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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Lent - March 26, 2006

Lucy once said to Charlie Brown, “Discouraged again, eh, Charlie Brown?  You know what your whole trouble is?  The whole trouble with you is that you’re you!”

To which Charlie asks, “Well, what in the world can I do about that?”

And Lucy replies, “I don’t pretend to be able to give advice…I merely point out the trouble.”

Another time Lucy says, “You know what the whole trouble with you is Charlie Brown?”

Charlie, exasperated says, “No, and I don’t want to know.  Leave me alone.”  And he walks away.

As he walks away Lucy shouts, “The whole trouble with you is you won’t listen to what the whole trouble with you is.”

The gospel according to Peanuts.  The wisdom of Charles Schulz.

The gospel according to Peanuts isn’t likely to be accepted as part of the Bible any time soon; but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have something to say.  I’ll get back to that later, but first let me talk about some things that are part of the Bible, like John’s gospel, although even it is not without controversy.  It was not an obvious choice to be part of the Bible when those choices were made because it is very different from the other gospels.  Stylistically it’s different.  With a few exceptions it’s different in the kinds of things Jesus does.  It’s very different in the way Jesus speaks and the kinds of things he says. 

But it was accepted as an authentic witness to faith in Jesus and an authentic witness to who we believe Jesus was and is.  Actually more of our core Christian doctrine comes from John, despite how different it is, than from any of the other gospels; stuff about the doctrine of the Trinity and the human/divine nature of Christ.  And John does contain many beloved and well known stories and verses, perhaps none so well known and beloved as John 3:16;  For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.  That’s the KJV I memorized in SS many years ago.

Less well known are the verses right before this, the opening verses of today’s gospel lesson, which refer back to today’s OT lesson from the book of Numbers.  This part of Numbers is another telling of the Exodus story most of which we are familiar with from the book of Exodus; but Numbers also recounts some of it and has some unique parts like this story of the poisonous serpents.

It starts with the whining and complaining we’ve come to expect from the people of Israel as they wander in the wilderness, longing for what they remember as the good old days of slavery back in Egypt.  Other times the people complained the Lord has provided manna, the bread from heaven, he has provided water from the rock in response to their complaints, but in this case the Lord reacts differently.  He becomes so frustrated that he sends poisonous snakes among them and many of the people die as a result of being bitten.  From our perspective that might seem like a bit of an overreaction on the part of the Lord, heavy punishment for whining and complaining; but perhaps it’s meant to show us that rejecting the will of God is a serious thing.  As I’ve said before, there is that freedom of God which we can’t always predict and which we probably don’t want to test.

The people repent though, they repent of their whining and complaining saying to Moses, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you.”  It is at that point that Moses prays and the Lord tells him to make a serpent of bronze, to put it up on a pole so that anyone who is bitten by one of the poisonous snakes can look at the bronze serpent and live.  And that’s what Moses does.  The means of healing from sin is provided by the Lord and that’s why, in his gospel, John connects this imagery to Jesus as the new means of healing from sin as he is lifted up on the cross.

What is interesting, but quite profound in this story from Numbers is that the snakes are still there.  The people have repented.  The text doesn’t say so in so many words, but we assume that they have been forgiven, but the effects of their sin, the poisonous serpents, are still there.  But…the means for healing has been provided.

We might have thought that the Lord would just get rid of the snakes.  That might be nice, but it wouldn’t be honest.  The reality is that we sin and the means for forgiveness and healing has been provided in Christ; but we still have to deal with the consequences of our sin just like the people of Israel did.  The snakes are still there, and they still bite.  But we do have a way to keep the bite from being deadly.

What does all this have to do with Charlie Brown and Lucy, the gospel according to Peanuts?  In the first little dialogue Lucy tells CB, “The whole trouble with you is that you’re you.”  That’s good.  In one line Lucy says what it takes theologians chapters and books to say.  The trouble with you is that you’re you.  In theological terms that defines the human condition.  Our sinful nature is the problem.  We’d like to think otherwise.  We’d like to think that we’re basically good and the trouble is the bad things we do.  We’d like that because it gives us a degree of control.  If the problem is that I lie all the time, I’ll stop lying.  If I gossip too much, I’ll just say nice things about people.  If I don’t go to church regularly, I’ll start going every week.

If the problem is doing something bad, the solution is to stop doing that or to start doing good things.  Salvation just becomes a matter of doing the good things and avoiding the bad which is commendable, but it doesn’t need Jesus because it doesn’t recognize that the trouble with you is that you’re you.  Which leads to Lucy’s profound statement in the second dialogue; “The trouble with you is that you won’t listen to what the trouble with you is.”  For the most part we would prefer not to listen.  As was true of CB it’s hard to hear that the trouble with you is that you’re you, meaning in our case that we are sinful human beings not just in respect to the things we do but in our very nature. 

The good news is that the Bible gives us a better answer to Charlie’s question, “Well what in the world can I do about that?”  Lucy just says, “Sorry, I just point out the problem.”  The Gospel according to John says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  The people of Israel looked up at the bronze snake and were healed.  We look up at the cross of Christ and we are healed.  We see the cross with Jesus on it and we shouldn’t be in a big hurry to get him off of there so we can clean it up.  We see him and recognize that it is our sin that put him there and we let the healing begin.  The people of Israel didn’t ask how that bronze snake healed them, they just looked up at it.  We don’t have to ask how Jesus nailed to the cross saves us.  We just receive it as gift and trust in the gift.

The real answer to CB’s “What in the world can I do about it?” question is…you can’t do anything about it CB.  If “you” are the problem “you” can’t be the solution.  It takes a gift from the outside.  It takes a gift of grace from God and that’s what is found as we look up at the cross of Christ.  When we look down we wind up focusing on ourselves and what we can do to change things; but no matter what we do, as beneficial as it might be, it can never be enough.  We have to look up, in an act of faith to find the healing, the salvation we need.

The means of healing has been provided and it is sheer gift because it has to be.  Part of our Lenten journey every year is to recognize again that we can’t do it.  You listen again to what the trouble with you is. If you are the problem, you can’t be the solution.  It depends on God’s grace.  It depends on God’s love for the world that is so great that he gave his only Son.  The snakes are still there, and they still bite; but look up at the cross of Christ, the means of healing.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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