Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-21

Why do we have to read the Old Testament readings, they are so full of violence they don't relate to us today? Its a question I hear time and again. Today in the passage from Numbers it just doesn't make sense. Why would God save these people, bring them all the way out of Egypt, and then when they complain about the food God serves God strikes them dead with a plague of snakes. Some of this is because we are so tied to the literal foundations of the origins of the bible that we can't look at it is story and see what the story is saying. Some is because we'd rather be considered a more enlightened society where violence is not our first reaction. Lets really look at this thought though.

All you have to do is dig into the paper or world news this morning. What has happened in just the past week? Protests continued in Ferguson about the Department of Justice reports released that are exposing inequities in the police system racially, and also that excessive force was used in some instances with protestors. During this peaceful protest from another street up on the hill away from the protestors there was a shot and eventually two police officers were wounded. Can we look at this and say this is God's punishment, NO absolutely not. Would we have said that if violence had erupted and unarmed protestors were killed, I hope not, but we have had a rocky track record with this.

Take a look at hurricane Katrina, when it became apparent that there was inequity to the poor who could not escape the storm there were people who in the midst of this suffering stepped up and claimed it was God's revenge on a sinful city. Instead of facing our own inadequacies and dealing with the truth this claim was used to explain what we do not want to face. Could this be a part of what this story is telling us today? Did the Hebrew people run into something beyond their control and blame it on God's retribution?

How do we really ask the harder questions that this text asks us, pleads with us to deal with? Isn't it fitting that it should fall in Lent. Because we should be asking ourselves harder questions instead of pawning excuses off onto God's justice, our inability to struggle with violent texts is our own inability to struggle with facing violence and why it exists in our world. After the shootings the other night all was focused on Ferguson and a small story of a 6 year old who was shot to death in a drive by shooting in St. Louis was missed. Dean Mike Kinman wrote the next day about his struggle with all this. He was at the protest, he saw the first officer go down. He tries to explain his wresting with what happened and the problem of violence, any violence, including the young boy who was shot as an answer. How he wants peace, how this is what he and the others were doing in their protest and yet he struggles.

It is good for all of us to struggle. There is no easy answer to violence, there is no pinning it on divine retribution if we want to truly make sense of our world. There is only questions. Just as we look back and question this text. Do let us struggle with it because it is the thing we were meant to do. We cannot keep living in the illusion that our world is safe, that we are fair, or that we have easy answers to cling to. We have to move on in this wilderness and claim our struggle to understand.