Liturgy Pacific is the on-line presence of Richard Geoffrey Leggett, Vicar of Holy Trinity Cathedral in New Westminster and Professor Emeritus of Liturgical Studies at Vancouver School of Theology. Here you will find sermons, comments on current Anglican and Lutheran affairs and reflections on the need for progressive orthodox Christians to re-claim our place on the theological stage.
Friday, March 9, 2018
Don't Blame the Mirror: Reflections on Numbers 21.4-9 (RCL Lent 4B, 11 March 2018)
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of
Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5 The people spoke against God and
against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the
wilderness? For there is no food and no
water, and we detest this miserable food.” 6 Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit
the people, so that many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and
said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord
and against you; pray to the Lord to
take away the serpents from us.” So
Moses prayed for the people. 8
And the Lord said to Moses, “Make
a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall
look at it and live.” 9 So
Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent
bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
many other people I know I am guilty of indulging in some ‘binge-watching’ from
time to time.My latest indulgence is
the Canadian-French co-production of ‘Versailles’.The series takes place during the reign of
Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’, and his grand project to build the palace of
Versailles as part of his grand plan to establish the supremacy of the monarch
over the nobility.
at the beginning of one episode, Louis is gazing at himself in a mirror.It must be said that the quality of the
mirror is not very good and Louis sees a distorted image of himself.‘I don’t like this mirror,’ he grandly states
and then walks away.As the episode
progresses, Louis sets about ruining his opponents and alienating his brother
step by deliberate step, by hook and by crook.By the end of the episode a new, higher quality mirror arrives from
Venice.As the episode fades into the
closing credits, we see Louis admiring himself in the mirror and clearly
showing his pleasure at what he sees.We, the audience, are left in no doubt as to the Machiavellian image
that Louis presents to us.
you to look at today’s seemingly odd story from Numbers as a kind of mirror in
which the people of Israel find themselves gazing after some time on their
journey from oppression in Egypt to the promised land of freedom.Let’s begin by re-capping the story so far.
miraculous delivery from the army of Pharaoh at the Reed Sea, the people have
been travelling towards the land God promised to their ancestors.The people have encountered resistance from
the peoples living in the region and have had to take a few detours.They’ve grown hungry and God has provided
them with bread from heaven, manna, and with quail raining down from the
skies.They’ve grown thirsty and God has
shown Moses where to strike his staff to find springs of living water.
not hidden anything from them.God has
promised them a land and named the risk of claiming the promise.God has entered into a covenant with them,
sealing it with the Ten Commandments, words which make clear the commitments of
being God’s chosen people.But on more
than one occasion the people rebel despite all that God has done for them and
all that they know God has promised to them.Even miraculous food from heaven that never fails to appear cannot keep
ingratitude tests even the patience of God.In today’s text we are told that God is so fed up that the divine anger
causes venomous serpents to swarm the camp.It is as if the people’s own sins have taken on physical form.After all the sin of ingratitude does poison
the one who suffers from it, making it almost impossible for that person to see
any good in the world, to experience any joy in the gifts he or she receives,
to find any satisfaction in the opportunities that come to work with God in the
renewal of the creation.
how I would like us to hear today’s story.I know that the writer of Numbers tells us that the serpents were sent
by God, but my reading of the text tells me that these serpents are the sins of
the people coming back to bite them --- literally!As I just mentioned, the sin that is most
prevalent is the sin of ingratitude.Rescue from the region’s most powerful army, food in a desert, water
from the rock, protection from the powerful tribes around them, a promised land
before them, what more could God do?But
the poison grips their souls and some begin to perish.
generations later when the rabbis began to shape the liturgy for the
celebration of Passover, they recognized the poison of ingratitude.They incorporated into the liturgy a song
called ‘Dayeinu’, a word that means ‘it would have been enough’.As Jews celebrate their liberation from
Egypt, they sing their gratitude for the five acts of liberation, the five
miracles in the desert and the five gifts of being chosen.After each one is named, they sing, ‘Dayeinu’.Even if God had only done one of these
fifteen things, it would have been enough for us to be grateful to the Holy One
and to keep faith with the One who keeps faith with us.
Moses lifts the bronze serpent up, he lifts up a mirror image of the sin of
ingratitude poisoning God’s people on their way into God’s future.The image that it offers them is not one that
they probably liked, but it was an image that they needed to see in order to
turn away from ingratitude and to embrace thanksgiving for all that God had
done for them.Splitting the sea ---
Dayeinu!Leading the people to dry land
--- Dayeinu!Providing food and water in
the wilderness --- Dayeinu!Giving the
people Sabbath --- Dayeinu!Giving the
people the Torah --- Dayeinu!
time to time God holds up a mirror to each one of us and invites us to gaze into
the reflection of our souls.Lent is such
a time, isn’t it?We even call this a
time for ‘self-reflection’ on who we are, who we would like to become and what
are the obstacles that are preventing us from becoming more truly ourselves as
God means us to be.Sometimes the mirror
takes the form of the readings we hear proclaimed in this place of
worship.Sometimes the mirror is our own
sense of dissatisfaction with how we are living our lives.Sometimes a friend or family member or colleague
will confront us with an image of ourselves we would rather not see.
painful and as difficult as these moments of seeing ourselves in a mirror may
be, they are moments meant to prevent us from being poisoned by sin when we
oppose God’s will in our lives and when we deny God’s goodness in each other,
in ourselves and in the world God created.These moments are invitations to remember all that God has done for us
and join our Jewish sisters and brothers in singing ‘Dayeinu’.And then, with God’s people of every age, we
continue our journey towards the promise, braving the risks and honouring our
commitments in thankfulness
for tasks which demand our best efforts --- Dayeinu;
for accomplishments that satisfy and delight us ---
and for disappointments and failures that lead us to
acknowledge our dependence on God --- Dayeinu.