By Jared Warner
June 30, 2019
Willow Creek Friends Church
Luke 9:51–62 (ESV)
A Samaritan Village Rejects Jesus
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village.
The Cost of Following Jesus
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Who are you? I am sure you have thought about the answer to this question a few times in the course of your life. We make attempts at defining this, defining ourselves. We try to find meaning and understanding. But what are we using to define who we are? What are we using to define those around us?
The first century world also struggled with identity at times. These identities gave them a sense of pride, belonging and purpose. There is nothing outright sinful in these things, but it sin can enter very easily if our identity in one area causes us to dishonor or disrespect other for the simple fact that they identify as something contrary to your identity. I am tired of saying the word identity. It is almost as if everything today has something to do with that word. I Dentity. The danger of identity is seen very clearly through the relationship of Israel and Samaria.
Most of us have a decent understanding of the Jewish people. I say decent because we are not Jewish so there is a great deal we do not know and will not know unless we ask certain questions about their history and traditions. We can glean quite a bit from the books of scripture we call the old testament but there is much more to the Jewish faith than is written in those books. This is why the priests were not able to serve in the temple until they were twenty-five, when all the other boys their age were starting their careers at the age of thirteen. They had to learn not only the scripture we know, but all their traditional teachings and rabbinical interpretations. We know about the Jewish people to a degree, but most of us know very little about the Samaritan people.
We know that the people of Samaria were Israelites. They share a heritage and history with the Jewish people, they even share religious faith. The Levites that served in the Temple at Jerusalem were from the same tribe as those that lived in the rest of promised land. The priest lived among the tribes they did not have a separate geography, but they were mixed within the others. This is because their inheritance was not land but God. They were called to be a tribe set apart. When the Kingdom of Israel divided after the reign of Solomon there were priest in both Israel and Judea. When the kingdom divided the identity of Samaritans and Jews began. Most of our scripture is written from a Jewish perspective and most of that perspective casts a very unfavorable light in the direction of the northern kingdom. We know that the northern kingdom had leaders that did evil in the eyes of God. This is most likely true. I would venture to say that most people that claim leadership over others within a nation probably do evil in the eyes of God at some point, and if we want to be honest all of Israel at the end of the book of Judges had pretty much done evil in the eyes of God because they wanted a king to rule over them and to fight their battle. When Samuel speaks to God about this God says that they had rejected God as their king.
We have a skewed view of Samaritans, because scripture is written through a Jewish perspective, and that is not necessarily a bad thing because it is through the Jewish people that God was going to provide the hope of all nations. So, scripture should follow them more closely than the tribes to the north. This does not mean that the tribes to the north are less children of Israel. It simply means that their part within the story had taken a minor role.
This does not mean that their culture did not continue. They still had priests to carry on the faith of their fathers. The prophets tell us that there was still a group that remained faithful to God. Their faith traditions stretch back to pre-temple Israel. It was in the area that would become the Northern Kingdom of Israel that the tabernacle was situated until David had it moved to the Southern areas. And that location remained sacred to those in the Northern Kingdom even after their kingdom was conquered by, they Assyrian Empire. This schism between the sacred locations developed into religious divisions and it evolved even more to political divisions until the tribes forgot that they were all Children of Israel, children of the promise of God, and they instead focused on identity.
These identities morphed to a greater degree after the exiles. The Northern kingdom was conquered, and the reason is given that they did evil in the eyes of God and lost favor. They were conquered, and the land that was once Israel was filled with people of different nations. Those that remained in Israel interacted with those that moved in. They married their children. Some embraced their religions and some of those that moved in embraced the God of Jacob. But their heritage was mixed. This mixing of nations was something that the southern kingdom did not approve of. And it became an issue of debate. When Judea was also conquered, they were faced with the same dilemma. Many were removed from their homes and forced to live outside the land of promise. They married the daughters of Babylon. When those descendants of Judah could return to Jerusalem, they did something surprising. They purified their nation. Those that married people outside the tribe were encouraged to put away or divorce their spouses and to marry people of similar identity. Often, we look at this portion of their history and regard it as something favorable because they were getting back to their cultural roots and restoring the true faith. But have we ever thought about the families that were left behind?
