First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine
Rev. Kate Dalton
November 25, 2018
Scripture: Numbers 17:1-13; 21:1-14 John 3:10-14
Poisonous Snakes that are biting us today? What do you think is happening in the world because we are disregarding the sacredness of God’s creation and the forgetting that our call is to serve God not ourselves.
The people brought the judgment upon themselves. What if we think of their suffering as a direct result of their disobedience instead of an intervention by God?
The cure to the snakes represents obedience to God. If people are willing to turn back towards God they can be saved. The John passage refers back to this with regards to Jesus crucifixion. People must turn towards Jesus to be saved.
What does Jesus crucifixion save us from? Perhaps fear. Fear leads us to protect ourselves without regards to the greater good. Jesus showed a different way. Jesus did not let fear dictate his actions.
Fear, of course, is our natural instinct. I’ll let you figure out how that fits if we believe we are created by God. I suppose some might argue that fear comes into play as a result of the fall, as a result of turning away from God. Jesus reminds us of a different way – but it is no longer a natural way for us.
We recently had a meeting to talk about safety planning for First Parish and we were joined by a Yarmouth Police officer. He explained to us that you never know how someone will react in an emergency. People seem to be pre-wired at birth as to whether their response will be to flee, freeze, or fight. But public safety officials receive training to overcome that wiring so that they can do their job. They have to learn how to overcome their instincts so that they can calmly respond in an emergency.
This morning’s readings remind us that we too have to learn to overcome our instincts. We have to resist turning inward. We have to resist focusing only on our own self-preservation. Jesus models for us what it means to follow God. And so, if we look up at Jesus on the cross, we can reconnect to God. When we understand what the cross means. Jesus so embodied God’s ways, that he did not flee or fight back when the authorities came for him.
If you think about it, it’s scary that the cross is a symbol of what it means to follow God. None of us wants to be a martyr. And yet, we must also remember the flip side of what comes when we follow God. There is a freedom and a fullness to life that does not exist when we turn away. We miss out on all there is to experience – much like the Israelites. Instead of focusing on what was possible they focused on what was missing. They grumbled at Moses. They grumbled at God. And the commentaries say they brought judgment upon themselves. Perhaps it’s not God causing them to suffer, but they are actually causing themselves to suffer by turning away from God.
Of course, snakes suddenly appearing and killing them seems a bit extreme. How could they cause that themselves? And the antidote is even odder. It harkens to superstitions of the time. But what if we think of the snakes metaphorically? And what if what saves the people is not the actual serpent on the staff, but the fact that they were willing to look at it. That they were willing to turn back towards God?
That made me wonder, what are the snakes that appear in our world today? What is killing us because we fail to look towards God?