Sermon for March 14, 2021 Fourth of Lent “Focusing our Gaze”
What’s for supper? I am sure we have heard that question over and over. Or we have asked ourselves the same question. What if the answer was quail and Manna? Not just on Monday but every day and for decades. It is not hard to imagine why the people of Israel complained. There were times when I sure they dreamed of a culinary and wine tour but for the time being the people were fleeing captivity, learning valuable lessons about God and creeping ever so closer to the promised land, all while wandering in the desert.
Without notice God sent poisonous serpents and when bitten you would die. It did not take long for the people to remember again the purpose of the trip. God asked Moses to fashion a bronze serpent and wrap it around a pole and hold it up so that whoever gazed upon it would live. All that was necessary is that the people of Israel focus their gaze on the serpent on a stick and they would be healed.
Whether from this story or ancient Greek mythology, the serpent on a stick is featured on the World Health Organization’s flag and is the center piece of the Star of Life that denotes ambulances. The Caduceus has two snakes often with wings and represents the medical professions. Nevertheless, when we see these symbols there is hope for healing and life. Certainly a shift in focus from the evil serpent we remember from the first garden. It is also a Segway from the wilderness travels of the people of Israel to Jesus, all within the purview of; ‘God so loved the world…’
John 3:16 is so well know, and so misunderstood, so clichéd that it is hard to crack open the nuances and great truths contained in this short text. Paul Shupe writes on this text;
“For God so loved the world…It is possible to read the whole of scripture, from the creation to the eschaton, as God’s love story for the world. It was, after all. Love that stirred God’s heart at the pleading of the slaves in Egypt, and love that offered them both the guidance of the law and the security of the promised land. Thereafter, whenever inequality or injustice threatened the welfare of the poor and the powerless (and therefore the whole people), God’s love raised up prophets who declared God’s desire for compassion-shown not just to insiders, but also to sojourners and foreigners within the boundaries of Israel. It was divine love, stronger than well-deserved judgement that carried Israel during the time of exile, and the love of God that was celebrated with the psalms of adoration in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. It was God’s love that sent Jesus, God’s Son, to be incarnate in the world, where he taught that love is not merely for those who look and think and believe like us, but even for our enemies and those who persecute us. I was love that stirred the first century church to open the doors of communion not only to Jews but also to Gentiles, whose very existence was troubling: the lame, the blind the eunuchs.”
God loves the world in this way, that as you cast your gaze to Jesus and open your heart to Jesus’ gaze, you will be in the realm of love and you will begin the long journey from how you are now toward being a new person in Jesus. This is challenging for the scholars and a stumbling block to the well-entrenched and Holy Mystery to everyone. How are we then to live into faith and grace? The answer has been debated, hotly debated, much ink has been put to paper and even in the 21st century we are really not much wiser. From Genesis to Revelation the relationship between God’s grace and human faith is one of mutual interaction. The precise character of the relationship is elusive, not because it is vague, but because it probes the core of the truth about God’s relationship with humankind. This Holy mystery is not to confound or confuse but rather an invitation, for the more we know the more we realize there is more to be known.
For God so loved the world (you, me, everyone and all creation) that God sent Jesus so that through him we might know the depth and breadth of God’s love. One way of looking at it is that, no matter where we look we see God and Jesus; in the good…calling us to better, in the ugly…calling us to loving action. Perhaps that is why Jesus keeps repeating; if you have eyes to see…see, and if you have ears to hear…hear. This way of being takes years/decades of practice so we start with smaller images, smaller prayers, smaller actions that focus our gaze. Then we can live into the big image where all are one in God and Jesus.