Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

Growing up in the 80’s there was no shortage of family-friendly sitcoms, you know, shows like Diff’rent Strokes, Family Ties, Who’s the Boss, and the original Full House. It seemed like their goal was to show the families of the English speaking world how to live better with each other, teaching lessons around forgiveness and respect, and giving out ideas on how to deal with some potentially big issues that families face all the time. But, at least in my context, all they really did was make us feel bad for never ever even getting close to hitting that mark. I mean, my family wasn’t that bad in reality, but compared to the lovey-dovey Cosbys or the Seavers we were like a Shakespearean tragedy. We didn’t work out our problems by the end of the day. We held grudges for weeks or months at a time. And never would you ever catch us hugging while the end credits rolled and catchy 80’s music played.

So I remember many times while growing up making vows to myself that if ever and whenever I had a family of my own, it would be better than how I grew up. It would be like the families on TV. I would never yell at my kids, we would laugh all the time, and I wouldn’t ever deny them of any toy or anything because obviously we’ll have endless money to buy them. Well, want to know how that worked out for me? Now that I’ve grown up (somewhat) I’ve come to learn that man alive parenting is hard. I yell at my kids. I often am too tired to play with them. And I never want to buy anything for them because really they don’t make toys like they used to. And while I know that I couldn’t ever live up to the TV family standard, it is hard for me to look at my current parenting situation and not to feel like a failure.

And you know, that is really hard for someone sometimes referred to as “holy father” to admit.

I know all parents go through this, in feeling like failures. But I really feel it at times. I mean, just the other day I totally lost it on them for getting the bathroom floor wet. Granted, it was pretty wet, like the equivalent of about a gallon of water poured directly on the floor. I say this with a level of certainty because that is literally what they did, they got a bucket of bath water and poured it pretty much directly on the floor. But it’s just water. Dirty bath water, but still just water. And it did take me about 20-30 minutes to clean it all up and an extra load of laundry to clean all affected towels and mats, but it’s still just 20-30 minutes. Even after hearing one of them crying pretty hard out of guilt I was still angry and wanted them to feel the frustration that I felt.

Doesn’t that sound like a major fail? Doesn’t that sound like I was acting more out of my selfishness than out of love for my children? Doesn’t that sound like I completely overreacted, operating out of my hurt feelings rather than looking at the situation objectively, and pushing a wedge in the relationship between my kids and me? I was just so concerned with my own comfort, my own expectations and desires, my own little box in which I resided and blew up at something that impeded on my control and worldview, and turned a blind eye to how fun it could be to straight up pour a bucket of water right onto the floor.

I lost sight of what is important. I lost sight of the fact that I am fortunate enough to even have 3 rambunctious kids who like to do kid things. I lost sight of the fact that I even have access to a bath tub, clean water, and a floor that contains that water pretty well before it gets into the walls and does any real damage. Instead I was blinded by my own need for control, comfort, and to complain.

It kind of sounds like I was acting like the ancient Israelites in today’s first reading. This group was just saved from slavery, oppression, from under the hand of a tyrant whose only goal was to exploit their entire bloodline in order to feed his own ego and power, and they got impatient. They grew tired of their freedom and focussed on their food selection. They forgot about all they had to be thankful for, like their very recent liberation, their freedom and promised land, and the food that is literally falling out of the sky, and decided to grumble because that free falling food didn’t live up to their high Michelin standards. Major fail.

If I were Moses, I would be annoyed too. Angry, even. I would have probably have started to just walk faster and lose them in the wilderness. Like, “find the promised land yourselves, suckers!” But God had a different plan. God sent poisonous snakes to teach them a lesson. I don’t know how many of you have encountered a poisonous snake before, but I would imagine that it wouldn’t be all that pleasant, you know, from the dying and all. And so the people learned their lesson. They felt bad and apologized and God, with great grace and mercy and love… and apparently a sense of humour, saves the people using the very thing that was afflicting them, a poisonous snake.

Imagine that, an image of a snake, the very thing that represents to them the source of their pain and suffering and death, and they have to look full on at this thing to be cured. Hilarious. I mean this snake is what was killing them for crying out loud. It’s the thing that reminded them of their punishment for failure. It is a symbol of their guilt and shame. And now you’re saying that it’s what will heal them? It’s what will give them life? It is where they can see the grace of God in the midst of their ungratefulness, selfishness, and sin?

Well, yeah.

As ironic as it is, that is exactly what God was asking of them. And not just for giggles either, as it is pretty funny, but because there is a good reason for it, which is God is present in our pain, in our suffering, in our guilt. Not to cause more pain and guilt, mind you, but to raise us up out of it. To bring us up out of the depths of sin and show us that we are redeemed by a love that knows no bounds.

That is what the cross represents, isn’t it? As this snake, the symbol of punishment and guilt, was lifted up, Jesus says so he must be lifted up on this cross which is also a symbol of punishment and guilt. The cross represents all our shortcomings, all our sin, all our failures in that Jesus was killed because of human short-sightedness, selfishness, and mistrust of anything that isn’t the norm and comfortable. Jesus died to satisfy the wrath of humans, a wrath that came out of the inability to let go of our piles of self-righteousness, our desire to lift ourselves up at the expense of others, and our insatiable need to control everything in order to gain power.

And now this cross is the very symbol of our salvation. It is the very representation of all that is wrong with us, all areas where we fail, all our sin but at the same time how much we are loved, how God picks us up, and how we are forgiven. It is the very reminder that we are a broken people, full of guilt and shame, driven by greed and evil, but at the same time reminds us of God’s healing, God’s liberation, God’s forever enduring grace and mercy, filling us with love and peace and telling us that there is nothing, no bad decision, no misplaced anger, no utter failure that could snatch us out of God’s hands.

That other day when my kids turned the bathroom into a wading pool, yeah I was angry. Yeah I said some things that I regret. And yeah at least one of them felt really bad for what had happened. But not long after that episode that particular kid was sitting on my lap, asking me for tips on how to beat a particular video game, because in his eyes, at least at this point, I am his dad and he loves me in spite of how I can be unreasonable and lose sight of the things that make living so fun.

This innocence, this unrelenting love is what I will always be reminded of when I think of my failures as a parent. I mean, it is easy to love a tv perfect dad, one who is always patient, present, and unlimited energy and creativity to make childhood fun. But we aren’t always like that, at least I’m not. But in spite of that I know that my kids will love me anyway, so instead of denying my failures I will use them to remind me how lucky I am.

I know, that might not always be the case. One day my kids might get fed up with me and shortcomings and all-around annoyingness. Maybe sooner than later. Maybe next week. Maybe this afternoon. Maybe already. But I know that while they may one day no longer love me, that God will continue to love me, you, and all the world until the end of time.

Because God so loved the world that God sent God’s only Son, not to condemn with guilt and punishment, but that the world may see the width and depth of God’s love, the vastness of God’s grace, and the eternally enduring mercy of God, through life, death, and resurrection.

So we too, don’t need to deny our failures, our shortcomings, or our sins, because it is in them that we can see just how much we are loved by God, how we are undeservingly saved, and be humbled by that grace that we might learn to love in return, serve with joy, and be a blessing onto others for the sake of this good news given to us.

As we approach the end of Lent and look ahead to the Easter resurrection, may we recognise and lift up the areas of our brokenness, that we might be reminded of the power of God’s grace, saving us in our sin, forgiving us in our failures, and loving us where we lack, granting us blessing, value, and worth, now and forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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