Ordinary time is when the poisonous snakes are exposed

Updated: Jan 30

A long time ago, when I was in my early twenties – very early twenties – I responded to a want-ad in the newspaper.


I wore my only suit and applied for a job that promised great financial rewards … as long as I was dedicated and hard-working.


The job offered “free training,” requiring “no experience.”  Since I met that requirement, the job sounded like money in the bank to me.


want ads

I applied and sat through a high-powered pitch that said I could earn more money than I would know what to do with, based on the commission potential of sales.  I was offered the job and I took it.  I began on Monday.


For four days I showed up for the “free training.”  That meant I had to memorize a sales pitch and practice it on others applicants for 32 class hours, with me receiving no pay.


On Friday morning they said we were ready to go door-to-door, using the sales pitch on real customers.


The trainers – probably men of 28 years of age, or so – “volunteered” a couple of the applicants, those who had large cars, to load up about ten of us (along with the trainers) and use the gas in the cars of those “volunteers” to drive us all about 120 miles away to another city.  There we were to look for “matchbox subdivisions” to be dropped off in, because that was where door-to-door salesmen were best able to find buyers.


Our product being pitched – as far as we were told – was a membership to a buying club, similar to what Costco and Sam’s Club are today.  However, this was well before that type of business became well known.


This was well before the Internet and smart phones.


The cost for a membership was $750 per family, which was a lot of money back then.

BUT … you could save more than that cost in a year, simply by buying all the things you regularly bought, but at discounted rates through that club.


AND … the $750 was  a one-time fee, with the yearly payments after only $12.


AND … you got a FREE set of the best encyclopedias mankind had known to that time to boot!  The encyclopedia company even offered a service that would even send your child a printed report on any topic requested, even if that topic was not found in their books!


All I had to do was rake in the sales.


<pause>


We reached that target city around 11:00 AM, made a stop at McDonald’s, and then cruised the town for places to drop us trainees off.  This being in the middle of a southern summer.


The trainer dropped me off in a nice subdivision.  I was wearing my suit – from my high school dance days – and I was carrying a briefcase they gave me, holding all the promo material and sales forms inside.


Businessmen or salesmen with briefcases knocking at several doors in a green field

Businessmen or salesmen with briefcases knocking at several doors in a green field


<pause>


By 2:00 PM, I had sweated through my suit coat and pants.  I looked like a drowned rat.


Few people were home during a weekday, and those who were slammed doors in my face … time after time.


Finally, one kind man welcomed me inside his home, where the air conditioning felt wonderful.


I began to give him the sales pitch, but the kind man quickly said, “Shut up.  I don’t care what you are selling.  You look like you are about to have a heat stroke.”


The kind man told his wife to pour me a tall glass of iced tea.  He gave it to me to drink and told me to sit and rest.


I sat there for about 20 minutes, and when I thought, “Now is the time to make the pitch,” he showed me the door.


I thanked him for his generosity.


About 5:00 PM the trainer found me walking in another subdivision – he was driving one of the trainees’ car, someone whom he had dropped off like I had been.


He asked me how many sales I had made.  I told him none.


He told me he was going to show me how to do it; so I walked door-to-door with him, and he got us inside a couple of homes.


People were home from work by then.  His pitch almost hooked a couple of people, but the cost was just too high … although they admitted it sure sounded great!


About 8:00 PM, five of us and the trainer sat in that car the trainer had taken over and we waited in the parking lot of an apartment complex where the last trainee was inside.  He was trying to close out a deal.


The trainer had gone by a package store and was handing out bottles of beer for us hot and tired trainees.  We were all very hungry and had little to drink since early that morning.


It was twilight; and under the cover of darkness, with a couple of beers in him, the trainer said, “Man, this is the best scam I have ever worked.”


“What do you mean?” I asked.


He explained: “The $750 is for the encyclopedia set and the first year of a buyer’s club membership.  The buyer’s club only costs $12 a year.  People would rather spend that much for the opportunity to save money spending on nice things, thinking the encyclopedia set is free.”


The last trainee came back … without making a sale … with no one in our group making a sale … and still a 2-hour drive back to the training office.  I did not get back home until after 11:00 PM that night.


I decided not to ever go back to that job.


I receive no pay, but I did get a free educational experience … as long as you see “free” as how much money I paid to be taught a lesson.  Because I never wore that suit again, that was a cost to me, but it was an old suit.


free education

I tell you this story because, in my mind, regardless of what some may say about him, I see the Pharisee named Nicodemus as no more trustworthy as that trainer who passed out beers in someone else’s car, under the cover of darkness.


It would be so easy for me to preach about how Nicodemus can be a reflection of every American Christian, especially those who give credit to God for living in the greatest land the world has ever known.  I could preach how American Christians should give credit to God for all the opportunity America offers to everyone who is industrious, and especially give credit to God for having made rich.


