Snakes on a Pole

Sermon by the Rev. Lisa Smith Fry
Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Hebrew people in Egypt were slaves under Pharaoh. They had no say about anything that happened in their lives.

When Pharaoh decided that the Hebrews were becoming too numerous and issued an edict to kill all Hebrew boys so they couldn’t grow up to possibly band together and kill him—one woman saved her son by putting him in the bulrushes.

Found by Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses grew up in luxury. After a Hebrew slave was killed in front of him, he turned away from his adoptive family and sought to understand his Hebrew heritage. He then encountered God by the burning bush, and saved all the Hebrew people by facing Pharaoh, saying “let my people go!”

Pharaoh declined. God sent plagues and even death to change Pharaoh’s mind. And he finally let them go.

Moses led them to freedom, but then Pharaoh changed his mind and pursued them.

And Moses parted the Sea so they could escape. He brought the Hebrew people to a new land where they experienced freedom for the first time. But they were unused to fending for themselves, and demanded Moses feed them. Moses asked, and God sent them manna from heaven every morning. But manna, while nourishing, bored them.

The Hebrews discovered freedom was harder than they expected. They told Moses that yes—they might have been enslaved—and some even killed by Pharaoh– but they at least had somewhere to stay. And tasty food.

When we start becoming nostalgic for enslavement—rather than excited about new opportunities, that can poison our experiences.

Then—interestingly– they encountered snakes. The snakes, being snakes, bit them, and injected them with venom—and some died. And suddenly they needed God’s help again. Because: snakes.

So God had Moses make a brass snake and mount it on a pole. If any person was bitten they only had to look at the snake on the pole, and the poison was drained out of them, and they were healed.

Now—let’s skip ahead. The Gospel writer of John sees Jesus as the serpent lifted up on the Cross, drawing venom out of human life and restoring it to health.

It all sounds perfect. Except for one thing:

“…the light [of Christ] has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light .“

Some people would prefer the darkness of what is poisoning them, to the light of love.

And by “some people”, I don’t just mean “those people over there”, or “other people.” I mean all of us.

The poison is the person we hate. And we’re going to hate them, and no one is going to make us not hate them. Because we’ve rationalized our hating them.

The poison is the way we say things that can hurt people, but we feel justified because we are just “being honest”. Or we’re “just being ourselves.”

Poison is lack of care. The venom is not outside us, it’s inside us.

When we think we can justify our lack of love for whole classes of people, or we see even one other as not as worthy as we are—it poisons not only us as individuals, it poisons our society.

When we say whatever we want to without a thought about the consequences of our words, the snake has bitten us.

We need the light of Christ.


We need to look up at that cross lifted up and see the eyes of Jesus looking at us, looking into us. His eyes see all that we are. They see the pain. They see the past. They see the prejudices and the terror– and the shame.

But when we keep looking at those eyes looking at us, we realize they’re filled with love. These eyes also see the potential, the love, the humor, the intelligence and the kindness.

Jesus’ eyes light up every cavern we try and hide in. They can also heal all the poisons that we’ve been bitten with.

If we let him heal us.

And when we are healed, we may discover that the freedom to love everyone is harder than we expected.

Or– we may discover that with the poison gone, our new ability to love without boundaries overrides our fear.

And when our snakes return, because they will–Jesus will always be there –drawing venom out of human life and restoring it to health.

All we have to do is to remember to look up at him. Because Love is the Antidote.