This purity became a source of division between Judea and Israel. How could they ever hope for unity when one side refuses to acknowledge the validity of the other? The disagreements ran so deep that Samaria would often plot against Jerusalem. This is why those that were repairing the walls of Jerusalem had to wear a sword.
For centuries this feud continued. Samaria had their place of worship and Judea had another. With each passing year the divisions just intensified, but both had hope. Both nations looked forward to the coming Messiah that would reunite the tribes. The problem with this was which side would the Messiah validate and who would ultimately lose?
We see this tension in today’s passage. Luke tells us that Jesus’ ministry is ending and he is looking to the fulfillment in Jerusalem. Jesus is making his way from Galilee to Jerusalem and to get there he passes through Samaria. This is very significant. Many who would travel from Galilee to Jerusalem would go around this area, and rightfully so. The feud between the two factions were still going strong. Samaria did not want people passing through their land to get to the temple. They did not acknowledge the temple in Jerusalem as being an authentic place of worship because they had their own sacred site that they encouraged people to worship at. And according to tradition they would encourage people to worship at their sacred site using questionable methods.
But Jesus does not care, he walks straight through without fear. He sends his disciples out before him to arrange hospitality for the night. They go and they make inquiries only to find rejection at every turn. No one in the city wanted to allow a group of people heading for Jerusalem to stay on their property. We should not forget that there were Samaritans among those that followed Jesus. There were many among Samaria that considered Jesus to be the Messiah they had waited for, but when they realized Jesus was going to Jerusalem instead of their mountain it hurt their pride. Jesus in their eyes was no better than the other Jews.
I want us to consider this for a moment. This village rejected Jesus completely because he was going to Jerusalem. They rejected him completely because they wanted Jesus to conform to their worldview. They rejected Jesus as their Messiah and Unifying king because he did not agree that their mountain was just as important as the one in Jerusalem. They rejected Jesus because he did not conform to their agenda.
This angered the disciples. How dare they disrespect their teacher. It just fueled their hatred for the Samaritans even more. It fueled their prejudices. And James and John began to plot the destruction of that village in retaliation to their rejection. They asked Jesus if they could call fire down from heaven to consume these inhospitable people. It seems like a bold thing to say, but the disciples had been ministering in Galilee for a while now. Jesus had sent them out into the villages, and they were doing miraculous thing in Jesus’s name. They were beginning to think that they could control the very hand and power of God because they were his disciples. In their righteous anger, in their self-righteous anger they wanted to make an example of this village that would be just as memorable of another city that would not provide hospitality to the messengers of God, Sodom.
It is interesting how Jesus responds. He immediately rebukes the sons of thunder; he rebukes the disciple he loves along with his brother. Jesus does not tolerate their self-righteous pride. He rebukes them because Jesus did not come to the world to condemn it but to save it. Both sides were equally wrong. They were spinning half truths to suit their agenda. James and John wanted to smite this village and Jesus tells them to shut up and keep walking.
What good would calling for vengeance do? In Jesus’s eyes these Samaritans were just as important as the people that shared his Judean ancestry. In his eyes they were equal, they were all Israel. To make an example of an inhospitable village would not fulfill the mission of reconciliation of all nations to God, but it would only drive the wedge of separation deeper. Jesus’s kingdom was not about which side was right or wrong, his mission was to restore all people who were damaged by the cancer of sin.
They continue to walk. As they walk people are following. Remember these are people of Samaria not Judea. Jesus did not hold the rejection of one village against the whole nation, but he turns the attention to something more individual. Someone comes over to him as he walks and says to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Another comes, and Jesus asks him to follow, and this man responds, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And a third man says, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”
For us these all seem like very reasonable responses. These people are eager for follow. They want to follow Jesus even though he is a Jew and they are Samaritans. But to each of these people Jesus counters their response with something that takes our breath away. To the one that first says I will follow you wherever you go, Jesus says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To the second man, the one that wishes to bury his father, Jesus says, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God. And to the third, Jesus says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
I have sat with these responses this week. I considered them. I look at them and I even find the statements of the individuals as being very reasonable. They make sense to me, because even I had prayed prayers like this. When I entered ministry, I was technically a single dad although I was engaged to be married. I prayed that I would minister wherever I was called if it was within driving distance of my son. I thought it was a very reasonable prayer at the time, but what was I saying? I was putting my terms and conditions into the equation. I will serve God if… What happens if something changes? What if God had called me to Alaska Yearly Meeting or Eastern Region? Would I still follow? What if God called me to Africa or India? Would I still follow? What if God did not call me to a Meeting that could pay me? What if I would have to work two or three jobs just to minister? What if?
