There was exciting news this week – for my family at least! – that an Australian airline plans to allow small cats and dogs on board! But it has drawn attention to other ‘animals on planes’ stories!

Did you know some Middle Eastern airlines allow falcons to travel on plans? (Quite fascinated by this! On Emirates it is only on routes between Dubai and Pakistan. On Qatar you can have one falcon as an Economy Class passenger, but there’s a six falcon limit in this cabin. On Etihad you can have one falcon per passenger – and an extra falcon – if you purchase them a seat!) Did you know that a small plane crashed in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2010, because, the sole survivor of the crash reported, a crocodile got loose on the aircraft! Did you know the same thing happened in the cargo hold of a Qantas flight from Brisbane to Melbourne two years later? Did you know a woman was prevented from bringing a peacock onboard a US flight in 2018 – as a emotional support peacock? Those regulations were tightened in 2020 as people had been bringing all sorts of emotional support animals on board – ducks, pigs, small horses and, yes, even snakes!

Snakes on planes is a terrifying idea, but snakes at camp seems to happen regularly. I hear there’s a ‘snakes at camp’ story from last weekend… (What happened, Megan?)

My favourite (apologies to those hearing this again) ‘snakes at camp’ story happened at Burrill Pines when Zach, aged four or five, found a dead snake in the grass near the oval area… And while the kids were admiring it (or his sisters were telling him to put it back) Aron came down – assumed it was a toy snake – took it off Zach and started chasing children, pretending it would bite them. But as he was doing this, his fingers were sending messages to his brain. “This is the most realistic feeling toy rubber snake ever!” Until finally he realised it wasn’t a toy snake and screamed – or let out a very manly yell – and threw the snake away from him – right at Rachel Joyce!

The people of Israel, too, had a ‘snakes at camp’ story – one that was equally full of drama and human frailty. As our Old Testament reading says, while they were travelling from Egypt to the Promised Land, they “became impatient on the way…. [and] 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.’” If you know the story, the complaining is a familiar part of the story. Despite God delivering them, despite God providing for them, despite God caring for them, they complain. Does that sound familiar? Does that sound like anyone we know?

But then the story gets less familiar and less clear. The text says, “Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.”

Even the language isn’t very clear. What the NRSV calls ‘poisonous snakes’ are actually ‘fiery’ or ‘seraphim’ snakes, creatures that, as one commentator points out, “are usually portrayed in ancient texts both in and outside the Bible [as] giant creatures with sharp teeth and claws, possessing bat-like wings.” Your basic worst nightmare. Snakes. Snakes that look like crocodiles. Snakes that look like crocodiles that fly – flying snakes that look like crocodiles – on fire!

But what is clear to us, as people who read both this story and the passage from John, both Old and the New Testaments, is that God is not a God who deals out death by snakebite to those who complain. There is a whole genre of psalms of complaint or lament to God! Jesus clarifies our image of God – our theology of God – in our passage from John. “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” In other words, God’s whole reality, and therefore, wonderfully, our whole reality, is one of grace and forgiveness, of life and love. As the famous verse from this passage says, ‘God loved the world so much’ or as John 10:10 says, Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly.

In this ‘snakes at camp’ story God is not trying to destroy the people, but intent on providing healing for them – both from their sins and from their snake bites – from everything that brings death in its wake. And so, to do this, Moses is told to make a poisonous or fiery snake and set it on a pole so that whenever anyone was bitten, they could look at the serpent and live.

In one sense this is sympathetic magic, engaging with an object that resembles something that you are trying to influence. But we also know that snakes are a symbol, throughout human history, of both danger and death, and, rebirth and resurrection. In Greek mythology, Asclepius, the god associated with healing and medicine, carries a serpent-entwined rod, a symbol used by many modern health care agencies. (In error many American healthcare organisations adopted the caduceus, the rod of Hermes, god of commerce, rather than the rod of Asclepius, but perhaps it isn’t an error! One snake – good. Two snakes – double the price!)

We know, however, that this image of the snake on the pole was powerful because it is used here in our John reading. “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.” In the horrific events of Jesus’ crucifixion, the writer of John and the early church saw again God’s intention working out not to destroy human beings for their sin – but to bring healing and life to the world. Those who believe will find eternal life – full and whole and forever life – with God.

For in Jesus being lifted up, he is also exalted, the word ‘lifted up’ (hyposo) has this dual meaning. He is lifted on the cross, but he is also exalted to God’s presence; “in order that the world might be saved through him.”

And this salvation is worked out in our lives when we respond to Jesus lifted up on the cross – when we believe that Jesus is the medicine for our sin and our suffering.

We know that God does not send snakes to punish us, but we also discover that God does not take the snakes in our lives magically away. Rather God helps us, encourages us, urges us to bring the painful and sinful parts of our lives into the open, so we can be healed and saved. “Those who do what is true,” John says, “come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

It can take incredible courage to face the pain and sin we would prefer to keep hidden. I am sure we can all think of times when we have had to admit hard things – reveal hard things – have difficult conversations.

