Lectionary Year B
March 30, 2003

Numbers 21:4-9
Contemporary Address

Step VI - Contemporary Address

A. Goals

(JFC) This fascinating story could exemplify how God addresses what at times seem to be insurmountable problems.

B. Describing the Audience
(JFC) All congregations these days, while we wait for war to erupt in Iraq (March, 2003), might well need a word of hope in how God solves problems, even those in ancient times thought to have been generated by the Creator God, Himself.

C. Address

(JFC) A sermon, entitled for this working draft, "What God Does With Being Snake Bit".

Sermonizing frequently seeks the "theological 'center of gravity' of the text" at hand. Today's Old Testament Text's "theological 'center of gravity' must be the God against whom the people spoke their dissatisfaction, whom they acknowledged brought them out of Egyptian bondage, to whom they prayed for relief from the fiery serpents' fatal bites and who instructed Moses to make the serpent and put it on the pole and promised it would heal those bitten and looked upon the symbol on the pole resulting in life.

I. God Sends Fiery Serpents
A. The people complained about the monotony of the manna, the lack of water and the loss of security of their previous servant-hood in Egypt. Their complaints seem justified. Still, God sent them something worse to occupy the subjects of their lamentations.

B. The fiery serpents posed a serious, virtual, threat to their existence, you mean, like war does? So, what do we do with this part of this text? Possibly the serpents might be seen as cleansing/conversion elements, like the food to eat and the water to drink and the "coals heaped upon the heads of one's enemies" in Proverbs 25:21f and Romans 12:20.

II. Moses Prays For Relief From The Fiery Serpents
A. One day (3/17/03) while preparing this sermon outline, President Bush declared the US troops would remove Saddam Hussein and his sons if they refused to leave from Iraq within 48 hours by military force if necessary and even unilaterally, too. That message depressed me, so, I prayed longer and harder for peace, for the two presidents, troops and citizens of both/all countries and shared my depression with a friend and found at least a little relief from my discomfort with the threat of war.

B. Some of the early Christians' beliefs recounted in this Sunday's Gospel Lesson, John 3:14-21, note Jesus' expanding Moses' lifting up the serpent in the wilderness into an additional interpretation of that Old Testament event. Our Lord states, "so must the Savior of all be lifted up that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life."

III. God Answers Moses and Instructs Solving The Problem
A. God seems so frequently to have an answer, if we will but fall to our knees, admit the need for divine help and wait for its arrival and rely on it, even if it seems risky to do so.

B. "Seeing is Power", they said once on Chicago's WBEZ radio station's "This American Life," broadcast on PRI. It might be. At least, Moses refocused the struggling wilderness wanderers' attention higher and upon a sign of God's instructing.

Our predecessors in the faith, even those most primitive ones, asked God for relief, deliverance and guidance. God provided more than they even imagined they needed, especially in Jesus Christ, in the Second Testament, salvation from the sentence of death into life everlasting! Numbers 21:4-9 brings Good News especially in Lent, 2003.

(WCL) In some ways, this text reminds me of Job in terms of its monotheistic assumptions. The ease with which God is declared to send the fiery serpents strikes many modern readers as foreign and unsettling. We jump easily to the expression of God's grace, because we do not want to deal (or do not know how to deal) with the declaration of God's judgment-- particularly for the offense of voicing our honest "feelings" about how bad things are. Do we accept or celebrate a God who can and does call fiery serpents upon a chosen group of people-- even as a result of sin? So many modern Christians are "closet universalists." The "fear of the Lord" is a concept that we often hold in disdain. In terms of "bad things," many modern Christians are dualistic-- seeing Satan as a semi- (if not completely) autonomous author of evil/bad/unpleasantness and seeing God solely in terms of beauty/love/grace. This tendency is not new. (Reflect on the stories of David and the census. ! II Samuel 24:1 and I Chronicles 21:1) To lay the instigation of the census on "the anger of the Lord" v. Satan reflects very different cosmologies and different understandings of the nature of YHWH. These points can be related to God's intentionality in the crucifixion-- certainly a portion of both the gospel and Pauline themes. The question is whether God causes the events that God redeems. Sometimes/always/never? Another point to note in passing is that the judgment/redemption in this story is communal, not individual. It was not simply the individuals who grumbled who found themselves "snake bit." The people as a whole grumble, suffer, come to Moses and confess, are prayed for, and delivered. In our individualist world, this is also a foreign concept. I appreciate the existing author's timely attempt at relavance but I wonder if the Iraq war may be closely related to finding ourselves/our nation in the midst of a bunch of fiery serpants. A too-easy jump to grace may be pre-mature. These are dangerous thoughts and ideas when one considers 911, other terrorists threats, the saddistic dictators who exist in the world, etc. Preachers risk "crucifixion" if and when they publicly suggest that national confession is a first step out of the mess in which we find ourselves. The question is whether we will be guided by the ideas/thoughts/words of scripture or by public sentiment. I reflect on Jeremiah's (not to mention Jesus') plight as attempts were made to speak the truth in love.

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