Always remember. Lent is a season of remembering that we are ever-sinful, that hell and death are ever before us (whether in this life or the next). Always remember the stories of your sin … but not for the purpose of shame; remember the stories of your sin so that you can recognize the Source of healing and life.
From Mount Hor to the Red Sea (Numbers 21:4-9), the snakes of fear and anxiety trail the people, their serpentine mouths gaping to bite with poison, lashing out at the people’s heels, twisting around and among them — and the only solution to the infestation is to look directly at the serpents, to name the poison, to gaze honestly at the plague, and to own up to the sins and doubts that brought the serpents into their midst.
To be healed, the people have to see the source of death.
To be restored, they have to repent of their death-perpetuating behaviors.
To return to fullness of life, they have to remember what they would prefer to forget: not only their loud complaining against God and Moses, but also the brutal pain of life in Egypt. And more than that, they have to remember what it is so easy to forget: that God’s grace is abundant and unearned (Ephesians 2:1-10), that God’s salvation (Psalm 107:19) comes from the wellspring of God’s love and not from condemnation (John 3:14-21).
I find myself wondering when we too will be ready to return to life by looking honestly at the sins and mechanisms of hell/death among us — for example, when the U.S. will be ready to look honestly at its racist behaviors, no longer believing that occasions of overt racism are exceptions rather than the norm they truly are.
To be healed, we have to recognize the source of death, even if it is ourselves.
To be restored, we must repent of our death-perpetuating behaviors (not only of our “overt” -isms but also of our microagressions against one another).
To return to fullness of life, we have to remember what we would prefer to forget: the pain of our history, as individuals and as communities and as churches and as a collective society. And more than that, in the case of racism and many other -isms we have to recognize what it is so easy to forget: that gazing at Jesus on the cross must go hand-in-hand with gazing honestly at one another, the true location of our habits of death and the proper place of our healing.
What sins are you planning to remember in your sermon for this coming Sunday? Are you preaching on the poisonous snakes of Numbers 21? Has Nicodemus’ late-night conversation with Jesus in John 3 captured your imagination? What are the struggles and/or unfolding “aha” moments of your sermon prep? Share a conversation in the comments!