By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
February 23, 2020
Matthew 17:1–9 (ESV)
1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. 9 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”
Last week we listened to part of Jesus’s most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. That sermon was basically the full introduction to Jesus’s ministry. Prior to that he walked around the villages surrounding Capernaum, he performed a few healings, and spoke a bit. But it was not until after the Sermon on the Mount that the people really began to respond to his teachings. Prior to this sermon, Jesus was still a simple handy man from Nazareth that moved to Galilee. The people enjoyed his company, but they had not fully embraced the idea that Jesus might be the Messiah they had been waiting for.
This Sunday we move from the season of Epiphany and have a week to look forward to the season of Lent. During the season of Epiphany, we celebrate the revealing of Jesus as Messiah. This is celebrated in three ways: the visit of the magi where they honor him as king, the baptism in the Jordan where he is revealed as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and his presentation at the temple where the prophets Anna and Simeon proclaimed him as the consolation or comfort of Israel. He was revealed as prophet, priest, and king. But he was not what people expected. He was a baby, he was a child, a teenager, and a simple construction worker. All the words and gifts, and we are left waiting for something more. We ask now what?
We live in those areas in our lives. We have knowledge of God; we even know how this salvation thing is supposed to work. We confess our belief. We earnestly seek his face and his favor, but we still have to live our lives, we are not immediately transported to our heavenly reward. We look forward and we say, “now what?”
Jesus during this Epiphany season answers that question. He called his disciples during this, “Now what?” season. He had not really done anything of great importance in the eyes of the world, yet people followed him. They followed because of his cousin John. John told his disciples to go to Jesus, he told them that Jesus must increase, and John must decrease, yet Jesus did not fully engage ministry until after John’s arrest. The disciples slowly made their way to Jesus. He met them on the shores of the sea and called them to follow him. He said to them if you follow me I will make you fishers of men, which basically means that you will participate in the unveiling of a new way of life, that is so foreign to the people right now that it would be like a fish out of water.
The disciples are intrigued. They each listen to conversations. They each respond personally to either a direct invitation from Jesus, or an invitation from a mutual friend. They each respond, because they listen to his teachings and they watch what he does, and they realize that his life and lifestyle is different. He loves God with everything he has, and he loves the people around him. They watch him do this naturally. He does not make a great show of his righteousness like the religious leaders at the synagogues and in the temple. He just lives his life, and when he does something spectacular, he encourages those involved to keep it quiet. It is as if Jesus does everything he can, not attract attention to himself, yet the attention make its way to him all the more.
The disciples respond to Jesus’s call, and even they are caught like us in an era of now what. The initial excitement is beginning to wane, and the pressures of life begin to creep back into their lives. “Now what?”
The disciples follow Jesus. They follow him from town to town. They follow him as he enters the synagogues, they follow him to the temple. They follow him across the sea, and they follow him to the very gates of hell and back. They find themselves face to face with evil incarnate, and they also follow him to places where the only response that can be made is joyful praises, because he raised a daughter who had died back to life. They listen and they participate, the are confused and excited, but now what?
When Jesus called the disciples, he did not simply ask them to participate in a small group bible study. He was literally calling them to follow him, to imitate him, to take on his lifestyle. This is what discipleship is. To become a disciple of a rabbi, you devote every waking and sleeping moment of your life to their leading. You eat what they eat, you sleep when they sleep, you listen to their teachings and as you learn you help in the rabbi’s ministry. When Jesus calls us to himself, he is calling us to turn from our desires, our dreams, our ideas and wisdom. He is calling us to let all that go, so that we can fill our lives with his life. His greatest desire is that our lifestyle will become his lifestyle. And his lifestyle was a cycle of worship, prayer, and service to others. We at Willow Creek have grasped onto that idea in our statement of who we are: We want to be a people Loving God (Worship), embracing the Holy Spirit (Prayer), and living the Love of Christ with others (Service or ministry).
We want to become that type of person. We want to become that type of church. We want to become that type of people. Imagine what would happen if we were to truly be defined and regarded as a people that loved God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and lived the love of Christ with others. Imagine what your own life would be like if whenever someone saw and spoke about you the only thing, they could say is they love God, embrace the holy spirit and live the love of Jesus with others. Imagine.
