Staring Into the Face of Resurrection

Snake (Coiled) Scripture Text:  Numbers 21: 4-9
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Well, as if we weren’t having enough problems in this wilderness! It seems that all through the Scriptures, there is always lots of complaining going on in the wilderness. The people complained because there was no food, so God gives them manna enough for an army. They complained that there was no water, so God tells Moses to strike the rock and the waters supposedly gushed forth. The complaints continued. Nothing was ever enough. Nothing was ever right. The one here always sort of cracks me up. “There is no food and no water!” “Oh wait, there IS food but we don’t like it.” (OH, that’s the REAL story!) But, regardless, this is the oddest passage. Without its mention in this week’s Gospel passage, chances are we would have avoided including it in the Lectionary altogether.

But in their defense, the wilderness sometimes seems to be unending torturous despair. The people are weary; they are frustrated; and they are no longer convinced that their leader really knows where he’s going at all. So, of course, the group that doesn’t like change, that wants to go back, becomes louder and more influential. I don’t know. I’ve always thought that perhaps the poisonous snakes notion might have been a little over the top. I mean, sure…complaining…bad, poisonous snakes all over the place…REALLY bad. You know, there is just something about a snake that commands your attention.

So God comes up with the oddest solution. Make a serpent of bronze and put it on a pole and when someone is bitten by a snake, have the person look at the snake. Well, that is very strange. Essentially, God’s antidote for the snakes is a snake. So, let me get this straight. The more we look at our fear, at our evil, at those things that invade us, at those things that plague us, the less hold they have on us. I think the point is not the snake; the point is what God does with it.

It is notable, too, that nothing is said to imply that God destroys the snakes.  Essentially, God does not destroy the enemy—God recreates it.  Isn’t that an incredible thing?  You see, we need to recognize that the traditional Jewish reading of the “Garden of Eden” story differs from the classical Christian version.  While the snake has often been identified in both faiths as Satan (or satan), the Jewish understanding is not that of something or someone outside of God’s command or a rebel against divine authority.  Rather, it’s sort of a prosecuting attorney, entrusted with testing, entrapping, and testifying against us before the heavenly court.  It’s part of God’s way of maintaining order.  It’s part of God’s way of showing us a mirror to look at ourselves.  So, from that standpoint, these snakes or serpents are not enemies but, are rather a part of ourselves, a part of who we are, the part that we would rather not see. (And, yes, now we would rather they all be snakes rather than that!) Redemption is free but it is not given freely; one has to be willing to surrender the part of oneself that we’d rather not see. That is the only way that it can be healed.

So, did you see what has now happened to the story about “the dress”? (You know the blue and black that sometimes looked white and gold that brought the internet, social media, and the news world to its knees as people argued over the color of the dress.) Well, the Salvation Army in South Africa has come up with a stupendous global advertising campaign to raise awareness for domestic violence. There is a billboard in England that shows a picture of a bruised and battered woman that also employs the use of facial recognition technology. Each time a person looks at the billboard, the camera will take a picture of their face and the battered woman will heal a little bit more on the billboard. How incredible is that? If we look, the healing begins. (

That’s the crux. If we look at the snake, if we look at the billboard, if we look to the Cross, the healing begins. Redemption does not happen by ignoring evil or turning one’s eyes away from that which is uncomfortable; it happens by staring it square in the face and seeing God’s Presence come through as it is re-created.

Nature doth thus kindly heal every wound. By the mediation of a thousand little mosses and fungi, the most unsightly objects become radiant of beauty. There seem to be two sides of this world, presented us at different times, as we see things in growth or dissolution, in life or death. And seen with the eye of the poet, as God sees them, all things are alive and beautiful. (Henry David Thoreau)

FOR TODAY: Open your eyes. Look it square in the face and encounter God in a way that you never have before. Encounter redemption; encounter re-creation; encounter resurrection.

Grace and Peace,


The Wrestling Wilderness

Jacob Wrestles with AngelScripture Text: Genesis 32: 24-30

 24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”


We know this story.  Jacob is running from Esau.  (You know, the brother that he duped into handing over his birthright to Jacob.)  And during the night, he wrestles.  It doesn’t fully say why he was wrestling.  Was it fear?  Was it regret?  Was it guilt?  After all, he had taken Esau’s life, pushed him into something that he was not and, in turn, became someone that he himself was not.  So he wrestles, begging for a blessing, begging for forgiveness, begging that his conscience be clear.  As daybreak approaches, Jacob is struck in the hollow of the thigh.  The blow has a crippling effect and brings the struggle to its climactic moment.  But Jacob retains his hold.