The American preacher and writer, Barbara Brown Taylor, tells a story about a friend of hers…

…who did not sleep through the night for years because of a dreadful dream he had. He did not have it every night, but he feared it every night, so that even on his nights off, he stayed on guard. In the dream, a malevolent being showed up at the door of his house wanting something. As the monster banged on his door so hard that the wood bulged, he scrambled around the house looking for a weapon big enough to kill it, but every time he opened the door and killed it, the demon became larger….

One night – in the dream – it occurred to him that what the demon wanted from him was his blessing. That was the only thing that would end the demon’s agony. His blessing was the only thing that would make it go away. So, he opened the door with his guts on fire and his hands in front of his face. “I bless you,” he said to the demon, “and I bid you go where God wants you to go.” But saying it once was not enough. He had to say it over and over again, as many different ways as he could think of to say it, for what seemed in the dream like close to an hour. It was as if the demon could not get enough of the blessing, It was as if no one had ever blessed it before.

“I bless you in the name of the Christ,” my friend said, Taylor writes, for the hundredth time, “Now go in peace.” And making a sound like a kitten, the demon turned around and never came back.

It is a strange story and yet it has applications for us, in how we are tempted to respond – and how we need to respond to the darkness in our own lives.

As I think about Aron hanging onto that snake at church camp, there is a sense in which we make our way through life, thinking we are fine, that everything’s fine, that it’s just a toy rubber snake, dismissing or ignoring the fears and doubts and real hurts that arise. Then, as we encounter more of these, as we experience more of life, we want to hurl the snake as far away from us as we can. But we discover, as we take the wilderness journey that leads to the cross and only then to new life, to resurrection, we discover that life in God, is not about hiding who we really are, ignoring our pain and our sin, but turning to God and asking for God’s help.

We are invited – we are called – to bring our lives – all of our lives – into the light of God and find in that light God’s forgiveness, God’s healing, God’s life and God’s love.

When I survey the wondrous cross

where the young Prince of glory died,

my richest gain I count but loss,

and pour contempt on all my pride.



This table does not belong to any denomination or association

or church or community, it is the table of our Lord.

And it is to this table that he invites us as his friends.

In a very different place and time to this,

But among ordinary people who had responded to the call to follow him,

Jesus sat down, as we regularly sit down, to eat a meal.

And during the meal, he took a piece of bread.

Blessed it and broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying,

‘This is my body, given for you.’

Later in the meal he took a cup of wine, saying,

‘In this cup is the new relationship with God

made possible through my death.

Drink it, all of you.

I will not drink this cup again

until I do so in the coming kingdom of God.

So we take this bread and this cup to share in this meal with Jesus

and to share in the life of God together.

Let us pray that the goodness of God

will bless, enrich and enlighten us.

Loving God, we ask you in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ,

to bless this meal we share together.

May we eat and drink in remembrance of the body of your Son,

and witness to you, O God,

that we are willing to carry the name of your Son,

and remember your love for our world.


As Jesus took bread, broke and ate it,

We take the bread.

As Jesus shared the cup

We share these cups.

In the one who shares this meal with us – God has come to us

So we can come to God. Amen.

Let us share the peace of Christ with one another

Peace be with you and also with you.

Prayers of Intercession (Iona – altered)

Loving God, who in Jesus, touched the earth,

admiring its beauty and blessing it people,

we thank you for the gifts life brings us.

Hear our prayers for the places in this world

where beauty has turned to ugliness,

food has been replaced by famine,

friendship has been forgotten,

and fear, hostility and hopelessness have the upper hand.

God in your mercy, bring healing, bring peace.

We bring to you our deep concerns for our world.

We pray for parts of the world in conflict.

We pray for people who are experiencing famine.

We pray for the unfolding tragedy of the hottest year on record, of our impact on the climate and the effect of climate change on the lives of the vulnerable.

We bring you our concerns for our this nation.

For the questions that remain, after the referendum, about how we address Aboriginal disadvantage and how we recognise the place of indigenous people.

We thank you for the courage and the long-term commitment of Kim Davison, Julie Tongs and Selina Walker.

And we give you great thanks for the life of Dr Lowitja O’Donghue, remembered on Friday. We thank you for the gifts you gave her, for her love for her people and her passion for justice – may you commit us to this ongoing work as well.

We bring to you the needs of this community.

We pray for Don White’s family and friends, especially Elizabeth and Peter,

as they mourn him this week.

We pray for David Scoggins who begins cancer treatment again, be with him, and pray that you continue to walk beside Richard and Judith and Tara’s mum and dad and many others who struggle with health.

We pray too for those preparing for the arrival of new babies. We pray for Tash Joyce and we pray for Fredah Abifarin. We give you thanks for the arrival of Willa Hilly and Atticus Tan and continue to pray for their families.

And we thank you for the celebrations we have marked as well – the wedding of Josh Mathews Hunter and Emily Mullamphy, another church camp, our 95th church anniversary – all moments to celebrate and to bind us together as we continue to journey together.