Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sun. Mar. 22, 2009 (Paul Thiessen)

Last week's Old Testament reading from Numbers 21 was preceded by the story of the Canaanites attacking the wandering Jews, who then reorganized and "utterly destroyed" the Canaanites, only to resume wandering. By now the Jews were sick of God's life-giving manna, they yearned for the fish and herbs of Egypt, and complained bitterly against Moses and his God. Wandering into an area loaded with venomous snakes, many Jews died. Moses soon had a large snake forged from bronze, raised the sculpture on a pole, and the people who looked at it were spared death. (To this day, two snakes intertwined on a pole symbolize medicine/physicians.) The Israelites were not healed by magic, nor by worshiping the snake, but by believing in God's power. The writer of the Gospel of John (3.14-16)picks up this theme, saying that whoever believes in Christ, lifted up on the cross--like Moses' snake, will be saved. Paul Thiessen then asked us to contemplate the difference between believing in God's power (behind the symbol) or believing in the image. The veneration of icons remains difficult for Protestants and Muslems, whereas devout Jews kiss prayer shawls or the Torah and Catholics venerate Mary. Contemporary Christians do not worship the cross, yet give it pride of place in our sanctuaries. Images can become powerful and useful metaphors for us, as was that ancient bronze snake (which was finally destroyed centuries later when people worshiped the object rather than God's power which once lay behind the object). [JEK] Listen to the sermon audio MP3 recording from Sunday Mar. 22nd, 2009 using your browser's preferred media player.



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