Why did it have to be Snakes?!

What happens when we start with a (near) universally beloved scripture verse — quite possibly the most famous verse of all time — and add a story that can only be described as bizarre, disturbing, and kinda icky??

What happens? Exactly what you think would happen: people stop being polite and start getting real. As in, real curious, real excited, real confused, or maybe just real put off. 

I mean, honestly, who takes the nighttime encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus and pairs it with deadly, poisonous snakes (of fire!) as punishment for complaining in the desert??

The author of the Gospel of John, that’s who. Actually, it turns out we humans have been telling stories of snakes for a really long time. Are snakes good or bad? Tormentor or savior? Friend or foe? As usual, it is more complicated than those binary possibilities suggest. 

So where does that leave us as followers of Jesus today? What could all these dang snake stories mean for us? Maybe that from which we most want to turn away deserves our focus, at least briefly? 

That’s what I tried to puzzle out in my sermon this week. For inspiration I turned to:
Numbers 21 — the bizarre, scary snake story
John 3 — yes, that one verse from all the football games. But I actually don’t even mention it.
Rev. Rachael Keefe with thoughts on the Numbers story.
Some other snake stories: Quetzalcoatl, the Naga, Jormungand, the Staff of Asclepius, and of course, given that it is mid-March, St. Patrick.
Two stories on fear from Psychology Today.
An article from Men’s Health by Ginny Graves, “The Power of Uncertainty,” that I can’t find online, but have [gasp] in print form.

The unused photo I mention, by Fernando Santander on Unsplash

Jesus pushed people to reexamine their status quo, to overcome biases and live in a new light.

One of my Tuesday Bible Study participants

I recently read a piece (though I don’t remember where or by whom, so that’s…helpful. Ugh. Sorry.) by a journalist who finds himself factchecking sermons as they are given. In the piece he chastises himself for that habit. As a preacher, I want to be fact-checked. Tell me what I get wrong. I also try to avoid cutesy stories that are a wee bit too coincidental to be true (another complaint in that article I can’t remember or find). That’s why I try to quote my sources in my sermons and post them here.

The biggest predictor of those who support MAGA movement is not the economy, but anxiety about racial and cultural change.

Dr. Christopher Parker (emphasis mine)

We got a new video camera! I’m not stuck behind the pulpit anymore. Big THANK YOU to our production team (especially Kevin) for making that happen! And we had a limited number of people in the sanctuary. One of our long-time members noticed I feed on the congregations’ reactions. I really, really missed having that and am thrilled people are back!

I’ll add in the audio-only version as soon as I receive it. UPDATE: Here’s the audio:

Sermon begins at 36:26 but do yourself a favor and listen to the song before the sermon starting at 33:56

We fear change. But we don’t have to. That which we fear can help us focus enough to overcome that fear, including the fear of the transformed life to which Jesus calls us.

Cover Photo by Vivek Doshi on Unsplash

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