By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friend Church
May 30, 2021
John 3:1–17 (ESV)
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 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.
We read this portion of scripture often in a year because it is one of the most important passages in scripture. This passage gives us a glimpse into the complete human condition.
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. I have spoken about Nicodemus often. I like the man. He is like so many people we know. He is a leader, well respected. Looking at the man Nicodemus we would not be able to see any fault in him. If he were to be running a campaign to be elected in our contemporary culture, we would most likely support him. I say this because everything we know about the man and his actions is that he was a good person.
He is a good man and I say this passage gives us a glimpse into the human condition. We all see ourselves as good people. If you were to go out around the community and interview the population, most if not all people would say that they are a good person. This man, Nicodemus, came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
This statement is interesting. How many of us have looked at the people around us and thought that we could see goodness in them? We look at their lives and their lifestyles and we believe that they are being led by the hand of God. We do this, we do this without even thinking. Children look at role models in sports, when they go out at recess they act as if they are that individual, why because they seem to embody everything they desire to be. But this does not stop at childhood, even adults can be trapped in the cult of personality. Even as adults we can read into the actions of others that may speak to our condition. We can be drawn into supporting individuals and causes. Every two years we see this happening in our nation. Every two years people begin campaigns hoping to gain support so that they can have a job. They speak, they make promises, they say all the right words and we are drawn into the belief that they are a good person. We might even believe that they are a person that is appointed by God because they have said the right words concerning our personal belief systems.
Like Nicodemus we might approach those individuals and affirm their status and say to them you have been chosen by God, for no one can say what you say without God being with them. I, myself, have been drawn into these sorts of activities. I, myself, have place hope in a person. I have hoped that one person would change the courses of history. I have had such a strong desire to be on the right side of history in my own mind that I have overlooked the negative aspects of policies because I want them to be good.
Do you see this in the statement of Nicodemus? Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, is looking at Jesus and he is projecting his desires into and onto him. You are a teacher come from God, and I hope you will make our dreams come true. Nicodemus said these words as a ruler of the Jews, he announced his desire to believe and support Jesus. He expressed support and even expresses the support of all those that see him as a leader in Jesus, but there is a condition that is unspoken. He wants Jesus to say the right words. We are not told what those words are. We are not told what Nicodemus sees as being the definition of good.
Jesus answers Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” With this answer we are given a glimpse into the unexpressed desire of Nicodemus. He has a desire for the Kingdom of God.
Nicodemus is taken aback by Jesus’s statement, and rightfully so because Jesus answered a question that was not asked, at least not verbally. Will you usher in the kingdom?
We each have a strong desire to see our visions of utopia. We want the world around us to operate in a manner that we think is desirable. We want the kingdom of God in our image. But Jesus’s answer turns that around on us. When Jesus said unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God, What does it mean to be born again?
We have all heard this our entire lives, because this is the motto of the Evangelical movement. If we call ourselves Evangelicals we have made some sort of response to this statement. We have some idea as to what this means in our minds. It is a decision of some sort, a turning of will and direction of life. This is not far from the truth. The concept of being born is easy enough to consider. It is the idea of begetting, bearing, or conception, but it can also represent the relation between teacher and disciple or master and servant. The idea within the birth analogy is to become. Often we consider this as being a concept that originated in Jesus, but was already and expression common to Rabbinical teaching in regard to the conversion of those to Jewish faith. The idea is that the individual is being reformed, remade, or born into true humanity. According to these rabbinical teachings a true man is one that is faithful to God according to the Rabbinical teachings. Before a man is converted or possesses the proper teachings, they are not living spiritual beings, but mere creatures without the breath of life.
If this idea of the birth of a true man was common to Jewish teaching in reference to the conversion of those born apart from the linage of Israel, why does Nicodemus struggle with the imagery? It could be that as a leader within the nation of Israel, he had not considered the process of conversion for himself personally. He is, according to his understanding, already alive and has been since birth. He is a child of Israel.
