Sunday, March 18, 2012

Look to Jesus for salvation

In the name of God, source of all being, incarnate Word, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our family car was a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air station wagon, turquoise and cream. We boys rode in the back seat. My parents rode in the front. Looking over the driver’s shoulder I could see out through the windshield to the front hood of the car. There in the middle of it was a hood ornament, or as I called it, “the aimer”. 

I figured when you drove you steered the car using the aimer as kind of a front sight, like the one on the front of a rifle. With it you could steer your way down the road to where you were going.

It acted as a sign, pointing the way. I never mistook it for the road or for our destination. In fact, I knew where we were going: our cousins’ house, for a family visit and a vacation. “Are we there yet?”

The people of Israel, it seems, sometimes mistook the sign for the thing it was pointing to – or looked another way entirely. They had lost their way in the wilderness, at least morally. Moses and the Lord had led them out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt. They were ‘under the cloud’ – the pillar of cloud that guided them by day – and they were being led by Moses, and the Lord, through the desert. They complained a lot, though.

They murmured. In fact today’s lesson records Murmur Number Five. And this time they complained, not only about Moses, but also about the Lord – and that was not going to work.

“We have NO FOOD and NO WATER and we detest THIS MISERABLE FOOD!”

They had water from the rock – and manna, food from Heaven. But – no thanks. 

And so – something happened. They were afflicted – and they were convicted.

With snakes they were afflicted; of sin they were convicted.

Since everything comes from God, the good and the bad, they must have reasoned, God sent even the snakes – even the punishment that came to them. And that is how they took it, as an affliction that recalled them to their senses. They repented. “We have sinned against you and against God,” they said to Moses. Now save us already!

And then a strange thing happened. God told Moses to make an image of the very thing that had been killing them – the engine of their affliction – and put it up where everybody could see it, and everyone who was bitten who turned and looked at it would be saved.

Look to the snake on the pole and you will be saved. A strange sign, indeed: but what does it point to?

It points to – we discover – something stranger yet: the innocent person who took upon himself the sins of us all, who was lifted up on a cross – the most excruciating of devices for punitive humiliation and tortuous death, and thereby – by that very means – became the source of our salvation.

If we look to Christ – if we trust him, believe in him, put our faith in him – we find our way to life.

The wanderers in the desert had received their freedom. They had water from the rock. They had bread from heaven. And they had healing of this strange affliction.

We, who were wandering in the wilderness of sin, have been given our freedom – we have been released from our own captivity to the follies and destructive behaviors that kept us from God. God has sustained us; everything we have, all we need to live, is a gift of God. And we have received salvation – healing from more than sickness of the body, we have received healing and wholeness of our souls, our inward life.

God has given us eternal life. It is life in its fullness. It is life in right relationship to God, to nature, to each other, and to our selves. It is life that comes to completion in Christ; that finds its fulfillment in the presence of the Lord.

Jesus, whom everyone knew was innocent, nevertheless gave himself up – gave his life over – as a testimony and a witness to the truth – the truth of God’s love for humankind.

And so he was lifted up – raised up, onto the cross at Calvary, and raised up, into the new life in the resurrection – and in this dying and in this rising was the saving of the world.

If we look to Christ – if we trust him, believe in him, put our faith in him – we find our way to life.

What God brings to us to day is the good news of salvation: we look to the Cross – for salvation, for Jesus was lifted up so that we, and all people, may receive the gift of life.

And what calls us today is the mission of the kingdom, the message of hope. 

May we carry with us into our world, our place and time, 
to those far away and to those around us, 
those we know already and those we must seek out, 
the message of hope and the means of salvation, 
the abundant grace that is found in the Cross of Christ.

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