That is the life we have said we want. It is the goal that we have placed in front of us. It is the very lifestyle we strive to achieve. Now What? How do we get there?
Jesus and his disciples had been traveling around the lands of Israel. And for six days they had been the district of Caesarea Philippi. This is an interesting area of the nation. The city is dedicated by name to the Emperor of Rome, so it is a town devoted to the worship of the Emperor as a living God. There is a temple dedicated to the Emperor’s honor and celebrations devoted to him. This is not a Jewish city and for six days this is where Jesus and his disciples have been ministering. The region has a darker cloud surrounding it as well. This area has caves in the mountains. And from these systems of caves the waters of the Jordan emerge. The uniqueness of this area caused people that embraced pagan practices to deem this area the dwelling place of Pan, or Baal Gad. If you are aware of Greek mythology you would know that this figure was regarded as the god of fields, groves, wooded glens, since he is often depicted as half goat he is associated with fertility and the herds. The figure was celebrated in nature and worshiped with music and lustful satisfactions. But this is not exactly what makes the place dark. The word panic is derived from Pan. When this Greek god became upset his screeching caused even the Titans to scatter in fear. This was a god that people did not want to upset, because when you displeased Pan, your luck ran out, and panic is all that remains. This god of fertility became a god of darkness and fear, and the caves from which they revered him were often regarded as the very gates of hell. Jesus took his disciples to these gates, and asked them “Who do they say that I am?” And he followed that question with, “Who do you say that I am?”
For six days the disciples lodged at the gates of hell, and then Jesus withdrew to a mountain to pray. The disciples had seen this happen often. Jesus would often withdraw to isolated places to pray; it was just part of his rhythm of life. This personal communion with God is the second part of his holy rhythm or lifestyle. The first was that he made it his custom to worship in the synagogues. This withdraw, or retreat, came after the disciples, declared that they believed him to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus said that upon the foundation of that statement even the gate of hell will not prevail. Even the shrieks of Pan will not cause fear. They rest in that knowledge, but now what?
He retreated to the mountains, and he took Peter, James, and John upon a high mountain, while the others remained at lower elevations. And upon that mountain Jesus prayed. While he was there upon the mountain praying his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. As he prayed, he was transformed, transfigured. They were able to see a glimpse of the light of God that filled his very being. If that was not amazing enough, he was joined by Moses and Elijah.
I do not think we are capable to imagine the brilliance of this scene. We cannot grasp importance of what is happening. When scripture is spoken about in the New Testament, they do not refer to it as the Old Testament, but the books of the Law and the Prophets. Jesus is on the mountain glowing, and there with him is the Law giver, the author of the books of the Law, along with Elijah, the leader of the Prophets that did not taste death. On that mountain, they saw the word of God revealed in the flesh of Christ.
Moses the law giver, the one from whom the Jewish people trace their culture and society is speaking not to God the Father, but to Jesus the word made flesh. And Elijah, the prophet that spoke with such power that he could call fire down from heaven to consume a sacrifice before the priest of Baal, is there conversing with Jesus. In this space of prayer where time does not exist because it is in the realm of God, Peter, James, and John see before them their entire faith. All the law, every oracle uttered by the “sons of the Prophet Elijah, everything they have devoted their religious life too. Is right there before them speaking to Jesus.
On that mountain, Jesus shows himself to be who they say he is. He is the Son of God; he is the word of God made flesh. He is the wisdom of God lived before them. He is the light of God’s knowledge dwelling with them. And Peter thinks that he finally has the answer to the “Now what?” question. “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Now what? Let’s build a new temple on this mountain. A temple that will overshadow the emperor of Rome, a temple from which the waters that cleanse the Temple in Jerusalem originate. Peter wants to stay and establish that mountain as the capital joining the priest, prophets, and the king together as one. And as he says this a cloud surrounds them. And a voice emanates from within the cloud says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” And the proud disciples fall on their faces, terrified.
On that mountain, Jesus showed them a glimpse of his ultimate glory. He gave them a taste of what was, is and is to come. He opened a window to the kingdom now and the kingdom not yet here. He revealed to them in that time of prayer that all the law and the prophets revolves around and is found in him. This is why John wrote in his Gospel that the word became flesh and dwelled among us. When those disciples heard the voice in the cloud, they realized that they were done. They were standing the very presence of God, and they were not fit. It was as if they stood in that most holy section of the temple, and they were not worthy.
