Ephesians 2:1-10

John 3:14-21

At the beginning of this reading from John, Jesus gives us a little Sunday School pop quiz: why did Moses lift up a snake in the wilderness? The short answer is, poisonous snakes attacked the Hebrews in the desert, so Moses made a bronze snake that anyone who had been bitten could look at and be healed. So Jesus says here that if we look at his cross in this way, we’ll live. He says that there’s strength in how God will be lifted up here. Of course, we know that this often doesn’t work immediately. The snakes didn’t go away in desert, and we still struggle with a world where power is in the hands of death, and Jesus is still crucified, however much we might trust in God to work things out in the end.

Elie Wiesel tells the story of seeing this kind of God lifted up in a horrible account of a young boy who was hanged in Wiesel’s concentration camp during the Holocaust. As they looked on the hanging, someone asked, “‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice within me answer him: ‘Where is He? Here He is-He is hanging here on this gallows…'”

We can’t reduce Wiesel’s story to a simple Christian idea, but God is crucified in the suffering humans inflict on one another. We can’t reduce the story to something nice because it’s impossible that this is good news in human terms. In human terms, this can only point to despair, tragedy, and victimization. But in God’s terms, it is good news that God is with us even in such a desperate situation, because God is bigger than even this: God’s greatness is boundless compassion for the world. Because not even the most desperate moments can separate us from this fundamental truth: that God loved the world so much that salvation comes into our reality, and that the empty tomb demonstrates that salvation can’t be cast out by our reality. So we don’t need to fear, because we know that God is with us whatever the world brings.

This knowledge makes us capable of the goodness we were made for. We are, of course, as capable of the highest evil as we are of the most profound goodness. On one level, this means that the people who take millions of dollars unjustly are no more greedy than we’re capable of being. On a much greater level, it means that the people who unjustly condemned and brutally executed Jesus were just as human as we are. Just as driven by fear, power, and complacency as we can be, and just as capable of indifference to the treatment of someone else. Faith has much to do with choosing goodness over evil in spite of these forces, but it’s the other meaning of “faith” – trust in this God, who is with us in our hardest times – that sustains our faithfulness.

Hard times will come. There are and will be “temptations,” times that make it hard for us to choose the good. There will be times when fear, power, intimidation, or a simple lack of accountability will let the bad option look terribly attractive. It’s at these times that we look to this cross, to Christ lifted up as God’s presence. We can look to Christ with some equivalent of those “What Would Jesus Do?” wristbands, or maybe in a way that’s more sophisticated and fitting to us. We might remember some verses from the Bible and read them as instructions for life. We might slip into a prayerful silence, waiting for God’s good will to rise up in us. Or we might simply remember our values and recommit to the notion that integrity is more important than everything else.

That’s what God showed in allowing the incarnate Christ to be put to death rather than forsake us: that love and reconciliation are more important than anything else. So that is our hope when the money disappears, when the world seems to say that we can’t provide for our family or friends. So that’s our hope when life is full of pain, sorrow, or loss of ability: we don’t have to be defined by what we’re less able to do. So this is the light for our way: God, who shares life with us, who invites and enables us to share our best life with God and the world.

Amen.

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