The Rev. Anne MacNabb
I need to begin by saying that we need to do a better job of decided who preaches when, because by all rights, Rob should have this sermon… after all – he loves snakes and it’s not like they are a sermon topic very often. Although, we must admit that given today’s text I’m not sure I’d like the shenanigan’s that would go along with whatever sermon he’d preach.. so here we go.
Jesus said to Nicodemus, "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.”
Jesus is obviously making a reference to today’s Old Testament reading. The Israelites had been rescued from slavery under Pharoah and were wandering in the wilderness. When they had come out of Egypt and fled pharaoh at night and escaped across the Red Sea, it is probably fair to assume that the Israelites had certain expectations. At first, they were probably so happy to be out from under Pharoah they were happy to just be safe and free. And then the reality of their circumstances came to light. They were in a wilderness. For a long time. They were sick of it, their living situation and the lack of food and water. They were looking for a promised land, a land of milk and honey, a land of plenty where they could flourish as a people… a free people. Instead, they had this. Dust. Dirt. Bad food. Little water. Their high hopes and expectations were totally dashed. They were tired, and they wanted out. What happens? Snakes… and lots of them, and of the poisonous variety. You’ll be happy to know we are not having a live demonstration of that this morning… Rob isn’t preaching…
Needless to say, what the Israelites thought was going to happen didn’t happen. Not only that the paradise they thought they were going to was a LONG way off and they didn’t like the life they were living. Their expectations had not been met.
How often has that happened to us? How often have our hopes and expectations led us to disappointment? We all have disappointments in life. We all have hopes and dreams that have not been met, but even moreso,, we’ve entered relationships with high hopes, relationships that, in the beginning seemed good, healthy and life-giving. And then as time goes by, something happens. Maybe it isn’t one big event but a series of small events that happen and things begin to change. The happy relationship we had grows into something stressful, disappointing and just plain heart-breaking. This can be any kind of relationship – a relationship with a spouse, a sibling, a friend, a child… or even relationship with God.
When these things happen how do we handle it? Well the first and best way to handle it is through prevention – remember that old saying ? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s absolutely true – if we take care of the small things as they happen, we are better off because we can possibly prevent the major things from happening down the road. If we see little things start to slip in our relationships, little changes, little disappointments, we need to be courageous enough to address them. Most of us arent’, so most of us don’t. Remember, we have high expectations, so if we admit there is a problem, we already are disappointed. We usually don’t want to admit anything has happened, so we justify, we explain away, we say “we’ll note that for later but hopefully this is a one time incident.” So we justify our avoidance of the situation. We start keeping score. What they did, how we felt, and now, how many times has this happened.
But if we just faced that small disappointment and talked through it with the other person and clarified why it happened and how we felt about it, we may be able to avoid such things again in the future.
So what do we do when we don’t deal with it on the front end – things keep happening, disappointments add up and we find ourselves in the situation where we don’t want to be – hopeless and dejected and lost. It’s usually at this point that we pray – you know the prayer – it’s usually formulated out of desperation and it goes something like this – “God, help. I don’t know what to do here. This is bad and I need you to fix this, because I can’t. Amen.” We’ve all been there. We come desperate before God and we pray and out of those prayers we build hope again – hope that WE define, that WE now EXPECT God to “fix” whatever is wrong in the way that we want it fixed… and if THAT doesn’t happen, we are then disappointed again and now our opponent in this keeping score game is God. Then where do we turn?
Let’s look again at today’s scripture.
The Israelites ask Moses to ask God to take the snakes away. Does God do that? NO! He creates a means by which those bitten will no longer die or suffer – they have to look at this staff with a snake on it (doesn’t this call to mind the medical symbol with the winged staff with 2 snakes on it?) . The point though, is that God didn’t take away the thing causing them harm, he only provided a way to be healed – and that way was to look for that which he provided – to look to him.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus refers to himself as being lifted up “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.” If people want healing they need to turn and look at Jesus. He is the source of all healing. The healing and relief we receive may not be exactly what we want – he may not take away the snake – but he will provide a way to be healed from the bite.
How does this work in practice. Well, we need to be open to what God would do in our relationships. Rather than us keeping score on how we’ve been hurt, our prayers need to be about perspective, understanding and a change of heart. The best case scenario in this is to pray with the person with whom you are having an issue. If you pray together and open yourselves up before God, I can guarantee a change in your strained relationship. If praying with the person is not an option then there are 2 prayers for you to say:
- Pray for yourself to be open. For God to show you the heart of the other, for you to find understanding and healing from the situation.
- Pray for the other person. Pray for them to be open and for them to find understanding and healing from the situation.
If you pray for God to “change him” or “fix her” I can guarantee you that won’t happen. If you pray for understanding, healing I can guarantee you that at a minimum you will find peace in the midst of the situation. It may not be the healing you were looking for – the snakes may not be taken away – but you can find a cure for the bite. And the cure is Jesus.
Let us pray: Lord, we all have disappointments in our lives. So often we are guilty of keeping score, so often we focus on our hurt that we can’t find the healing we so desperately need. Change our hearts Lord to be the people you created us to be. Help us to see our loved ones with your eyes and act in these situations in ways that will bring healing and wholeness, where hope can be restored and joy can remain. Amen.