Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The 4th Sunday in Lent: The path of Love



Our friend Executive Presbyter Bob Foltz-Morrison has joined us for worship this morning. And as the service begins, Amanda has joined us as well .  As we continue our series, Pathways: Into the wilderness and out again today’s special theme is The Path of Love. We begin with our Lenten chant: Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within my soul  with it's eastern European Jewish feel.

Our lessons begin with the strange snakes in the desert story of  Numbers 21: 4-9. And in honor of the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day sing Be Thou My Vision, Amanda coming forward to join Jeremy and I. We do Psalm 107: 1-3, 17-22 with the refrain His steadfast love endures forever. Our Gospel lesson,  John 2: 13-22, brings back those snakes again. Time for reflection.

Did you ever hear the story about two people in a restaurant? The first says The food here is terrible  and the second says, yes, and such small portions…that’s what our first lesson or as I call it the prequel is like today…it’s like  the Bible written by Yogi Berra…

The people say, For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food. They’re in the wilderness and they’re miserable and for the first time they grumble not only against Moses but also against God. 

And all of sudden there are nasty snakes biting them. And of course the author says it’s punishment…a classic post hoc ergo proctor hoc logical fallacy, IE, after this because of this…(one of the best course I ever took was my college logic course that helped me understand all the classic logic fallacies from Latin debate…once you’ve studied them, you know them when you hear them…)

It makes sense. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone in the hospital say,…I don’t know what I must have done to deserve this… We’d rather believe in punishment than randomness…that’s almost too scary.

And what happens? Why doesn’t God  just get rid of the snakes? Or just heal the people? Instead we have this lifting up on a staff…(like sympathetic magic…) and they have to look on the raised snake  to be healed…

(Like the hangover cure…a bite of the snake that bit you…)

I could go off on a whole snake here….the Greek staff of Aeschylus…the role of the snake in native American culture…physicians and EMS symbols…we retain this serpentine iconography in our own culture.

(And can we work St.Patrick in there somehow?)

Two points…eventually, over the years, this snake on a rod became the object of worship so Hezekiah had to get rid of it...that’s what we do…mistake the symbol for the essence, the door to truth for the ultimate truth…this is the source of a lot of religious problems, mistaking the symbol for the reality.

Second.. the story tells us how people were feeling about God…there’s nothing gentle here…remember…they’d witnessed nasty plagues, killing of the first born,a drowning Egyptian army..…sure, all for their freedom, but it couldn't help but make you nervous….

We’re talking about all this because it's a key symbol so much in the Gospel story..

It’s part of an ongoing conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus…Jesus somehow comparing himself to that snake on a cross…it’s a bit of a head scratcher…

What is it we’re supposed to see? Lifted up….in Jesus’ being lifted up, what do we see?

First…and really get this…the cross was a from of state terrorism…Roman citizens, , would be asked to drink  hemlock…that’s like the (supposedly) more humane lethal injection of its day…I remember  when the son of the pastor I was working with in Oklahoma as a state representative introduced lethal injection as a humane alternative to electrocution…a supposed step forward…the pastor was anguished…
No…the cross was for political prisoners…it was public, scandalous, humiliating…bodies left for all to see…like public hangings…or maybe lynchings…

A five year study published by the Equal Justice Initiative in 2015 found that nearly 4,000 black men, women and children were lynched in the Southern states alone between 1877 and 1950. It’s shocking to see photos of people with their picnic baskets and children…Keep that in mind when you see videos of ISIS beheadings…

What are we supposed to see….? When we see Jesus on the cross?

The body on the cross is not to be worshipped…it’s a door … to John 3:16…

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life….

The word  loved here is  agape…self-sacrificial love….Jesus willingness to undergo humiliation on our behalf…

We need to push beyond  beyond signs at football games and bumper stickers…back to the snakes in the wilderness…The cause of the pain is involved in the healing….

The willingness to endure pain for others is the pathway to healing…but see this…it’s not the suffering itself…it’s a doorway ,a is  never about look what I did for you, OK?

How’s that work? In AA one person’s experience of healing can help another’s … my loss of a child helps me be with you in your loss…your experience of divorce can help me in mine…see how this works?

In his willingness to suffer for others, Jesus is lifted up…the people who endured bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettis, Jr. bridge 50 years did so on behalf of those who couldn’t step on the bridge..

Last week I visited with my new friend David Goodman. …brother of Andrew Goodman..we lifted up Andrew and James Cheney and Mickey Schwerner…their families were right here last June… He went back to Selma last week. Today….the Foundation dedicated to his brother’s memory has student ambassadors at 25 colleges. In the fall they do organizing around voting, encouraging college students to vote. The after elections, they select a local issue to organize around for the rest of the year. …voting…and organizing…see how this works? Taking the tragedy of the past to create an hope for the future….

It’s God so loved the world…not an exclusionary proposition but a inclusive act of love…
God so loved the world…
Once again, as a lead in to our prayers we sing I Want Jesus to Walk With Me. And for our offertory, Jeremy sings the classic He Looked Beyond My Fault to the tune of Oh Danny Boy. St. Patrick’s Day again with Amanda and i on harmony.

We conclude with He came down…
He came down that we may have love, Hallelujah!

And our service is over. Amanda sings us two of her songs, one her ghost song from Arkansas and the other and old Quaker song, Peace from a silent spring .She stays for our Session meeting to get caught up on what we’re up to. And then we head to the Gate for brunch. There’a a lot to catch up on. She’s always good to call us …and me…back to the original vision that began with sweeping the steps…

                                                          Amanda singing Silent Spring

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