“The People Loved Darkness” Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:14-21

We do love our darkness, don’t we?

          The “hot topic” of the week has been the Oprah interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, where the darker side of Britain’s Royal Family was exposed for all to see, and we ate it up.

          17.3 million viewers tuned in.   It was so successful that they replayed the interview in its entirety all over again in prime time.

          We do love our darkness.   

          Click bait on the internet will have us hover over the “you won’t believe number 7” button, enticed by whatever tantalizing “tell all” is promised, (heavily interspersed with advertisements and purposefully slow loading so that you “accidentally” click on the wrong button and open a whole new screen.)    “Oh, look at that, I better check that out while I’m here…..”

          Something darker, something juicier and something more explicit is promised.

A bit more gossip to digest.

An image that is promised to astound.

“You won’t believe what the old west was REALLY like,” or “These pictures of the 60’s will tell a different story!”

It does not take much for us to feel drawn to the darker side of things.

For a long time, John’s judgement in this Gospel bothered me.   

John writes, “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. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.”

John writes this right after the affirmation that God so loved the world that he sent his on son into it.

John writes this right after reminding us that Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but rather to save it.

After the most illuminating and uplifting verses in the scripture of the depth of God’s love for this world, John has to go and remind us of how much we love darkness!

How much we love to slink around avoiding the light! 

How much we love to hide things, to keep our secrets and to avoid exposure.

I never liked that part of John’s Gospel very much, but it unfortunately rings too true!   I recognize it in myself and in the things that capture my attention and threaten to suck me in.

I recognize it in my neighbor, in the actions of others.  Whether it is the propensity to go down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, or to question science, or repeat rumors, or to simply and baldly profess that a person “does not believe this” in regard to the pandemic, or to the vaccines, or people’s behaviors.

We do love our darkness!

We will choose it over light and truth if such light and truth threatens our deeply held and cherished beliefs or ideals. 

This is the truth about us.  

This is the “judgement.” 

So, I never really liked John pointing it out or rushing to it right after these verses of professing God’s covenant love.

Couldn’t John have just kind of “glossed over” that so that we could focus on the good stuff, the uplifting part?

But paired with the Hebrew scripture reading for this day, I begin to see this in a whole new light.

The Hebrew Scripture for this day is taken from the book of Numbers, and it tells the story of the wilderness wandering, and the truth about Israel in the wilderness.

They were bitter complainers.  They rather enjoyed pointing out the darkness in their experience.

In the reading for today the people of Israel have been complaining once again about, well, everything.  

There is no water.  

It is not a land fit for living or growing things out here in the wilderness.  There are no figs here.  

They question why Moses brought them out of Egypt to die here in the first place.  

They detest the food they are provided from God!  The Manna, and they have had their fill of quail.  

On and on the litany of complaints goes, slithering through the community if you will.

Now in response to all the complaints one more hardship appears in the wilderness.   Venomous serpents have appeared that bite and kill.

Some are even blaming those snakes on God!  

The Israelites cry out to Moses for God to do something, and God does. 

God does not however take away the snakes.  

God instead forces the people to look at a bronze snake set upon a pole.  “If you are bitten, look up at it, and you will live.”

It is a curious way to address a problem if you think of it medically or practically, but through the eyes of metaphor, it takes on a different light.

The snakes in their midst are the manifestation of all the people’s complaints, all the bites and venom of their comments and attitudes.   If you want to be rid of that poison in your midst, you must look upon it, see it, and acknowledge it!

We do love our darkness, and God knows that about us!  So, God encourages the people, encourages us to take a good look at that love of darkness in ourselves and to acknowledge it, and then God shows us something else.

God comes to us, even and especially in the midst of our love of darkness.

God does not abandon, or throw up God’s hands and walk away, or even just leave us in our complaint and our suffering. 

God says “look at it….and you will live.”

I have often read that and thought of my own walks in desert places.  Snakes as a rule avoid you.   So, as long as you are on the path and not poking around where snakes like to hang out, you’re probably going to be fine.

 But, a funny thing happens if some puts a sign up warning you about snakes.  You start to look for them!

Finding them and thinking you will rid yourself of their danger you poke a them with a stick and that is when you get bit.

Maybe this story is as much about where the people go poking as it is about anything else.

When you begin to see the snakes and the venom in the midst of the community as Israel’s own poking and complaining, then the command to lift your eyes and look at the serpent on the pole begins to make sense. 

Get your eyes off those things, and live!

Now fast forward to John’s Gospel.

This is the same metaphor that John puts forth about Jesus as well.  John prefaces both God’s saving intention and our love of darkness in the need for the Son of Man to be lifted up just as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness. 

“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

We do love our darkness!  John knows that and so as John tells the story of Jesus, he does not shy away from that love of darkness but rather emphasizes just what it is that God does to people who love darkness.

Jesus shows up in the midst of such love of darkness!

When there is no wine at the wedding feast and the party is looking bleak, then it is that Jesus shows up to turn the spoiled celebration into a moment when the best is brought out, taking people’s minds away from what is ruined and turning them toward what is promised.  The story goes from “they have to wine” to “you have saved the best for last!”

When Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, (when it is darkest) and wants to know about the secret of his teaching, Jesus instead talks about being born again and entering life anew.   The story goes from slinking around after dark to get the inside scoop to exposing the actions of humans.

When the woman is at the well in the darkest moment of her life in terms of community and acceptance, then it is that Jesus greets her and offers her living water.   The story goes from all the secrets she has tried to keep to “let me show you a man who told me everything about me!”

When Lazarus is four days dead in the tomb, grief is at its peak, the future is cut off for Mary and Martha, and all is darkness of wailing and mourning.   Then it is that Jesus has the tomb opened and calls into the darkness to bring forth Lazarus to life.  The story goes from “if only you had been here, Lord” to “unbind him and let him go!”

In each case, you have to face the darkness before the light will come.

In each case, you have to look into the face of the consequence of your actions, or the bitterness in your own heart, or the injustice of the moment before new life is possible.

“Look at it.. and you will live.”

And so, when Jesus comes and offers us life, Jesus knows full well our love of darkness, and our fascination with the click-bait of this world, and our desire to slink in the shadows and our own desire to keep our secrets.

Jesus knows, God knows, and meets us in the midst of our preoccupation with the darkness to offer us life and light in the very midst of it.

 It is a curious thing, after all, and makes no sense medically or practically to point to a crucifixion, a symbol of the penalty of death, as the moment when life is offered. 

Except as a metaphor of the length to which God will go, to die on a cross, in order to reach us in our darkness.

In the old west hangings were social events.

You can find pictures of lynchings in the U.S. where the whites are standing around smiling.

We’ll tune in to watch an interview that tears apart families and institutions and engage in “reality” T.V. that promises us the thrills of embarrassment, humiliation, and the ruin of lives of others —  all for the sake of its “entertainment” value.

We do love our darkness, this is true!

But in spite of it, or maybe because of it, God comes to us in the midst of such love of darkness, drawing our eyes away from the poison around us to look at something else.

A serpent on a pole.

A savior on a Cross.

A promise that death does not have the final say in things, and that no matter how dark the moment seems, Jesus knows darkness deeper and came out of it triumphant that you might live as well.

We do love our darkness, but God is in the light business, and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.

That is the promise. That is the good news this day, and every day.   

One thought on ““The People Loved Darkness” Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:14-21

  1. Pamela Bergin says:

    Pastor, I missed getting on Facebook this morning for service.  I am so glad you send your sermon out!  This is a really good one.  Thank you!

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

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