The Rev. Jon Roberts
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.
Moses and the Brazen Serpent, by Fyodor Bruni, 1840
If you would lift me up, you must be on the higher ground.
A Public Health Announcement: According to the World Health Organization there is a dreadful calamity that is affecting all parts of the globe that is quite fatal; “Falling.” According to them, falls are a major public health problem. An estimated 646,000 people worldwide, die each year, making falls the second leading cause of unintentional injury death, after road traffic injuries. Did you know that was such a public health problem? Over 80% of fall-related fatalities occur in low- and middle-income countries, and mostly in the Western Pacific and South East Asia of these deaths. In all regions of the world, death rates are highest among adults over the age of 60.
As a priest, the main reason I get called for pastoral attention is because of people who have taken a fall. It is important that we are aware of this occurrence. Our friends and family in the northern territories are more concerned about this than we are, down here in Florida. They are concerned because of ice. My father always told me to be careful of where I step. You have to be pretty well balanced, to be able to have awareness of what is ahead of you and what is around you. Children, those little tots probably are in the best shape, resilient to falls. They have so much of that lovable blubber, that when they fall, they can literally bounce right back up again. But have you ever noticed the children who fall who choose to reach up their arms instead, asking for you to help them up? Emerson had it right when he said, “If you would lift me up, you must be on the higher ground.”
We, as Christians, have the ultimate responsibility to help people when they fall and to help them find higher ground. Look at the stories in the Bible to see this to be the case. The story of Moses, leading the people of Israel through the wilderness is a good example. Have you ever considered why it took them forty years to make a three week journey? The answer is because of ‘fear.’ Fear froze them up and a lot of times they fell. In the illustration by the artist Bruni, we see the snake, the poisonous snake, up on this pole in the midst of the people. We don’t know the statistics from organizations like the WHO, telling us how many people died of snake bites in the wilderness. Today, we are most consumed by a tiny virus that is out there, in the midst of seven billion people. We are trying to get an idea of how many are falling from this, but we still aren’t sure. This type of fear has frozen the world.
Moses said, ‘give me one of those things [snake]’ so that I may put it in front of us where we can see it. Let it be a reminder as to what we are afraid, but more importantly when we look up, we get up and when we get up we can walk again. Out of all the words you heard Jesus say, what were the most profound to you? “Love others as I have loved you,” “Fear not”, “I am with you always.” These are more than comfortable words; these are ‘uplifting words.” “Forgive them for they no not what they do,” is perhaps what Moses held closely, but who is that person behind the goal post with the “John 3:16” sign? We know the words of that one by heart; “For God so loved the world, He gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Does anyone remember what was spoken just before that? In the third chapter of John, “Just as Moses lifted up the servant in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man may be lifted up and whoever believes in him will be lifted up.” We need to take heed to this message. Jesus says to us, when we follow him, when we keep our eyes lifted up, then he can lead us to a higher ground.