Sermon for 4th Sunday in Lent – Year B – 2015
The Healing Cross
Our three portions of Scripture point us in a common direction, towards the human predicament and God’s answer to it.
When we consider our own lives, let alone the whole world, we may have many views on the nature of the human predicament, but whatever we see out there has a common source, one with which we are all familiar – our failure to Love God with all we have and all we are and our neighbours as ourselves. This failure is in the end a failure of belief. To believe in Jesus is to accept his diagnosis of our condition and to come to him for our healing.
Part of our particular difficulty in this regard is because we live in an age which, even within the church, divides out the Spiritual and the Material or Physical. So our faith only applies to certain areas of life. We see this in the Church – here in our Diocese the Church is on its knees, at least metaphorically, and we wonder what is to be done. But rather than Believe in Jesus, turn to Him in repentance and Faith and Prayer, we try to fix structures, or find money, or have initiatives, none of which address the Source of our problems, that of unbelief.
For most of us most of the time, our hearts and minds are far from God. We in our pride, buttressed by confidence in our modern technological triumph over God’s Creation, which has brought it to its knees, think we can pretty much fix things ourselves. But the problem is this. We are like blind Guides. We do not see the Spiritual depth of our predicament, many for example barely think Church in any sense necessary. We think despite all the evidence to the contrary that the world is full of people of good will and we can fix it all ourselves thank you very much. We think we can get on without God, even in the Church.
The children of Israel had been rescued from Slavery in Egypt by a God who was pretty much unknown to them. They’d been there 400 years and the old stories of the patriarchs, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were but dim memories, so that as Exodus records, when they cry out under their suffering, they do not even cry out to God, they just Cry out. (Would many in the Church today know with Confidence to whom it was they cried out?)
The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob is all but unknown to them. And so as God in his love and mercy leads them out of slavery, he takes them into the wilderness there to learn that their lives are Gift and come from Him, that He is their life, that apart from Him they have no good thing, just slavery and death.
Certainly it would benefit us much in the Diocese were we just to spend the next year meditating upon that truth, God, made known to us in Jesus Christ, is our Life – apart from him we are nothing, apart from Him we have nothing, apart from Him, all our deeds are as nothing worth.
Here we are in Lent, which takes us back to the context of the wilderness that they and we must learn, and as we hear today, they like us prefer life on their own terms, so they turn against God, they turn against Life – and so snakes are sent amongst them, because turning from Life, all is death. Which explains why Moses is instructed to make a dead snake, a copper snake, a snake with no life and hold it before them. They need to see and believe that God has the power to conquer death. They see there death defeated, and believing, they are healed.
They have passed from death to Life – and so have we. As St Paul puts it – ‘You were dead through 9those deadly snakes of ) the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of the world’ – living pretty much as everyone else around you lived – and thus ‘following the ruler of the power of the air, the Spirit which is at work amongst those who are disobedient.’ He goes on to tell of our deadly predicament ‘in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of our senses, by nature children of wrath’ Why did we then not share all we had with all who are in need? Because we were held captive by fear which fed our our own desires for safety, for comfort, for life that was no life at all – what we might call ‘ordinary life’ which is under the judgement of God in Jesus Christ.
Of course, even though we have set out on the path of following Jesus, which we call being Christian, we too fall prey to those desires once more. It is all too easy to sit back and say, ‘well, the world’s not all that bad a place. People are pretty good really . . .’ and to find ourselves also back in slavery to fear and our own desires
Last week one of the youngsters on our confirmation course suddenly piped up ‘I’ve just had a thought! If everyone loved one another, there would be no need for money’. Just let that thought sink in for a moment. If everyone loved everyone, there would be no need for money – everything would like the Life of God which would be revealed, everything would be Gift. Think how different that world would look. Then think again about our evaluation of the world . . .
Paul having painted the picture of our predicament then goes on with two of his favourite words . . .‘But God . . .’ Israel was in slavery in Egypt, facing death daily, ‘But God . . .’ You were dead in sin and trespass ‘But God . . .’ God’s alternative reality is so Different, that in the midst of our stories of sin and suffering and death, His Word is like the most dramatic full Stop. All of a sudden in utter darkness there is a blinding light, Israel is rescued from out of the hand of Pharaoh, and we too experience God’s refusal to allow darkness to triumph in the life of his children . . ‘But God, who is rich in mercy,out of his great love with which he loved us even when were were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ’.
Jesus is the one who by death tramples down death. When we look to the Son of Man lifted up from the earth in Faith we see our truest healing. He is the One who takes upon himself all that keeps us from God, all our disobedience, all our contentment with that which does not give life, all our lack of Love for God and one another and takes it to the grave where it belongs, so that we who in truth do not belong there might be set free to Love God with all we have and all we are, and to Love our neighbours as ourselves, and, who knows, perhaps to live such a life together as the people of God that we begin to do away with our slavery to money . . .
For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through HIm might be Saved
Glory to Jesus Christ
Glory for Ever