: one of commanded love. In the uniform of a towel, Jesus gives a command, a mandate. “Maundy” comes from the Latin, mandatum. Jesus commands, mandates us to love; but not only to love, but to love as Christ loves. How can this be? Is love not a feeling? Can feelings be commanded? Of course not. However, choices–the choices of loving behaviors, Christlike actions–can be chosen in the strength of Jesus, the towel-girded Christ. (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2)

We are not just observers to this love that Jesus has displayed.

We are called to do the same in this time and place in which we live today. I think that we can all easily agree that the divisions that we witness more and more are not a good thing. People hold so steadfast to their beliefs that they are not willing to listen to the other side of things and love is the last action in their mind.

Yet, that is the very thing that Jesus is calling us to do for our sisters and brothers. We are called to love. We are called to serve. It is first in the loving and serving of Jesus that we are able to see what it truly means to become a disciple. As we continue to walk in these three days, we walk with Jesus. We listen to the gospels, and we are invited to place ourselves in the stories. Allow them to be a part of who you are as a Christian. There is a mystery that resides in the gospels that we will hear over the next few days. A mystery that calls us to love one another. A mystery that cannot be conquered. A mystery that brings light to the darkness and brokenness of our own souls. It is in this outpouring of love through Jesus that we are prepared to encounter the cross.

Let us pray…Loving God, as we enter these three days, may our hearts, minds, and souls be open to the love that you have poured out abundantly for us. A love that comes to us through our repentance and your forgiveness. A love that comes to us through the waters that cleanse us. A love that resides in the very elements that are broken for us in the bread and the wine. May we embrace and share the love that you have so freely given. Amen

Living into Holy Week

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Mark 14:1-15:47

We have traveled many miles and through the millennia these past five weeks to reach our Passion Narrative from Mark today. It is a narrative that has its roots in the promises of our Jewish ancestors. It is a narrative that shatters expectations and bares the brokenness for all to see. It is a narrative that invites us to become a part of the living God that was, is, and is to come.

Are you ready?

Are you ready to embrace this narrative that we have heard this morning? Are you ready to travel with it and let it become part of you for this next week? We are quick to move beyond the suffering, because we know what is going to happen on the other side of the tomb. Perhaps, that is where we fall short. We look beyond the pain that happens in our lives and want to quickly move on. We want to brush it under the rug and forget that it ever happened. We wish to not talk about it. Now, this pain and suffering could be anything that is holding us back. Anything that is holding us back from encountering Christ.

God invites us into this story so that we can be present. Not distant. We are invited to travel with a heart that has had the law written on it to remember whose we are. In that promise, we also are known deeply by a loving and compassionate God.

We have trouble finding God in the suffering and brokenness.

In this story we encounter many people, and perhaps you can find yourself in the story. Do you feed into the mob mentality, or are you bold enough to carry the cross bar in which Jesus will be crucified, like Simon of Cyrene? Have you denied Jesus as Peter has, or do you stand by with the women that Jesus has come to know throughout his ministry? Does your sense of compassion come forward as you relate to Joseph of Arimathea and his desire to treat Jesus’ body with the utmost respect and provide him with a proper burial?

Now that we are here, are we open to revealing our hearts to God? There is a love that flows from God and Jesus’ death on the cross that we cannot fully comprehend. It is not yet fully revealed to us. This is a love that fully brings the kingdom of God down to earth. A love that washes over all of creation with grace.

We would not be able to come to our Celebration on Easter Morning if it were not for the pain and the agony that we must travel through on the way to the cross. Deep within that suffering is the love that permeates all things.

While we have heard the Passion Narrative according to Mark this morning, there is so much more. There is so much more that God invites us to be a part of. We are invited into the Holiness of this week as we remember the washing of feet, breaking of bread, and traveling through a crowd that has been worked up into a mob and is eager for a crucifixion.

