Genesis 12:1-4a

John 3:1-17

This morning’s scripture is filled with conversations between God and humanity:

We are able to listen in on God speaking to Abram.

God in essence tells Abram, “It’s time, I need you to pack up and leave everything that is familiar to you.  Your daily routine, the morning coffee break with your friends, your extended family, your place of worship, everything.  The only road map you need is me.  Accepting my invitation will change you and the legacy you leave forever and many people will be blessed because of your choice.

Abram’s response is, “Sure God,  I’ll go.”  At the age of 75, comfortable in the life he had, knowledgeable in how things worked in his community and how to be successful, confident in his comprehension of how things should be, he listened, put the past in the rear-view mirror, and moved into the unknown because the Lord he loved offered an opportunity and the power for him to make a difference for others.  God’s promises enough for him to pull up stakes and head into unfamiliar territory.

We don’t have as many pieces from God’s conversation with Moses that leads to the example Jesus shares with Nicodemus, but if we go back to Numbers 21 4-9 we hear,

“From Mount Hor they set out by the way to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way.  The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.

Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.  The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.  And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”  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.”[1]

The Israelites had experienced God’s love and care for them, had witnessed promises faithfully kept many times before this complaining begins.

Yet it is not the first time we have read about the people of Israel complaining about their journey from Egypt to the promised land, there were the complaints about food not long after they began their journey, there were complaints Moses was gone too long when he was up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, then there were complaints about lack of water, and now, the journey is taking too long and the impatience overflows into complaints, some of which contradict one another

They say they have no food but at the same time say they detest the miserable food.

They are having a difficult time with change and a culture of negativity develops as they loose sight of God’s faithfulness.  God responds by sending poisonous snakes into where the people were.  Snakes were biting and people were dying.

They quickly repent, acknowledging that they had sinned by speaking against God and by speaking against Moses.  They recognize it was wrong to be negative about God as well as to be negative about others sharing their journey of faith.

Moses prays for the people at their request and the Lord tells him what needs to be done.

He fashions a sculpture of a poisonous serpent and puts it on a pole – the instructions are if you get bit look at the serpent of bronze and you will live.

As their focus turns from complaining, to focusing on what God has provided as a means of healing and life, they are saved.

There is healing found in the serpent lifted up at God’s direction.  Blessings come from embracing what God provides for the journey.

That conversation starting with God saying let’s take a trip.  I’ll guide you and provide for you and when you get there it will be better than anything you can imagine.  The people respond, “sounds great, let’s go”  and then things get difficult, don’t move at the pace and way they envision and the conversation turns to complaining about God, Moses, and each other.  “What are you thinking making us walk this far and making us eat this stuff?” they moan.  They learn how quickly things can go downhill when they take their focus off God, and the conversation turns to: “Opps, we got it wrong.  We accept your power to move forward in the midst of anything this world throws at us.  Thank You Lord.”

Then we join Jesus as he talks with Nicodemus.  Nicodemus seems to be someone who has it all together, someone who doesn’t need a Savior.  There is no evidence he is in duress physically, emotionally, or financially.  He seems by all measures of the world to be a success story.  He has achieved the Jewish Dream.  He is a Pharisee, a member of the ruling class, and a leader among the Sanhedrin.  Yet he is drawn to Jesus and his words indicate he yearns for something deeper and more meaningful in his life than what the world has to offer.  He comes to Jesus under the cover of night seeking information on who exactly Jesus is and where Jesus get his miraculous power..[2]

“I know you are of God,” Nicodemus affirms, “the evidence proves it, but what do I do with that knowledge?”  “You must be changed,” Jesus tells him.  “You can’t make the world priorities your priorities, you must live according to God’s priorities.”  “You can’t just believe I am of God, you must live that belief in all of your relationships – relationships with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, enemies, as well as those you have never met.”  “You must go to new places, love in new ways, affirm one another.”  “To build my kingdom you must move ever forward, trusting I’ve got you, even when you have to hear my message in a new song or worship style so that others can hear it too.”  “You need to turn yourself completely over to me,” I hear Jesus tell Nicodemus and each of us

