Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
Sunday Worship
11:00am Service
Pastor Heidi R. Chamberlain
Information info@potsdamumc.org

Snakes and The Darkness

Listen to the Sermon or the Entire Service

March 15:

March 15, 2015
Call:       Numbers 21: 4-9
Reading:    Lent #268 (revised by me)
Text:       John 3: 14-21
Closing:    Ephesians 2: 4-8

            Snakes and The Darkness

I do not like snakes!

I am grateful that God has not given me Harry Potter's (fictional) gift of passel tongue.
    For the idea of conversing with a snake
sends a shiver up my spine.

As I may have shared with you before,
One Friday several years ago,
I asked a Jordanville parishioner
to help me get rid of a snake
lying in the grass outside the parsonage
and near where the school bus dropped students off.

Well, actually I didn't ask him to help me
I asked him to get rid of it.
And I had every intention of staying a safe distance away.

Al came over
    And he seemed to relish the task
For be arrived  - with a loaded pistol!
That snake would be no match for Al Miller.

Now, I am not a hunter
And I am not particularly comfortable with loaded pistols
But my discomfort with snakes was substantially greater
     And so, I raised no objection to the executioner's weapon

However, just as I was pointing out the snake to Al
    A nine year old boy got off the bus
    In my best father-like voice, I warned him about the snake.

But Josh, looked at me quizzically
    And instead of moving away from the snake
        Walked directly to it
        Picked it up
and said,   "Mr. Barnes, this is a fake snake."

And then, if it were not embarrassing enough
    To know that I was about to have a man shoot a rubber snake,
    My supposedly loving wife
        Acting behind my back
        Obtained possession of the said snake
        And placed it on the pulpit
            Where it greeted me on Sunday morning.

So you can imagine what my reaction would have been
If I had been a complaining Israelite in the wilderness
    In the passage that Shaq read this morning.

The snakes in the story would not have even needed to bite me
    For me to feel chastised and punished.

And in the future
    Every time I saw the snake on the pole that Moses made
        I would have been reminded - albeit uncomfortably -
            Both that God is a healing, forgiving God
        And that if I knew what was good for me
                I had better avoid complaining.
I would also have been reminded of the example Moses set.

For this man had - along with his God -
Endured a multitude of unreasonable complaints about him

And yet, when those complainers
asked the man who had led them out of Egypt,
the man about whom they were complaining
and complaining over trivial rather than meaningful matters

Anyway, when they asked that man to pray for them   He did!!

He did so
He did so without sarcasm
He did so by resisting what must have been a powerful temptation  to respond,
    "Why should I?" or "You've got to be kidding!"
or  at least make them grovel a bit before praying?

Moses set an example for his traveling companions and for us
And God's answering the prayers by granting them relief
    Should have driven home the lesson in that example

But just in case the memories were short,
    God had Moses create a bronze snake
    So that each time the people were bit
        They could look at it and by seeing the reminder
            Of how much God loved them
Even when treated poorly
        And be healed.

After God punished the people with the flood
    Got set the rainbow in the sky to remind God's self of the promise to not destroy the world like that again.
After God punished the people with snakes
    God had Moses create the brass one to remind the people of God's love and healing power.

Sadly, however, as time went on,
    The message in this story faded
        And what was to be a reminder of God's love
Was transformed by many into a god itself.

People began to worship the brass snake - instead of God.

Ultimately, King Hezekiah,
knowing that the well intentioned reminder of God's love
        Had become an idol
removed it from the temple      [2 Kings 18:4]

With the message forgotten,
The descendents of those in the wilderness with Moses,
Became like their forefathers

They ignored God
except to complain  or when they needed something.

They ignored the prophets God sent to warn and advise them
    And to produce a reconciliation with them

Again God punished them
        Not with floods or snakes
        For the flood and the snakes
had not had a permanent impact.

This time God punished them with exile to and in Babylon.

And yet, while in exile
    They again adopted the behavior of their ancestors
They complained that God didn't care for them
They complained that God wasn't powerful enough to save them

The difficulties of the exile did have an impact - for a while.

But not long after they were allowed to return to Jerusalem
    They resumed the practice of ignoring God
        Except when they wanted something
    And of grumbling when they didn't get what they wanted,

It was as if their hearts had plunged into a darkness
    That prevented them from seeing or recognizing God's love.

Now darkness, like snakes, is something that scares some people

We tend to think of children being afraid of the dark
    But adults find the absence of light discomforting
        Because we cannot see what - if anything - is lurking
    And thus our minds can play tricks on us.

While I'll take darkness over snakes any day,
    I have at times experienced some uneasiness
    And have wanted a light to help me find my way.

So did the people who had strayed from God.

And so, despite their behavior,     again they prayed to God
They asked God to send a deliverer.

God had sent a deliverer before
    That deliverer  led them out of Egypt
    And all they did was complain and ignore.
God had sent prophets
    Who had alerted them to correct their errors
    And their response had been to ignore and complain.
Now they again have found themselves asking God
to once more send someone to help them out of a mess.

Wouldn't you think that at some point God would have given up
on them - and thus on us as well?

But God didn't give up.
    And that brings us to the text from John

When God rescued their ancestors from the poisonous snakes
God gave them a visible reminder of his love
The snake on a pole crafted by Moses

And now, God gives them another visible reminder of his love
    God's own son Jesus Christ          [John 3: 14-21]

Christ is the light of the world
Through him you and I see our relationship with God
    And come face to face with the reminder of God's love

The messages of these two scriptures are similar.
God so loved his people that he sent his servant Moses
to lead the people out of Egypt
God so loved the world that he gave his only son
        Not to judge, but that the world might be saved.

 You and I are expected to lift the light of Jesus up
Like a flag bearer in the Olympics or in battle
        So that we will see So that everyone will see
The love that leads to eternal life.

As followers of Christ,     we have to do so
    Knowing fully well that it can be difficult
        After all, the history shows
That flag bearers make great targets.