We are invited into our services this week on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Saturday Easter Vigil to be a witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We live into Holy Week by traveling this well worn road. A road that has been laid out before us. A road that leads us to hope and an empty tomb. May we listen and be transformed through Paul’s words in Philippians as we enter into this Holy Week.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. (Philippians 2:5-7)

God’s Promise of Forgiveness

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May 18, 2018

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Every Master of Divinity student in the ELCA is required to take CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). Usually this occurs after your first year of seminary. During CPE you become a chaplain, usually in a hospital setting, and care for patients as they encounter various health related issues. I had the opportunity of completing CPE at The Ohio State University Medical Center.

CPE is just as much a part of learning who you are as it is practicing your pastoral skills with patients and residents. One thing that I learned during my ten weeks in the program was that I could stomach many things and was actually quite intrigued by the process of surgery. I was honored by having two different patients let me be in the surgery room while they underwent surgery. The second surgery that I observed was an open heart surgery. I was assigned to the open heart surgical floor and wanted to walk with a patient from the time they entered the hospital through their surgery. Standing in the surgery room, all I could think of was this lesson from Jeremiah, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Now, I realize that this is a very literal interpretation, however, it is the heart that gives us life, and to witness it working outside of the body is an awe-inspiring experience.

God makes a new covenant with the people of Israel, unlike one that they have seen. In this covenant, God will write the law on the people’s hearts and the people will know God and sin will be remembered no more.

There is much that comes before this passage from Jeremiah this morning. We have already heard of three, if not four, different covenants that God has made with the people of Israel during this time of Lent. From Genesis to our reading in Jeremiah this morning, they have spread over many generations and millennia.

We have learned how the people of Israel, from the time of Noah, Abraham, Moses, and now to Jeremiah, have done a poor job of keeping the covenants that God has made with them. They have sinned and have fallen short of the Glory of God. As Jeremiah speaks to the people of Israel, it is no surprise that the covenant God made with their ancestors had been broken. This “old” covenant projects a God that is all powerful and shows little vulnerability. As we have heard these past few weeks, the people of Israel feared God and they would rather deal directly with Moses or another go-between. Yet, sin enters the picture and they are all left wondering where God is in the midst of their own self-loathing and denials. When they think they have followed the covenant, they quite often fall short. The people have not followed the law of God as it was given to them over and over again.

We are fools to not think that this happens today. We have violated the law many times under our own doing. From the very beginning, humankind was given the great gift of creation to care for and protect. Quite often, we fall short of our calling to care for creation. Woody Bartlett encourages us to,

Consider ways that Western humans currently exploit the creation. We walk as if with hobnailed boots on the “fragile earth, our island home.” Through a rapaciously consuming lifestyle, we overuse the earth, leading to global warming, habitat destruction, species extinction, and the general fouling of our nests. We violate the law of God given in Genesis to “till the garden and keep it,” as we threaten to undo the law of God established with Noah and all of the creatures of the earth after the great flood. (Feasting on the Word, Year B Volume 2, 127)

We look beyond one another instead of looking at each other. We fail to listen to one another’s ideas because surely we have the right answer. We are great at this in the church. Did you know that there are over a dozen different Lutheran churches within the United States because at one point or another we disagreed on various issues. If the church cannot fix its own brokenness, how can we expect the world to repair itself. We carry these arguments beyond ourselves and pit our beliefs against those of other faith traditions. Instead of learning to live together and be in conversation we put up walls and segregate ourselves.

Fortunately, God knew what would happen if the people of Israel were left to their own devices. What started in the Garden of Eden carried down to the people of Israel. The sin that pervades the life of humanity is not easily vanished and it is because of this that we receive a “new” covenant from God in the passage from Jeremiah. This “new” covenant could be a precursor to Jesus Christ. In this “new” covenant, God is the grain that dies and bears fruit.