Jesus is saying to Nicodemus that he like those outside of his nation are equal. All of humankind exists without the breath of life, all of humankind is but a creature. We assume Nicodemus struggles with the idea of being born again. What he is struggling with is equality within the Kingdom. How can he a Jewish man be converted, how can he who has always been a member of God’s people be joined into what was his birth right?
We all like to think of ourselves as good. In our own minds we are good. Our actions and the decisions we make are based on ideals we hold as being right and true. In our minds, we live as if we are true humanity and all that oppose our ideas are outside the realm of the living. When we hold this idea in our head, every action we undertake is a mission from God. We must convert those unlike us to submit to our way of life. We are good they are not.
This way of life has justified many tragic episodes in history. This is an attitude both inside and outside religious thought. It is the way of the flesh and of mankind the creature. The idea of goodness of our path is the kingdoms of men. When Jesus is approached by Nicodemus that evening, Jesus opens his eyes to the reality of his own prejudices. This is not what Nicodemus expected when he approached the camp of the disciples.
“[U]nless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” I want us to think of this deeply. Jesus speaks not of a division between the flesh and the spirit but of creation and divine. Those that truly live are joined with the divine Spirit. And Jesus is challenging Nicodemus’s understanding of how this communion occurs.
“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
How does a person enter into communion with God? The wind blows where it wishes. By saying this Jesus is saying that God cannot be controlled. We cannot honestly say how or who will enter the kingdom because we cannot control the wind. But there is something interesting about the wind., it can peak curiosity.
How many of us have walked outside and smelled the aroma of barbecue on the air? How many times have we watch a child chase bubbles or dandelion dust? How many autumns have we enjoyed hearing the rustling of the leaves? The wind carries curiosity, it inspires imagination and adventure. The wind carried the explorers across the oceans. And cause mankind to dream of flying. The wind inspires. But we cannot control the wind. We can only join it.
Nicodemus came to Jesus with the hopes that this man from God would join their cause, instead Jesus challenges him. He challenges his way of thinking and understanding of God. What made Abraham righteous? What blessed the kingdom of David?
Abraham believed and it was counted to him as righteousness, is what the writer of Hebrews tells us. He believed. He trusted. He listened to the spirit rustling the leaves and he followed. Abraham lived in the cradle of civilization during his era of history. As far as the kingdoms of men were concerned they had all the world could offer, yet when the voice of God came to Abraham he left it all for something different. Abraham followed the wind.
When David was a mere child taking food to his brothers stationed in battle he heard the voice of the giant, and he saw the men of his nation trembling in fear. David did not fear and he face the taunting voice of the adversary. A boy facing a giant. David put his faith in God.
It did not make sense in the minds of men for these actions to occur. Just as it did not make sense in the mind of Nicodemus that Jesus would challenge the teachings of the Pharisees. The wind blows, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. What do you do at that point?
The interesting thing is we know the direction of the wind. We do know where the wind comes from. We may not know the thermal dynamic theories that cause wind to occur. But I do not think this is what Jesus is saying. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound. It is an invitation. Early Friends would have called this a day of visitation. A moment where we must make some sort of decision, do we explore or do we walk away? If we turn our face into the wind and explore where it has been we will see the great history of all those saints of old who embraced a life with God. Their lives added fragrant aromas to the air that whips past, and as we explore those lives we can find comfort and peace. If we were to turn the direction there is something different.
In the spring the maple trees release seeds that are an amazing design. They have a fin that will cause the seed to spin and fly along the currents of the air while gravity pulls it down to the earth. How many of us a child played with these seeds? Gathered up as many as we could and thrown them in the air just to watch the twirl back down? This is where the wind is going. This is the call of Abraham to go to the land promised. It is the call to trust God with our future. We can draw comfort from the past but we cannot stay there, we must eventually follow the wind forward. And God is inviting us to join Him in that adventure.
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound. The invitation has been made, we can explore history to see where it has been, we can embrace the adventure of the future, or we can take a third path. We can just let the wind blow. This is the challenge Jesus is giving to Nicodemus, and all of us that are religious.