When we pray, we enter a dimension that is not bound by our understanding of the laws of physics. There is not time or space, only the presence of God. In that space if we listen with our hearts and minds, we can hear God’s voice. It is in prayer that the scripture we read, and our present struggles come together and enlighten us. It is in prayer that scripture is illumined in such a way that we can see before us a ministry to embrace. In prayer a light shine on a path in the distance, and we sense our destination and purpose in life. It is there that our worship becomes intimate and personal, where God becomes our God, and we become His bride. And it should strike fear in us.
I came to Willow Creek not knowing exactly why I would be the one called to this place. Because when I think of Kansas City, I see the vast potential. I came here with John Harkness, and we both said that the first thing we need to do is pray. And we prayed, we encouraged that at least one of you would open these doors and sit in the pew every night to pray. And we did pray. As I prayed, I sensed that God was going to do something with this Meeting. I would look at a map and I would see places within this city where there is not a Friends Church and I saw need. That first year of prayer, I felt that we need to train disciples, encourage disciples, and send disciples to plant five worship centers within this metropolitan area. And I looked at our Meeting and I though how? And those thoughts still come to mind.
I firmly believe that this Meeting will be involved in the expansion of God’s kingdom here in the Kansas City area, but I am often griped with fear because I do not know how God will bring it about. I see the glory of God shining, I hear his voice calling and I struggle to walk because I know who I am. “But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’”
We enjoy the mountain tops, where we can clearly see God. We love the retreats, but we cannot stay there. We would love to remain on the mountain, but Jesus told his disciples even before he walked up that mountain that, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” We cannot stay on the mountain because God has work for us to do. And that work requires us to walk down the mountain through the clouds back into the world.
They lifted their eyes and saw no one, but Jesus. And Jesus led them back down the mountain, back to the gates of hell, and back into the life he had called them into, to be light in a land of shadows. The period of “Now What” is over. Jesus is revealed for who he truly is, and the answer to our question is to follow him. He has shown himself to each of us in some way. Maybe you came because a friend of yours encouraged you, maybe you are here because it feels like home, maybe you do not really know why you are here but you just thought it was where you should be. Whatever brought you here today is the spirit of God calling. And we must respond. That response is to turn away from the life we want and to embrace life with him. That life is denying ourselves and embracing Him. We give ourselves to him, and he gives our lives back to us redeemed and fit to do his will. He empowers us to participate in the ministry he has set before us. And though we are afraid of what that might be, he is telling us “Rise, and have no fear.” Lift your eyes and see Jesus only. And become a person loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. Because if that is our only focus, He will give us all we need.
As we enter this time of Open worship and communion in the manner of Friends. Let us imagine the vision of Christ glowing in all his glory, speaking to the saints of old, as he speaks to us. And let us look from that mountain top to see where he will lead us, as we walk back down through the clouds of unknowing in the faith that God will guide us to our destination.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
February 16, 2020
Matthew 5:21–37 (ESV)
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. 31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
A couple of weeks ago we began looking into Jesus’s most famous sermon. We often know it as being the sermon on the mount. This sermon began with the Beatitudes. Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven and the following. These statements of blessing could be shocking to many. The poor, the meek, the pure of heart, those that perform acts of mercy are nice people and all, but do we really think that they will be the ones wielding power?
Jesus’s teaching like John the Baptist’s were shocking to the religious society of his day. John withdrew from the community, even though he was born into that communities’ power complex. He withdrew not only from the community but from the general society, and he lived in the wilderness, on the banks of the Jordan. He lived on the boarder of the land of promise crying out to those that came to him to listen, “Repent for the Kingdom is at hand.” He cried out, and in his cries, he told all of Israel that they were not worthy of their perceived honor, because they had turned from true devotion and replaced it with something else.
John cried in the wilderness, and his teachings offended those in power. And that offense lead to his betrayal, arrest, and eventual death. The arrest of John marked the entrance of Jesus into full time ministry. John prepared the way; he initiated the ideas within the nation of Israel that all was not well. Jesus joined John in the waters of the Jordan and as Jesus stood from the waters, the spirit of God was seen descending and resting on Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven proclaimed that He was God’s beloved Son. John looked at Jesus and he knew that there was more to him than most people though. To most, Jesus was a simple crafts man, a builder, stone mason, or handy man. He had lived in this role for the past seventeen years and many that were listening to the Sermon on the Mount could have had Jesus using his skills of trade in their homes.
