Readings: Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:1-21
We began Lent with a sermon series called “Hope and Resurrection” that will look at various ways our Lenten journey moves us through the wilderness of life towards the hope of the Good Friday cross and the Easter resurrection.
Lent is often a time of self-reflection and a time to acknowledge our wrongdoings. It is also a time to focus on the strengths God has given us to understand and overcome our weaknesses we've put upon ourselves. Over the centuries, this kind of introspective reflection has lead many to repentance and then to baptism, a ritual that was originally observed only on Easter.
Today B. and K. began their Lenten journey with baptism, much like Jesus did when he was lead out into the wilderness for 40 days...to fast and prepare his ministry. Both mother and son have been on a long, spiritual journey of their own; confronting some pretty tough challenges along the way.
As we take inventory of our own lives, we too will learn that Lent is a time to be challenged...To push ourselves to mature spiritually, and heal from our brokenness. I'd like to direct your attention to the special pitcher I used at the font. My beautiful wife Kathleen gave it to me for Christmas this year. It is also a perfect example of an ancient art form called Kintsugi.
In Japanese the word “Kintsugi,” literally means “golden joinery.” It’s a particular art form where the artist repairs broken pottery with a special lacquer that had been mixed with gold. The result is a new object that is more beautiful for having been repaired. There is wonderful history behind this technique, but the one thing I’d like to point out is this: We are broken people. We are the broken vessels. Many of us might think we are no better than trash...But God is the artist who sees our worth and gives us Christ Jesus...the gold that bonds us back together. In the end, we are worth more and are more beautiful simply because of our golden cracks.
In his book A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemmingway writes, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” Such a strong statement to come from a man whose strength would become his crippling weakness. Hemmingway’s suicide is a real reminder that life is hard. And it’s darn near impossible to get through it without suffering a few cracks along the way. The children of Israel would discover this time and time again.
After Moses led the people out of slavery in Egypt, they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years. Day after day they would trample around the grassy plains...not really sure where God was leading them. But when they got thirsty, God gave them water. When they were hungry God gave them manna, a substance which literally means “What is this?” I imagine eating the same thing every day gets old quick. No wonder they began to grumble.
Having been thrusted into a new world God's people begin to crack, they break down. They have trouble understanding this new way of life. There are new rules and new ways to worship God who seems to be marching them to their death. They can't take much more. Living with uncertainty is too much for them. And the manna seems to be the breaking point. It doesn’t take long for them to demand to go back to the way it used to be. They’d rather be enslaved in Egypt than live in the freedom that God gives. That’s crazy, right?
Remember that for the last 430 years slavery is all they knew. And this wasn’t easy work either. For 430 years they made bricks...seven days a week, 365 days a year, brick after brick. Every day they had impossible quotas to fill...if they did not make it they would be severely beaten. God heard their cries and rescued them from their pain and suffering. And yet this is what they would rather go back to?
How many of us would do the same thing? Who would rather face the devil you know than face the unknown? We humans don’t like being in the wilderness. It makes us uncomfortable. We like things in their proper place. We like to know where we're supposed to go and what we're supposed to do. We don't thrive in ambiguity. And we certainly don’t like it when life is hard and breaks us. Our heart yearns for the good old days and we get nostalgic...which blinds us from seeing the hope for a better future.
When things don’t go as expected, it doesn't surprise me that God gets an earful. That's just how we treat the one who gives and gives and gives. But when their whining and complaining gets to be too much, God sends a pack of poisonous snakes to teach them a lesson or two. The people beg Moses to intercede and ask God for mercy. Moses does, and God gives in. And this is when it really gets strange...God tells Moses to build a bronze snake and lift high on a pole. God then says anyone who looks at it will be cured, ...even those who are dead will come back to life. The people faithfully obey, and all is well for the time being. There will be more complaints and grumblings, but for now it's a happy ending.
The hardships of the wilderness will crack and break us, But let us never lose sight that God always has a way of healing and making us new again. I find it interesting that the logo for the American Medical Association is similar to the image in this story. It is a great reminder that sometimes our flesh and bones have to be ripped open or broken before we can be made right again. Life breaks us but then it makes us stronger.
Out there in the wilderness we see the echoes of the larger story of salvation. Like the bronze snake, Jesus too will be lifted up. And all who fix their eyes upon Christ will be healed and renewed. Through Christ's resurrection we live in the hope that we too will be raised from the dead, and live forever in God’s glory. Therefore Lent is a time to reflect on our own wilderness journey, and as Jesus pointed out to Nicodemus...to experience a spiritual rebirth. Lent is a time to look at our complaints and fears, and bring them to the cross of Christ.
For me, the season of Lent is most meaningful, because in our fasting we must faithfully rely on God’s strengthening bond. This is a time I wrestle with the hard things of life that break me down... a time I walk faithfully with Jesus and expose my inner darkness in his glorious light. What is it for you?
Our Lenten journeys always move us to Good Friday where we all will bear the sadness of the cross. It is here, where pain and love mingle together like broken ceramic and gold. It is at the cross we lift up our eyes to the hope of Easter morning, where all of life is reborn.
There is truth to Hemmingway’s point. The path to our redemption is coated in pain and suffering. What we learn from this morning's text is that...the cure for the snake is a snake. The cure for cure for death is death. The cure for all of human life is one man’s life. Let us never lose sight that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are healed and renewed. Being broken is an unavoidable part of living in the wilderness of life. But through Christ Jesus, our golden scars become a new story with a new history.
Because of his sacrifice, we become something more beautiful, and more valuable. The goal is not to hide our scars or pretend that our broken places never existed. The goal is to wear them proudly knowing each scar is a testimony of God's divine grace at work in our lives.
Because of the cross, the bond between creation and our creator becomes not only stronger but more valuable because of the break itself. And the broken pieces that society would rather throw away...now gets a whole new life.
(Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Taylor, Kimberly Long; ed. Feasting on the Word, Lenten Companion. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville. 2014.)
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”