On Snakes and Salvation

Sermon preached at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Atlanta, GA
March 26, 2006

The people spoke against God and against Moses,
“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?”

In the name of the one who was, and is, and will be for ever. Amen. •

The night has long been my time for writing.  Whether it’s term papers due the next day – or sermons, the stillness and mystery of the night slow my mind and open my heart. It was during the night that I wrestled with God about my vocation. The night is a time of secrecy, danger, and unexpected encounters … like the one between Jesus and Nicodemus – the setting for our lesson from John.

John 3:16 – It’s one of the most-quoted verses of the Bible.  For some, it’s a summary of salvation.  I remember the King James Version from Sunday School:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  It seems so simple then: believe in Jesus, and you will live forever; don’t believe, and you will die.

Many of us, for good reason, cringe when we hear things like this. Perhaps we remember the sermons of our childhood, knowing too well the damage these teachings have done to so many who fall outside the narrow bounds of what certain people think it means to be saved. We may have friends and family of other faiths, and find it impossible to stomach the destructive claim that salvation belongs to Christians alone.

Many of us come to St. Bartholomew’s looking for a different kind of Christian faith, one that involves more than confessing Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior.  It is tempting to tiptoe around words like “salvation,” sticking to more familiar territory like service and justice and love and inclusion.

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