Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Snake Bitten!

Have you ever been snake bitten?
Not literally bitten by a snake, but felt paralyzed by events in your life.
Have you ever felt fear that made you unable to move, to act, to make progress in your life?
This is what sin does to our lives.
It paralyzes us and makes us unable to move ahead, to make decisions that are good and positive.
It is what the Israelites are experiencing in our reading this morning.
They are so consumed with what they lack that they forget what they have.
They forget that it was God who saved them from slavery and bondage in Egypt.
They are so fearful that they will not get to the Promised Land.
If we live in fear we are often unable to see what God is doing, and what needs to be done.

I will admit that this story from the Bible is a challenging one.
We have to wrestle with the idea that God sends snakes to bite and kill his people.
I would like to make a couple of observations.
One God does not directly harm anyone.
It is a small point, but an important distinction.
Two, I can completely understand what God does here.
It comes from being a parent.
Nothing annoys me more than when my kids act like spoiled entitled brats.
They just had a birthday and gotten tons of presents. (More than I got when I was a kid.)
And the next day they want something else.
The presents they got are not good enough.
They seem to forget all too quickly what they had been given.
That is what is happening in this scene.
God has already sent manna, water, and quail.
The people complained they were thirsty.
So God made water flow from a rock in the desert.
The people complain that they are hungry.
God made bread fall from the heavens.
The people complained that the bread wasn’t good enough.
God made quail fall from the sky so they could eat.
And here they are after all that still complaining that it is not good enough.
I can totally understand God’s actions.
You know we are quick to point out God’s actions and totally forget the sin that is committed in order to make the action happen.

That might help you with this story or not, but for me God actions makes sense within the context of the relationship he has with the people of Israel.
But the next part is what is so amazing.
God gives a way out.
God offers a way for people to be saved.
Simply look at the pole with the snake and you will be saved.
Notice God does not remove the snakes, but offers a way out.

This whole story is then reinterpreted in the Gospel of John.
Jesus becomes the saving agent.
We will be snake bitten.
We will sin.
We will complain that we don’t have enough.
We will be selfish.
But, if you want a way out, look towards Jesus.
Jesus is our way out, our way forward.

If you are in a situation in your life that paralyzes you, makes you afraid, makes you wonder about the fairness of the world, then look towards Jesus.
In Jesus you will find your answer.
In Jesus you will find you way forward.
In Jesus you will be healed of your snake bite and be allowed to live again.

It might sound too simplistic.
I mean we find ourselves in pretty complicated situations.
Life can be complicated.
The answers that we seek are not always very obvious.
Sin is hard to untangle.
Does Jesus have all the answers?
Most of my week is filled with untangling sin.
Not in some superficial theological way, but in the very real life of people’s existence.
What I see are people snake bitten, people who are lost in sin.
The parents who are disappointed by life and so they take it out on their kids.
The young married couple fighting all the time because they are both to stubborn to compromise.
The regret of someone who feels they have wasted their life, the single person who doesn’t like their job, the wife who cheated on her husband, the person who cheated someone else out of money and just got out of prison.
The husband dealing with regret that he wasn’t better of a man, the homeless person who can’t break the cycle, real life in all of its complication and brokenness.
Once in a great while there are practical solutions.
Most of the time what is needed is a spiritual solution.
Most of the time what is required is a real searching of our soul.
And then there is God who offers us a way out if we only look in the right direction.

If we only look towards Jesus Christ we can stop being snake bitten.
If we only admit our sin and failure and ask for forgiveness God is willing and able to offer it, to give it.
Are we willing to look in that direction?

I once had a woman come to me who was in an abusive relationship.
It was one of the harder things I had to deal with as a pastor.
It was one of those things they just don’t prepare you for in seminary.
The worse thing about it was that she blamed herself.
She was too bossy, too demanding.
Maybe if she just backed off things would be better.
The practical answer was that she should leave him.
She had not sinned but the sin of her husband was breaking the marriage vows.
But that had all sorts of consequences that at this time she was not willing to deal with.

She was snake bitten, not by her sin but by the sin of someone else.
It caused her to get lost in her fear, shame, and feelings that she was worthless.
What helped was the spiritual answer.
God did not want this for her life.
God did not desire for her to be hit.
She needed courage, conviction.
I could sense that what was at the heart was a real loss of her own self worth.
This too can be a spiritual wilderness for us.
To somehow undervalue our self worth makes us broken people.
To deny what God wants from us leads to despair.
Could she see that in her life?
Could she turn to the God who lifted up Jesus for her, a God who loved and cared about her beyond her own limits to love herself.

That is really the question that we all have to struggle with this morning.
Can we see beyond the snake bite, beyond our shame, and inadequacy to what God lifts before us?
Can you?
Even in the face of death can we see beyond that limited human life to something even greater in store.
Jesus is lifted up on the cross for us, but also beyond that to his resurrection and ascension.
Jesus might not answer every question, but Jesus gives us the answer to the biggest questions.

Are we worthy?
Yes, you are because God so loved you to give you a way out.
Are we forgiven?
Yes, because God loved us enough to send his only son to offer forgiveness.
Are we loved?
Yes, by a God who dwelt in this world filled with darkness God offers us light.
Is there a way to cure the snake bite?
Yes, by looking God who gives true life.
As we here today let us look to God to save us from our snake bites.

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