God’s Promise of Healing


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


A Review: Wounds Are Where Light Enters by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

Thanks to Englewood Review of Books for the advance copy and publishing this review.


Walter Wangerin Jr. has become one of the quintessential story tellers of this day and age. His stories break through the mundane and add a personal touch to everything that he shares. Whether his stories are based upon scripture or from his own personal collection reflecting upon his own experiences, he can connect with his readers and listeners as he offers the opportunity to enter the story as well.

In his newest collection of stories, Wangerin Jr. shares stories from his own family. Stories that helped shape him as a person of God. In these stories, the reader witnesses humanity. A humanity that resides in the ordinary. A humanity that resides in the sin and the brokenness of life. The stories are endearing and are a witness that Walter Wangerin Jr. is a human being just like anyone else. Too often, pastors are put upon pedestals in the eyes of their parishioners, forgetting that they too sin just like everyone else.

He makes it clear that each and everyone of us has a brokenness that leads to the wounds that share who we are as people of God. These wounds are exactly where we see the light of God breaking through. The subtitle of the book calls it God’s intrusive grace. A grace that breaks through when it is least expected. A grace that reminds us who we are and whose we are. The grace breaks through in every one of the twenty-two stories that are shared. The stories range from Wangerin Jr.’s childhood of dreading Christmas to stories he shares of his neighbors as he pastored a church in Evansville. Some of the most personal stories that he shares are the ones of his own children. Being a parent is a tough job, and through the stories that he shares, shows that he struggles just as much as any other parent.

One instance of God’s intrusive grace can be seen in his son, Joseph. It is in the wise words of Joseph that Wangerin Jr. is brought to the realization that he too can make mistakes and bring some of his frustrations from work, home to the dinner table. As he flicks the hand of his daughter Talitha, because she is fidgeting a little too much, she starts to cry. It is Joseph that highlights the wound and encourages the light to shine through. “Sometimes Daddy spanks us and we don’t mind. It doesn’t hurt. We laugh and have fun, because it’s a birthday spanking and he’s counting the years since we were born. He says, ‘A pinch to grow an inch.’” . . . “But when Daddy is angry, even a little flick hurts.”

It is these little insights into his life that Wangerin Jr. reveals a light that shines for all to see amid our personal wounds. While there is a sense that these stories have been collected over the past several decades, they still speak boldly today. They speak to our wounds and the wounds that we encounter in others.

Over the past year and a half, we have been reminded that race relations in our country are not what we thought they were. The story of his son Matthew, can break the readers heart. It is a story of hurt and a father’s love. When he was young, Matthew was friends with the neighbor girl. The only problem, is that in the neighbor’s eyes, “black and white do not marry.” The love that Wangerin Jr. shows for his son in this moment, is the same love that God shows for each and everyone of God’s children. A love that moves beyond race, nationality, or anything else that is used to separate one from the other. Unfortunately, there are still some people that have this opinion today. Matthew was not the perfect child. In another story it is shared that he had the tendency to steal comic books. It was Wangerin Jr.’s own response to his son’s thefts that actually made him stop. It was the sight and sound of his father crying that brought him to the realization that the theft of comic books must stop.

The stories that are shared within this quickly read volume can be life changing. Life changing for the author and for those that are in the story. The stories touch upon the reader’s heart and reveal the in-breaking of God in our own lives. We are all wounded in this life and some choose to dwell in the wounds and some choose to let the light break through for all to see. In sharing these personal stories of God’s love embracing humanity, Walter Wangerin Jr. once again reminds us that God is much greater than the wounds that scar.

This review is posted on Englewood Review of Books

God’s Promise of Community


Exodus 20:1-17

I don’t know about you, but the weather that we have had this past couple of weeks has lifted my spirits and fostered the notion that it is about time to start some spring cleaning. A chance to get rid of those things that are unnecessary and distract. A chance to focus on the things that truly matter in our lives.

Jesus does his own spring cleaning as he enters the temple and turns over the tables. He chases all of the livestock out with a whip. He empties the money changers bags. It is a call to keep the temple a holy place and not be distracted by those seeking personal gain.

