This week we had a very beloved verse, our gospel reading was John 3:1-17.
I want to start with the 14th verse, it reads: “and just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up”. We see the reference to the crucifixion, but might be confused about the serpent in the wilderness.
The Israelites on their 40 year journey encountered poisonous snakes. God commissioned Moses to create a statue of a snake wrapped around a pole. When the Israelites were bitten, if they looked upon the statue, they would be healed. It sounds odd to us, but if we look at ambulances and hospitals today, the image of the serpent wrapped around a pole or a cross is common, because it is still a sign of healing.
All know John 3:16, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, in order that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life”. I think verse 16 is incomplete without verse 17, it reads: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)
This all recalls for me, John 12:32, when Jesus says to his disciples “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).
Jesus came to this world not to condemn it, but to save it by drawing all into himself.
I have a friend that lives in a small town. There is a woman in town whose reputation is essentially as a prostitute that doesn’t receive payment. My friend saw her in distress and was speaking with her. Later, she was confronted by a good, pious, up-right Christian woman. The conversation included, towards the end, my friend saying “well, its good to know that you’re better than Jesus”.
The woman was taken back and wanted to know why my friend would say that. My friend’s response was “well, obviously you’re too good to hang out with sinners, Jesus wasn’t”.
When we look through the whole of scripture, Jesus is continually hanging out with the sinners, the outcasts, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, everyone that polite or religious society condemned.
We are called to follow Christ’s example. We know we will fall short, but what are our stumbling blocks? What enables us to determine whether somebody is worthy or not worthy of our care? of being embraced? of love? of our service? Jesus came not to condemn, but to save.
We have another example of how we might overcome some of those stumbling blocks to embrace, to love, to care, to serve our neighbors. It is appropriate as this is his week that includes his commemoration, and that is Saint Patrick.
If I told you that Saint Patrick was NOT an Irishman, you would probably look at me like I was crazy. But, the truth is he was from Roman ruled Britannia. We would call him a Brit (or possibly a Roman).
According to his story, at age 16 he was kidnapped, took to Ireland, and sold into slavery which he escaped a few years later. He returned home only to feel a calling, a longing to return to Ireland and its people. He fled that calling and headed in the opposite direction to seminary. Once his studies were complete, that call to return to Ireland and its people as a missionary returned. This time he heeded it.
According to legend, St. Patrick converted all of Ireland within in a short amount of time, not by condemning the people but by caring, loving, teaching, and embracing them. In fact, he did this so well that the Irish considered him an Irishman, Patrick considered himself an Irishman, and history would essentially record him as an Irishman.
And, according to legend, he drove all the poisonous snakes out of Ireland.
My prayer is that this week, we can look at the example of Saint Patrick, the example of Christ, and ponder what are our stumbling blocks that prevent us from the care, the love, the service, the embracing of our neighbors. Amen.
Scriptures: John 3:1-17 and John 12:32
Originally Preached on March 12, 2017.