The responses of these individuals are not that much different to the rejection of the village. Jesus had his sights set on Jerusalem for a reason. They did not like Jerusalem and wanted Jesus to be their Samaritan Messiah. And if he was not, they would not follow. Jesus was poor, yes, he was poor no matter what the guy on TV might say he traveled and depended on the hospitality of others. If our condition is financial and He calls us to poverty will we follow? What if following Jesus would cause dishonor in the family? What if following would mean leaving those we love behind? What if?
Jesus rebuked the disciples for casting judgement on the Samaritan village because of their rejection. Then he turns around and rebukes Samaritans for lack of faith. Am I the only one that finds this odd? Or is he telling us something else? I say these individuals were Samaritans, but they could have been anyone. Jesus is asking each of us a tough question, what is holding you back?
This exchange happens near the end of Jesus’s ministry. At this point the disciples had seen Jesus do countless things that they could not explain. They themselves had done things they never thought possible. They had watch Jesus heal, feed a multitude, silence the religious elite, fill nets with so many fish boats began to sink. They had seen him raise people from the dead, and they had seen him shine on a mountain top while talking to Moses and Elijah. They had seen all this yet still some wanted God on their terms. They wanted Jesus to support their agenda.
We do not know what will happen if we truly follow. We do not know how other will react if we follow. We do not know if people will support us or reject us. We do know some things. We know that Jesus came and lived among mankind. We know he taught and lived a life that was different from the world around him. We know that through him things that can happen that we cannot explain. And we know that he looked beyond the identities and boxes people tried to put him in and calls us each to walk in faith. He calls us to follow him right here and right now. He calls us to live with him. Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living his love with others. He calls us to stop looking at our various groups and heroes within those groups and instead to see that of God in all people. Jesus is calling us, will we answer? He is calling us to participate in his kingdom but are we too focused on the kingdoms of men? Jesus is calling will we reject him, or will we embrace the opportunity?
It does not mater who you are, where you are from, or what you have done. Jesus is calling. He loves you and wants you to join him in the adventure of life. What is holding you back?
Luke 8:26–39 (ESV)
Jesus Heals a Man with a Demon
26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” 29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32 Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.
34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 36 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
Scripture is filled with many stories. Stories that mystify and stories that rip our hearts out of our chests. There are stories that inspire us to pursue a different life and stories that cause us to wonder what is going on in the world. Today’s passage is like so many, at first glance we are amazed at the power of Christ. We read it and we sometimes wonder why we do not see these things today. We ask these things, because we want to see the miraculous, but have you ever allowed this passage to enter your imagination? Look at the description of the scene.
If we were to look back a few verses, we would know that just prior to this selection, Jesus and his disciples had crossed the Sea of Galilee. During this voyage a storm hit, a storm that had the people in the boat scared. We live in an area of the United States that experiences storms. We know storms intimately, they come to visit nearly every night. Just this week areas of the metro experienced something known as a gustnado. This meteorological phenomenon develops when the atmospheric pressures are such that the air moves through the area with such force that the straight winds can cause as much damage as a tornado. I have lived through these storms, I have seen these storms crush a factory building like an empty pop can. The disciples were afraid of the storm as they were crossing the sea, and in a moment Jesus calmed that storm. With a simple phrase, “peace be still.” he rebuked the wind and looked at the disciples and asked where their faith was.
They get to the shore, and they get out of the boat. He walks up the hill and what exactly does he see? When I imagine the scene, my mind often see the picturesque views of Israel that many of our friends are seeing now. But the scene was not like that. This shore was the location of tombs and herds of swine. How many of you have ever been in an area with swine herds?
While driving our students to came we pass through the Kansas tall grass prairie. These rolling hills of grass with so many cattle we cannot count them. These cattle walk the hills eating grass, and they move on to the next hill. Pigs are not like cattle. When swine herd together they root around in the ground, they eat the grass, the roots, they dig deep to get insects and worms. Cattle only eat the leaves, where the swine being omnivores eat anything. When the swine herd they tear the ground up leaving it in ruins. They come through foraging as they go and they leave behind them destruction. Mud and feces, disease and desolation. In the middle of this desolation were tombs. The resting place of the dead. And within these was a man.