Nicodemus would see matchbox subdivisions as placed in the world for the benefit of those who memorized sales pitches.


It is unfortunate that so many Christians are religious only under the cover of darkness.  Too many profess faith, only letting the truth slip out … telling strangers where their heart really lies … after a few beers.  However, to preach about Nicodemus would be to waste the opportunity to focus on what Jesus told him.


Jesus first said, “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”


Then Jesus told Nicodemus, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”


Both of those statements speak of the history of the people who God had chosen … those committed to serving only Him, in return for a promised reward.  Both of those statements made by Jesus refer to the Son of Man, made prior to Jesus regularly calling himself that.

In Hebrew, the word for “man” is “adam.”  Thus, the Greek words written by John, “Huis tou anthrōpou,” are akin to the Hebrew words, “Ben adam.”  That title implies a “Descendant of (the) Man (named Adam).”


In Ezekiel, the Hebrew text shows God addressing him as “ben adam.”  Ezekiel wrote that he was called that by God a total of ninety-four times (according to Wikipedia).  As such, for Nicodemus to hear Jesus use that reference, Nicodemus (a Pharisee of high ranking) would have heard Jesus referring to Ezekiel – the only prophet who used that title.


Possibly, Nicodemus heard Jesus hinting that Jesus considered himself to be a prophet equal to Ezekiel.  After all, Nicodemus told Jesus, “No one can do the things you do apart from God.”


Whatever Nicodemus took from Jesus telling him about the ascension of the descended Son of Man, the reference was to Adam – the first priest sent to earth by God, “in order that the world might be saved through him.”


son of man

“Don’t forget Son, you’re a priest, sent to begin awareness of religion.”


“Through him,” means, “through the descendants of Adam,” in particular those significant leaders who were groomed to generate the multitudes who became God’s chosen people.  That path “through Adam” went through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  It then into the wilderness with Moses and into the land and nation of Israel.  Then it went through the separate Judah … and then Roman Judea, where the Jews returned from exile, after having lost their land.


Jesus was then a descendant of Adam … and this lineage is confirmed in the Gospels of Matthew.  Ezekiel was also of that lineage … as a prophet of Judah … as one who kept the fire of service to God alive when Judah fell.


This means that being a Son of Man is more than a blood relative distinction.  Both Jesus and Nicodemus were Jews, but only Jesus was purified by a altar coal placed on his lips by a seraph of God.


Being the Son of Man requires the Holy Spirit … being able to talk to God … like Adam, like Ezekiel, like Moses, like Jesus … like the Apostles of Christ.


The Son of Man is the Son of God, in the form of a man, filled with a devotion to God and belief in the Christ Spirit.


So, when Jesus told Nicodemus that the Son of Man had to be lifted up like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so that all the Israelites believed the cure for snakebite, Jesus was to be was that bronze serpent, lifted so the people would not perish.  Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he was one of the many poisonous snakes in Jerusalem that were biting the Jews of Judea, causing them to die spiritually.


When we then read John 3:16, we need to see how Jesus had just begun his ministry.  At that time he was alive and well.  There was no hint of Jesus being threatened by stoning or crucifixion.  No one was yet plotting his death.


This means that when Jesus then said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have everlasting life,” Jesus was prophesying.


God’s only Son was Adam, as far as Nicodemus would have understood, whom God had given to the world.


That meant God made Adam to give Adam to the world to save a world without religion … a world without faith.


Adam would begin a bloodline that was also a spiritual line – of Patriarchs, Judges, Kings, Prophets, and Jesus …


And the Apostles of Jesus …


And those Apostles still present in the world today …


Who all were, are, and will be priests of the One God, re-embodiments as the Son of Man – as God within a faithfully devoted human form.


We see this in the Old Testament story from Isaiah.


King Uzziah had been a devoted king for decades, but then he made a grave error.


His error was why Isaiah cried out, “I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among people of unclean lips.”  Uzziah sinned, and all the people of Judah suffered.


King Uzziah wrongly thought he could burn incense in the Temple.

King Uzziah wrongly thought he could burn incense in the Temple.


But, then an angel of the LORD placed a burning coal from the altar and touched Isaiah’s mouth.  He was told, “Your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”  That red-hot coal burned away the lips of flesh, leaving only lips of Spirit.


That was the same thing as an Israelite being bitten by a poisonous snake in the wilderness looking upon the raised bronze serpent.


That would be the same as being a disciple of Jesus in hiding, after his death, who then looks up to see the raised Jesus.


They all were expected to repay that salvation with eternal dedication.


Thus, God asked in Isaiah’s presence, “Who shall I send, and who will go for us?”


Those who have been saved from death … given eternal life … they owe big time.


