May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our heart be pleasing unto you, Our God and our Redeemer.
Scripture has a lot to say about the act of ‘lifting up. We see such images in 3 of our readings today. In Numbers, we see that in the wilderness, Moses was to ‘lift up’ a bronze snake and put it on a pole. John said that the Son of Man was to be ‘lifted up’ and Ephesians tells us that we have been saved by grace and ‘lifted up’ with our Savior.
5490 verses of Scripture use the term ‘lift,’ in some manner, but…why? What is so important about this simple little verb? “Lift up the boy,” God tells Hagar in Genesis21:18andhe made of him a great nation. In Psalm24:7 the ancient gates of Zion are told to “Lift up their heads,” to admit the Holy Tabernacle, as it the gates had worn down over the years without a holy presence to bear them up. In Isaiah 40:26. We are instructed to “Lift up our eyes to the heavens” and consider the glorious God who made us. There’s more lifting going on in Scripture than there is in a Gold’s Gym on a Saturday morning!
The importance of being lifted up begins, for us, at birth, doesn’t it? When we are first lifted up and placed in the arms of our mothers and fathers. Later children associate safety and comfort with the arms of their parents and we have all seen this! If a little one is frightened, hurt or tired, the arms go up so that someone lifts them to a welcoming shoulder.
As we grow into other relationships we learn, in places like the playground, that when we fall down, a friend will give us a hand and help lift us from the dirt. As adults we still depend on the safe people in our lives to lift us when we’re grieving, sick, depressed, overwhelmed. Again, why is this SO important?
Well, being lifted up is almost a sacred act that communicates love, caring, help and safety and belonging. Soldiers lift up their wounded comrades, firemen and women lift victims and carry them from burning buildings, humane people lift suffering, starving children out of their horrible circumstances. Being lifted up gives us hope and hope can even restore faith.
They go together, don’t they? Hope and faith. Without hope, we can’t have faith. We could never look to the future if all we could see was the wall in front of us. It is hope that lifts us up and gets us climbing, and, by climbing, we reinforce and display our faith that, when we get to the top, something worthy will be there. When we are lifted up into hope, we can see that there IS a road ahead and that we CAN walk it. Being lifted up alters our perspective, changes our attitude, restores us.
I recall a story of an immigrant coming into New York. He was from a small, rural village, but his parents and two sisters had immigrated years before and talked about how good their lives were in N.Y. They had jobs, a place to live, enough food to eat and they had finally saved enough money to bring him over to be with them.
From a small, rural village to landing in NYC. The poor man was terrified. Everything was too big, too fast, too much. The streets were clogged with traffic, the pollution hung on the air like a damp cloth fast-moving people crowded the sidewalks. Everywhere was noise, noise, and more noise, and the young man despaired! All he wanted at that point was to go back to where he had just come from.
Now, the young man’s mother was a wise, wise woman and she made sure that, as they walked, the family ended up at the Empire State Building. It was drawing late into the afternoon. It took some convincing, but she persuaded her son to join them in going to the top, to the observation deck.
The lights of the city were coming on, and up above the noise and the traffic and the rushing about, the horizon began to sparkle like someone had scattered many-colored glitter over the city. The young man stood, entranced, and finally turned to his mother and said, “It is so beautiful!” “Yes,” she replied. “And you are going to love it here.” She knew. She understood that she had to lift up her son so that he could find the beauty where he’d only seen ugliness.
The wandering Hebrews were like that young man. Despite their new freedom, despite having manna and quail and water to sustain them, they could only see what they’d didn’t have, and they complained. I don’t know if any of you parents ever used this line on your kids, but it goes like this: “If you’re gonna complain, I’m gonna give you something to complain about!” Well, that’s exactly what happened. God sent venomous snakes into the paths and tents of the ungrateful Hebrews until they repented.
Now, God and Moses had already had some tough conversations, and I would love to have heard that one! Maybe it went a little like this:
Moses: “God they’re sorry. Really sorry. Please relent and save them.”
God (drawing a deep sigh), “Yeah, okay. Make a bronze snake, stick it on a pole, lift it up and tell them to look at it to be healed.”
Moses: But God…(there’s a little rumble of thunder in the distance) Yep, got it. One bronze snake coming right up.
The Hebrews gazed at the snake as it was lifted up and planted. As promised, they were saved. God went back to shaping and forming God’s people so that they might be holy. Wow. Something about this story is familiar.
In a different time, the Son of Man was lifted up on a cross and planted. Even now, when we look upon it, WE are saved. God is at work, still shaping God’s people into holiness.
It is true enough that we have had our share of poisonous snakes in our midst this past year. We are grieving, we are hurt, we are penned in by financial problems, and illness. Our leaders quarrel between each other, we have social unrest and injustice blaring at us from the news every day. Violence seems to be everywhere. In such a time, hope can be eroded. It is easy to feel insecure, out of place, anxious and discouraged. But remember the writer of Psalm121. Isolated, downtrodden, depressed and alone, he remembers to lift his eyes to the hills. Imagine seeing the hills of our homeland, longing for them, knowing that they are there, waiting for us, but unable to get there. But in the Psalm when he lifts his eyes and wonders “From whence comes my help? How will I get there?”, he remembers. “My help cometh from the Lord.” His hope is restored.
Hope is healing, it is essential to life. So lift up each other. Lift up your eyes. Gaze upon the cross and remember that God’s love is inseparable from us. We are saved, my brothers and sisters and Jesus lifts us up to his embrace. Amen.