To have the law written on the hearts of the people meant different things for different people. The desire for God, is to be in relationship with all of creation. By having the law written in the hearts of the people, it creates a faithful community that is present for one another as they journey through life. It creates a community for a people that had been broken and lost their spirit while in exile. In the law that is written on their hearts, they get to know God in a deeper and more meaningful way. God has now allowed vulnerability into the equation as God not only gets to know the people, but the people get to know God. “for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” And what is even better yet, is that God, “will forgive their iniquity, and remember sin no more.”

This is a story that we witness ourselves in Jesus Christ. We get to know the law first, and through that we encounter Jesus Christ. This is the reason that Martin Luther sets up his Small Catechism in the order that he does. We encounter the law in the Ten Commandments and find grace in the Lord’s Prayer. The promise of forgiveness that comes to us in the word’s of Jeremiah, is one that speaks to our own baptisms and the forgiveness of sins that occurs in the water. The same forgiveness that we encounter time and time again in our weekly confession and forgiveness. The same forgiveness that washes over us in our repentance.

The covenant that is made to the people of Israel and the house of Judah is one that carries over to this day. For all of creation. It is a covenant that is fulfilled for us in Jesus Christ. It is a covenant that is written on our hearts from the very beginning to the end of the age. A deep knowing that is already present within us and is just waiting for us to be open to dwelling in it.

The covenants that God has made with the people of Israel can guide us today. The covenants are promises made to the people. In these promises the past five weeks, God has promised commitment in the midst of temptation. In uncertainty and times of challenges there is a promise of new life. God has promised to be with us in community to draw one another together. In the midst of that community we are also called to repentance to experience a promise of healing. All of this culminates in the days to comes as we begin to approach the cross and Holy Week. It is in the upcoming services that we have the opportunity to walk with God and to have God walk with us. To be open to a knowing and loving God that has written the law on our hearts. It is in our hearts that we experience the light of Christ and the truth that leads us to a resurrected life.

Let us pray. Forgiving God, we come to you this Lenten season to repent of those times we have turned away from you and failed to be bold in our faith. We give thanks for being in relationship with you and for your love that beats in our own hearts. As we continue on our path in this season of Lent, may we be guided by your light. Amen

God’s Promise of Healing

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Numbers 21:4-9

These past few weeks we have heard the Word of God spoken to the people of Israel through covenants that abound with hope. We have encountered God in the remnants of  the flood and the promise of commitment that has been made with Noah and his family. In Abraham and Sarah there is a promise of new life and God promises them the birth of Isaac. Last week we witnessed the promise of community in the Ten Commandments that Moses gives to the people through God.

This morning we are given Moses and snakes! If this congregation is a good representation of adults in our country, at least a third of you are afraid of snakes. From a large boa constrictor to the smallest garden snake, they are all slimy and engage our flight mechanism to run when we see them. They can also be very fascinating creatures.

We have a creature at home. No it is not a snake! His name is Rabil, and he is a leopard gecko. He does have one thing in common with snakes. Every couple of months or so, he will decide that is time to shed his skin. To watch the process, is both fascinating and disgusting at the same time. We can tell when it is time to shed his skin, because his color will become dull. However, with the shedding of the old skin, he once again appears a bright orange and yellow. In a way, there is a healing that takes place in this process.

A healing not unlike the one that the Israelites encounter this morning. While, God may not come right out and state a covenant this morning, we can find the promise of healing that is found on the cross as we look up.

This may be far one of the strangest stories that we will hear during the season of Lent. Some of you may recall hearing it in the past, while others are just left wondering the weirdness of it. It is a continued reflection on the Israelites quickness to turn away from God. They slip into their old way of doing things and forget of their salvation out of the land of Egypt. Perhaps, the hurt that they are showing in today’s lesson is magnified by the fact that Aaron has recently died. If you recall, Aaron was the mouthpiece for Moses because he was not gifted with speaking like Aaron had been. Aaron had been just as much of a leader for them as Moses and they did not know where to go from here.