That is why Paul wrote to the Christian Jews of Rome, saying, “Brothers and sisters, we are debtors.”


Anyone who has been saved by God’s Holy Spirit …


Anyone who has been removed from the “born to die in the flesh” list, to be given a place in heaven, has to say to God, “Here I am; send me!”


Last week was the Day of Pentecost, when the coals from the altar were placed on the mouths of the disciples of Jesus.  They stood up and began speaking in foreign languages.

They all said, “Here I am; send me!”


Today is the beginning of Ordinary Time, when those who are ordained by the Holy Spirit begin their ministries.


It is a time to remember how Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”


Christ needs workers; and God is again calling out, “Who shall we send, and who will go for us?”


How will you answer?


When will you feel it is time to trade in guilt and sin for eternal life?


The problem that has always been present, which always keeps the “labor force of God” under-staffed, is too many people getting bitten by the snakes that keep them mortal and living according to the flesh; and, thus, guaranteed to die.


Born … live … die … repeat.  No eternity in heaven.  All because of so many poisonous snakes being about.


Nicodemus and his Pharisees buddies, the Temple priests and scribes, they were the poisonous snakes that killed the Jews and kept them from eternal life.  Even if Nicodemus secretly supported Jesus the Rabbi, he represented one who would not openly risk his own position, much less his life, for that of another human being.


Certainly, the ruling council of Jerusalem ordered some stoned to death, and had the Romans crucify others, but more than having the power to bring about one’s physical pain, suffering and immediate death, they caused the people to fear them – the snakes – and not God.  Their fangs injected the poison of fear into the people  … a fear of serving God … simply because their venom never allowed anyone to know how to serve God properly.


snake in the grass

The same poisonous snakes are all around us today.  We don’t call them Pharisees or High Priests, however.


Instead, we call by names that seem just as honorable as those titles seemed then.  There are still those men and women – respected leaders – who we bow down before, who are those humans that we fear if we make them angry, and those who we know there is no reason to fear if they are behind us.


The snakes today are those who gain our trust and confidence with promises of worldly gains, social solutions, and national prominence.  They play the games of politics and philosophy, using the pretense of equality, freedom, and justice to divide the people … rather than unite … to confuse the people … rather than teach the people self-sufficiency through God’s Holy Spirit.  The poisonous snakes are the false shepherds who see the people as property.


Has someone like Nicodemus ever come to see you secretly, asking for your support … asking you to join his or her team?  Does that one-on-one visit come off as so important that you feel you owe that person your support?


When these snakes bite us, too often we sell our souls and do what Paul warned the Romans not to be trapped by.  He said, “If you live according to the flesh, you will die.”


Paul continued to say, “You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.”


Think about that for a moment … a spirit of slavery.  We hear the word “slavery” and instantly think it is the opposite of the beloved FREEDOM that makes America so great in the eyes of so many.


But, with all the hype about FREEDOM, who is truly free?  If you are wholly free, then make yourself float and deny gravity.  Are there not the laws of our nation holding us as slaves, just like there are laws of gravity that keep us bound?  Does not the Law of Moses act in the same way?  Certainly, we are free to break all those laws; but are are Christians free from suffer the consequences of that freedom, just like the Assyrians and Babylonians punished the wayward Israelites and Jews?


illusion

Today, American Christians fear so many things, that fear indicates they are slaves according to the flesh.  They reject a slavery to the spirit.  Most Americans have debt owed to banks and credit card companies; but who attempts to pay a monthly bill from Heaven, from Jesus Christ, which says, “You promised to serve Me”?


If one has not received a spirit of slavery, which is a devotion to service to the LORD … with a loving desire for that slavery to God … then one is a slave of the flesh and only takes delight in self.  There is nothing left in the spiritual checking account that can be used for helping others.


Today, the snake bite victims can be seen when they get loose after a few beers, under the cover of darkness … like my trainer did so many years ago.


They see life as a series of scams … always trying to take care of self, at the expense of others.


We all get duped into their schemes, at one time or another.


We all have to make the decision, once our eyes are opened and we know “I made a mistake.”  We either keep going or we quit – never to go back and lie with snakes.


It might cost us the suit off our backs, but the education you get is a free test in the wilderness, when it is just you and Satan.


You either answer his call, saying, “Here I am, make me rich.”


Or, you answer God’s call and tell Satan, “Get behind me.  You’re history.”


Amen

#FirstSundayafterPentecost #ascribetotheLORD #Canticle2 #livingaccordingtothefleshisdeath #John3117 #NicodemusandJesus #Christiansaredebtors #Romans81217 #Moseslifteduptheserpent #theSonofManliftedup #Isaiah618 #Canticle13 #HereIamsendme #UzziahsdeathandIsaiahsdream #Psalm29