Sunday Sermon 14th March Lent 4 The Hope that is seen
The chosen hymns for this week, Focus my eyes on You and Guide me o thou great Jehovah can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
Lent 4 The Hope that is seen Numbers 21: 4-9 14/3/21 Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 14th March. This is the fourth week of Lent and we have a scary passage to read. We have been looking at Covenant, that idea that God promises to be with us. And then we come across a passage like this, where the people grumble against God and in their eyes God punishes them for not being faithful. In their eyes God sends snakes to kill off the people and only by seeking repentance does God then create something for them to be saved. The question then becomes, why would we trust a God who promises to be with us, and then punishes us when we don’t do what he says? Or maybe something else is going on here? We will reflect on this after Kay shares with us the reading and a time of prayer. Kay Exodus 20: 1-17. Sermon. Before we get to the heart of this passage I want to make one thing clear. The fact that something happens is a fact, the interpretation of why that things happens...well that can have many explanations. Let me give you an example... Imagine the story of Goldilocks and the three bears wasn’t a fairy story but a historical fact. There was a wee girl called Goldilocks, she came across the house of the three bears while they were out for a walk. She enters the house and takes some of the porridge, breaks one of the chairs, falls asleep in one of the beds, and is nearly caught. Fortunately she is awoken by the return of the bears and escapes. Let’s imagine that is all historical fact and undisputed. Now what is the moral of the story? Maybe that bears are scary and shouldn’t be trusted because they put your life in danger. Maybe that you shouldn’t break into someone else’s house. Maybe that it’s ok to break into their house as long as you make sure that you leave before the owners return. You know what I think is weird about this story, it is told from the point of view of the burglar. She’s an innocent blond wee girl; in her eyes the three bears are big and scary. But she’s the one that breaks in, steals things, breaks the furniture, and violates the house. Imagine that the story is told from the point of view of the three bears, law abiding citizens that are minding their own business. Maybe the moral of the story would be don’t trust blond wee girls that are on their own, they are up to no good. Or make sure that you have a great security system in your house before you leave home. Now let’s, look at this narrative from scripture, did it happen? Well let’s take it as fact that it did. But from whose perspective is the story told? I would argue that it is told from the people of Israel. They reflect back on why this terrible thing has happened, and they come to the conclusion that God is punishing them. Why would God punish them? Well because they remembered that they had been complaining about the food. Coincidence? They didn’t think so. But what if it is all connected but not in the way that they think. Let’s reflect on the situation... We have slaves in the desert; walking day in and day out, every day the same. And once the excitement of freeing themselves from the slavery of the Egyptians has worn off, and the wonder of God giving them the Ten Commandments has worn off, they have the monotony of day in, day out, everything being the same. They walk in the desert all day and every day looks the same, they eat the same food every day, they are surrounded by the same people every day. And to be honest those people are beginning to get on their nerves. They can hear the tent next door arguing every night. Sure they are under stress but don’t they know that everyone is under stress? So the people start to spread out, because everyone needs their space. Now Moses needs them all together because he has lived in the desert for 40 years and knows it is a dangerous place. It has snakes and scorpions and marauders who would pick off the stragglers. If they all stick together then everything will be fine. The vibrations of all those people together will drive off the snakes and the dangerous insects. The tightness of the camp will put off marauders from attacking the weak. And Moses tells them this but they don’t believe it will happen to them. And then comes the food problem. Same old food day in and day out. And it hardly sustains them. God may give them what they need but if all we had was just exactly what we need that feels a precarious way to live life. They always feel as if they are on the edge of starving. What was the point of leaving Egypt if they were just going to starve in the desert? And maybe someone sees a bird’s egg and tries it and it is good. But they don't know the difference between a bird’s nest and a snake’s nest because they have been slaves in Egypt. So people die because they are bitten by snakes and by the time someone gets to Moses at the other end of the camp it is too late. In their eyes it is a punishment from God; it must be a punishment from God. So they plead for Moses to do something. And Moses goes to God and asks what he can do. And God tells him to create a metal snake that hangs in the middle of the camp. And if people can get to the metal snake they will be cured. Here’s the thing. If you think that metal snake will cure you, if you really believe that metal snake is the difference between life and death, maybe the life and death of your child...how close to that metal snake are you going to be? AS CLOSE AS IS PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE. So the whole camp moves closer together. The vibrations of all those people together chase off all the snakes and scorpions. And everyone is safe. Has God punished the people? No. The people do what the people do and it has consequences. But God doesn’t give up on them. God gives them a way of being safe. God gives them a way of staying with the community. When the Israelites saw the metal snake they saw hope. When the Israelites saw that snake they knew that God was with them. They had hope because they could see the sign of hope. Why is this important? Because it is still true today...people won’t have hope until they see the signs of hope. And that is where we come in. We need to be signs of hope. I believe the church has a great opportunity just now. I know that things have radically changed for all the churches out there. We have less money and less people and we are all going to have to rethink how we do things. There probably won’t be a church out there that won’t be spending the next five years looking at readjustment in one form or another. But for the ordinary church, and the ordinary church members, all that is irrelevant. Because we have a great opportunity as individual members to be signs of hope for our families and our neighbours. We can do what Moses sought to do, simply encourage people to get closer together. We don’t need fancy buildings or elaborate plans, we just need to encourage community with those around us. Looking after our neighbours, looking after our families, looking after the strangers in the street that we bump into. That’s all God is asking of us. Think about this simple statement... The people that we care about, would their lives be better off if Christ’s love was at the centre of it? Well how is Christ’s love going to get there if we don’t put it there with the community that we share with them? I look at my children, I look at my grandchildren, I look at my sisters and their families, I look at my wife...and I know that their lives would always be better with God’s love at the centre of their life. My role, is to do what I can to be the sign of God’s love, like that metal snake in the middle of the dessert being a sign of safety and hope. I don’t need a church building to do that, I don’t need a church plan to do that, I don’t need some training course to do that. I just need to be there; to share, to forgive, to seek forgiveness when I have done things wrong, to help, to love unconditionally, to be there for them...if they can see that Christ is the centre of my life and that influences all I do for them, then maybe, maybe that will give them hope...that God is with them, that they can be with God. If the world, if this community of Alva, if our workplaces, where we shop, can see that God is the centre of our lives, and that presence inspires us to share, to forgive, to seek forgiveness when we have done things wrong, to help, to love unconditionally, to be there for them...if they can see that we do this because of Christ, for them, then maybe, maybe that will give them hope. People will not find hope until they see the signs of hope. And in the desert that is this world, in the uncertainty that is this world, if we can be those signs of hope, then that may be the beginning of a hope that can grow within them.
Let us pray
In some ways we see the people of that time as so different from us.
They had been slaves, they had different ideas about science and technology, their culture was very different from ours.
In in many ways they are exactly like us.
Each day trying to survive.
Each day living with the underlying threat of dangers unseen.
Each day being monotonous and repetitive.
Each day longing for a different future, a better future, a future of peace and safety.
Help us to see that you give us signs of hope.
Help us to live with that hope within us.
And if we can shine that hope into the lives of others, then that hope can spread, we can start to create a community of hope that makes a difference in our lives and the lives of others.
This we ask in Jesus name.
Let us share in our communion.