Jesus worked for seventeen years as a professional tradesman. He did not attend rabbinical schools, but when he had come of age, he joined his earthly father Joseph in the family business, working along side his family from the age of thirteen till his entry into the ministry at approximately thirty. I really think we need to remember this aspect of Jesus. John was the son of a temple priest, he had the pedigree for his ministry, but Jesus was just a common man to the eyes of many.
Jesus moved from Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum. This is not a large metropolis, but a small village. He lived his life, within a community where everyone knew everyone. They knew Jesus. They knew that he came from a family of craftsmen, yet this man was not what he seemed. They expected him to fix the doorways or to repair a foundation, but as Jesus became integrated into their community, he was repairing lives.
He went out to the neighboring villages and came home, and people began to gather so turned to them, opened his mouth and began to teach. Blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek. These words challenge them, because these things are not what they expected. To be honest these things are in many ways the opposite of what they expected.
This introduction intrigued them, because they were poor. Everyone that lived in that area, even the wealthiest among them were poor. They lived in the rural expanse of Israel. They labored growing or gathering food with the hope that they could feed their family and have enough to sell their excess for a marginal profit. These people lived a life of subsistence. And when Jesus said blessed are the poor, he had their attention, because they knew their need. Every person listening to his words were just one bad harvest away from starvation, yet Jesus was saying that the kingdom of heaven is theirs. He has their attention, and he continues his message. If I would have brought the message last week, I would have focused on verse twenty, “For I tell you , unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” He had just told them that the poor will have the kingdom, but unless they are more righteous than the pharisees they would still miss it.
Remember the era of history that these words were spoken. If we think that there is income inequality today it was vastly greater during Jesus’s days. We often think of the people as being oppressed and they sought a king to liberate them from their oppression. When we think of this oppression, we often see that oppression as being from the Roman overlords that came into their region to help them maintain the liberty they had won from the Greeks. But that may not be the full truth. Israel had prospered during this time. Their temple to God was a marvel throughout the Empire, it was the envy of all of Rome. The power of this single piece of architecture gave the people of Israel far greater influence than their population ever should have had within the Roman Empire, because they were a minority. The religious industrial complex of the temple was efficient, so efficient and so successful that there was so much excess wealth within its coffers that they were not debating when or if they could paint their exterior walls, but they installed seamless siding of Gold. The temple gained this wealth and power through the devotion of the people. Every year, those of Jewish decent would travel to this one city to this one temple to offer sacrifices to their God. While they made their way to the temple, they would see the various teachers teaching in the courts, with their disciples gathering close. The people would listen, and they would be amazed at their learning. These scribes and pharisees were the elite of their culture. They would devote their entire lives to teaching and living the law. When the festivals were not being observed, these teachers might travel around the country speaking at the various synagogues and as they traveled, they would receive from the people wages.
Part of their teaching was that because they were so righteous God had provided them with the wealth they received, and if you did not have the wealth that they enjoyed you probably were not as righteous as them. Yet Jesus is telling them that their righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees. He had told them that they were blessed because they recognized their need, now he is telling them that they need to be more righteous than the scribes. They are now looking at Jesus in total confusion, because he is about to turn the religious world upside down.
Today Jesus give us four points of righteousness. He speaks of anger, lust, divorce, and oaths. I look at these and think this is not a single sermon, but a four-part series that would take at least a month. Jesus said this all in one setting. There is something similar in each of these points. They each deal with relationships.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘you shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” This is a teaching associated with the ten commandments. I love the ten commandments because they give us some very good guidelines to construct a civil society. I want to live in a community where people do not murder and when they do that justice will be provided. But often we do not look deeper into these commandments. We say well at least I did not kill someone so I must be a pretty good person. We fulfill the letter of the law, but have we fulfilled the spirit of the law? Jesus takes things to the next step. It is not enough to simply allow annoying people to live, but we must take the next step. We must interact with them to the degree that we will not allow any bitterness to take root among us. If we have offended someone, we need to make every effort to restore our friendship. And if we have been offended, we need to be willing to reconcile. The command to not murder, is more than just a demand to not kill. It is a command to respect that of God in all people, to honor and preserve life, because every person around us bears the image of our creator.