God is calling us to embrace that wind and move with it. Those that are born again are those that accept that invitation to walk with God. Those that stand still have allow the breath of God that gives life to pass away from them and they remain in the kingdoms of men and lose the opportunity of God’s glory. Everyone is given this opportunity and must make a choice on their own. Nicodemus asks, “How can these things be?” and we ask this with him as well. Nicodemus is listening to this teacher, a teacher he said is from God tell him that Israel is not embracing the life and lifestyle they teach and because of this they will be excluded from the kingdom. They are worried about laws and rules, they are focused on their rights and their identity. They have their minds so involved with the kingdoms of men that they no longer even notice that the wind is blowing. They are distracted and no longer focused on what is most important. “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” is Jesus’s response to Nicodemus.
I want those words to resonate with us today. Jesus is asking us if our words and actions meet. Are we following God or are we good in the eyes of men? Are we distracted or are we embracing the wind? Are we born again?
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By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 23, 2021
John 15:26–27, 16:4b–15 (ESV)
26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 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.
Last Sunday we celebrated the day Jesus returned to His Father’s side in Heaven. Prior to this event, Jesus spent time praying. Praying for people that traversed the pathways of life with him, and for those that would eventually listen to their voices and believe. Jesus prays for us. He prays that we will be united in a common mission, to love one another. Something so seemingly simple, yet the God of the universe found it prudent to pray. I hope we all have spent time considering this over the past week.
This week we continue to celebrate. Today we celebrate the foundation of the church. How often do we slow down, take the time to reflect of that time? Have we taken time to contemplate the forty days between Easter Sunday and to the Day of Pentecost?
I love the Friends Church. I love our history and the manner we live our lives. There is one thing that I do not much care about our tradition of faith, we do not celebrate enough. The calendar is filled with days that are set aside to remind us of our shared history, A history that stretches from the dawn to the dusk of time. A shared history that reminds us that the roots of our faith run deep.
We celebrate the Day of Pentecost as the birth of the church, but it is more than that. The Pentecost feast is also known as the Feast of First Fruits or the Feast of Weeks. This feast was established early in the Hebrew history and is one of the three mandatory Feasts.
This feast is one based on hope and trust. When the children of Israel entered the land of promise they were encouraged to remember. The Feast of Passover was there to remind them of how they got to where they were. God brought them out of Egypt, God redeemed them, God liberated them from their enslavement. The celebration we commonly regard as the Last Supper, was the celebration of this feast. Every word that Jesus spoke around that table was merging the traditions of the past with emerging understanding of God’s word.
The Feast of Weeks was fifty days after Passover. The ascension of Christ occurred forty days after Passover. The number forty is symbolic. For forty years Israel wandered in the desert, as they prepared for their anticipated future. Some traditions within the Judaism reflect on the concept of preparation, and they enter a period of intensive study of the books of the law over the course of twenty-four hours. Moses gave them the law as they walked through the desert, and as they approach the feast of Weeks, they prepare themselves as their ancestors did before them.
This shows their hope and faith but the feast is also one of trust. The feast occurs at the beginning of harvest. For those that have not lived on a farm you may not fully understand how important this is. Wheat is and has been a staple of the human diet since the dawn of civilization. Just as harvest begins the faithful of Israel are to bring their tithe to the temple. Just as the harvest of the grains that sustain live begins, they would take the grains and fruits and put them in special baskets laced with gold and silver and take them to the temple. Before they know how good their crop is they give a tithe. Before they even know if the harvest is good or bad, they give what they anticipate will be enough to honor God.
I want us to think about the deepness of this day. A festival that celebrates the hope people have in God, a festival that celebrates the union of the people with God, and a celebration of trust in God’s provision. The celebration of Weeks is the celebration of an emerging people, it is the celebration of a people directed and devoted to God. It is a celebration of God and his promise of a fulfilled life.
For forty days after Passover, Jesus taught his disciples. For forty days Jesus prepared his followers for what they would become. Just as Israel wondered through the desert to prepare to enter the land promised to them, Jesus prepared his disciples.
Imagine the busiest time of your year. Maybe you are an accountant and you are preparing taxes, imagine you are a store manager the week before black Friday. It is the most important time of your year, and during this time you are urged to stop everything journey to the temple. As you approach you meditate and study the foundations of your faith, and as you approach the temple you prepare an offering based on your hopes. You review your faith, and in a moment, you publicly declare your trust in your God. What will you give?