Jesus steps off of the boat into a pasture of destruction. Flies swarm because of the slurry of decay. Jesus had just calmed a storm and looked the disciples in the eyes and asked where is your faith. And when they take a step off the boat the smell and environment speak not of faith but of desolation. And they meet a man.
I want us to picture this scene. Do not think of it as the beautiful scenery we see on the tourism brochures from Israel, but as it was, something little better than a muddy landfill of garbage. And in this squalor one man lived his life. He lived there among the dead in the tombs. Due to his condition and poverty of every kind he lives without even clothes to cover his body. He is a man that has problems. Scripture tells us that the main source of his problems is that demons keep a grip of his life. I do not know exactly what this is fully. I have seen Hollywood depictions of this phenomenon but I really do not think this is accurate. But I have see people that are in altered states of consciousness, some of these were self inflicted by the use of illicit drugs and others were caused by some imbalance of the body’s chemistry. In each of these cases you do not know exactly what might happen. You do not know what a person might do or say. You do not know what their reaction might be to your words or actions. Your heart is pumping so hard that you feel as if it might break your ribs, and standing in front of you is a person you thought you knew yet they are not there. It is as if they are someone else.
We do not know exactly what might be wrong with this man. He might have an issue with addictive substances. The ancient people did know about plants that could cause changes to the mind and maybe this man was one that had lost self-control. Maybe he was a man suffering from some sort of personality disorder which caused him to lose control of himself. Maybe what is called demon possession is actually what scripture says, a malevolent being has entered and taken control of this individual. What we do know for sure is that the people this community feared him. He lived in the tombs and we are told that the community would put him in chains and keep him under guard. But when the demons took hold of him he would often break the chains and be driven out into the wilderness.
Jesus steps out of the boat. He looks up to the hills surrounding them, he takes a shuttering breath as the stench reaches his nose and his eyes fall upon a naked man cowering in the shadows of a tomb. Jesus takes a step forward, wiping his sandal on a tuft of grass because he stepped lovely residues left by the herd of swine in the hills. The disciples are hesitant. Because everything about this place is unclean. The moment they step out of the boat they will be unable to enter a synagogue without purification. Jesus boldly leaps, and his disciples are forced to prove their faith. Do they follow their Rabbi even into the darkness of these unclean depths?
When we look at this passage usually the first thing that we notice healing of the man. This I agree is the most important part of the story. But I want to look at something that we might not always recognize. How did this man get into the place he was in? How many of us have ever asked this question? We usually look at this passage and we see the man that is possessed with a legion of demons but do we wonder how ended up naked living the embodied life of the living dead?
It really begins with the community. This man did not exist in a vacuum. There were people that lived around him, that knew who he was. Many ancient religions had rites to deal with those preceved to be possessed by demons. The Jewish faith is no different. They had rites and rituals that they were encouraged to perform. The uniqueness of the disciples’ ministry was not so much that they could liberate people from the grips of possession, but they they were not the right people to do this sort of thing. They were not religious leaders or priests. In the mind of the religious elites these men should not have the power or authority to administer the rites of exorcism. The problem I see is that no one in this community was capable of doing this work. The worst thing about it is that it almost sounds as if no one really even cared to try. They locked the man in chains and appointed someone to guard him.
I thought about this as I was studying. The solution to the problem of a possessed man was not to seek help, but to lock him up. There is not a single indication that the community had any concern about the well-being of this man, only that he was to be kept chained in isolation among the dead. In essence they sealed their troubles away, to be forgotten so they could focus on the more important things at hand. And those things were the production and sale of products considered unclean by the larger society.
