22 March 2009/Lent 4B – Numbers 21:4-9/Ephesians 2:1-10/John 3:14-21
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
Look Up And Live !
They’re baaaacckkkkkkk! Way back in The Garden there was a Serpent causing trouble for all of us. They came back during the Wilderness Journey with Moses. And now John the Evangelist calls our attention back to the wily serpent again - although this time as a symbol of healing, wholeness and salvation.
John begins, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” This sets up what is perhaps the most famous verse from all of scripture, the one that decorates sports arenas and stadiums all across the country, John 3: 16! The contrast here is clear: die with the serpent or look to God for healing; have eternal life or perish. It does not get any simpler than this.
But to make sure we get the contrast, John throws in a discussion of light versus darkness and judgment versus salvation = eternal life, which at its simplest means life lived with God, healed and whole.
All indications are that John, Nicodemus (who begins this little dialogue in chapter 3), Moses, the assembled mob in the wilderness, Paul and the Ephesians all know all there is to know about the troubles of this world.
The sin in the wilderness is “speaking against the Lord.” The sin in Ephesus is “following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath like everyone else.” Not much wiggle room there!
And the sin in the words of Jesus at the time of Nicodemus was that as the Light that is the Life of the world was coming into the world, and “people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light so that their deeds may not be exposed.”
It’s not so difficult to understand what Jesus in John is getting at. Everyday in the news more and more evil is coming to light. The evil has been lurking in the darkness, in the shadows, in board rooms, in derivatives, in credit default swaps, in increasing road rage, in increasing gas and electric cut-offs, in increasing evictions and mortgage foreclosures, in secret prison cells, in the persecution of women and children, on death rows here and around the world, in gluttonous carbon consumption, in just about every corner of God’s green earth, the evil prefers to lurk in the darkness.
The strategy of evil seems to be so much in so many places that no one can keep track of it all. Until. Until it comes to light – exposed – convicted by its own actions.
God has no need to judge. God so loves the world that God only wants to save the world, not condemn it.
It has been like this all week. A friend emailed me wondering why the world is covered by so much darkness and meanness. The mechanic in Catonsville who assured me that the world would be an even darker place without all the priests and nuns and faithful people at prayer shining God’s light in the dark places. And the other mechanic next door who asked me to anoint and lay hands on his knee which had recently been surgically repaired but still hurt like the dickens.
Everyone seeks healing. Everyone seeks some relief. More and more people seek the light. More and more people look to God for healing. John says look up! See him there hanging on the tree – behold the hard wood of the cross on which hung the world’s salvation. Come let us adore him. Look up and live!
The contrast here is clear: die with the serpent or look to God for healing; have eternal life or perish. It does not get any simpler than this- Look up and live!
Even with Paul Harvey recently passed on to the by and by, we know the rest of the story. The earth shook, the veil in the temple was rent from top to bottom, the glory of the Lord has been revealed. Soon we will be through with the trouble of this world as we shine the light in all the dark places and encourage every man, woman and child to come to the light and find eternal life!
Soon I will be done with the trouble of this world
I’m goin home to be with God
Die with the serpent, or look up and live
God so loved that world that he gave us His Son
There’ll be no more weeping and wailin’
I’m gonna see my momma and poppa
We’re gonna see our sisters and brothers
We’re going home to be with God
Soon we will be done with the trouble of this world