23 March 2011

Homily for Evening Prayer of Lent 2

Uncovered Cure: Look and Live

Impatient! The people grew impatient—impatient with the way God was leading them.  If only He would get with the program and do it their way!  And so the response was grumbling, complaining, kvetching.  And it’s actually kind of funny:  “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food!”  Wait, I thought there was no food?  Hmm.  He had indeed faithfully led them…and fed them.

The people had first griped about the water.  They were convinced that God had really screwed up.  He’d led them into a dead-end, out in the howling, barren wilderness where there was not a drop to drink.  And then God told Moses to walk out in front of the people and strike a certain rock.  Strike it he did, and the waters gushed and gushed.  Um, no.  God had not misled them; He had led them directly to gushing, overflowing waters—waters enough for all of them to enjoy.  They just didn’t believe it because they couldn’t see it—at least, not at first.

Have you been there?  Have you been griping to the Lord about the way He’s been leading you?  Have you doubted His loving care for you?  Have you wondered if that verse—“all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28)—is just a nice-sounding fairy tale that only a fool could actually believe?  Have you thought that God has led you into your equivalent of the dead end alley?  And have you insulted and rejected the gifts He has given you because they weren’t exactly the ones you wanted Him to give you?  “Manna?  I’m sick of it. If I can't have a filet mignon, at least give me a cheese burger!”

Their griping did not please the Lord.  He thought they needed something to really complain about.  Enter the fiery serpents.  Their bite wasn’t just an irritation, not just an inconvenience, not even something to gripe about over the back yard fence with your neighbor.  No, the bite brought death.  And suddenly everything is put into perspective.  Death can do that.  It sets things in the harsh light of reality.

Faced with death, the people see their sins and they confess:  “We have sinned for we have spoken against the Lord and against you, Moses.”  Here’s a confession brought by terrified hearts—hearts that realize the cold, hard reality: beyond all the journeying of this life, there comes an end, a time for leaving this pilgrim way, a time for facing the One who sits upon the throne—naked, face to face with Him who knows us from the inside out.  And what hope do we have then?

The people beg Moses to pray for them.  He does, and the Lord who is gracious and merciful beyond any of our deserving, He commands one of the oddest things recorded in all of Scripture:  His mercy, His forgiveness, His amnesty of the people’s rebellion and sin. It isn’t just spoken.  It’s spoken and shown.  A promise is made, but that promise is attached to a very physical thing.  Moses is to make an image of that which is killing them, a fiery serpent. He’s to lift it high on a pole, atop a piece of wood.  The promise is one of sheer grace:  “everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”  Look up, and be healed.  Look up, and then the deadly snake venom is rendered powerless.  That’s it!  Just a look!  The promise of life attached to a visible sign: believe it, and you look up, and you are healed.  Don’t believe it, and you don’t bother to look up, and you die.

Remember John chapter 3. Jesus says that that image of the snake on the pole is just like Him, and He is like that snake on the pole.  HE would be lifted up—raised on a cross, on a pole of wood. He would give the gift of life, real life, eternal life, to those who will only believe, look up at Him, and be healed. 

That is what’s facing Him in tonight’s Gospel.  He’d known all along that this is where He was headed—just like you’ve known since you were a child that you’re going to die.  But it’s entirely different when that moment is facing you down and you realize that it’s not some hypothetical event out there in the distant future; it’s suddenly your here and now reality.  So Jesus sweats and trembles before the cup from His Father reaches Him.  He begs for another way out besides this horror of being left to die alone with the sins of the world upon Him.  And yet unlike us with our grumblings and complaining about the way God leads, our Lord finally and fully submits to His Father’s direction and plan, praying:  “nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.“ He prays it again and again.  And then He goes forth in peace to fulfill it.  He has spoken His firm “yes” to His Father’s great plan—that plan from the foundation of the world that He would be raised on that tree of the cross for us, so that we, who have been stung by the serpent’s deadly bite, might look up and not die—so that we might see and believe and live in Him, with Him forever.

Remember, then, our theme verse for this Lent: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)

Dear saints, many times God will use disasters in your personal lives, in your community or nation, in the world - remember Japan - to bring you to repentance and confession—just as He did to the Israelites.  He will use heart-wrenching troubles to open your eyes to see your sins, especially the sins you’ve thought of as “no big deal”—such as your sins of grumbling against Him! But in that very moment when you confess your sins, in that very moment, He will invite you to turn your eyes from your wretched condition and look instead—look in wonder and awe—at His free and gracious remedy. He invites you to see and be healed by a love that will take your breath away—to behold your Savior upon the Tree giving to you the promise of a life that never ends.  That’s how He’s loved you, my friends, with a love immeasurable, deep, and divine!  He’s given you an eternal life that is utterly free to you, but quite costly to Him. 

Yes, we who confess our sins have “obtained mercy,” mercy beyond anything we could imagine. And for all that, glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever!  Amen.

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