As I was writing this I was having trouble getting my mind around what my heart was really urging me to say. In my vain attempts of centering I simply gave up and decided a movie was in order. I could not even decide what movie I wanted to watch so I was flipping through Netflix and Amazon, finding nothing. Thousands of movies and TV shows, and nothing to watch. I finally went to a channel on my system I rarely open, Faithlife TV. This channel has many documentaries about many things of faith, I signed up for it for two reasons. The first is because they are the distributor of the movie “Tortured for Christ” which is derived from the book of the same name by Richard Wurmbrand. This man was sent to prison for preaching the Gospel and distributing bibles and would later start the organization The Voice of the Martyrs. The second reason I signed up for the channel is because they had a documentary called “Aliens and Demons.” Which one biblical scholar to connect UFO sightings to possible biblical demonic activities. I won’t spoil the show but it was not as good as I hoped. Well I was in a state of discomfort unable to direct may mind and not able to center so I opened this channel and began to watch a movie I never really remembered, “The Cross and the Switchblade.”
Many of us have either watched or read this book. Which is about the ministry of David Wilkerson with the gangs of New York City, and later started the ministry Teen Challenge. As I watched this movie which is actually very disturbing, I got to thinking about the passage about this demon-possessed man living in the tombs. The inner city is filled with people just like him. People the larger society would rather lock up and forget about. People more concerned with making money off the unclean things the outside society would rather act as if are not really there. And I thought about Jesus stepping out of the boat into a place like that.
Jesus took his disciples across the sea into the area of their nation no good Jewish person would go. He went right into the most disgusting part of that area right into the pig fields beside the tombs, and he found that one man who everyone locked away hoping would be forgotten. And Jesus tormented the demons within. I often hear people of faith speaking about the world today, saying how ungodly it is and how disgusted they are about what goes on. How many of us have taken a step out of the boat? How many of us have gotten our feet dirty and walked along the pathways of life with those who we would rather just forget exist?
David Wilkerson was a small church pastor in Pennsylvania when he saw a picture of gang members in Life magazine in 1958. One man had compassion for those many of us would call the most worthless people in our society. He saw them as people, people loved by God. He left his small safe Pennsylvania church and went to New York. He ministered and encouraged those threatened by the gang lifestyles, he helped those who had addictions, and he made a difference. The ministries he started continue today and they still minister to addicts and seek to provide a different lifestyle for people in the inner city. One man got off the boat into the land of shadows, and he provided hope for the hopeless, life for those gripped in the hands of death. What would we do? Would we let the man stay naked and chained or would we offer hope?
The disciples were on the boat during a storm and Jesus calmed that storm alleviating the fear that they felt. Now they face demons on the shore, the question still remains “Where is your faith?” As we center down and enter a time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends let us consider not only the power of Christ, but also the power of our community. We as a community have the power to encourage or discourage those around us. We can either chant lock them up or God loves. Where is our faith?
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 16, 2019
John 16:12–15 (ESV)
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Imagine it is your first day at a new job. You have just finished the necessary orientation where you learned how to log into the various systems that allow you to acknowledge that you have arrived at the workplace and now you are on the floor learning something new. It does not matter what the job might be, no one has ever learned everything about their job on the first day. Every job is complex. Most required months of supervised training of some sort to get you into a position of being able to function effectively. After those first few months people who have been working for years learn something new nearly every day.
We spend thirteen years educating our children, and many go on from there for additional education. For some trades it might be two years, for others eight. Even after graduation those individuals may be required to complete a period of supervised work before they can legally work independently.
How many of us have considered our own personal educational process when we think of our spiritual education? How many of us would consider ourselves a master of a trade after a short period of training? None of us would. It takes years of practice to perfect a skill. It takes continual learning to keep up with the advancements of our areas of expertise. When that educational process stops, we usually stop participating in that line of work. There are many factors that are involved with this, maybe the added value of gaining the knowledge is less than the added return on the investment, so we step away until we eventually have no business. There are also points where the technology has changed to a point where our skills are no longer needed in the wider society. When I was in an economics class the professor once posed a question, “When were the best horse drawn carriages produced?” The answer is that the best horse drawn carriages were being produced while the automobile was first coming onto the market. And even today some of the chariot races that you can watch in various areas are far better than the carriages that were commonly used by families at the turn of the last century. Not many of us have visited wheelwright recently, although many of us have probably spoken to a mechanic within the past few months. People, societies, cultures all change over time this is just part of our human existence.
We learn, we adapt, we see a problem, and we come up with solutions to allow us to alleviate that problem. There are times where these innovations are nothing more than doing a task in a different way to make a process move forward more efficiently. At other times that innovation changes the course of history, like the automobile or the iPhone. We will never come to a point where we stop learning, stop innovating, or stop adapting. The process of adaptation is part of who we are, but just as much a part of our existence is a desire to slow that process down.