Jesus tells the disciples, “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.” As Israel crossed the river Jordan, they crossed into a new life. God led them through the desert and now they must walk on their own. “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you sorrow has filled your heart.”
For forty years God lead Israel in the desert. For forty years God provided for their every need. They step into the waters of the Jordan and now they must live by faith. They must look trust and entrust their lives to God, even when they do not see.
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment.”
When Israel took possession of the land God promised them, they entered the period of history recorded in the book of Judges. Most of us look at this period negatively because they did not have a king and people did whatever seem right in their own eyes. The people of Israel were prepared in the desert under the leadership of Moses, and the disciples were prepared by Jesus. Israel entered the land of promise to live in a manner that seemed right in their eyes, and the disciples were to be led by the Helper who will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.
I want us to consider the similarities of the two expressions of Pentecost. Both are celebrating the emergence of a great future. A nation, or more accurately a people lead by the word or the truth revealed by God. This truth will be revealed to us by the Helper, who will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgement. Jesus goes on to tell us how this will occur. Jesus defines sin not as transgression of the law, but unbelief. Those that participated in the intensive study of Torah before Pentecost meditate on the law, they incorporate the law into every aspect of their lives. They believe the law. True belief is trust, it is entrusting every aspect of life to the teachings. Sin is a lack of trust.
Righteousness, or right living. Jesus says because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer we will be convicted of righteousness by the Helper. To be truly righteous one lives according to their beliefs, no matter what and even when no one sees. In our contemporary age we often refer to this as being character. Those with character will do what is right no matter what it may cost. A righteous person will give their lives for another.
Then Jesus says the Helper will convict the world concerning judgement. The ruler of this world is judged Jesus says. What is the ruler of the world? Since the fall of mankind humanity was cursed with the knowledge of good and evil. I say cursed, because prior to that we only knew good. Some schools of thought take a different look at this curse, some say that this story was speaking about the emergence of the human mind. It was our evolutionary emergence. I do not necessarily agree with this school of thought but it is interesting. If evil is the shadow of good, then judgment of the ruler of the world is that there is shadow in all. We all struggle with good and evil, we all can justify in our own minds the use of evil means to achieve some end.
The helper will guide us, as the law guided the first generation of Israel in the promised land. The helper will show us, teach us, and will glorify God through us.
As I was studying this passage, I was drawn to the verses not included in the lectionary readings. Today’s section began at the end of chapter 15 and skips the first three and a half verses of the sixteenth chapter. But I find these verses to be especially important in understanding the Spirt of truth. Jesus says, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering services to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.”
What is Jesus speaking about? Who is Jesus convicting concerning sin, righteousness, and judgement? It is those who claim faith and belief. He is speaking about us, and this is why He is praying for us.
Today we celebrate the birth of the Church. We celebrate the interaction of God and humanity. We celebrate the era of human history where we live.
We are living in the age of the church. We live during the era of history where the assembly of God’s people is not based on an ethnic group, or national boarders, but a kingdom that extends across those boundaries and concepts of men. We live in the era where people live their lives based on the convictions the Spirit of Truth puts in their very souls. This is both exciting and terrifying. God is trusting us with His name and His glory. God has worked through countless lives through out history to bring each of us to this time and place so that we can embrace Him and entrust every aspect of our lives to his guidance for one purpose, to glorify him through how we live our lives, among others.
We live in the age of history, where God does not lead us with a cloud or a pillar of fire. We live in an age of history where God does not walk in an incarnate body among us physically teaching and bringing healing to those of us who face disease. We live in an era of history where God lives with each one who entrusts their lives to one thing.
