We Are Not Alone: Through God’s Grace 3-15-15

Numbers 21: 4-9 The Israelites traveled from Mount Hor along the road to the Sea of Reeds in order to avoid Edom.  But the people grew impatient along the way. and they addressed their concerns to God and Moses:   “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert?  We have no bread!  We have no water!  And we are disgusted with this terrible food!” Then YHWH sent venomous snakes among the people.  They fatally bit many of the people. So the people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against YHWH and against you.  Intercede for us, and ask that God remove the snakes from us.” So Moses prayed  for the people. And YHWH said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it on the end of a pole.  Anyone who is bitten and looks at it will live.”  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole.  Then whenever the people were bitten by a snake, they looked at the bronze snake and lived.

Last week’s Cantata was a moving musical portrayal of the Lenten journey. It is a strange and stark season, where the cross comes more and more into sight. The truth is that we cannot get to Easter except by going through the cross, by way of the cross. That is just as controversial an idea today as it was in the first century, maybe more so. The loneliness of the cross is how we got to knowing that we are not alone. Today’s Gospel reading clearly references our first assigned reading from Numbers. Listen for the word of God for you today.

John 3:14-21 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the Chosen One must  be lifted up. so that everyone who believes in the Chosen One might have eternal life. Yes, God so loved the world as to give the Only Begotten One, that whoever believes may not die, but have eternal life. God sent the only Begotten into the world not to condemn the world, but that through the Only Begotten the world might be saved. Whoever believes in the only Begotten avoids judgment, but whoever doesn’t believe is judged already for not believing in the name of the Only Begotten of God. On these grounds is sentence pronounced; that though the light came into the world, people showed they preferred darkness to the light because their deeds were evil. Indeed, people who do wrong hate the light and avoid it, for fear their actions will be exposed; but people who live by the truth come out into the light, so that it may be plainly seen what they do is done in God.

March 15, 2015.

We Are Not Alone: Through God’s Grace

Roman at eighteen year old admits that he texts while he drives and that he’s not going to stop. His friends tell him it’s dangerous. School assemblies make people test out how it works. I’ll show you how it works since I went to one with Elijah. In a second I want everybody to close their eyes. I’ll show you what taking your eyes off the road for 4 seconds would be like.

All right, close your eyes …. Open. and look at the road. Imagine what could happen in that time, if you are moving. It is very dangerous. Roman says, “I know I should stop, but it’s not going to happen. If I get a Facebook message or something posted on my wall … I have to see it. I have to.”

Sherry Turkle, who wrote the book Alone Together, spoke with Roman and his classmates at a private urban coeducational high school in Connecticut. She says that his friends did try to convince him to stop, but then they admitted that they do it too. Why do they text while driving? Turkle says that their reasons are not reasons. They just feel they ¨have” to connect.

They need to connect, even if it’s dangerous. They feel they have to stay in touch no matter what. This is a strange new dilemma for younger generations that some of us of older generations have not faced in the same way. Younger generations have the opportunity to have many more relationships – shallower relationships – but more of them, because of the ease of technology, a phone in every pocket. Phones and computers are rapidly changing the way people relate to each other, or don’t relate to each other. We don’t know how this is all going to turn out.

We can see though, that people are not connecting as deeply with each other. We don’t expect as much from each other. It’s easier to connect, but harder to deeply relate to each other. Younger folks find these new technologies essential. I am not so young, but I use my smartphone almost every hour of the day. I can hardly imagine life without it. I love it even as I know that it’s benefits come with some serious downsides.

Turkle calls it being “alone together,” a new kind of loneliness or isolation. She sees it in Roman and his friends in their unwillingness to give up being connected even during a short drive, even when it is dangerous to keep checking their phones. she sees it in a coming reliance on robots to provide companionship and assistance that is a little scary.

 

All during Lent my sermon series is titled “We Are Not Alone.” I am not sure that I have convinced you yet that this sermon series title is addressing a real problem. I don’t like to think that I am more isolated or lonely than my parents or previous generations. I like to think that we are making progress and things are getting better. We are using technology for good in every way we can.

We don’t want to admit it, but on this journey toward an uncertain future, we are like the Hebrew people in the wilderness, complaining about the food and water. They wanted to get to the promised land already. They were sick of this manna stuff. If they were going to have to keep eating it, they said, they’d just as soon go back into slavery in Egypt.

Scripture tells us that God got so tired of hearing them complain that God sent poisonous snakes among them which started to kill them with fatal bites. The people came to Moses to complain and Moses went to God to try to work this out. Before Moses could even protest the snakes, God said, “They deserve it. Those people, constantly complaining. Nothing is ever good enough for them!”

And Moses said to God, “Tell me about it, God. I’ve been living with them for forty years in the wilderness. Welcome to my world. Now you see what I see. These people are hopeless. Getting them to do anything different than what they want to do… I don’t see how putting poisonous snakes out there is going to accomplish anything!”

Well, the venomous snakes were already there, and even though God was regretting putting them out there, they were now a fact of life. So God had to come up with a solution to the poisonous snakes. This image of a snake on a staff, called the “rod of Asclepius” is an ancient image for healing in many cultures, and it is used as a symbol in many medical associations even today.

It comes from an ancient knowledge of the healing properties of snake venom. Even back then, they know that some things which could hurt or kill people, in smaller quantities could sometimes be an agent of healing. Early Christians took this symbol of the snake on the staff and connected it with the image of Jesus on the cross. Looking to the cross would have saving and healing power in the same way as the early rod of Asclepius, they claimed. (hear about peanut butter and measles vaccinations?)

 

Let me state again when I said at the beginning today. Our road to Easter goes through the cross. There is not way to get to the new life of Easter except by way of the cross. The next few weeks we are going to look at that some more as we keep looking at the cross as a symbol of human loneliness and isolation, of the ways in which we are so desperate for connection that we will put our lives in danger just to know who wanted to say hello to us, who wanted to send us a picture of a cute dog doing a trick.

For today I just want to suggest with Sherry Turkle that loneliness is failed solitude, that our inability to be alone, our unwillingness to have any sabbath time or dedicated prayer time in our lives leaves us chronically isolated and alone. For us today, the equivalent of looking at the copper serpent on the staff, of taking an antidote to the snake venom of our time, may be that we have to put down our cell phones, lay aside our ever present technological companions to take some time alone with our Creator.

We need to reclaim the virtues of solitude, deliberateness and living fully in the moment, to regain our ability to concentrate and have genuine long lasting and dependable relationships with each other. [Turkle, p. 296] We have lost much of our ability to just sit with each other, to pray, to have genuine community.

Our Christian faith reassures us that we are not lost causes even though we don’t have a clue how to get back to community and real connection from where we are now. God’s love and grace claims us and reclaims us from our preoccupations and distraction. Every soul we long to reach, every heart we hope to teach everywhere we share God’s peace is only by God’s grace. Every loving word we say, every tear we wipe away, every sorrow turned to praise is only by God’s grace.

Responsive Hymn       2162  Grace Alone