I have worked retail since I have lived in Kansas City. In those years I have had to relearn processes several times. The job itself has not really changed. The job of placing products on a shelf to be seen and sold to customers has been a common sales method since the advent of trade. But how we keep track of inventory, how we change the prices, how we organize the products we sell, how we organize the areas of storage, and how we move the product from those areas of storage to the sales floor have changed. The efficiency of this process has gotten to the point that a single person can much more work than was possible before. I can do much more than I was able to do just a few short years ago. But believe me I resisted the changes. I complained and I moaned, I thought it was unfair and would never work. I even changed positions at time because I refused to do what they were asking. I must admit that at times I am not the most adaptable person.
It takes time to relearn, it takes effort, it takes energy, and sometimes it takes tears. We process things at different rates and sometimes we must admit that we just do not know what is going on. Jesus spent three years teaching and ministering to the need of the people through out Judea. He spent three years showing them a life and lifestyle that could change our lives and the world around us. For three years he invested his life into the lives of others. When that time of ministry was ending, Jesus cried from a tree, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” I do not think that this statement was only for the religious and civil leaders, but for everyone who ever and will ever live. We do not know what we are doing. Many times, we come to a situation and our best effort is a guess.
The passage today takes place during Jesus’s farewell message, just prior to him going out to the garden to pray. His disciples are in a state of anxiety because they are aware that something is about to happen. Is he going to proclaim the kingdom and call Israel to arms? Are they going to slip away in the night a leave the religious leaders looking for him until he returns during the next festival? They do not know exactly what will happen, but they know something is just over the horizon. They are anxious as well because Jesus is just being weird. He took off his clothes and tied a towel around himself and washed their feet. Then he said if you want to follow him, they should do the same. Their idea of the kingdom was power and authority, not foot washing. He then speaks about a broken body and spilled blood, he tells them not to worry, and not to be afraid. He tells them he will give them peace, but not peace like the world gives. He summarizes three years of teaching in one evenings meal. He looks out the window and he see it is getting late, I imagine he sighs as he closes the lesson. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”
Imagine the scene. Imagine the person you have the greatest respect for in the entire world sitting across from you. The one person you trust to give you the truth of life. And that person sighs and says, I want to tell you so much more, but you can’t bear it now.
What caused Jesus to stop at that moment? Was it because Peter was using the whet stone on his sword? Was it because Matthew was looking in the coin purse trying to see if Judas stole any of their coins? Was it because John was starting to fall asleep because it was past his bedtime? Or was it the weight of the situation just pressing in on Jesus?
I have been trained and I have had to train others. I have looked at people as I was trying to teach and have decided that the best course of action would be to do something else for a while. I have looked at my sons at various times, after they had asked a question or shown me some, they thought was cool. They got me excited and I just start talking about these amazing forces all around us like lightening and magnetism, or a leaf. I just start spewing out information that I find fascinating and they look at me and I realize that they thought it was cool because it was red, and they were not ready to hear about the cycles of nature. We look at our children, our coworkers, our students, and our friends and we adapt as they too adapt. We adjust or change the topic of conversation. Jesus looked at his disciples and he knows they are eager to learn; they are yearning to participate in the kingdom, but they just do not understand at that point.
And they could not be ready. Their entire existence was viewed through the lenses of their culture. Their ideas of the kingdom were more closely identified with gentile concepts than the settlements initiated by Joshua. Jesus was teaching them a lifestyle, but they were hearing conquest. Jesus was teaching service they were hearing authority. Jesus was teaching peace and they were hearing a war cry. Some scholars even believe that Judas was not so much a traitor but was taking an initiative to force Jesus to begin a war.
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Does this statement cause us to pause? Jesus said these words to his closest followers at the end of his ministry. At this point they had participated in many things. They had provided healings to those that were ill. Evil spirits had released their grips over people when they spoke in the authority of Christ. Yet there was more, much more that Jesus wanted to share, but they were not able to bear it at that time. Can you see the great compassion and love in these words? Jesus who possessed the authority of the Father on earth, He was and is Emanuel God with us. He could have given a divine proclamation to instantly fill every mind and heart with light from God. Yet he didn’t. Because he wants us to grow in the relationship. He wants to take the walk with us on a journey of discovery. God does not use force to persuade. He does not coerce change. God convinces through relationship, one step at a time.
