Monday, 12 March 2012

4th Sunday of Lent - Year B

2 Chronicles 36:14-16.19-23; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert…

The scriptures always take me by surprise as, even with the first few words, a mysterious current begins to flow, spiritual amps, a subtle vibrancy or radiance unlike anything the world can offer; a being, a peace, a joy, a meaning, a hope, a presence the world cannot give.

I open the cover of my Bible as I open the door of the tabernacle and he is there - and he gives himself to me – and I give myself to him - holy communion.

I love the scriptures and I know that a great many of you share that love, and that you know what I’m talking about. I know that for you the scriptures are like a sudden beam of light falling into a darkened room; like the first rays of the warming sun on a winter morning, or that first breath of the eucalypt forest on an afternoon drive. The word of God awakens us, brings us to life, opens our eyes and ears to the beauty around us and the hope within us.

The scriptures are my, and your, experience of God put into God’s own inspired words; and in this way God shows us to ourselves and we come, bit by bit, to ‘understand’. He calls us gently out of our hiding places and bids us walk with him; to make ourselves ‘locals’ in the scriptural landscape which is his home.

The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert…

Ah, yes, the desert – I know it well. I was there with Moses and the people. [Have you ever been there? (Nm 21:4-9)] We wandered the desert for forty years, and then a bit more, because we just couldn’t bring ourselves to trust in the word of God. What a stubborn people we were!

We had lost patience with the difficulties of the journey and we: spoke against God and against Moses, 'Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this wilderness? For there is neither bread nor water here; we are sick of this unsatisfying food.'

At this God sent fiery serpents among the people; their bite brought death to many in Israel. The people came and said to Moses, 'We have sinned by speaking against God and against you. Intercede for us with God to save us from these serpents.' Moses interceded for the people, and God answered him, 'Make a fiery serpent and put it on a standard. If anyone is bitten and looks at it, he shall live.' So Moses fashioned a bronze serpent which he put on a standard, and if anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived.

When God sent those fiery serpents I remember thinking ‘How appropriate! How spot on! Complaints are just like that – fiery little serpents – making everyone’s life miserable; taking away everybody’s peace.’

I’m sure you will agree that in a community there’s no one more annoying than a whinger. Well, we were faced in the desert with a whole community of whingers. It was awful, unbearable, like having a whole lot of little fiery serpents slithering in and out among us, biting us, killing us. And each time someone complained another serpent was born.

God commanded Moses to hang a bronze serpent in a tree. We were all totally puzzled. And yet: if anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived.

The secret, of course, was not the serpent but the faith required to believe that by looking at the bronze serpent we would be cured. God was ready to reward such faith. It was like Naaman the leper who was told to bath in the Jordan. It was not the water that cured him, it was the faith it took to believe God’s word and obey.

Standing among the people before that tree and looking up at the bronze serpent, I became aware of a deep, overpowering longing for a stream to bathe in, or a serpent to look at, which would heal me, liberate me, redeem me, once and for all, forever from all the weakness and darkness I experience within. Would that not be truly wonderful? An act of faith which could bring eternal life. But where to find such a serpent?

The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.

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