“[W]however insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘you fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” I must admit that this is extremely difficult. Every two years our nation has elections for various representatives, and every four we have elections for our president. Through each of these campaigns we are bombarded with ads and publications that inform us of how foolish it is to support someone other then this or that candidate. And every election cycle our nation debates, insults, and criticizes each other because of opinions. I have engaged in these activities. I have called people fools for holding opinions contrary to my own, and I have even called criticized the candidates with terms I would discipline my children for using. I look at these verses and I stand here judged, because I have disrespected God by dishonoring someone that He loved enough to die for. Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes. How are we doing?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Again, Jesus is telling us that our righteousness is found not in fulfilling the letter of the law but the spirit of the law. And the spirit of the law is based on relationships. The law against adultery is one that was interpreted differently in the first century than it is today. In ancient times adultery was considered a violation of the husband’s exclusive rights to his wife and the assurance that children born to her were his own. They viewed adultery as a sin committed only by women, not by men. Yet if you notice Jesus does not speak to women when he is speaking about lust, but men. As I studied these passages this week, one of the commentators titled this section, “Love is not predatory.” If we are looking at others lustfully, we are not honoring that of God in them, we are disrespecting our creator because we are looking on his creation not as an individual of worth but as something to consume. When we look at others as items of consumption there is no relationship, no respect, no encouragement, only the carnal satisfaction. And when we live only by satisfying our desires, we are bound by the law of diminishing returns. Nothing satisfies, and we become an empty shell.
The next section Jesus speaks about divorce. Again, I want us to remember in the first century it was believed that only women could commit adultery, but Jesus is taking that burden from the females and placing it on men. When it comes to divorce, he again places the responsibility on the men. Jesus does not condemn divorce. There is a place for the dissolution of marriages in society. But when divorce occurs the issue resides again in a breakdown of the relationship, the we that was formed with the union of two individuals becomes I again. And when an I is not focused on we, the relationship fractures. We once wanted to do whatever we could to honor the other, but we are no longer focused on honor and we think of only how the other member of the union has failed to meet the needs of the other. Jesus says we are causing our wives to sin.
The fourth section Jesus says, “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
Of all these things, I think this is one of the most important. Each of these deal with relationships between ourselves and others within our community. We should strive for reconciliation, we should protect the honor of others, we should not view others of objects for consumption, or cause them to sin. But all of this comes down to one thing, are we people of integrity?
Our Faith and Practice says, “Friends seek to evidence Christian holiness by conducting their personal, family, business, and civic responsibilities with honesty. Personal integrity includes consistency of speech. In allegiance to Christ and obedience to His clear commands, Friends refrain from profanity of speech and from swearing to legal oaths. One should tell the truth whether under oath or not.” How often do we consider the words that we say? Do we even realize how often we bind our words with oaths?
There are laws going around encouraging mandatory participation of students to recite the pledge of allegiance. Words mean something and we should be people of integrity. When we say, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” That is an oath. We are pledging our allegiance to the banner, the symbol of our nation. When we make such a pledge, we cannot speak out against any action that nation participates in, even if it opposes our beliefs. Why, because we pledge our allegiance to the nation that commands the flag. I love this nation. I think it is the best place to live. I cannot think of any other place I would rather live, and I can tell you several places I would never want to even visit. But when we say I pledge allegiance to something we are bound to that.
What happens when we cannot fulfill our word? What happens when we break a promise? We can no longer be trusted. If I say that I will do something and have no intention of following through, I cannot be trusted even when I swear to do something later. And when we make a pledge and do not or cannot fulfill that pledge, we are no longer people of integrity. Our words should always be true. Our actions should always reflect our words. Even in something, like honoring our nation. I do not pledge allegiance to the flag, because there might come a time where my allegiance to Christ might require me to oppose something our nation is doing.