I have struggled with this passage over the past week. I have read and reread the words and studied what history can tell me about this day that we celebrate. I have contemplated the words in prayer and have just sat at my computer trying to make sense of it all. After hours of study and prayer I realized something profound. Just prior to the ascension Jesus told the disciples to wait, he told them to remain in the place their were staying and wait. I cannot imagine how Peter felt getting those directions. He tried that before and decided that he had enough and went out to fish again only to find Jesus cooking breakfast for him on the shore. He told them to wait, and they listened this time. For ten days they waited. They were not waiting to start some new religion, even though that is what eventually emerged from their waiting. But they continued to walk in the path of their ancestors and their teacher. They most likely participated in the regular celebrations of Pentecost; they may have stayed up all night reading the Torah with each other. But all at once they were compelled to act.
Today around two thousand years ago, Peter proclaimed the truth to the people. He and the others spoke in the languages of all nations declaring the word of the Lord. And they went out among the people, fearlessly living as their teacher lived. And three thousand people embraced the lifestyle of Christ that day.
I have read many books and essays concerning that first day of the church. I have heard people long that we could return to that, but one theologian wrote that the people of the first century church longed for the church of our day. Can you imagine that? We sit around listing all the terrible things that are happening all around us and we try to make attempt at predicting the time of Christ’s return. We pray and long that the Lord will return and remove us from this world, and the people of the first century longed to live in our age? We need to open our eyes. I do not want to go back. I find it amazing that every week I can look on the internet and see that people from around the world have participated in some way with us in our worship. And I am humbled to think that maybe God is using us in ways we cannot even imagine. We long for the first century church, but we have everything they have and more right here today. We have the same spirit leading and guiding us, the same power that rose Christ from the grave is available to us today. Yet we so often do not see it. We want to see three thousand in one day but we forget that those three thousand came after three years of intensive ministry by over five hundred people speaking in the name of Christ.
Those three thousand responded because people lived their lives among them every day. And those people lived loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. How many people do you interact with every day? How many people see you living your life every day? How many people have seen you live your life in a manner of conviction where you stand up for your beliefs even when it does not make sense? How many of those people have been shown through your life and lifestyle the love of Christ?
We do not always know the extent of our ministry. God does not always show us why or how our current situations are playing out in the broader history of the church. But we are right where he needs us to be, so let us embrace our place. Let us stay focused on our one purpose and command. Let us forget about everything else that distracts us from our true calling. And let us make sure that each person we interact with knows that they are loved by God.
We do not need the greatest theological education. We do not need the best programs, or the greatest cutting-edge facilities. We do not even need the best pastor to participate in this mission. We have everything that we need right here, right now. And today we celebrate the day of hope and trust. We celebrate the day that the church emerged out of a tiny province at the edge of an empire. We celebrate the church that has remained for two thousand years, because one person listened to God and loved their neighbor even when it did not make sense. And that one person shared the love that they were shown. That is the church. It is an assembly of individual people coming together because another individual shared the love of Christ with them in word and action. We do not need to do anything other than that.
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 16, 2021
John 17:6–19 (ESV)
6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
The past week, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting. I have thought about what I have done in my life and what I hope I will be remembered by. I do not know if other people think of these things, I have come to accept that my mind is a bit strange at times and have come to terms with my own weirdness. But I feel that when we get a glimpse of how finite our lives are it does bring a few things into perspective.
Over the past few weeks, we have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the last week of Jesus’s ministry as recorded by the apostle John. For those of you that know me, I do not miss an opportunity to speak on John’s gospel account. I love John, and who would not, since tradition tells us that he was the disciple Jesus loved. I love John, he seems to take the crazy unpredictable aspects of life and makes them powerful. It is in John that we are shown the first sign of Christ. You might think that the first sign of the long-anticipated Messiah would be something spectacular like fire coming from the heavens to light a sacrifice on the alter like Prophet Elijah. But it was not something like that. The first sign of Jesus was intimate. The first sign was something ninety-nine percent of the population probably were not even aware of. The first sign was performed at a wedding banquet. The groom ran out of wine and Jesus, behind the scenes, encouraged the servants to fill containers with water and then dip some out to serve.
