the one about trust...
March 12, 2018, 9:26 AM

Sermon from March 11, 2018

Text: Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ, will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

John 3:16. I know this verse well. I know that y’all know this verse well too. We’ve heard it a lot, we’ve seen it a lot. We see it everywhere; on billboards, t-shirts, and bathroom stalls. I know that I saw it at least once – in each of those places - on our trip down and back from Florida last week. It’s everywhere.

But, before we even dive into the meat of this, we kind of have to look at the story that Jesus references here at the beginning of our gospel text. The good thing is that we were able to hear that story as well and it is a rather interesting story.

In the quick summary of this story, we see the people of Israel re-turn towards God in confession of their sins. In that confession, God hears them and provides a way of salvation for them.

Their complaint and sin? Being unhappy with God’s provision. They have been wandering in the wilderness for almost an entire generation or two, and they’re a little fed up with the sustenance they have been given. So, they complain.

Now, a lot of the stories that we read of in scripture are not literal events, but told in an allegorical way to express how they felt and how God interacted. So, it might not actually be that God sent venomous snakes upon the people, but I’m sure for them it certainly felt that way. In any event, God did provide a way of salvation from those venomous snakes. A symbol was lifted up, and all the people had to do was look upon that snake on a pole, and they would be healed and survive.

In one of the most simple interpretations of this story, it can be boiled down to – the people confess of their sin, God provides salvation, the people are asked to trust.

With that in mind, we read the Gospel for this morning, and see Jesus comparing himself to that same serpent on a pole. Just as the serpent was lifted up, so too will the Son of Man be lifted up.

Jesus is comparing himself to a way of salvation (the way of salvation for the world) – a gift from God to the people of God – which in John is expanded from the Israelites to include the world, the cosmos – and everything that is in it.

And, as we read this part of John’s gospel – as Jesus is having a rather in-depth discussion with Nicodemus – we encounter that well known verse. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.

A few things that I wanted to hone in on with this.

First, belief. We are asked to believe in what God has done and some have difficulty wrapping their mind around that. Mostly because it is hard to ‘believe’ something that we cannot readily see. I’m sure it was easier for the Isrealites to believe on the serpent on the pole. It was physically there. There is even a story in 2 Kings about that very symbol being removed and destroyed from the temple. It was there.

It is easy for us to ‘believe’ in things that are readily and physically before us.

But, in this case, it isn’t so much that the gospel is asking us to believe in this good gift from God in Jesus who is the Christ – though it is asking us to believe. However, it is more accurate to say that we are asked to trust in this gift.

We are asked and called to trust that this gift from God – this son of man – this Son of God – this messiah – is our salvation. We have trust in what God has already given to us. We have trust in what God has already given to the world – the whole world. As another commentator wrote this week, ‘trusting’ in what Jesus is telling us allows us to ‘lean in to something far bigger than we can understand.’

I think that’s important for us to realize. That belief is trust. It is why when I’m confronted by how someone usually uses John 3:16 – as some sort of boastful measuring stick of faith – where they then ask – do you know where you are in God’s eyes? I – for the most part – confidently respond that, “No, I don’t know where I stand because it isn’t about me – it is about God. I trust God when it has been said that God so loved the world that he sent the Son so that the world might be saved through him.”

I trust that to be true. I trust that I am a part of that salvation.

I trust that there is nothing that I have done to earn this gift. In fact, I know that I have done things that should exclude me from that sort of life changing and freeing gift. Yet, I trust that God’s love extends even to me.

I trust God. It isn’t so much ‘believing’ or at least how we interpret belief to be today, but steady trust in what God has already done, trust that God’s hand and love extends even to us, trust that that sort of love never fails or falters. That trust that we are saved because of what God has already given to the world.

Eternal life. Many will interpret this as the ‘life after death’ that so many faithful sisters and brothers are adamant about during our life today. Yet, I don’t think that ‘eternal life’ is limited to just what happens after death. But, I trust that eternal life may more truthfully be described as life in God’s new age. That life – that new life – begins in baptism. That new life is fed and nourished at the table. That new life is lived out as all of us are molded and shaped by God’s spirit to live this life for others. Where we gather in community, we serve those in need, we think of others before and over ourselves.

This life in God’s new age overlaps with the life we live and the resurrected life that we trust is gifted to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross.

We have trust in the love that God has for the world – in which we are included in and are active participants in. We trust that this new life in which we have been gifted through this love is one that encompasses our baptism, is fed at the table, and is lived out through word and service to the those around us. We live this new and gifted life in full trust that we have already received salvation.

And in this known trust of saving that we receive and live into, there is another part of this story of God that I want us to know. Think back to our text in Numbers. What was God’s salvation? That when the serpent on the pole is raised up, all the Israelites would have to do is trust that looking to that symbol would heal them. Did you notice that the symbol of the serpent on the pole didn’t keep the snakes from biting. The danger still existed. There was still caution to be wary of in that time.

Yet, their trust was in their Lord and God who would heal them if and when tragedy struck.

I believe that the same still holds true for each of us as we look to the cross and the one who was lifted upon it for the world.

Jesus’ death and resurrection didn’t end evil, tragedy, and hardship. People still hurt. Death still occurs. Evil continues to root in the hearts and souls of God’s people. Yet, the cross still stands. The cross still stands as that symbol of God’s love for the world.

We have trust that though sin and evil still lurks – both in the world and in our very beings, we live into the trust that Paul writes of in our text from Ephesians - But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ --by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

For by grace each of us – the entire world – has already been saved through faith. Not so that we might boast (also meaning not so that we might use John 3:16 as some measuring stick to beat over the heads of those around us). But, we have been created out of love – in that love we trust that God’s love continues to extend and save us through what God has done in Christ our Lord.

We have trust in what God has already done for the world – in that trust, in that knowledge, in that gift of new life we live this life for others, serving those around us – living in action of God’s grace.

Trust. New life. We’ve been given that. Trust that you are a part of it, and live into that trust and faith for the world. Amen.

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