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Returning Home

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

January 27, 2019

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Luke 4:14–21 (NRSV): returning-home

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The past couple of weeks I have been trying to make room for us to grasp the revelation or the Epiphany of Jesus. Often, we find ourselves trapped in our own cultural perspective and are unable to grasp the truly full humanity of Christ. We look at his age and we regard Jesus as being young. And it is not as if he was old but, in his day, and culture he would have been perceived as an elder in the community. When the average life expectancy is around forty anyone that achieves the age of thirty should have respect. We also cannot grasp that Jesus worked a common and full career. For seventeen years Jesus worked within the family business. He worked with wood and stone, he built and repaired the various dwelling places around his community, some traditions even say that the family were among those that helped construct the temple. Jesus would most likely be considered a master craftsman, trained by some of the greatest craftsmen of the nation. It is sometimes difficult to consider this young adult era of Jesus’s life. But he lived and worked, ate and worshiped among friends and family within a community. He laughed and sang working songs. He measured and cut. He used tools and heard his coworkers cuss as they hit their thumbs. (Jesus was without sin, so I am certain he never missed the mark)

I want us to think about this as we consider today’s passage. Jesus went to his home. He went to worship at his hometown synagogue. Just a few weeks before he was one of them. They lived next door. They worked on the same projects. They were cousins and brothers. They were uncles and in-laws. One of them might have even had a crush on the carpenter, or a father might have been hoping to entice Jesus to consider their daughter in marriage.

There is something about a hometown. If you have ever moved away from your hometown those trips home for a weekend are lifegiving. But there is also something stressful because there is an expectation and a role you are supposed to fill and if you leave town that role is one that you have no desire to fill or are incapable to fill. I remember some of the first conversations I had with family members when I began pastoral ministry. I was asked once if we could tell the same jokes. This made me laugh because the jokes among my friends and family were not profane so I saw no problem, yet they knew that at times words even in humor can be offensive and they were concerned that I would be judgmental or offended.

Jesus went home. Imagine the smells and the feelings he might have had. The aromas of the foods that once comforted him were lofting through the air. The creaking in the house that once lulled him to sleep were once again present, and just as comforting. The same people were sitting or standing in their designated spot during worship on the sabbath. Sometimes we forget how those simple and seemingly annoying things of life ground and center us. They provide a stability and security that tells us that even when times are tough things will work out.

Jesus was home. He was with his friends and family. He was worshiping in the place he joined his family for the past thirty years. He was home yet something was different. Jesus’s baptism revealed that the old life was no longer., a new era of history was emerging.

Everyone in Israel was waiting in expectation for this day to emerge. They had discussed and imagined it for centuries. They studied the signs, they thought they knew what it was they anticipated. Yet the very one they were looking for sat right there in their synagogue for the past thirty years. For seventeen years he led worship with them. He knew them and they knew him, yet the reality was veiled in the familiarity. Everything They were waiting right there, standing before them, yet was an enigma.

How often are we just like those in the synagogue of Nazareth? We are waiting for something spectacular happen. We are anticipating God to move within our Meetings and within our communities, yet we are blinded by the familiar. We want God to work so much within our communities that we try to find spectacular speakers, we try to mimic the styles and programs of others who experienced something great. Yet the results do not seem to transpire as we anticipated. This leads us to become more frustrated, and we make attempts to explain why. Maybe we are allowing sin in our meeting and angering God, so we become more legalistic Maybe we are being too judgmental, so we loosen the reigns and become more lenient. Maybe we need to have more energy, maybe we need to be more spiritual. Maybe.

We search and we seek. We wait and we make attempts and they feel as if it is all in vain. Life becomes familiar and we become comfortable with those around us and eventually we stop and wonder why. Why are we not seeing God move? Why are people leaving or not even coming to faith? Why does it seem as if our community is drifting into darkness?

Do you think people in the first century asked similar questions? We know that John the Baptist questioned the direction of the current religious establishment. He left the path and lifestyle allotted to him by tradition, the lifestyle of a priest and instead went out into the wilderness to live and proclaim the message of repentance. He screamed out to the religious of his time to repent, to turn, to go a different direction and the people eagerly listened. Yet in the message he presented he said there is one coming who is even greater than him. One whose sandals he is not worthy to untie.

The entire culture was blinded by familiarity, they were comfortable in the highly effective system they had orchestrated. Yet there was this nagging unrest deep within, an expectation they were looking for but unable to define.

It was into this environment Jesus spoke these words, words that were spoken during a similar time.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

What is Jesus saying? What era Jesus heralding into existence? He is calling us to a life, a lifestyle, an existence with God. One where every individual can know God not because someone performed some ceremony for us, but because God had come to us. God came to us to show how to live, how to interact, how to be human. God needed to come, to become human because we had become blind to truth, we had become consumed by self-rationalization and justification. And in our comfort, we missed something important, grace.