I have reflected on that miracle often. Something that even today we would label as insignificant has so much power. If we were to look at all the problems in the world throughout all history running out of wine at a party is nothing, it is stupid, why even mention something so insignificant? People were going hungry in first century Palestine. The threat of war was on the horizon and continues to be even to this day. Religiously people in the very promised land were worshiping idols, and Jesus began his ministry by attending a party and making sure they had enough to drink. In the great scheme of world history that miracle is insignificant. Yet for that groom and his future family it meant everything. That seemingly insignificant sign changed their entire future. It changed the course of history for their family and potentially altered their position in society for generations.
Why include something so insignificant at the beginning of the gospel account? This is why I love John. Nothing is insignificant. That singular event in the mind of this young apostle showed him that every person is important to God. It set the tone for everything else that John wrote and changed how he lived his life. If it was important enough to Jesus that there was enough wine at a wedding then there is something of even greater concern that we should be focused on with every individual in this room. I want us to consider that. If Jesus found it so important to make wine at a wedding, what is he telling us? Love one another.
For the past few weeks, this has been the theme in the scriptures that we have read. Jesus calls us friends if we obey his commandments, and the command that he gives is to love one another. We are no longer servants just carrying out orders, but we are friends because we know the will of the Master, and that will is that we love one another. Do we consider this? Do we sit in contemplation and seek deeper understanding of this? Have we devoted our lives to fulfilling and exemplifying this command? And if we do, what does it look like?
It looks pretty much like making sure there is enough wine at a wedding. Let that just saturate your being this morning. Jesus showed us in his very first sign what he meant when he taught us his commandment at the very end.
How are we doing in this area? I found myself considering this question this week. I have sat in my chair, the one that I spend time thinking, praying, and writing in, and I thought about how I am living out my life. I have thought and reflected on all the people that have encouraged me along the journey of we call life and I find myself humbled. Seemingly insignificant things that people have done for me changed everything. There were times that my parents extended grace instead of the discipline I deserved and it changed me. There were times an invitation to eat was given at moments I did not have enough money to buy food, seemingly insignificant yet powerful. I could list countless events over the course of my life where the seemingly insignificant action of someone changed the course of my life in such a way that me standing before you in this church is the result. I am not here because I am a great person. I am here because of the love others have shown me, and because of that love God was able to draw me closer.
Yesterday we celebrated the life of one of those people. We celebrated the life of a person who showed such love to me that without their seemingly insignificant investment in the life of someone else I would not be here.
We do not always see the importance of those events. When Jesus turned the water into wine very few knew the complete story. It might even be the case that the groom did not even know how close he was to complete ruin without the intervention of Jesus. We do not always see, because our attention is being drawn elsewhere. Children do not fully know how close their parents are to financial ruin when they ask for a toy at the store. And most parents do not fully know how close their children are to knowing the truth of their situation when they ask for the toy at the store. A simple act in that moment, can change the course of both parent and child. How we handle that conversation can either inspire or harm. In that moment we can teach important life lessons, we can exhibit grace, we can deepen our trust in God, or we can slide into further distraction.
John teaches us that our lives are important. Every aspect of our lives, lived out in front of and with people, at any and every moment could be the event that changes everything. And John tells us of all the commandments we should focus on one thing love one another as Jesus loves you.
I thought about these words this week, and then I considered today’s passage. Today’s passage does not have Jesus teaching a multitude, and he is not performing some miraculous feat to inspire faith. Today we find Jesus praying. I have spoken a great deal about the holy rhythm of Jesus’s life, this disciplined life is the lifestyle I believe that the apostles encourage us to live when they say things like put on the life of Christ. They encourage us to reflect his lifestyle and walk in his ways. And Jesus shows us this rhythm of life throughout not only John’s gospel but every gospel account. Jesus made it his custom to worship God in the synagogues in the community he was with, which teaches us that we need to come together and love God as a community. Jesus worshiped, he read scripture with others, he listened to what the teachers had to say and at times he taught as well. He listened and encouraged others to love and to trust God. Imagine signing the Psalms of David, while standing next to the one the song was written about and to.
Jesus did not just worship, he would withdraw often to isolated or deserted places to pray alone. This time of prayer shows us the necessity to regularly spend time on our own in personal devotion and prayer. This is where we embrace the Spirit of God in our own lives, it is where God’s spirit can saturate our own spirit and guide us through the struggles we might face in life. It is also in this time of personal prayer, where we sense greater calling and are urged into our personal ministry.
