Serpents on sticks.

Homily 278 – 14th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
September 10, 2017

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

We hear of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness. That account is from the Old Testament, from the Fourth Book of Moses (called Numbers) the 21st Chapter:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And 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 loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

This is the imagery that Christ uses to describe Himself. He becomes the fiery serpent. He is the one lifted up on the pole – the Cross.

That is why we read this scripture on the Sunday prior to the Exaltation of the Cross – the precious and lifegiving Cross.

Like the bronze serpent on the pole, lifted up before the people, everyone who looks on Him will be healed. And will live.

The people of Israel had been delivered from bondage – slavery – in Egypt. They had been passed over by the angel of death – if they had followed the instructions of what to do.

And they took the plunder of Egypt, and they headed for the Promised Land.

But they didn’t get there fast enough to suit them. And they griped. The food that God Himself provided – out of His grace and mercy – was not good enough for them.

In the midst of God saving them – they had the audacity to complain.

And so, punishment was sent. And the people recognized their sin, and begged God to cause the punishment to cease.

Thus, the serpent was made, put on a pole, and held high among the people, so that they could look upon it and be healed.

It is the same for us – we too are being rescued – saved – and we too complain against God. We complain because God doesn’t indulge our passions.

We don’t have fun. We aren’t entertained. We don’t even in some cases understand what we are doing, and we certainly don’t always understand why or how.

But just as the image of the serpent healed the people of Israel in the Wilderness, so are we healed by gazing in faith upon the Cross.

In the Cross, we see God Himself. He voluntarily ascends this pole, so that His love for us can be demonstrated. God’s Love – and Christ’s obedience.

Divine will and human will. Reunited in the proper relationship. Resulting in healing.

We are so unworthy of the Mercy of God. Unworthy of the Love of God. God offers it to us anyway. In spite of our unworthiness.

So great is His Love.

While we look upon the Cross, and believe, do we really see the Love there? Do we see how utterly miraculous this is?

How many of us would endure whatever our creation offered? For far less rebellion, parents disown children, children disown parents, friendships rupture. Relationships die.

But God never disowns us. Never abandons us.

It is our will, our desire, our passions – our fallen passions – that cause us to grumble and complain, instead of offer our undying devotion and thanks to our creator.

Thanksgiving – the key, I believe, to our happiness, our contentment.

We are instructed in scripture to be thankful always – regardless of the circumstances. Even when the food is in our opinion useless, and the situation seems dire.

Thankfulness can change our entire outlook – even our entire person.

By gazing on the Cross, at all times, we can remember thankfulness.

And we can be healed.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.