Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Today’s text

John 3:13-17

No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Son of man; as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. For this is how God loved the world: he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.


You are lifted up as an ensign to the world, Jesus. This symbol is as ancient as it is mysterious.

Moses lifts his makeshift snake in the desert, holding it before the people of Israel who are tormented by snakes biting them. The biting snakes are the result of God’s anger at the Israel’s whining distrust.

This little fits my image of the Holy One you reveal, Jesus. There is nothing in you that suggests you send snakes to strike those who displease you. You bear the face of a mercy wrapped in mercy hidden in mercy. Penetrate deeply as we may, we find nothing but mercy.

And this is good news, indeed, because I hate snakes.

But the symbol confuses me. Why should looking up in hope at the thing that is killing you bring deliverance and salvation? The very notion feels fraught with magical ideas modern minds refuse to embrace.

And yet, we still hold up ensigns to which we look in hope for salvation from what kills us. We hold up images of success in work or play or school, in gaining money or security.

There are a host of ensigns of promised salvation to which we look--a nice home, a good car, a trophy relationship, images of ourselves and our self-respect. During election years, the American flag is held high as an ensign or salvation. Political parties wave it to signify pride and strength, determination to stand fast against enemies and to advance a privileged way of life. We look up to it in hope for salvation from our fears of all that threatens.

So maybe the idea of Moses holding up the serpent in the desert is not so far removed from modern consciousness. We hold up our own ensigns in hope that they will bring salvation.

The sharp contrast is that ensigns we hold up tend to speak of power over others, of strength and security, of wealth and privilege amid a world of want. They promise security from our fears. But you Jesus, hanging on your cross, reflect all that we fear, death, rejection, destruction. There is nothing in you that suggests the impenetrable shield of protection we seek in the ensigns of personal and national success.

Still, you speak. “Look here,” you say. “Look at the death and destruction you most fear. This shall not hold you, not anymore than it can hold me.”

This is why we hold you up, Jesus, a dying (and risen) man. For, none of the other things we hold up can make … and keep that promise.

And none of the others move us beyond self-protection to the needs of your world.

Pr. David L. Miller

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