Nearly every time Jesus is recorded to withdraw to those isolated places to pray, we see a change in the direction of ministry. He prays in Capernaum after healing Peter’s mother-in-law and many others, he goes out to pray and when he meets his disciples again, he says, “let’s go to the other towns.” Another time he is on a mountain praying and as he comes down, he sees the crowd and has compassion for them. Jesus’s time of prayer directed and opened where ministry and service should occur. We worship and encourage each other as a community, we withdraw and pray, and both actions lead us to service or ministry to others. This holy rhythm of life leads us to the commandment of Christ to love one another.
Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others is what we have devoted our Meeting to. This is what and who we say that we are. We came up with this statement over the course of months of prayer, and I think it is one of the most powerful statements of the life and purpose of a church one could make. I say this because it is the holy rhythm Jesus taught, and it is the lifestyle that the apostles encouraged the early church to adapt as they wrote their letters. If we devoted our entire lives to the fulfillment of that simple statement, we could see amazing things happen all round us. But that life is hard.
There are times when I am not a good father, because my attention is somewhere else. I am consumed with how I am going to provide for my family that I forget why I have a family in the first place. There are times when I am not a good friend because my attention is somewhere else. Maybe I am still upset with someone for something they did to me, so when I hear an opportunity where I could exhibit the love of Jesus to them, I do not act. Why do I not act, because they deserve it because of how they treated me, why should I help them? There are times I am distracted, there are times I forget who I am and how I got to this place.
Jesus knows that. And John records this in Jesus’s prayer today. He says, “I have honored your name to the people you gave me. They are yours and you gave them to me, and they know that everything I have is a gift from you. I taught them and encouraged them and they received that and they know it to be true.” He goes on to say, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are min, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you, Holy Father, keep them in your name.”
Jesus at the end of his ministry, prays for you. He prays for you because he knows how hard it is to live in our wild and crazy world. He knows how easy it is to become distracted. He knows how one action can become a blessing that changes the world or a curse that damns the flow of God’s grace through us. Jesus prays for us, because he gave us a mission and he know that our mission sounds easy but is the most difficult things we could ever set our mind to.
He prays for us. Jesus prays for you. He asks God the Father to keep you in His name. He prays that God will protect and preserve us as we live in the world, so that God’s name will be glorified. How often do we just stop for a moment and reflect that God Himself is praying for you?
The prayer is interesting though. Jesus goes on to say in this prayer, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
Jesus does not want to take us from the world. Often, we pray that Jesus will come and rapture his church, that he will remove us from what we face today, but that is not what Jesus prays. Jesus wants us right here. He wants us right where we are. I get angry at times that God does not remove some of the obstacles that I have faced. I hate to admit it, but I have even come to this very meeting house and yelled at God because I did not have the strength to keep going. Yet even as I yelled, I was reminded that this is right where God wants and needs me to be at this moment. And Jesus knows what you are facing, and he is praying for you and with you. He is praying that God will glorify us as He is glorified, He is praying that we can experience his joy. And that our lives will bring glory to God.
I sat this week in my big blue chair. I sat where I so often sit, thinking and wondering how and why God would call me to the place I am. And I sat there wondering why so many people had spent so much time encouraging me through the years. We can be distracted by so many things but let us rest in the assurance that Jesus is praying for us. The same Jesus that did not want the wine to run out at a party, cares enough for us that he prayed that God would protect and sanctify our lives, so that we could follow him and live his lifestyle where we are. Jesus prays for his friends and his friends respond out of love and joy.
This week let us not focus on everything happening around us that is a result of the evil desires of humanity making a mess of the world, instead let us focus on something else. Let us focus on that one place where we can show love to someone around us. Let us focus not on some grand ministry that could feed or house thousands of homeless, let us instead focus on that one thing we could do for one person so that they know they are loved. Let us leave this place and rest in the prayer of Jesus, knowing that we do not have to pray for ourselves because he has our back, and let us focus on how we can live the love of Christ with others.