Trinity News and Sermons

2015/3/15 Sermon Bullets

The lessons are Numbers 21:4-9 & John 3:14-21

  • I am indebted to my colleague, Pastor Heidi Neumark for the inspiration for this sermon. She preached at the Metro NY Synod’s Justice and Reconciliation worship in late January on our Old Testament lesson.  Truly one of the finest sermons I have heard in a very long time.
  • This story of the children of Israel in the desert and the snakes is a fascinating one. They had already been given grace through the gift of manna, but they keep wandering in the desert as if they have lost their way.
  • One theologian said it took longer to get slavery out of the children than it did to get the children out of slavery. After 400 years in bondage, they were, perhaps, not ready for the freedom and responsibility that was theirs once they entered the Promised Land – the Land given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
  • Even having the gift of freedom (in the desert, I’ll grant you!) and the food from heaven, they complain. They spoke against God and Moses: “Why have you brought us out here to die?!”
  • Pastor Neumark says, “They became impatient, and another translation states discouraged. . . Can you blame them? They were heading somewhere without getting anywhere, and it seemed that neither Moses nor God had their back. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, here come the snakes, sinking their poisonous teeth into the worn out legs of a worn out people. . . . Help us! they cry.  Do something!  Get rid of these snakes!”
  • Pastor Neumark says that the snakes are the consequence of their sin, their impatience and railing against God – perhaps their lack of faith in the One who was fulfilling promises – just not at the speed and in the way they expected! She says, “The wily serpent comes to poison the trust between God and people, between one person and another.”
  • Then God tells Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. When the people get bitten, they will look at this symbol and will live.
  • This is my favorite part of Pastor Neumark’s sermon: “Now this is not at all what the people wanted.  They wanted God to get rid of the snakes. . .  After the venom is flowing through their system attacking their vital organs, breaking the body down, THEN if they look at the bronze snake, they will live. . . . Wouldn’t it be better to not be bitten in the first place?”
  • And that is our situation often. God, just take away our sin.  And make us so we don’t sin ever again.  Keep us holy.  Let us always focus on you. You are in control.  Just get rid of this sin business once and for all and we can live in peace!
  • We are not robots. We are not puppets for the Great Puppet Master to move in his own fashion.
  • We are children – created to love and serve. Unfortunately, we are sick (with the venom) of our own self-centeredness.  We are incapable of loving God above all else and loving and serving others before our own needs.  We are Sinners.
  • Pastor Neumark tell us to FACE THE SNAKES. We need to acknowledge what is biting us.  God knows what is wrong with us, but we don’t want to acknowledge it. Our sin makes us ever more sick.  “The effects of poisonous snake-bite include blurred vision, weakness, numbness and paralysis.”  Doesn’t that describe our sinful condition?
  • Our snake-bitten ancestors in the first lesson give witness to some very Good News, for them and for us!
  • “They discovered that when you face the snake, you find yourself facing God. God was right in the mist of what was biting them.  God was right there in the middle of the attack with the anti-venom.  Right where they thought was only poison, pain and death, there was God with power to heal and save.”
  • Hear the words of Jesus in our gospel lesson: Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.  “When we see Jesus lifted on the cross, with nails biting into his arms and legs, we never again need to face what’s wrong with us and what’s wrong around us, without seeing at the same time what’s right in us and what’s right around us and above us and below us.  It is the love of God.  For God so loved the world.”
  • God sent the Son not to condemn the world, but to save it. To save us.  Even from our sinful selves.  Jesus is the anti-venom to that which would destroy us.
  • Rather than taking away our capacity for sin, God in Christ provides the healing. We look to him, to his empty cross and find life itself.