However, there is a history of them turning their back on God. It seems at times they have done nothing but complain. They complained because there was no water to drink when coming out of the land of Egypt, and Moses ensures that their thirst is quenched. They complained when they thought God was going to let them die in the wilderness, and God provided bread from heaven. Moses once again provides water for them after more complaints as he strikes a rock with his staff. They complain because they have no meat to eat and God provides quail. Before Aaron dies, they are once again complaining of no water and it is remedied.

You may notice, there is a pattern here. As the people complain, God provides. They are taken out of their comfort zone and are struggling in the wilderness that has now become their lives. While God provides hope, it is soon forgotten. They are getting weary of the traveling and would like to know what the future holds for their families.

Thus we find ourselves this morning in the midst of serpents. Snakes that bite and kill. These serpents that came to move around their camps were their worst fears and they did not know what to expect. It is not necessarily the snakes that are killing them, but their worries, fears, and anxieties that have left them wondering what is next. There does not seem to be an end to the journey that Moses has led them and they do not want to die in the emptiness that they now find themselves.

Surprisingly, in the midst of the snakes, the people have learned to repent of their ways. They come to tell Moses, “We have sinned against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” In this repentance comes the sign of healing for the people. Moses is instructed to take a poisonous serpent and set it on a pole and in it should bring healing. Once again, the weirdness of the story shines through. It’s almost like we are reading Harry Potter instead of the Book of Numbers. This is not an idol that Moses has created. It is a sign of hope. A sign of healing that is placed in front of the people. For those that are bit, all they need to do is look up to it and be healed. With this action Moses wanted them to trust in the healing power that comes to them through God. This is the promise that God brings to them at this time in their suffering.

We are not exempt from suffering. Like the Israelites looking toward an end to their journey in the wilderness, we too look with longing and anticipation on those things that are just outside of our grasp. We too grumble when things do not go our way. We grumble because we had different expectations and those expectations were not met. We grumble when we do not think we have enough.

We are surrounded by our own serpents. Those warnings that reach up to bite us to make us aware that we may not be quite going down the right path. These are signs that we have detoured and have found ourselves headed down a dead-end path instead of on a path to redemption in which we are called to by Jesus. Instead of praying for help and guidance we wallow in our own self-pity and fall into a complacency. I am sure that if we think about it, we can name those serpents in our lives. It could be be an addiction. It could be greed. It could be anger and self-righteousness. Serpents can come in all types and forms. The challenge is not to give those serpents any power.

Phyllis Tickle, referring to this passage, writes:

“And what the story recognizes is that all of us are going to be bitten—painfully bitten—in this life. Most of us learn that truth fairly quickly just from experience. But, according to the story, it is not the being bitten that we in this imperfect world can do anything about; it is only the how we respond to being bitten that we can control. When we look up, usually we are saved by that very act of faith for it is when we look down and struggle with what is tormenting us that we most often empower it by the very attention we are going to give it.” [“A Serpent in the Desert”]

This season of Lent calls us to repentance. To repent of the sins in our lives that have led us down the wrong path; those serpents that have struck out to bite us. We don’t have to understand how the snake on the pole worked in the wilderness; nor do we have to fully understand the complexities of Jesus’ death on the cross. What we are called to is faith. A faith in our Lord and savior Jesus Christ that vanishes all of our fears, uncertainties, and anxieties. A Christ, whose story does not end on the cross, but whose eternal life is fully revealed to us in the resurrection.

The Wisdom of Solomon, from the Apocrypha, refers to the pole Moses lifts up in the wilderness and says, “For the one who turned toward it was saved, not by the thing that was beheld, but by you, the Savior of all” (Wis 16:7). Jesus Christ was lifted up on the cross in a sign of power by the leaders, but for Christians, it is a sign of hope and a promise of healing.

Let us pray. Healing God, as we continue down the path to Holy Week, may we be reminded of your love for us that you died on the cross. May your healing come not only to us in our own wildernesses and suffering, but also be extended beyond us to all of creation. Amen