Say Yes to God!
March 26, 2006
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
4From 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. 5The 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. 6Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7The 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. 8And 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.” 9So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it on a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
“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….”
…But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved….
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Our sermon title today is “Say Yes to God!” God has a wonderful plan for your life, but He needs you to say yes. He never imposes. Have you noticed that? Our magnificent God, who created all the universe, never imposes. He always gives us a choice and a chance. I heard one writer put it this way: “God did not make tools. He made partners,” partners that could say yes or say no. So I’m inviting all of us today to say yes to God’s wonderful plan for our lives.
Let’s take a look at our scripture today. The Old Testament lesson is the story of grumbling in the wilderness. It’s a complex story, and I thought it would be good for us to understand it a bit today. Here’s what’s going on. Underneath it all is God. God who created us, God who’s looking to make us partners, who is looking to be partners with the Hebrew people, God who is loving people so much, said to the Hebrew people, “I am going to call you out of Egypt. I am going to call you away from the oppression and the brokenness, and I’m going to lead you to your promised land. Just follow me and have faith.”
And He called them out of Egypt, and He’s leading them through the desert. They were called to have faith, but let’s look at what happened. It says, in verse 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.’” Well, that’s something you don’t read too often in the Bible – “We detest this miserable food.” I don’t quite understand that. They just finished saying that they had no food, and then they say they didn’t like the food they had.
So they were complaining, grumbling against God and Moses. Let’s see what happened in the next verse: “Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.” How shall we understand that? I’m not sure whether the Lord sent the snakes or whether life sent the snakes, but one thing I’m sure of. There’s a connection between the negativity and the poison. There’s a connection between all the grumbling and the poison that came right on its tail. Negativity begets negativity; that’s the point of this. They were complaining, and along come the poisonous snakes. So instead of getting better for all the complaining, things were getting worse.
But then they made a good decision. “The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned [they confessed their sins] by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.’” They decided to say yes to God.
And what happened? Moses did pray on the people’s behalf. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent out of bronze and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” That seems like a strange prescription, doesn’t it? But Moses made a serpent out of bronze, put it on a pole, and whenever a serpent bit a person, that person would look at the bronze serpent and live.
What does this mean? It means, take the symbol of defeat and turn it into a symbol of victory, so that whoever looks at this as a symbol of victory might know that they can overcome. God’s will for them is good. They will live. The whole point is that they are taking the poison out of the situation by turning it into a symbol of victory. Moses lifted up the serpent on the pole, and if anyone made the decision to look upon the symbol of victory, they would be cleansed, made whole, and they would live. That is the point of the story.
And the best part is that Jesus knew the story. So now, let’s look at the Gospel reading for today. Jesus is speaking in the Gospel of John: “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.” What Jesus is saying here is that the symbol of destruction, the symbol of death, of fear, of sin, which the cross had symbolized, Jesus is transforming into the symbol of victory. As we take His righteousness, His spirit, His life, and His friendship for our own, we become victors. As we lift up the cross as a symbol of victory, victory can be ours – victory over fear, victory over sin, victory over death. That’s what the Savior came to give you and me. It’s our job to accept Him as Lord and Savior, to lift up the cross, and to know that He paid it all for us.
So, look to the symbol of victory, and say “Yes!” to God, because God has a wonderful plan for your life. He does! The wonderful news is He not only has a wonderful plan A, He has a wonderful plan B. The Israelites were grumbling, you see, first, but God said, “I’m not giving up on you. There’s more goodness in store.” So even if we feel there’s some area of our lives where we didn’t quite get on the bus where we should have, that we missed the door of opportunity, God isn’t giving up on us. Take that symbol of defeat and make it a symbol of victory. It can be so for you. God has a plan A and a plan B and plan C and so on.
Know that God has goodness in store for you. In the Book of Jeremiah, God says, “I know the plans I have for your life, plans for good and not for evil, plans to prosper you, plans to give you a future and a hope.” God has a wonderful plan for you. All it needs is for us to say “Yes, God, I will reach out in faith and accept the plan.” This is faith – it’s as if God comes up to you and asks if you want to dance, but it’s up to you to either say yes or to sit this one out. What will you say?
My prayer for you is that you would know God has a plan and that you would say yes to the supernatural ways in which He is calling you. Each and every one of us has to make a decision for faith. Today’s Epistle reading, Ephesians 2, verse 8, says that we are saved by grace [God’s love] through faith. Faith is saying yes to God. And that is what I pray you will do, because He has wonderful plans for you.
The strangest things happen to me sometimes. I discovered a new supermarket this week, a wonderful place called Whole Foods on Route 1 in Princeton. I headed toward the bakery section, where they have marvelous whole grain breads. I walked up to the counter. A young lady behind the counter was having a conversation with the young man who was stacking the bread on the shelves. And just as I walked up to the counter, she said to the young man, “Oh, I never put anything in the offering plate.” Little did she know! I wasn’t wearing my collar, mind you. I said to her, “Is that so?”
She said, “Why, yes.”
I said, “Do you mind if I ask why?”
“Oh, I don’t have anything.”
Ah, okay. I said, “Well, did you ever think that if you started taking a little bit of what you do have and putting it in the offering plate, it might start a cycle of prosperity for you that will increase and increase, and that God will bless you more and more?”
“Oh,” she said, “I’m not blessed.”
I said, “Really? How do you know?”
She said, “Because I am in debt.”
“I see. So you feel you’re not blessed because you’re in debt.”
“Well, then, my prayer for you is that you will quickly be debt-free.”
And she said, “Oh, I’ll never be debt-free.”
I said, “Is that so? You know that?”
“Yes, I know I’ll never be debt-free.”
I said, “Well then, you’re absolutely right.”
She said, “Do you really think that?”
I said, “Yes.”
She said, “Finally, somebody that agrees with me!”
I said, “Look, I think that if you believe in your heart that you will never be debt-free, then you’re right. You’re stopping God’s chances. But if you believe, a little bit, that maybe God can do something for your life, that opens the door for Him to start prospering you.”
“Oh,” she said, “I’m never going to be out of debt until I’m 50,” which must have seemed a long way off to this young lady.
I said, “Till you’re fifty? Well then, my prayer for you would be that it be half that long.”
She said, “You mean when I’m 25? That’s three years away.”
I said, “That’s plenty of time. I bet you can catch up.”
She said, “Do you think so?”
I said, “I think if you think so, it’s a real possibility.”
She said, “Thank you very much!”
“You are welcome.”
God is calling us to be a partner with Him. He has a wonderful plan for your life. He has a plan to prosper you, to bless you, but He needs us to say yes when He asks us to dance. Friend, my prayer for you is that you would simply know that your life is remarkable, and that your thoughts are powerful. Know that God has a wonderful plan A, B, and C for you, and that all you need to do is say yes and let Him free to work His marvelous work in your life, because God loves you. I do, too. Have a wonderful week. Amen.
© 2006 Anthony J. Godlefski