Here are my thoughts for this Sunday in Lent
If you watched any major televised sporting event in the 1980’s, you would invariably spot a guy in a wild rainbow colored Afro wig holding up a sign saying “John 3:16”. This individual, known as “Rockin Rollen”, first started just trying to get attention for himself. Then it became his mission to bring his view of the Gospel to the world through the major sporting events of the time. Unfortunately, this mission took a wrong turn somewhere and it was reported that Rollen ended up in jail. But his activities inspired others to do similar stunts and we may on occasion still see Biblical references on placards during televised sporting events.
But the one reference that was posted during a game that made the most sense was a sign reportedly posted during a University of Tennessee football game in the 1980’s (probably 1988). The Volunteers started the season by losing their first five games and it was during the sixth game that a fan held up a sign saying “Luke 23: 34”. It is said that there was a great rush the next day in church among Tennessee fans as they sought to discover the significance of this phrase as it applied to college football. For those that haven’t reached for their Bible and turned to the passage, this is the passage where Jesus, on the cross, says “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
The problem for churches today isn’t so much that we seek Biblical passages to use in commentary on daily lives but we use the passages to suggest that we are knowledgeable about Christ and what He would have us do. Quick references to Biblical passages have become the “sound bites” of modern Christianity.
And just as “sound bites” on television don’t hold our attention, we quickly lose our attention when all we do is turn Christianity into “sound bites.” Do we not forget that, in having declared that we are followers of Christ, it is our lives that change? As Paul notes in the Epistle reading for today (1), before we started this new journey, ours was a life of the moment. But in proclaiming Christ as our Savior, our lives change and our view of life changes as well.
As the Old Testament reading for today (2) indicates, the children of Israel were continually forgetting why it was that they were in the desert. Again, the people of Israel are screaming at Moses about the lack of food and water. It would seem that the people, having escaped slavery and seen the many miracles of God, are not content to accept manna from heaven and water from a rock. Each miracle seems to be accompanied by a demand from the people to do it again; the first time wasn’t sufficient. The “sound bite” mentality of today was even present during the days in the Wilderness!
The use of the serpents to cause the children of Israel to repent is a reminder to us of Christ’s suffering on the cross. A snake bite can cause excruciating pain and raging fevers. The commentary for this passage from Numbers suggests that there were no antidotes for the snake bites that the people were receiving.
It was the pain of the bites that drove the people to repent. Choosing a snake as an emblem of life must seem unreasonable since it was the snake that was causing the death in the first place. But, if the people wanted to live, the passage tells us that they must look at the image of the snake on the pole that Moses had created. Jesus mentioned this image in his discussion with Nicodemus (3) as an analogy to what He would encounter on the Cross. To Jews, crucifixion was a sign of the curse; therefore, just as the Israelites had to look on the repugnant, uplifted image of the snake in order to be saved, so too must we look at the uplifted image of Jesus on the Cross in order to be saved from our sins.
But, often times, we do not want to do that. We do not want to be reminded that we must make changes in our lives if we are to be saved. While we may not want to, our focus must and always be on the cross. For without the cross to remind what we are preparing for, life itself has no meaning. It is very interesting what Paul is telling us in his letter to the Ephesians this week.
Before Christ, our lives were our own and we were free to do what we wanted to. But this life was nothing, if it was anything at all. And we searched for answers but all we found or heard where the sound bites. God, for whatever reason and through Christ, offers us a way out of this short-term mentality. He gives us something that we can hold on, something that gives us reason and purpose. But we have to focus on the cross and the resurrection; we have to continue the work that Jesus started. As Paul concludes the passage from Ephesians for today, “through Christ, we are to do the work that God intended for us to do.”
So, we have a choice this day. We can keep our “sound bite” mentality and use short tidbits of information to show others how “enlightened” and “Christian” we are. Or we can decide to throw off the trappings and attitudes of today’s life and follow the life that Jesus Christ showed us, knowing that this means we are in it for the long haul. Three weeks from today, we will come to the cross. For some, this will be a “sound bite” that will quickly disappear on Monday; for others, it will mark a moment in a new life. Which will it be for you? Will your life be nothing more than “sound bites” or are you in this for the long haul?
Ephesians 2: 1 – 10