14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.[a]
16 “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.
17 “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. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
A few years back, I had a running injury that needed some attention. It didn’t keep me from running, but it was a nagging tendinits injury that didn’t seem to go away. Luckily, my spouse, Debbie, is Physical Therapy Assistant and works at a physical therapy office. Many of the Physical Therapists there are runners and are simply great to work with and have become friends over the years.
So, I set up an appointment with my friend Andy, who’s a Physical Therapist and a runner. He told me to wear running clothes for the appointment as he wanted to analyze my stride to see if that was causing some of the issues.
When I got there, we went through some dynamic stretching and checking of my tendons. Then he had me get on the treadmill to look at my stride. I thought that it would be a fairly short jog, so I kept my warm-up on and started running on their treadmill. Their treadmill was about 3 feet off of the ground so that the PT’s could have a better view of your running.
After about 3-4 minutes of running, I asked if they had seen enough. Andy said no, he wanted me to run a few more minutes. I started to warm up a bit more and, without thinking, I began to take my pullover off. While pulling it over my head, and still running on the treadmill, it got stuck a bit on my head…I lost my stride, hit the back of the treadmill and somehow lifted off the back of it! I got some serious airtime, but I nailed the landing!
When I looked around, the whole clinic was looking at me, kind of like,
“wow, that guy is still alive!?”. Andy just said, well, that’s a first! At that point, I put my hands up in the air and simply said “thank you” to all in the clinic as they began to clap!
Today, we’re talking about being lifted up…not like my treadmill misadventure that day…no, we want to be lifted up in our everyday lives, out of the mundane, the ordinary, the routine. We so often get caught up in days upon days of wondering, is this it? Is this all there is to life? We get caught in ruts where we possibly make decisions or begin to think in ways that are not helpful. Oftentimes, these decisions and thoughts, especially when made in isolation or without a sense of intentional and positive growth, change, or maturity could lead to destructive patterns.
This is true in our own lives, as well as our life together as a community of faith. It happened to Israel. They were stuck in the desert, both physically and metaphorically. They were losing faith and getting tired. They decided to look for fulfillment in behaviors that led to destruction.
A good question for us as a church universal: Have we gotten tired of waiting on God, of having faith? Have we sought after other things such as a consumer based church where we chase after program after program or worry about worship styles? Have we chased after theologies and ideologies that are more closely related to cultural systems rather than radically inviting those systems towards a “re-functioning” or reformation? Have we become more focused on ourselves and our way of doing things rather than practicing hospitality and reconciliation with our community? I wonder what folks in this community, or the communities in which we live, think of churches throughout their neighborhoods? Would they notice if they shut their doors?
Within this tiredness or rut that the church finds itself in, and in the ruts of our every day that lead us to make personal decisions that may not be healthy, we get to the point where we finally realize and hope for something more. We want to be lifted up.
The good news is hat God wants to lift us up, but it starts with us looking towards God for deliverance rather than the systems of this world or the unhealthy places we may find ourselves.
With Israel, God told Moses to put up a pole with a snake on it. He did and folks were saved from death. Now, I’m not sure exactly of all the symbolism of a snake on a pole besides what I vaguely remember from seminary or commentaries, or if it’s simply a metaphor or a writer in antiquity trying to convey a deeper message…but I do believe that the writer of this story was saying that Moses went to God and God gave Moses a sign of deliverance.
Our gospel lessons finds the writer referring to this lesson from Numbers and saying that Jesus is being lifted up and we are called to look to him for deliverance, for justice, and for the way to to live.
As Jesus is lifted up, literally on a tree at calvary, but also lifted up daily in our lives through a deeper understanding of the Christ and how we find our find our salvation and personal and corporate agency.
Christ shares with us humanity and Christ is also eternal in Christ’s being, we can find that our identity is wrapped up in Christ. As Christ is lifted up, we are also lifted up.
Colossians 3:3 gives more evidence of this, “our lives are hid in God through Christ”. We are being lifted up with Christ. We are given eternal life. Now, we may be thinking, do I want to live forever if this life is a reflection of the life eternal? Well, the folks listening to this reading in John had an understanding of eternal that, on the surface, we might not understand. Eternal means the quality of life, not just quantity. And, eternal tied in with Jesus, the Christ, means amazing quality that does last forever, and it starts now, or rather, it started with a bang from the very beginning!
You see, Jesus is also lifted up as the one true human that we are all called to live in, just as Christ lives in us. Now, we are not perfect, we mess up…hang out with me for a while, crawl into my head, and you may have some deep reservations about me! Of course, the opposite is true, if I were to know your deepest thoughts and faults, I may be wanting to get away from you as well. But, our lives are wrapped up in Christ and Christ redeems and saves all of us, our thoughts, our actions, and, well, everything. Nothing is outside of God’s reach.
God also says that we can live in deep love with and through Christ’s love for us and be lifted up. We are given opportunity after opportunity to cultivate an understanding of ourselves, to find appropriate and safe places or communities where we can take off our masks, be vulnerable, and to grow. Jesus got that. In Jesus’ being he lived in community with the father and the Spirit, what we’d call the Trinity. Three in One community. Jesus also called a group of folks around him that were committed to him. They weren’t perfect, they fell away and disappointed themselves by their infidelity. Yet, God lifted them up and they changed the world.
Our text this morning talks about belief. In our culture, we seem to put a lot of emphasis on believing the right things. However, I would say that this text is calling us towards something deeper: trust. We are called to trust God and even to trust each other. Which, can be hard and we need to make sure we “walk in wisdom” with others. But, yes, we should grow towards building trusting relationships.
Sometimes, even with the best intentions, that trust can be broken. Yet, as we see with God, God continues to put his trust in us. Even after Jesus is crucified, Jesus comes to his disciples and shows them amazing trust.
As we do this, as we trust and risk, we can experience deliverance and become “lifted up” people. I believe we will grow stronger as persons and we will grow stronger as a church. We have potential to be agents of good, of change, of hospitality and of deep friendships as we experience God lifting up Jesus, lifting up us, and lifting up the community around us. All of the community, not just those that are similar to us, but everyone…that’s good news…may we all do the lifting up of Christ in our communities, following Christ’s example of radical hospitality, friendship, and inclusion and, in so doing, all be lifted up together.