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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!

11 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary: Of Snakes and Sin

  1. I am going with Numbers for a number of reasons–some of which both you, Jessica, and you, Rachel have suggested–and also because I really need to struggle with that text in order to get it for myself and because I think that many of the people I serve find themselves walking in a snake-infested land day after day. Thanks for the good start to the week.


  2. I’m thinking about Jesus telling Nicodemus the story of the snake-stick – what did it mean for Jesus to be using this image to reach out to this man? I’m also remembering an image from a sermon that Katie Wright preached three years ago when I was her curate, and using it to help even poor, bewildered Nicodemus look up and see the light of the moon and the stars, at least, when he leaves Jesus at the end of their conversation.


  3. Can I just say thank you to all of you for your thoughts on this week’s lectionary. I have been so overwhelmed with things at the church this week that it’s been hard for me to find any good news…and all I was coming up with were these memories from my childhood of Wrestlemania (I was a bit of a tomboy) and random people in the crowd holding up signs that read: John 3:16. I’ve truly never understood the connection between those signs and Wrestlemania. Anyway, thank you all for your thoughts and reflections…you’ve given me much more powerful and interesting thoughts to think about for tomorrow’s sermon. Bless you all!


  4. I am working on Numbers and John with the concept of something that provides healing and hope can become and idol, thus diminishing its true value. I’m sorry to take this turn away from the covenant theme, but its too late in the day to take the Sermon Brainwave suggestion of substituting the Davidic covenant.


  5. Since for John, belief is an action word and its opposite is disobedience, (Thanks Feasting on the Word) I’m looking at Episcopal Baptismal Covenant which follows the creed in a Baptism service, as what we DO if we BELIEVE. Respecting the dignity of all, seeking Christ in all persons, working for justice and peace for ALL.


  6. You nailed it, uh, so to speak…. Thank you; missing piece from my sermon trying to come together found here in your reading of Numbers.


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