Homily preached by Br. Luke at Maroubra on Sunday 15th March 2015:
Fourth Sunday in Lent year B
Gospel John 3:14-21
I don't think there is any truth to the rumour that the Israelites wandered around the desert for 40 years because Moses wouldn’t ask for directions. I think we all know that isn't true. I think the reason why they wandered around the desert is because they wouldn't do what they were told. And we hear time and time again, and I know this is going to sound horrible, but we hear time and time again how much they whinged and complained, they moan and groan and b* and carry on .
And here they are, complaining – the people spoke against God and against Moses and so God said “Alright! I’ll fix them this time!” I’ll send them dangerous serpents and they’ll get bitten.
Now, living in Australia, as we know, of the 10 most deadly creatures in the world, 8 of them live in this Country, so we are quite used to dangerous animals but wandering around in the desert as they were, it was new to them so they got bitten.
What strikes me as interesting in this passage is that God did not do as they asked – they said to Moses : “ Ask God to take the serpents away” He didn’t, He left them there, what He did was He offered them a method of salvation which was the bronze serpent on the pole. So you looked at the serpent and you were healed – He didn’t do what they asked, He answered their prayer but not in the way they expected. And that is something we know, don’t we, we pray and get answers to prayers but not at all in the way we had expected.
The reason we have this passage today is because Jesus was hung up on the cross up high where everyone could see him. The serpent was up high where everyone could see it; so the serpent was a means of salvation for the Hebrews as they wandered along the desert and got bitten.
Christ is the means of salvation for us. Now, we don’t look at the Cross to be healed but we have to go through a process of seeking forgiveness but the principle is the same, God has provided a means of salvation to us. For the Hebrews from the poison of the snake, for us from our sins through the salvation of Christ.
That brings me to John which is the gospel for today and I have to say that these passages in John are some of my favourites in John, especially John 3 verse 16
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,”
You might hear me saying it, and you might get sick of me saying it ‘that the message of the gospel is LOVE.’ And John says it so clearly in this verse in his Gospel – God so loved the world. There are no grey areas in it, He is acting out of love He is acting out of a sense of care for his creation. For Us, People! We forget that, He didn’t send Jesus to condemn the world, which He could have done – that was Noah, remember, He would have obliterated the world because of the evil, the evil deeds they were doing; He could have sent a plague of Serpents as he did to the Hebrews and they were his chosen people. He didn't, what He did do was He send Christ as the means of salvation for us.
”Those who believe in Him are not condemned”,(John 3:18) something again we forget about, Christ is the means of Salvation He is not here to judge us, He is not here to condemn us; now that may sound like heresy but if you think what we have to go through before we get to the final judgement, where we will be judged because Jesus says He will separate the sheep from the goats. We have to go through that process first, He hasn’t arrived and said you’re doomed, today. Finished and out you go! He could do, if we got bitten by a poisonous snake that is pretty much what would happen but the Salvation comes through Christ and we accept and we have to go through that process of belief, of faith – it’s a Faith journey we need to follow – follow the faith journey and we will get there.
We are in the middle of a State Election at the moment aren’t we yet you would almost never know it is a sort of non-event. When people are doing things that are corrupt, when people are doing things that are wrong it is always done in secret, isn’t it? No. If the brown envelope is going to be passed it is going to be passed under the table, or into the back pocket or the little bag is going to be dropped by the chair and you are going to pick it up and carry it. There is never a blaze of publicity when they are doing something like corruption or something they shouldn’t be doing. So they do it in secret, it is done, as John says in that Gospel Passage “it is done in darkness”
People who are doing evil they do it in darkness, they don’t go “ O LOOK WHAT I AM ABOUT TO DO” and put a big flag and sign up and say “ O,LOOK AT THIS I AM CORRUPT” – they do it in darkness! And that is what St. John means when he says ‘and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19), they are doing it in the dark because they don't want to be seen, they don't want to be found out.
Christ is the Light of the world, when you follow Christ and when you follow Christ’s commandments, you have no option, really, but to do it in the light because if you are going to do evil then you can’t follow Christ. If you are going to do evil you are not acting in a sense of love because Love and Evil are not the same thing, they are not compatible, they are diametrically opposed to each other – If you love somebody you don’t do them evil.
“ But those who do what is true come to the light , so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds are done in God” ( John 3:21)
Christ says to us that there are two Commandments: ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’(Matthew 22:27-40 NRSV) That’s what he replied when he was asked what the great commandments were.
We hear that echo in St. John’s passage – “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through Him. It is a repeat of that whole passage thing that says Love, Compassion, and Tolerance.
Now that doesn't mean that Jesus was meek, mild and gentle, it doesn't mean he was the chocolate box top Jesus, you know the one that always looks so angelic and would never do anything to harm anybody. Well last week he was taking to people with a whip that is not the deed of a meek, mild, type person that is someone who is showing some anger, some fury at how the people were being mistreated by the Temple, that was an angry Jesus dispersing the injustice of the Temple – but His deeds were not done in darkness. His deed was done in the Light because remember what St. John says – their deeds can be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. So even when Jesus is acting in righteous anger and is clearing the Temple of the evil being performed there in the fact that they were ripping off the people he is doing it in the light he is not hiding away in the dark.
So when we think about the Serpent on the bronze pole …
Digress for one second.
There are people who think they can find evidence of Biblical things like Noah’s Ark, I think there is a man who says he has found it. There is an American man out there who thinks he has found the Ark of the Covenant buried under Temple mount. The Ethiopians will tell you they have got it in one of their little temples but you can’t go in to it because it is not allowed. People go looking for the archaeology of the Bible but I haven’t heard of anyone going looking for the Bronze Serpent though. But I wonder that if the Drug Companies found it that it wouldn't stay lost forever? I can’t imagine that the Drug Companies would just want people looking at the Bronze Serpent and getting healed. There will be no money for them and I suspect that they will be taking the bronze serpent and putting it in a box somewhere – and what will they be doing?
THEY WILL BE DOING THAT DEED IN THE DARK! They won't be doing that deed in the light because how will they make money out of that?
Remember that we are taking about the Covenants made with Abraham the covenants made with the people on Sinai, about the Covenant that was made with us through Christ.
In the old days the covenants were marked by a blood sacrifice, you sacrifice an animal you set it aside, you chop it in half and you walk up and down the middle of it; you and the people making the Covenant both walk up and down that middle of it and that makes the covenant valid.
Remember when He made a covenant with Abraham God walked up and down the path between the animals twice, the Scriptures says that a smoking fire pot went up and down twice. God was making the covenant with Abraham because what He said to Abraham was “I will make a covenant with you and even if you break the covenant then I will keep the covenant” so he undertook to pay for the Blood Sacrifice because that would happen, if you broke a blood covenant you had to pay for it with blood. That’s how it works, right? So, when the covenant was broken and we broke the covenant and not God, when we broke the covenant by not following God’s Law God said “O.K. so you have broken the covenant but I still will honour the covenant I made with you, Christ will come, I will come as Christ and I will atone through blood.”
That is why Christ dies on the cross because he is atoning for the blood Covenant God made with Abraham, why is He doing that? Because He loved the world, it is not an act of condemnation or punishment it is an act of Love – strange to think which is why you hear me at Easter the Cross in an object of Love not torture and death.
Recorded and transcribed by br. Andrew at Maroubra