Since the days of Moses, God has been calling humanity into the light and ultimately into life itself. After giving the laws to Moses, God ends by telling the Children of Israel, “on this day I give you blessing and curse, life and death, choose life. In this morning’s reading from the Book of Numbers, when the Children of Israel grew impatient with Yahweh and turned against God, God sent venomous snakes and only provided Moses with the antidote when the people cried out to Moses and returned to God. The antidote was simple, when bitten by a snake, all the individual had to do was turn his or her head from the serpent and look into the eyes of the effigy atop the pole to be saved. This morning’s Gospel builds on this Old Testament story. The effigy is now the crucified Christ, the serpents of death is the evil that surrounds us and all we have to do to be saved from evil is to believe, to turn our faces towards the cross and trust in Christ.
But what does it mean to choose life; to choose God over everything else?
If one were to enter into the mind set of St. John, choosing life, believing in Christ begins with our willingness to come out of the darkness and into the light. St. John uses the imagery of light and darkness throughout his prolog. Almost all of us are familiar with what is perhaps his second most famous line. “The light has entered into the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” As one reads the beginning chapters of John’s gospel, the writer challenges the reader to come out of the false security of the shadows and into the light of God. But, we like Adam and Eve, after they have disobeyed God, choose to hide in the shadows of the Garden in order to avoid facing the consequences of our doubts and disobedience.
Living in the shadows is comforting. It allows us to hide and camouflage the parts of our lives we are unable to face or deal with. Living in the shadows allows us to hide from, or even escape from our physical and emotional brokenness. The shadows of life conceal our shame, our weaknesses, and our sin.
To enter into the light, means allowing ourselves to be fully exposed. In Genesis, the fallen Adam and Eve cover their bodies before coming out of the shadows so as not to be fully exposed before God. What is it that we, you and I, are hiding in the shadows, afraid for God to see? What is it in our lives that is poisoning us and keeps us from looking into the eyes of God.
These are the things we must bring into the light if we are to be free of them. These are the things which keep us in the shadows of death and keep us from trusting in Christ and knowing the fullness of life itself.
But what is this life that God is constantly beckoning us towards and telling us is worth risking full exposure? As a priest and pastor, I often wish God had used a term other than life for us to choose after giving the Law. As anyone who has walked this earth knows, death is part of life, even for those of us who live in the context of the resurrection.
What I wish God had offered instead of a choice between life and death, is the choice between being broken and being whole. After all, isn’t that what we really seek in this life, a sense of being made whole, feeling that our life has meaning, a sense of fulfillment, or even purpose. For me, John 3:16 would be much easier to grasp, and more true to my experience of life if John had written, “ God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, so that those who believed/ trusted in him would not be broken but have everlasting wholeness of life.”
Wholeness of life is only possible when we are willing to trust God enough to come out of the shadows and be exposed. Wholeness of life is only possible when we are willing to enter into the light and face our brokenness in order for God to make us whole. So often what we see as being broken and useless, God sees as whole and useful for the building of the Reign of God.
Frequently we forget we are both beloved children of God and a part of God’s perfect creation. Two weeks ago the Young Adult Bible Study spent our time focusing on just the first paragraph of John’s Gospel. In the course of our study, we realized if all of life came into being through the Word of God, then we are part of the creative Word of God and we are therefore part of the continuing creative process of the Word of God. Which means, we are part of the Divine and the Divine is part of us.
If this is the case, then we cannot experience wholeness of life without God and we cannot live our lives ignoring the light of God which resides in each of us. It is only when we are able to embrace the Divine within us, that we are we able to find wholeness.
On the first Sunday of Lent, Josh Barrett stood before us and proudly displayed his tattoo of a Jerusalem Cross on his right forearm. He told us how his tattoo served as a constant reminder that he was marked as Christ’s own forever on the day of his Baptism. It also, he said, provided him with a daily reminder that he was a beloved child on God. Then in the course of his homily he told us how he did not always feel as if he were a beloved child of God. How, due to his sexuality he come to believe he was unacceptable to God and prayed to be made whole. It was only after he chose to turn to God and asked to be healed that he heard the words of the Divine tell him that he was already whole, and that he still remained God’s beloved child.
Tomorrow night, a new season of Dancing with the Stars begins and we will get to meet Noah Galloway. I have to be honest, I had no idea who Noah Galloway was and why he was a star. So I looked up his story. Noah is an injured Iraqi War veteran. In the course of duty he lost both an arm and a leg in a IED blast. Like so many of our wounded veterans, Noah had to accept his new reality. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to adjust to life with only one arm and one leg. . .to come to see yourself as complete even though the mirror tells you otherwise. Noah has found the strength from within to see what many see as incomplete as now complete. To accept what he cannot do by capitalizing on what he can do. Today, Noah works as a personal trainer and competes in Tough Mudder runs and other physically demanding events. He also travels around the country as an inspirational speaker. I believe Noah is able to do this because he found the strength to come out of the shadows and the darkness of injury and risk entering into the light of life where he has again found the wholeness of life only God can provide.
On this Fourth Sunday of Lent, I invite you to find the courage to trust in the cross of the Christ, to turn your head away from darkness and to seek the light of wholeness and life which has been made possible through the power of the cross.