God calls Moses to do a little spring cleaning as well. The people of Israel are reminded that they are God’s children when Moses is called upon to consecrate them. This prepares them to encounter God through Moses and the Word that he will share with them after speaking to the Lord on the mountain. This third covenant that we encounter during Lent is God’s promise of community revealed to us in the Ten Commandments. It is the promise of Community, showing a way for us to live in relationship with God and our fellow sisters and brothers.

When we read past our lesson in Exodus, we read of the trembling and fear that grips the people of Israel.

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:18-21)

God knows the way of the people, and God knows how easily humanity can be tempted and turn away from their faith. It is in the law that is given to them at this point that they shall live their days. There will be constant reminders for them as they continue on so that they will not forget the Lord. It has been easy for them to do that in the past and God knows that they will easily fall into the same trap in the future. Hopefully, these laws that are given will be a sense for them to remain faithful and seek righteousness. Yet, the reality is that God, knows very well that every single one of these commandments will be broken sooner rather than later. The breaking of these commandments leads to a lack of community. The very thing that God is hoping to instill.

We witness a breakdown in community when we fail to be open to conversation with one another. When we fail to listen to one another or choose simply not to hear the other side of the story. We easily do this by surrounding ourselves with friends that are like minded and write off those that we disagree. We listen halfheartedly and then continue on without truly stopping to contemplate what we have heard. Our society fosters this way of interacting.

When we have individuals that step in to question the status quo they are chastised and berated. This drives us even farther from community. A community in which God is encouraging us to live into. The Ten Commandments, we take as nice suggestions, but truly we are not suppose to adhere to all of them, are we?

As we focus less on living into community and more on our personal lives, we forget what it is like to embrace the other. To embrace our sisters and brothers that are different from us. Instead of becoming worldly, we become self-centered.

In the Ten Commandments, the Israelites, now have a road map, on how to live into relationship. That relationship starts with God as we can witness in the the first commandments. That is just the foundation, because the rest direct them how to be in relationship with one another. Walter Brueggemann writes, “The commandments might be taken not as a series of rules, but as a proclamation in God’s own mouth of who God is and how God shall be ‘practiced’ by this community of liberated slaves.”

The commandments come with no judgement attached to them. The people attach their own judgement. The onus for following the law is on the individual, not on any outside source. Now, of course in a civilized culture, we have attached punishments that align with many of the commandments.

The commandments are actually given with a reminder that the Israelites are saved people. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”  It is in this redemption that God now calls the people into a relationship that begins with the Divine. The relationship with God, or the Divine, then extends to the rest of humanity.

In the spring cleaning, God reminds the people that their way of being in conflict before should now be focused on relationship and living into community.

This same promise of community flows down for us today. The Ten Commandments are part of Luther’s Catechism and he deemed that they were a necessity for us to know and practice. In the Large Catechism, Luther writes,

This much is certain: those who know the Ten Commandments perfectly know the entire scriptures and in all affairs and circumstances are able to counsel, help, comfort, judge, and make decisions in both spiritual and temporal matters.

God desires to be in relationship with us. We are created in the very image of God and thus as we foster and grow our relationship first with God, our relationships with others will begin to blossom as well. The way that we attend to our relationship with God is the model for which we attend to our relationships with our neighbors.

Lent is a opportune time to focus on our relationships as we take the intentional time to be in prayer. We can choose to do our own internal spring cleaning as we repent of those sins that we have committed against God and our neighbors, both known and unknown. Like Jesus in the temple, we too are encouraged to scatter those things that deter us so that we can focus on our relationship with God. Those things that distract us from living into community. Those things that give us a false sense of hope.

As we get closer to approaching the cross on Good Friday, we are reminded that to do so as a community only strengthens us and our relationship with a Christ that is willing to be crucified to show us God’s love. On the other side of the cross, we know that we are a redeemed people whom God’s covenant continues for us today. One part of that, is that in God, we will ultimately find community. A community that loves and supports one another. A community that not only celebrates one another’s joys, but a community that lifts each other up in the brokenness and suffering.

Let us pray. Welcoming God, you call us into community with the Trinity. A community in which we are surrounded by love and grace. May this relationship and community we foster in you, be the starting point for community with our neighbors. Amen.