Offering the Serpent

Lent 2012
Path of Restoration

by the Rev. Andy Lobban            

The readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent this year include two of my favorites.  From Numbers: “So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live” (21:8-9).  From the Gospel of John: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (3:14).

Our restoration as the people God intends us to be is a complex business, and for good reason.  God exceeds all that our minds can fathom, so there is no limit to what we can say and imagine about God.  Yet sometimes we must forget all this complexity and simply contemplate the earthy simplicity of our circumstances.  We are in a wilderness, and there are poisonous serpents all around.  Danger bites us from the outside, and sin bites from within.  If something, or someone, does not appear quickly to save us, we are mortally wounded.  This is the human condition, and no one is exempt.

This is a serious problem, in fact a lethal one, both physically and spiritually.  Scripture tells us, however, that the cure is actually remarkably simple.  All we need to do is look at the bronze serpent and live!  The only challenge is for us to recognize the serpent when it is held up in front of our faces and then to hold it up for others.

Jesus is the ultimate serpent of bronze.  It’s no accident that it was a serpent Moses lifted up in the wilderness.  That serpent, the ancient serpent, is sin incarnate.  And he who knew no sin became sin for us.  Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, the Son of Man, the sinless one made sin for our sake, was lifted high upon the cross so that we might look at Him and live.  Yes, it really is that simple.  In this wilderness we call the world, where poisonous serpents attack day and night, all we must do is look at Jesus and live.  All anyone must do is look at Jesus and live.

Our Episcopal tradition is a rich one with a colorful history.  We claim Apostolic succession for our bishops; liturgy is central to our Christian life and practice; and our understandings of Word and Sacrament are both Catholic and reformed.  For many of us, this rich heritage helps us look at Jesus and live, and that is precisely why we are Episcopalians. 

The world around us, however, may struggle with this.  It is a hurting, groaning world full of poverty, addiction, and violence.  And when this world looks at us, if it ever even gets around to doing so, I’m not entirely certain that it sees Jesus.  This isn’t because we are unfaithful or because Christ isn’t in us; it is simply because, as Episcopalians, the way we see Jesus lifted up may not match what much of the world around us needs to see.

Good Samaritan Community Services, the social service ministry operated by our diocese, is a place where our Church has been willing to stretch itself in the name of showing Jesus lifted up to people who see Him differently.  It is a place where restoration is available to all, where the basic question asked is: “How do the people in this community receive the Good News?” Even if the answer to that question is difficult and frightening, the people of Good Samaritan respond to it.

The answers come in a variety of forms.  Some who visit Good Samaritan centers receive the Good News of Christ through worship, prayer, and study.  Others receive it through table fellowship, still others through education and character development, and yet others through recreation and much-needed fun and relaxation.  There are inevitably some who come and go, seeming to have experienced no Good News whatsoever.  The beauty of a ministry like Good Samaritan’s, however, is that since our only agenda is to show Jesus lifted up in the communities we serve, we can move forward undaunted even when that happens, knowing that God may give growth to planted seeds long after the initial encounter occurrs.

As we live out our Christianity as the Episcopal Church, looking to Jesus and living, we must also ask ourselves: What would help our neighbors see the Son of Man lifted up, so that they can believe in him and have eternal life, so that they too can be restored to being the persons God intends for them to be?  What does this hurting world need to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch so that it can live?  We all, in our simple daily lives, can lift high the cross in such a way that our neighbors, all of our neighbors, can look at Jesus and live.

The Rev. Andy Lobban is chaplain at Good Samaritan Community Services in San Antonio TX. Reach him at lobban_a@goodsamcenter.com or leave a comment below.

To participate in or learn more about the work of Good Samaritan Community Services, visit their website at www.goodsamaritancommunityservices.org