He looks at them and tells them I want to tell you so much right now, but you are not ready. He tells them this, but he does not leave them there. He goes on to say, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The things we do not understand now, those things we cannot bear now, we are not alone. Even when we feel as if nothing makes sense the Spirit of God is still with us. That Spirit is still encouraging, guiding and teaching us. The Spirit of God has always worked in those willing to listen. Proverbs says in chapter 8:
Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud: “To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the children of man. O simple ones, learn prudence; O fools, learn sense. Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right, for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them. They are all straight to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge.
Slow down and listen to the call of wisdom. Take the time to learn and grow. Find what is true.
The disciples of Jesus at that time were not able to bear the fullness of his teaching but Jesus was not going to leave them alone. Even when he hung on the cross crying out, “Father forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.” He did not totally leave them alone. He is God with us. He is the image of the invisible God, showing us what life with God should look like. That life is found in taking time to worship and celebrate with the community, because Jesus made it his custom to worship in the synagogues. He would also with draw often to isolated places to pray, spending time alone contemplating scripture and just talking with God. And he would minister to the needs of the community, healing those that had illnesses and teaching those that needed understanding. This holy rhythm of life we see throughout the gospels. And it is in this rhythm we will find the understanding we seek.
I began today speaking of how times change. How it takes time to develop a skill and master it. It takes time to learn and relearn the processes in our jobs. It takes time to learn the use of emerging technologies in our world today. We may not know it all now but take the time. Wisdom is calling, are we listening?
As I was studying this week and considering all the things in this passage, my mind drifted to the world of art. I married an artist and as she pursued her degree, I had the privilege to walk beside her. I observed the development of skill that her and her classmates pursued. I could see how they made attempts to speak the realities of life through paint or clay. Art is something amazing if we take the time to observe. Art gives us a glimpse of everything around us, and art history tells a remarkable story. Often that story is cloaked in misunderstanding. The artist sees the world through eyes many of us do not possess and they try their hardest to share but so often we do not see. We cannot bear it. They attempt to transform pain and suffering, tragedy and joy into things of beauty. Or sometimes the opposite. In an episode of Doctor Who they spoke to an art historian about Van Gogh and he said, “To use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world, no one had ever done it before, perhaps no one ever will again…[he] was not only world’s greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men to ever live.” You may not know the history of Van Gogh or even care to know, we know him as an artist, some know him as an insane artist. Few know that he was the son of a pastor, and he himself became a minister. He served a community in a coal mining area of Belgium. The community was impoverished, and he hoped to help his community by giving what he had to those without. He gave up his home and he lived among those he served. And the church was upset at him for doing that. They removed him from his post. This all broke Vincent, because he loved the people and God. And to him everything seemed to be broken and lost yet through the pain he still saw beauty. This is when he began to paint. No one understood the man, yet he painted some of the most recognized works of history. He changed his pain to beauty, his sorrow to joy.
The point is that we need to take the time. Take the time to grow and take the time to know. Take the time to explore and take the time to see beyond what is right in front of you. Should we all take after Van Gogh, no he was a great artist, but he had a great many faults. But we should learn from him and from everyone around us, especially Jesus, God with us. Take the time to Love God in worship. Take time to embrace the Spirit in prayer. Take time to live the love of Christ with others as you work and serve those around you. Learn and grow. Listen and share hope. What the world might see as a strange man wandering the hills might just be the greatest master of his skill. And that great master might be just as broken as the rest of us. “There is so much more I want to tell you,” Jesus says, “but you cannot bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”
What is truth? A question Pilate asked Jesus and a question we continue to ask today. What is truth? The truth is God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him. He came to save, to redeem and restore. He came to bring hope. The world continues to spin and change, and we continue to adapt, but one thing remain God loves each of us and is calling us all to him. Scripture tells us this, but scripture also say we have a lot to learn.
As we enter this time of open worship, communion in the manner of Friends. Let us rest in Christ knowing that though we do not know he can still guide us if we are willing to listen. And let us remember that He loves and saves the world as crazy and messed up as it is. Let us ask for guidance to join him there.