Jesus came living a complete human life to open our eyes, and to provide the way for us to become the people we were meant to be. He taught us a holy rhythm of life, a discipline. He made it his custom to worship in the synagogue, he withdrew often to the isolated places to pray, and he ministered to the needs of those around him. We ourselves have claimed that same rhythm as our mission, as the testimony we at Willow Creek exist. “Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with Others.”

Paul wrote about this lifestyle in his letters to the churches. He expressed it as being clothed in Christ, putting on the full armor, he said “it is no longer I who lives but Christ who live through me.”

That day in his hometown Jesus told us what our ministry and purpose is to be. Ministering to the needs of the poor, helping to free those in bondage of many kinds, providing care to victims of injury and those living in lives of illness, to bring relief for those being exploited, and to proclaim to all the love God has for them.

We live this life with others. We grow in this life as we turn toward Christ and join him in his lifestyle. We worship, we pray the best we can, and when we see a place, we can minister we joyful join and encourage those around us.

Why then do we not see what we hope? This is something that I have struggled with most of my life. I have watched as people my age have seemingly left the faith. I have watched as Meeting have been closed. I have even been on the very board that took on the rule of managing the closures. In every case, it is because those that were in those meetings were unable to live the life of Christ with those around them. They were unable to allow people to mature in their faith, but they wanted to dictate the way and manner they should grow. They were attempting to make copies of someone else’s faith instead of allowing God to form them into the person they should be.

This is difficult to say because so often I have participated in that type of ministry. It is easy to recognize growth in that manner, you have a formula you can follow. First you read the gospel maybe Mark because it’s the shortest, second you pray the sinner’s prayer, you are welcomed into the Meeting in whatever manner your tradition dictates. Third you begin to have a daily quiet time with God. If you have any questions you offer some wonderful books that tell you just how to do it. If you struggle then maybe you do not have authentic faith and you must start over, but you can skip step two.

These methods can produce authentic faith, but often it does not speak to everyone’s condition. Some people respond well to different forms of discipleship while others respond to something totally different. When we try to perfect someone else’s personal discipleship program we can become like the pharisees of ancient days. We become whitewashed tombs of dried out bones. We look nice on the outside but can often be dead on the inside. This is why friendship and encouragement are important. A friend would be able to tell you that you are faking it and encourage you to express yourself in a different way.

Personally, I am a quiet person. I am reserved emotionally. I can go to a football or hockey game and be ecstatic about what is going on around me yet sit there calmly with only a smile on my face. Very rarely do I make vocal utterances. When it comes to worship, I am also reserved, I am not a hand raiser, instead I am a foot tapper and I sway. The more music or a message moves me the quieter I become to the point I am nearly prostrate in prayer. Does this mean I am inauthentic in my worship, because I do not clap or say “Amen” when the speaker makes a good point. No. It means my personality is different than someone else. Yet, I enjoy worship among people who clap and dance. I enjoy worship among others who can just sit in silence. But most of all I enjoy worship while hiking on a trail or watching a sunset. (Not so much a sunrise because that requires waking up early but when I do, I am in awe) I find the most joy when I listen to birds sing, or see deer grazing in a clearing. I am drawn to the Friends Church because it encourages me in my personal expression of faith.

But are we being authentic? Are we encouraging people in their faith or are we encouraging them in our own? We can worship in our own manner, and still encourage people to worship in theirs. It is difficult because to do so we must become vulnerable to one another. We must open our lives and share ourselves with them in so that we can encourage them, and they too must open to us. It requires us to listen and encourage instead of providing the answers.

Yesterday during the area leadership summit, we discussed the life of prayer. During our lessons, we were encouraged to pray how we can, and not to pray in a way we can’t. We were encouraged to use scripture to direct our prayer, and to allow space for God to speak to us and not only dictate to God what we want him to do for us. I love the ways that Fil Anderson taught prayer, because it speaks to my condition, but the way we did it may not speak to everyone. Some may need to move when they pray, and others can sit. Some may need a fidget spinner, while others might need a paint brush. It is not about how we do things, it is that we do them and encourage one another to turn to God. It is not about us, but it is about taking on Jesus’s lifestyle and reflecting the light he brings to our lives to those around us. To be honest it is not about being right or wrong, it is not about living a life without sin, or being righteous or holy, it is about being who we are in Jesus.

We are each broken in some way, we all struggle. We all know others who are hurting and struggling as well. Our mission is to live faith with them. Our ministry is to show them that being broken is ok, and to point them to our hope. Our lives should be like Jesus’s, lived within a community, yet lived out for the glory of God and our community. The people at that synagogue were amazed at what Jesus had read to them, and when he sat down every eye was looking at him. And he said to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Consider that. Jesus was in his hometown, among those that knew him from childhood, who had worked with him and had known his family. Later if we continue to read it angered them, as faith often angers those around us, because light reveals something to us. It reveals that we are not always who we think we are. They thought they were being faithful, yet those words that Jesus shared said that they were not. And when he spoke, he was saying like John the Baptist, turn. Turn around because we are going the wrong way, we are trying to live a fraudulent faith and all we really need to do is be ourselves, be our true selves, the person God created us to be. Joyful musicians who can encourage someone with a song. Passionate artists who can reveal truth and encourage change through paint or clay. Contemplative souls who quietly listen and provide space for you to see a different path. Mechanics of various types who help us get through life by fixing the things that distract us while encouraging us with a smile. Our passions and our faith work together and when we live with Christ in that way, we will see the seeds that God spreads sprout all around us. Because when we live our lives in Christ, we are no longer focused on ourselves, but we are focused on the one who loves us, and we begin to love the ones he loves.