Our words and our actions should always be the same. And when our words cannot be trusted we place a barrier between every person we meet. Our words can cause anger. Our actions can become predatory. Our broken promises can cause others to sin. And we can try to cover our lack of integrity with vain attempts of honor. What all this boils down to is that our righteousness must be greater than the religious leaders, and we fall very short. But blessed are the poor in spirit because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. I know my need. I know I fail, and I fail often. I know my need, and I know that God will meet me in my need. I know this because He came from his throne in Heaven to be born by Mary. He lived thirty years struggling in a job, and then he began to teach. He taught us how to live with God and humanity, and he taught us by word and action. And his greatest action was to take my failure on himself. He would not let my sin keep me from God, and he died for me and for you on the shameful cross. In my failure, he died, but in his strength he rose again. And in that renewed life I can stand here, a failure covered in Christ’s success. And in Christ I can strive to renew the life between all those I have offended and broken my word.
As we enter this time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends, let us consider the words of Christ again. Are we men and women of our word, and do our words and actions meet?
Alberta Lee Feagle, she is a person we all love. She was born on May 27, 1952 along with her twin sister Roberta to Earnest and Bertha Pearl (Aubuchon) Crain, at St. Joseph Hospital here in Kansas City, Missouri. Alberta lived 67 and entered into rest on February 2, 2020. She was proceeded in death by her parents, and survived by her Husband (Gene), her son (Andrew), and her sister (Roberta), all of Kansas City Missouri. And loved by all of us, her friends and family.
Both Alberta and Roberta, grew up in the Kansas City area and early in their lives they began to develop the characteristics that we have always seen so strongly in their lives. At fourteen they volunteered at the Jackson County hospital. This experience gave Alberta the direction and encouragement for her future life and career. Alberta and Roberta both went to school at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, MO. While in Maryville, Alberta, volunteered with at the Baptist Student Union assisting many on the suicide line. Which I am not at all surprised by since she was always a person willing to listen and help others.
After graduating, Alberta worked for twenty-eight years as a social worker for the State of Missouri. While working, she did her best to make her clients feel as if they were the most important person she was helping at that time, and she would always go the extra mile for them. Even during the 1980’s when there was such fear surrounding the AIDS crisis, she would always make sure her clients were cared for. She would not let fear dictate her actions, and she would greet everyone by at least shaking their hand because the touch of others is very important to our sense of humanity.
In 1977, while managing her cases at Truman Medical Center, she met the man who would marry, Gene. Gene told me that he would see her walking through the halls and he eventually asked her if she would like to go to a baseball game, and she said sure. They were married the next year on August 12, 1978. Alberta and Gene had one child, Andrew. She was very proud of her son, and the fact that he grew to be a man that possessed a spirit of generosity, and a willingness to help others. This is a characteristic that she valued a great deal, and it showed through every aspect of her life.
After she retired from the State, she became a substitute teacher at Boone Elementary. And even when she was struggling through her cancer treatments and other medical hardships she spent as much time as she could volunteering at the school when she sister, Roberta, was working. There were times that she would put in a full week’s work as a volunteer. That, to me, is a perfect image of who Alberta is. She gave of herself to others. And she made everyone she met feel important and loved. Even my own son would often ask when we would go to Aunt Kay’s, if his friends were going to be there, because he enjoyed their company.
As a pastor, I have enjoyed the encouraging words that Alberta would give, and I remember the first week that I was in Kansas City spending a day talking and drinking coffee with both Alberta and Roberta. And I am glad that they were not only cousins, but friends.
I asked Roberta what passage we should use to remember Alberta, and to be honest there are so many. The generosity, mercy, encouragement, and compassion that she shared with others is something encouraged throughout scripture and something that she not only spoke about but lived. So, it became very difficult to choose just one. Then on Tuesday, while I was at work Roberta called me all excited because she believed that God had provided what we were seeking.
As Drew was driving home, he drove through some papers in the roadway. You might want to ask him for more details, but one of those papers blew up and got stuck in the grill of his truck and stayed there for the rest of the trip. When he got home, he saw that paper sticking out of the vehicle and he pulled it out and looked at it. That random piece of paper stuck to the grill had passages of scripture printed on both sides. One of those passages I would like to read today.
Mark 10:46–52 (ESV)
46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
This passage is very important to the family for many reasons. In February 2003 Gene, Andrew, Roberta, and Alberta’s house caught fire. The fire was intense, and the fire fighters were amazed that everyone survived. And the only injury was that Roberta’s eyes were burned, leaving her unable to see. They prayed for Roberta’s eyes, and she told me that she even used words like Bartimaeus in this passage. “Lord, if only you would let me see. And their faith was not misplaced because her eyes did heal, and she can see as clearly as before.
