The Walking Dead
Based on Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21
One of the younger members of my household is a devotee of the cable show “The Walking Dead”. For those of you not familiar with this T.V. drama, it is set in an apocalyptic world that is populated by a few living humans and countless zombies. The plot of the show is to eliminate the zombies whenever and wherever they are found, so that the few remaining humans can live. The show seems to excel in the number of ways that a zombie can be finally halted – but in the end, each show seems to try to outdo the last in the sheer numbers of undead that are eliminated. To me it is a pretty predictable and boring story line (the few times I have sat down to watch it) coupled to a large amount of gratuitous violence. I just don’t get the attraction…zombies are nasty to look at, not difficult to evade or to eliminate; thus for my psyche they fall into the annoying rather than scary column. Yet, if they do manage to bite you, you turn into a shuffling, decaying, animated corpse – literally the walking dead.
Our scriptures today describe how we as humans have become our own worst enemies – with our free will choices leading to us walking around spiritually dead. The great good news, however, is that there is something more powerful than our free will. It is God’s grace which saves us from this hell on earth. Let us give thanks to the LORD our God who loves us too much to leave us dead from our sins. Won’t you join me in prayer?
In the Book of Numbers, Aaron the priest has just died and Moses is leading the Israelite people with Aaron’s son, Eleazar. The people rebel against God and the leadership and as a punishment for their sinful behavior, God sends poisonous snakes among them – and many were bitten and died. The people realized that they had sinned and they asked Moses to intercede on their behalf with God. God told Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Those who looked on this snake, after they were bitten, were miraculously healed.
We are early in the Gospel according to John, and Jesus is interacting with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Nicodemus has many questions and Jesus is patiently trying to get him to understand a new revelation of what Nicodemus already knows. Finally, Jesus goes back to a familiar story from the Torah about Moses and raising the snake to heal the people. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he has come to serve the same purpose as the old bronze snake for this sinful generation. Those who choose to believe (in other words “look upon”) the Son of Man will be saved from their sinful ways and receive eternal life. Nicodemus ultimately leaves Jesus’ company still mystified by what he has heard, but ultimately becomes a follower and we pick up his story at Jesus’ burial. (John 19)
The letter to the Church in Ephesus is written to help those believers understand the larger view of living in connection to Christ and all of creation. The writer, possibly the Apostle Paul, reminds them that all believers in Jesus the Christ came out of the same spiritually dead realm of life under the control of worldly passions (aka Satan). Yet, in verse four of Chapter 2, the writer states, “…But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead from our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – …”
There we were – walking around spiritually dead and unaware that there was anything else worth living for, besides our own needs. Prevenient grace sought us out however, and we began to understand that maybe there was something more than just the life we were living and the way we were living it. Maybe this is when we began to come to church – or come back to church. Grace continued to work within us by giving us faithful people to interact with and to understand that maybe there was one God, universal and Almighty, who loves us and who we might wish to love in return.
Our interest in pleasing God continues to grow and mature and we over time become convinced that we have sinned (we have done things that get in the way of loving God with all of who we are) and we need to repent and be forgiven. God makes us “alive together with Christ” as the writer of Ephesians puts it – through God’s great love for us. Thus, we become new creatures, dead to the old ways and alive in the newness of our faith in God through Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit. In Chapter 2 verse 10, of the letter to the Ephesians, the writer puts it plainly, “…For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life….” The United Methodist Book of Discipline puts a fine point on this in saying, “…This gracious gift of God’s power and love, the hope and expectation of the faithful, is neither warranted by our efforts nor limited by our frailties….” (Para 102, pg. 53, 2016 BOD) Thus there is nothing that we do to earn this great gift of grace – it is freely given to all. We cannot be either too sinful to be denied God’s grace nor work too diligently to be rewarded with it.
God saves us from our life in darkness and sin through and because of God’s great love for us. God sent Jesus, as the Gospel of John so rightly states, “…into the world not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him….” (3:17) Our work, once we are saved into life with Christ is to be God’s emissaries here on earth and to continue to bring people to Jesus – not for our own sake, but for the sake of the mission of Jesus to make disciples of the whole world. God could have left us to shuffle around mindlessly like spiritual zombies, or to shun the light of the Son like spiritual vampires, but instead God sent us Jesus to suffer and die for all of our sins so that we might be free to walk again in the light of God.
This is the reason for Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and ultimately to Golgotha. This is the reason that God’s grace continues to reach out to us in every day and age. We are indispensable to God’s plan for all of creation and our ever growing love for God through the power and action of the Holy Spirit is always linked with love for our neighbor, a passion for justice and equity, and a renewal of our lives in the life of the world. (paraphrase BOD pg. 53) Our spiritual journeys are possible because Jesus first made His journey to show us how to carry our crosses and how to die to worldly things, so that we might be re-born into a new life in and with Christ Jesus (as He told Nicodemus).
Today, we find ourselves half-way through this Lenten journey. As John Wesley would ask, how is it with your soul? How are you doing with giving up the pull of worldly things for the promise of things heavenly? How long will we grumble about what God is not giving us in place of the recognition of all that God has already done, and continues to do just for us? The healing power of the snake on a pole (aka the rod of Aesclepius) came not from the snake but from the realization that someone had sinned against God and was dying because of it. Healing came from introspection that lead to an acknowledgement of our sin and a look to God’s help through repentance. Healing comes because God so loved the world that God came down among us to show us the way to be able to live fully and well into the gifts with which God has blessed all of us. The Church, the Body of Christ, cannot reach her full potential while there are folks outside of the Church that need to be brought back to life spiritually. Thus, once we realize our walk in the light of Christ, we must do everything we can, for as long as we can, to bring the walking spiritually dead to Jesus. After that, Jesus will do the rest. Let us boldly go out into the world of spiritual zombies to show them the healing power of Jesus, and to bring them back into the world of those who are truly alive. Amen and amen!