Life is lived in the current of flux and flow.[3]

Often it is exactly when we think we have it all together, that we completely understand God and can just do it on our own; when we believe we know exactly how everything should be done and where and how others should experience God; and begin to focus on how we want things to be – that God calls out to us.  “If you want to share my love with others, you need to leave the familiar and go where they are.”  “If you want to survive the snakes of this world you need to look to what I provide to guide you.”  “If you want to see the kingdom it takes more than belief, it takes change.”

We have been talking about welcoming people to join us on our faith journey.  I think this excerpt from a blog posted by a mother of two young children, who lost her husband to cancer, takes what I see in this morning’s scripture and shapes it in the story of those with whom we hope to walk.

“When church leaders sit around and discuss how they can reach people, I don’t think they have the widow in mind. I don’t think they have the cancer patient in mind. I don’t think they have the children who are growing up without a parent in mind. I am not paying attention to the church décor when I walk through the doors. I don’t want to smell fresh brewed coffee in the lobby. I don’t want to see a trendy pastor on the platform. I don’t care about the graphics or the props on the platform. I am hurting in a way that is almost indescribable. My days are spent working full time. My nights are spent homeschooling and taking care of two young children. I don’t have shared duties with a spouse anymore everything is on my plate. And when I go to church I desperately want to hear the Word of God.

“Because there are days I am running on empty and a coffee bar in the lobby isn’t filling me up. There are days when the pain is so brutal and a concert like setting is not providing healing. There are days when the tears won’t stop and a trendsetting church is not what I need. I need Jesus. There are days I wonder if the pain is ever going to end and a couch on the platform is not providing answers.

“The lighting, coffee bars, relevant messages, graphics and other things are secondary and serve no assistance to me during the darkest hour of my life. This is in no way a criticism of churches that have coffee bars, nice lighting and catchy sermon titles. However, in everything that is done, we need to make sure that Jesus is at the center. It is a also a reminder that there are hurting people sitting in your congregation. There are people whose marriages are crumbling, people whose finances are deteriorating, people whose children are rebelling and people like me, whose husband has passed away after a brutal fight with cancer. And these people are not impressed with the stage lighting. They could care less about the coffee flavor. They don’t need to be pumped or hyped. They need and are desperate for Jesus. And they may actually be turned off by all that they consider gimmicks to get people to go to church.

I scroll down my social media feed and I see churches with pictures of their coffee bars, their concert like settings, their graphics, their trendy sermon series and those don’t appeal to me. I want to see how Jesus has changed a person’s life. I want to see the power of prayer. I want to see how the Word of God can be applied to one’s life. I want to see how Jesus can help the hurting. I want to see how Jesus can heal the sick. I want to see how the broken heart was restored. I want to see how the mourners were comforted. I want to see how lives were restored.”[4]

At our baptism we, or those who bring us to be baptized, answer the question we shared together earlier in the service:  Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

God provides us with freedom and power to be who he calls us to be to share Jesus with a hurting and broken world.  We need to accept it.

We accept it with the help of God, and move forward by doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all people, by giving, visiting, instructing, reproving, and exhorting.  That means being born into and living the nature of Christ so others may be see how lives are restored.

It means treating each other with love, not complaining when things aren’t going our way, making every action and decision reflective of God’s love extended to us and through us.  We need to be ready to change direction and to trust in God’s power to help us go where we are called to share the love we know in Jesus Christ with those yearning to know more about him.

When we do, we are living the Baptismal Calling.



[1] NIV

[2] Preaching Notes- Discipleship Ministries, Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser Second Sunday in Lent 48

[3] Len Sweet, Preach the Story March 12

[4] Why the Church doesn’t mean any more coffee bars” Wednesday, March 8, 2017

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