That story excites me, because it is a witness to God’s care for us even to this day. But there is so much more to this passage than meet the eyes. The road between Jericho and Jerusalem was a very important one. Jericho was the city that the trade routes went through as the made their way to Jerusalem, and the tolls for the various goods were collected in Jericho so that as the traders approached the city, they did not cause greater chaos with traffic. The fact that a blind man was on that road is odd, because the road is not exactly easy to traverse. It is a mountainous pathway, with switchbacks and drop offs like many mountain roads. It is not someplace a blind man would want to travel, yet here he is on the roadside.
He is sitting there as a great crowd move toward him. Imagine the roar of that crowd and being unable to see who or what was coming toward you. But eventually he hears who is part of this crowd, and he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Scripture is full of fun little oddities. And when we see a name in a passage it is usually important. I looked up these names and the meanings of the names. Bartimaeus in Aramaic literally means Son of Timaeus. But when the name Timaeus is written in Greek it has a similar sound to the name we know as Timothy, which means highly favored. But they wrote the name in a redundant form, meaning they meant for us to read an Aramaic name and a Greek name, and when we do this Timaeus in Aramaic means unclean. Bartimaeus is son of unclean but he becomes son of the highly favored.
In ancient times, and even today many people believe that if someone went blind it was because of some sin in their lives. Bartimaeus. When the crowd approaches, he is treated as if he is unclean, but he does not hold back, instead he cries louder. And Jesus calls him forward, and his faith in Jesus changed him. He moved from being unclean to clean. He moved from total disfavor to highly favored.
That movement that Jesus showed, that act of mercy that restored the humanity of this man is the character Alberta lived. She restored humanity to people that often felt overlooked, rejected, and neglected. She not only did this as a career, but she volunteered these acts of mercy as a teenager in a hospital. She continued as she volunteered her time helping those that felt hopeless as a college student. And after she retired, she continued to show the mercy of God to the students and teachers she dearly loved at Boone.
Jesus said in his most famous sermon, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” When he said this he means that those that participate in acts of mercy and blessed. He goes on to say, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” The pure in heart are those that stay focused on what is most important. Those that do what they do for the right reasons. Alberta showed mercy, she lived mercy and she did so through a pure heart. And today I am confident that she sees God in a way that I long for.
When Bartimaeus heard Jesus’s call, he threw his tunic aside, his only true possession, and he ran to Jesus. Friends, our life here today is just a glimmer of the hope that we have in Christ. His kingdom is both here today and yet to come. Alberta has thrown aside what she has here and has run to the arms of God. A God who loves her, and all of us so much that he sent his son to live among us. His son experienced a full life with us, teaching us how to live with each other and with God. And he gives us hope by providing the way to restore our relationship with God through his death and resurrection. We have that hope now and forever more when we like Bartimaeus toss the worries of this life aside and run to Christ. We like him can say “Lord, let me see,” and in our faith in him, he will show us that of God in those around us. And as we stay focused on him, we will one day see him face to face.
Today we celebrate the life of Alberta Feagle. As we remember the life that Alberta lived among us, let us sit in a time of Holy Expectancy or as those from my faith tradition would say communion in the manner of friends. As we remember Alberta and as we reflect of Christ remember that she was truly a bearer of the image of Christ among us. If some memory or word of encouragement comes to you during this time, please feel free to share it with us all. And let us move from this place carrying the testimony of life that she lived with us and sharing that same spirit with those in our community.
1 What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer!
2 Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer!
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer!
3 Are we weak and heavy laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge–
take it to the Lord in prayer!
Do your friends despise, forsake you?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he’ll take and shield you;
you will find a solace there.
It is in an hour of need that we believe…
The seed of doubt grows not there,
Nor loss; want or despair
For when no answer will come
our hearts turn to him to calm the storms
in our lonely world
Thru tears and rain
He hears every word
For blessed now the hour of need
That opened our hearts to believe.
By Briggin Lyford (AKA Alberta Feagle)
The Lords Prayer
Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses (Debts),
as we forgive those who trespass against us (Our Debtors),
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power and the glory forever, Amen.
Shared ar Parklawn Funeral Home.