Jacob will never be the same again.  He has looked God and also himself square in the face and everything has changed.  The wrestling has been an act not of destruction, but of transformation.  Each step is now marked by the Divine touch.  Jacob becomes Israel, the God-wrestler.  He has experienced a true rebirth.  He names the place Penuel, or “I have seen the face of God”.  Not only has he seen the face of God, but his life is such now that he will continue to experience that over and over again.


The truth is, sometimes we have to get out in the wilderness to do our wrestling.  We think we can do it on our own turf, protected by our armors of plans and preconceptions.  We think we can do it according to some preset schedule.  But the wilderness is the real wrestling place.  Like Jacob, we have sometimes to go it alone, sometimes forsake all of our supplies and our help.  We have to be vulnerable.  We have to be real.  We have to strip away all of our armor.  And, there, exposed, there is nothing to hide who we are.  We face ourselves and we face God.  The wilderness is the place where we encounter God and begin to know ourselves.  The wilderness is the place of blessing.  God wants us to wrestle.  That’s why God gave the name of “God-wrestler” to God’s people.


The season of Lent is a wrestling season.  It begins in a wilderness and ends on a Cross.  And God is there for each round of the game.  Because only those who wrestle with God understand what it means to be blessed, understand what it means to see God face to face, understand what it means to become the one that God sees with the name that God knows.


Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God…They prayed and wrestled and sought…in season and out, and when they had found [God], the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking. (A.W. Tozer)


FOR TODAY:  Strip away the armor that protects you.  With what do you wrestle?  With whom are you wrestling?  Why are you afraid to wrestle?      


Grace and Peace,


Finding Enough in the Wilderness

Shifting Sands on the PathwayScripture Text:  Romans 4: 13-22

13For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 16For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,  17as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

According to the passage, faith is and has always been the basis of a relationship with God.  (Well, duh!)  We know that.  We are told to believe, to have faith, no matter what.  And so we wander around in another wilderness perhaps beating ourselves up because it just doesn’t make sense to us.  Our pragmatic 21st century minds need proof.  We want to touch it or we want to somehow see it or AT LEAST be able to google it and get more information.  But, as Paul reminds us here, if our whole faith system depends on nothing more than adhering to some limited set of laws or hard and fast Scriptural interpretations that have been laid down by those that came before us, what good is faith?  It’s not bad, mind you, it’s just not enough.  Faith is about relationship; faith is about jumping off into the abyss of unknowing whether or not it makes sense; faith is about knowing only that what you know, what you understand, and what you’ve been told is just not enough.

Now I have to admit, I am a list maker of the highest magnitude.  There is a certain satisfaction, almost power-driven, in “checking things off” my list.  So, faith, for me, is definitely a walk in the wilderness where the winds blow the sands beneath my feet distorting my planned path, where the road winds and turns into unknown terrain, and where nothing, I mean NOTHING, is ever completed or “checked off” as “OK, I got that one”.  See, I don’t think Paul would have ever have meant to dismiss systematized religion or even the rules.  They help shape us; they give us a starting point.  But Paul is reminding us that they have their limitations.  They tend to make sense of something that, in our minds, in our limited human minds, does not and cannot fully make sense.  An authentic, growing, faith making its way through the wild terrain is one that weaves what doesn’t make sense into understanding, laughter into prayer, and grace into the everyday.  It is a mixture of sense-making and transcendence that, sometimes, on our very best days, opens us to an encounter with the Divine when we least expect it in our everyday, carefully planned, list-ridden life.  And in that moment, the path beneath us shifts just a bit as God gently moves us to face a new direction.

As the passage says, the promises of God do not come to us through our religion or through our laws or through even our reading of the Scriptures (shhhh!)  The promise of God comes to us through our faith.  The promise comes to be in the wilds of our lives when our lists cannot be completed and we can no longer control where our path leads.  The promise takes life when we encounter and know God as perfectly revealed and totally hidden.  The promise takes life when we finally know that what we know is never enough.

On this Lenten wilderness journey, we are taught to open our eyes to what we’re missing seeing and opening our hearts to the ways that we’re missing being and opening our minds beyond the boundaries that we have drawn to know that there is so much more, that what we know and what we see is never enough.  We are never called to tame the wilderness through which we journey or to try to redraw the shifting pathways but rather to believe that the Promise will be. The wilderness teaches us that faith fills the void where knowing is not enough.  And, for now, that is enough.

Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.  (G.K. Chesterton)

FOR TODAY: Put the list down. Stop checking things off.  Now let yourself travel into the wilderness where faith is enough.

Grace and Peace,