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Posts Tagged ‘Sermon on Numbers 21:4-9’

The pendentive of the Brazen serpent with its ...

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The Hebrew Bible lesson for the fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B, is a vivid one: Numbers 21:4-9, and it’s alluded to in the gospel lesson from John 3.  As a child I thought it was one of creepiest stories in the Bible.  Actually, I still think it’s pretty creepy.  Here’s a sermon I wrote years ago on this text.

Why We Don’t Have to Be Afraid of Snakes

A Sermon on Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-17

When I was a child, our church had an illustrated Bible storybook for children.  I have forgotten most of the pictures, but there was one picture that I remember vividly.  It showed the people of Israel being attacked by snakes in the wilderness.  As they struggled on towards the Promised Land, poisonous snakes in all different sizes and colors prowled around the Israelite caravan, terrorized them, bit them, and killed them.  It was a frightening picture.  What a dreadful scene it was!

I can’t think of a more fitting way to picture how dreadful sin is.  Sin lies coiled up like a viper in the selfish corners of the human heart.  It prowls inside and around our caravan as we travel through a snake-infested world.  Sin can strike at any moment, and the poison it injects truly is dreadful.  The ensuing sickness is mortal.  Sin always leads to death, sometimes physical, and always spiritual.  Sin kills trust and faith and hope and love.  It cuts us off from God and from each other.

See what sin has done!  Operating through ignorance, greed and selfishness, it has literally poisoned the environment.  We have let chemicals, trash and all sorts of pollutants fill the waterways, cover the land and thicken the air.  Do we really want to clean it up?

Sin has poisoned communities with distrust, and perhaps even worse, apathy.  As long as me and mine are doing okay, who cares about you and yours?  Sin poisons marriages and families with criticism, defensiveness, hard-headedness, and even contempt.

Sin poisons religion.  Certainly we can see that in twisted cults, whose leaders sometimes lead their followers to death.  But sin also poisons normal religion.  It shows up in a “we’re right, you’re wrong” mentality.  It hides in the hearts of good people, like the religious authorities that had it in for Jesus.  They really thought sin was only a problem for others.  They really thought they were doing the right thing when they conspired to silence to Jesus.  What was it but the powers of darkness when these faithful people reacted so negatively to the mercy and forgiveness and healing that Jesus so freely gave?  Instead of celebrating the grace of Jesus, they conspired to stamp it out.

Sin poisons the human heart, snuffing out love and fanning the flames of negativism.  It’s sin behind that sense of power we feel when we get wrapped up in criticism and complaining.

Sin strikes in so many hidden ways.  It robs us of joy, makes us feel powerless, inferior, incapable.  It even makes us doubt whether God actually has our best interests at heart.

After God brought Israel out of Egypt, after all that time in the wilderness when God sustained the people day by day, they still complained that God had brought them out, only to kill them in the wilderness. The Israelites recognized that the poisonous serpents were a result of their sin.  They cried out, “Moses!  We know we have sinned against God and against you.  Pray to God to take these horrible snakes away!”

Deliver us from evil is our prayer week after week.  Do something, God!  Stop the violence!  Stop the danger and the fear!  Stop the damage!  Deliver us from poisonous serpents!” (more…)

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