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Building A Wall

John 3:14-21

The Rev. Jon Roberts

15 March


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.


The Brazen Serpent by Simon Vouet, 1630

Complaint leads to worry;
And worry leads to fear.
Walls built of such things,
Makes it hard for the light to appear. [1]

A journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Western Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time. So she went to check it out. She went to the Western Wall and there he was, walking slowly up to the holy site. She watched him pray and after about forty-five minutes, when he turned to leave, using a cane and moving very slowly, she approached him for an interview.

She introduced herself, giving him, her name and asked if he would be willing to be interviewed. He gave her, his name and said, "sure." "Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall and praying?" "For about 90 years." "90 years! That's amazing! What do you pray for?" "I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews, and the Muslims." "I pray for all the wars and all the hatred to stop." "I pray for all our children to grow up safely as responsible adults and to love their fellow man." "I pray that politicians tell us the truth and put the interests of the people ahead of their own interests." And finally, "I pray for the human, traditional family. Children no longer honor their parents as they used to do. Ultimately, I just pray that everyone will be happy." "How do you feel like that is going after doing this for 90 years?"
"Like I'm talking to a wall!"

The context of today’s scripture is about a people that went from complaint to worry and worry to fear, to a point where they nearly went extinct. The reference is to the nation of Israel and the account read in the Book of Numbers. It is about Moses who led this people through the wilderness after their Exodus from Egypt, for forty years. One would think that their deliverance from slavery would be reason enough to be happy, but it wasn't. They complained, they worried and they were full of fear. Over time, perhaps he felt he was only talking to a wall, when hearing nothing but complaints from the people. They complained about not having enough food, not having enough water. It was too hot in the day and too cold at night, and now, worse, they were getting bit and killed by snakes. They turned to Moses, expecting him to solve all their problems. He did what any man or woman of faith would do. You go and you pray without ceasing, asking God to give you a little bit of understanding so you can be the leader who sheds light on the situation.

Moses prayed his usual “litany” of things he wanted from God. Maybe you have done this before. It went something like this, and this is paraphrasing: “God, we are not in a good place. We don't know where this promised land is. There is not enough food. There is not enough water. It is too hot in the day and too cold at night. What can you do about it?" The list of complaints grows, and then he stops to listen. Then God said something like this [paraphrase]: "Sounds pretty bad but here is my plan. You know those snakes that are biting everyone? Well, I know how much my people like to make gold and bronze images of animals, so I want you to fashion a bronze snake. Go hoist it on that pole for nearly a million people to see and follow in a procession." Moses probably then said, 'This should go pretty well." He summoned the twelve tribes of Israel’s leaders and said, "God understands us. He knows we don't have enough food and water. He knows we are not yet in this promised land of His, but he wants us to make a bronze snake, hoist it on that pole and lead the people further into the wilderness." How do you think the people responded? Sometimes God presents things that make no sense, but do you want to know what happened? It actually worked. The people who kept their eyes looking up did not perish. It is an interesting and yet ironic fact, that when we hear ourselves say, "Watch your step", it does not mean to always look down. If you do, you'll walk zigzag like a snake. God calls us to keep our eyes looking up, but the wall gets in the way and its shadow does not allow the light to appear.

There is another devout Jewish man, who probably prayed at the wall for at least sixty years like the man in the opening story. This man was a rabbi, and his name was Nicodemus. Just preceding the selected text in the lectionary today, he came to Jesus in the middle of the night because he didn’t want to be seen. He came to Jesus in the dark. He heard about Jesus’ healing, curing the sick and he wanted to meet this street rabbi for himself. Jesus uses the story of Moses and refers to that to give Nicodemus hope. Here is a man who felt he had been preaching to the wall for nearly sixty years and nothing was happening. That was frustrating, but God through His Son Jesus gives hope. Jesus provides us with a clear vision during times when we feel we have no influence to change our current situation. But God is at work in his people when they pray. He hears every one of them. As he was at work in the people of Israel long ago, God is surely at work today in each of our lives, calling us to look up, trust in His ways and pray to remove the wall that separates us.

What things are you praying for? Are you giving God a litany, a list of things you need in your life, or removed, that will make you happy? Are you building a wall of prayer requests based on your desire to be close to Him or prayer demands based on the complaints, the worries and the fears? All the problems in your life will keep your eyes down, not up. We are masters of complaining. We are all expert witnesses in citing problems, but your ears cannot listen when they can only hear your miserable side of the conversation. No, Jesus said you must look up. Today is a new day. Today you look at me in a new light. He says darkness does not overcome the light and one brick at a time, the light will break it down. One snake at a time, His light will drive it away. You don’t have the power to take down the wall of worry and fear. You only have the power to resist letting it build up.

You don’t have it. You need to say, “Lord I need your help”. You need God’s grace and power seen by following the symbol of his love, through His Son Jesus. Jesus was put on the high Cross for a good reason, so that we would keep our eyes looking up to Him. In his agony, his pain, his death, what can we possibly complain about? When your eyes are on him, the bricks in your wall come down. That’s the power of God’s grace. Only He can do that and the reason He did it, is because God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever will believe in Him (Whosoever will keep their eyes on Him) shall never perish but have everlasting life.

Pray that you will ask God to help you when you go through the wilderness with your complaints, your worry, and your fear,
as Jesus promises to break down those walls;
If you will only look up
and draw him near.

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