4th Sunday in Lent
March 11, 2018
“The Antidote For All”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is our First Lesson read from Numbers chapter 21.
My dear friends,
By now it is a WELL KNOWN fact how I feel about snakes. I hate them. I hate the way they slither. I hate their stupid forked, gross tongues. I hate their beady little eyes. I hate that stupid rattle at the end of their stupid tubular bodies. I hate snakes. I loathe them; snakes are an abomination! Gee…what do you know? The ancient Israelites felt the same way about their daily manna. Even though God was daily providing both freedom and provisions, the people were more mindful of the content of their gullets than reverence for God; they would rather please their palette than please God. They “loathe” the provisions of God Almighty. Literally, the Hebrew word for worthless is even stronger: an “abomination.” The Israelites are calling God’s provisions abominable, which can literally be rendered as “to make one sick to the stomach.” God’s quail and manna were sickening to their stomachs! Nice manners people!
This disrespect for holy food was not just an insult; it was downright rebellion against God and Moses! This abomination was a loathing of all of God’s goodness and mercy. Their rebellion was a complete disregard for Moses’ authority. Friends, don’t let your piety get to you! We as God’s people are no better. We also disregard the holy gifts of worship, Word, and Sacrament convincing ourselves that our plans are WAY MORE IMPORTANT than taking an hour (.6% of your week) or two a week to worship. When we ignore prayer before meals, regard worship as a weekly required chore, when young families diminish their child’s need of Baptism, or we minimize the value of the Lord’s Supper, we also make desolate that which is holy and pure; in action or in attitude we too “loathe” the “worthless” gifts of God, and that’s not good…not good at all!
In addition to being mostly worthless, snakes are rather abnormal creatures. They’re among the few creatures that have no legs at all, not even for show, and they crawl on their bellies. Gross! Sure, that way it’s easier to chop them in half with a shovel, but no legs for a land-dwelling animal? That’s just abnormal, right? In our text, some of the worst of these miserable belly-dwellers bit the people, and their venom brought the demise of many. This is an abnormal event from our vantage point as humans. “This cannot be happening,” we might say. However, events happen every day that don’t seem normal from our vantage point. A plane flying into a building is not normal; it’s abnormal. Children exposed to gun violence, drug usage, and sexual sins in school is not normal. It’s abnormal. A child comes into the world but that life is quickly terminated in abortion. This, too, is not normal. It’s abnormal. In the classic Mel Brooks comedy “Young Frankenstein”, Master Frankenstein tells his assistant, Igor, to find a brain at the laboratory. By mistake, Igor reads the label “abnormal” as “Abby Normal.” The monster, as a result, receives an abnormal brain. Humanity’s history is “Abby Normal,” or abnormal, too as we are distorted by the effects of our sinful rebellion and unbelief against the only true God. This last week, your thoughts, words, and deeds did not always match up with God’s holy will and that’s not normal. Our thoughts, words, and deeds went astray; you went astray. You are abnormal because of sin.
And for that there’s only one antidote. Look to the Savior and live! As the people cried for mercy, God was not deaf to their cry. He provides a means of healing: look up to the one lifted up and live. Still today, paramedics wear a very obvious symbol on their uniforms. This symbol is that of a snake on a pole; wasn’t my idea. This is really an abnormal symbol apart from a biblical explanation and I’m shocked no one has suggested its revision. In fact, it’s really a completely opposite sign; snakes don’t normally symbolize healing, which the medics set out to do for the ailing. In the Bible the snake-bitten people looking to the bronze serpent, a replica on a stick, were spared.
But even graver are the circumstances of humanity needing absolution from God. Mankind is not simply headed for the grave, but for eternal punishment in hell. Since Eden’s fall, humanity was in desperate need of a look. It was God’s loving look from heaven that made it all possible. He saw the poison of sin rampant in the world. He looked and loved so much that he gave His one and only Son (John 3:16). As antidote is drawn from venom, so our Savior drenches himself in the world’s sin to take our blame. He took our abominations and our abnormalities, and he absolved us freely and fully as we look upon Him crucified and risen again for our forgiveness and salvation.
Now we, as medics to the world, offer the antidote in our contexts of daily living. Our offerings, our prayers, our service, and our worship all work to be medicine and antidotes for sinners everywhere. We all need this antidote daily and richly. It’s absolution in Holy Baptism, where we are buried in water and Word with our Savior and raised again. It’s absolution in Holy Communion, when his body and blood are given and received for our salvation. It’s absolution when we hear “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
And to think that the best is yet to come in heaven’s high home, where the threat of illness, death, or destruction is no more…a 100% completely snake free eternal existence for which we can ALL say “thanks be to God!”