“The Bite of Freedom”
March 11, 2018 – Lent 5 – Year B
Two monks, on a journey together, came across a woman who was standing beside a river. The woman was very beautiful, and the water was too deep for her.
One of the monks lifted her on his shoulders and carried her across.
The 2nd monk was astounded. “How could you do such a thing?” he demanded. “You know our vows. It was sinful for you to carry that woman.” And the 2nd monk went on and on about the sins of the first monk until finally the 1st monk stopped.
“Brother,” he said gently. “I set that woman down by the edge of the water. Why are you still carrying her?”
Todays scripture passages are rich with preaching possibilities. I could talk about the promise of eternal life – or the wondrous healing offered by God – or the light and darkness imagery presented in the Gospel. But instead of any of those rich themes, I want to explore that which bites us.
Sometimes we are like the monk and we carry around with us a whole lot of burdens. It has been said that the burdens in our heads are far heavier than the burdens on our backs. We find it difficult to set them down and leave them in God’s care. Some of the burdens that we are carry around, are the weight of judgmentalism, fear, anger, helplessness, anxiety and loneliness. For some of our neighbours there is the burden of poverty, homelessness, and indifference.
When we are burdened, we crave healing. What kind of healing do you seek? You see, today we have heard about 2 different kinds of healing. We heard about Moses and the snakes. We also heard the famous John 3:16 passage about Jesus. The comparison is drawn between Moses lifting up the snake and Jesus being lifted up on the cross.
The Israelites simply had to look at the bronze serpent and they had life. For us, though, seeing has nothing to do with it. We must have faith in Jesus, then we get eternal life.
The bronze snake only gave more physical life – physical life that had to be lived out where you were, in the same circumstances and problems and challenges.
The snake’s cure is really only temporary. It is a Band-Aid solution. On the other hand, Jesus is a permanent cure. Unlike the snake, we aren’t just cured to go back to our regular grind in the same old way. We are freed to live the same old grind as new people, with new possibilities.
We don’t even have to see the old grind as the old grind. Now we can see it as a place to meet Christ and a place where God waits for us. A place of God’s opportunities.
Marion Best, our friend and neighbour from Naramata, wrote the following, while Moderator of The United Church of Canada, “The Israelites were grumbling and complaining and I suspect their leadership didn’t always know what to do either. And yet God did provide. Sometimes the way God provides isn’t what we’re looking for, so maybe we have to be open to surprises and not be too anxious. It’s hard not to be anxious.
I suspect the grumblings and the murmurings were based in Israelites’ fear and sense of loss. Thad that’s familiar to us. Maybe we’re only at the beginning of what will be a long period in the wilderness for our church.
It’s not that you do nothing during that period. But how do we decide what to do. It seems to me that one of the things we do is stay in touch with the source of our strength. For the Israelites, that was clearly God. This is a really important thing and so I think prayer and remembering who we are will be essential to our survival.
We didn’t just come from nowhere. We have roots. We have ties with these Israelites, and all the others since, who have found themselves wandering in the wilderness. So, I have this yearning to stay rooted. But at the same time, I have to realize that a lot of what I’ve called familiar and a lot of what I’ve counted on may not be what God wants for us right now,” says Marion Best.
Our text from the Gospel of John provides an insight into the way in which Jesus and the early church used the Hebrew Scriptures – which of course were the only scriptures they had. Most of us have heard and even have memorized the famous John 3:16 passage (“For God so loved the world that God gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”). Yet, how many realize that these words are placed in the text immediately following the descriptions of Jesus as one who is lifted up by God in the same way that “Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.” Just as when Moses help up a staff with a bronze snake on it and all who were dying from snake bites were mysteriously healed when they looked on it with eyes of faith – so does Jesus’ death on the cross provide a similar gift of healing and wholeness for those who believe. “By his wounds you have been healed,” said one early Christian writer (1 Peter 2:24). By looking upon – and facing – an image of our greatest fear – death – God is able to release us from it through eternal life. Thus, when we gaze upon the cross, we face our own fear and are reminded of the promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death. For us as Christians the death and resurrection of Jesus puts a permanent seal upon this promise. Talk about Good News!
How might you and I experience the bite of freedom? How do we experience the healing message that sets us free? Being on medical leave from November through to January taught me many lessons about God’s healing pathway. I turned to as many different healing practices as I could, and built them into my daily pattern. I swam which is both physically helpful but also a meditative practice. Yoga is a particularly helpful breath work practice with meditation a central part of each session. I utilized the skills of a counselor and Spiritual Director. I used tuning forks several times each day, to help centre myself. I asked for prayer from friends and I know I was on several prayer lists. I did a lot of reading. That is some of what was helpful for me. What you might need is possibly different. Reading sacred books, long meditative walks, reading scripture, drumming, singing, walking a labyrinth, all are possible resources in your spiritual journey.
In his book “Running to Paradise”, R. Maurice Boyd tells of a sign which he noticed in a nursery one day. It read “The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago. The 2nd best time is today.”
The best time to have said “yes” to God voice was the 1st time we heard that voice. The 2nd best time is today. Let us say a clear “Yes” to our God. Amen.