As we enter our time of holy expectancy and communion in the manner of Friends, let us consider the words of Isaiah that Jesus read, and consider how God is calling us in our own way to fulfill that in our lives today. And let us also celebrate the fact that we were once poor who received the news, we were once the captive and the broken, we were once the oppressed that was freed by the grace provided through the love that brought Jesus down from his throne in Heaven to live a complete human life with and for us. The grace that was shown by his sacrifice on the cross and the hope that was ensured by his resurrection. Let us celebrate and embrace life with him and continue to turn from a life devoted to human pursuits and return to a life devoted to the love of God.

About jwquaker

I’m sure everyone wants to know who I am…well if you are viewing this page you do. I’m Jared Warner and I am a pastor or minister recorded in the Evangelical Friends Church Mid America Yearly Meeting. To give a short introduction to the EFC-MA, it is a group of evangelical minded Friends in the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. We are also a part of the larger group called Evangelical Friends International, which as the name implies is an international group of Evangelical Friends. For many outside of the Friends or Quaker traditions you may ask what a recorded minister is: the short answer is that I have demistrated gifts of ministry that our Yearly Meeting has recorded in their minutes. To translate this into other terms I am an ordained pastor, but as Friends we believe that God ordaines and mankind can only record what God has already done. More about myself: I have a degree in crop science from Fort Hays State University, and a masters degree in Christian ministry from Friends University. Both of these universities are in Kansas. I lived most of my life in Kansas on a farm in the north central area, some may say the north west. I currently live and minister in the Kansas City, MO area and am a pastor in a programed Friends Meeting called Willow Creek Friends Church.


3 thoughts on “Returning Home

  1. As I see it, how I understand what you are saying depends in large part on the definition of faith; maybe your definition, but certainly on my definition. Much of current usage of the term “faith” has very little to do with how it is used in scripture, particularly when speaking about the “faith of Abraham”. This faith consisted of three things: (1) God spoke to Abraham, (2) Abraham believed the voice of God, and (3) Abraham acted in accordance to what God said to him. When the prophets, Jesus, the disciples, or others in the New Testament Scriptures speak of faith, it is this faith of Abraham. When Jesus told the sick, lame, blind, diseased, etc. “Your faith has made you whole,” we are mistaken when we equate that to “Your belief has made you whole.” Those who were healed did not begin with belief. They began by hearing the voice of God and recognizing its life changing authority, then comes belief and obedience. When the writer of Hebrews wrote about Jesus being the author of our faith, he was writing about a process that begins with hearing the voice of God. Our faith grows as we embrace that voice and the revelations it brings, even those revelations that show us God’s rebuke and requirement for change. Our faith grows because we have come to know that no one else has the words of life and it is God’s life within that we want more than pride or ego. When John wrote of the faith that overcomes the world, it is this faith that has its foundation in the experience of living in the voice of Christ within us to be our source of life that the world cannot touch.

    if “Our mission is to live faith with them” as you state, it is only living the faith of Abraham that will minister the life of God to those around us.

    Posted by Ellis Hein | January 27, 2019, 10:36 PM
    • You may have misunderstood my meaning. Our mission is to love God, embrace the holy spirit, and to live the love of Christ with Others. To live this out we need the faith like the disciples and Abraham because to do this we must listen to the voice of the divine and respond. Faith is not belief. Even the demons believe according to scripture. True Faith is when we move beyond belief, even beyond trust. It is when we entrust our lives to what we perceive as God and live within that relationship. So basically we are saying the same thing. Have a great week Ellis!

      Posted by jwquaker | January 27, 2019, 10:47 PM
  2. Thanks for the clarification. If you included the definition of faith in your post, I missed it. I did not intend to contribute something that was unnecessary, for it seemed a vital distinction to state explicitly that faith is something other than a body of tenets we hold to be true, or a body of belief, or personal belief, etc. When “faith” is something other than the process of hearing Christ, the Word, i.e. God’s spokesman, (reading scripture is no substitute) we come up with the rigidity you describe in your post and the rigidity portrayed by centuries of Christendom. (Read Will Durant’s History of Civilization — a sobering look at what we humans have done. )

    So, if I have explained things any better, well and good. If not, I am not sure how to improve on what I have tried to say.

    Posted by Ellis Hein | January 28, 2019, 9:25 AM

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