//
archives

Archive for

The Butterfly Effect

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

November 21, 2021

Click to Join our Meeting for Worship

Click to read in Swahili

Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

John 18:33–38 (ESV)

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.

The past few weeks we have focused on the priesthood of Jesus. This week we move back from the letters written to encourage those early believers that followed Christ, and again look at that period of time during Jesus’ ministry.

I often stop and consider the timeframes surrounding Jesus’ life. As we approach the season we traditionally call Christmas, we are reminded of the story of Jesus’ birth. In America we somewhat get all this backwards. We sing Christmas songs basically from thanksgiving until December 25th and then we abruptly stop. According to the church calendar Christmas begins on December 25th and it continues for twelve days. The season prior, what retailers call the Christmas season is Advent. There is a difference.

Next Sunday we will enter the Advent season. I guess I just want to start it early, mainly because I am the type of person that loves the major holidays. I could sing Christmas Carols year-round, and I remember a few times when coworkers of mine had walked into the office in the middle of summer while I was jamming to the carol of the bells. It is ok I am at one with my own weirdness. I can also sit gazing at the Christmas tree shining with lights, while singing “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” in my mind.

For me the entire story is important. Without the birth there would not be an Easter, and without Easter there would be no need for the birth. We need the life of Jesus from birth through his ministry, his suffering, burial, and resurrection. Now here is the kicker, without the entire story of human history from creation to the end of ages there would be no need for the story of Jesus. We are part of that story. Everything that we do today, every decision we make, every conversation we have, every smile we give and argument we participate in is part of this story. You are that important, we are that important. One person’s life can change the course of history, even if we never know their name.

In the scientific and mathematical spheres of life there is something called the chaos theory. Contrary to what the name might imply this theory speaks about how interconnected things are in our world. Within this theory there is an idea called the butterfly effect. This is something that E.N. Lorenz, a mathematician and meteorologist, formulated while he studied weather patterns. He ran his various models trying to gain a greater understanding of weather, particularly tornados, because tornados are one of the most unpredictable forces within weather. Within this model he entered various measurements they had recorded from previous storms into his computer and they began to run a simulation. As the testing went on, they were getting the expected results. Then there was a day where he decided to take a short cut. He instead of typing in the full measurement he left off a few of the decimal places, ran the test, went to get a cup of coffee, and came back. In that amount of time the computer simulated the weather of two months, and the results were staggering. He said this in his book.  

“Instead of a sudden break, I found that the new values at first repeated the old ones, but soon afterward differed by one and then several units in the last decimal place, and then began to differ in the next to the last place and then in the place before that. In fact, the differences more or less steadily doubled in size every four days or so, until all resemblance with the original output disappeared somewhere in the second month. This was enough to tell me what had happened: the numbers that I had typed in were not the exact original numbers, but were the rounded-off values that had appeared in the original printout. The initial round-off errors were the culprits; they were steadily amplifying until they dominated the solution.” (E. N. Lorenz, The Essence of Chaos, U. Washington Press, Seattle (1993), page 134)[7]

We might not think much of this. If we have taken basic arithmetic, we all know that if we change numbers the resulting solution of the math will change. But Lorenz was studying weather, that little change represented a seemingly insignificant change in atmospheric conditions, but that seemingly insignificant change effected the weather of the future. Later Lorenz spoke about a conversation he had with other meteorologists saying, “if the theory is correct the flapping of one seagull’s wings would be enough to alter the course of the weather forever.”

Now that my total knowledge of chaos theory and the butterfly effect has been exhausted, I want us to consider this. Every aspect of our lives is interconnected with the lives of those around us. When we make a decision, even a small insignificant decision, it can become either a blessing or a hardship for someone else. We may never even see the effect we have, because the end result might be felt by someone on the other side of the world and may not even fully be sensed until two or three generations later. But what we do know from the math is that changing one integer changes the result.

This brings us to today’s passage, in some weird way. Maybe I need to stop listening to audio books while I work, but when I think of the conversation Jesus has with Pilate this is what comes to my mind.

One of the things that I began to see more clearly as we read through Hebrews is the interconnectedness of our history and where and why Jesus had to do what he did. Our first parents were in Eden, which was the place where the realm of God and the realm of Earth met. Adam and Eve walked with God, they had full access to God, and God provided them with a job. If we were to read the account there is something that we often miss. We assume that the garden was the entirety of earth, but that is not what it says. There were boarders to the garden which implies that there was something beyond those boarders. The job God gave to our first parents was making the world beyond the boarders like what they experienced within. They were to go into the world and be little agents of God’s goodness throughout the world. God spoke plants into existence and Adam and Eve were to take those plants and spread them. God created animals and our first parents were to run around the world playing hid and seek with those animals while giving them names.

They had a job to do, but there was a resistance. A serpent slithered around in the garden, and this serpent began spreading deceptive words. This outside intelligence, which could be called a shining one or a divine throne guardian, began to sow seeds of doubt within our first parents. Slowly confusion entered, and once confusion began chaos erupted. One seemingly insignificant action changed the course of human history. And God was determined to restore what was lost, one of his own spiritual beings began the problem and only God could correct it.

The incarnation is powerful because the God that set everything in motion around us, stepped into human history. He stepped into human history in a seemingly insignificant manner. Not as a conquering titan like deity, but a zygote. He entered this world just like each of us. The joining of genetic material inside the body of a woman, that become a complete single celled life form. That single cell begins to divide and evolve into an embryo, and the cells begin to differentiate until it forms a fetus, and that fetus after nine months passes into life and take its first breath. And once that breath is taken the lives of the parents are forever changed, because they no longer remember what sleep is.

Jesus was born, just like us. He grew within a family. He interacted with those around him, he attended school at the synagogue with all the other children, he worked along side his family as they built homes and potentially even worked on the temple. He became a man and became know as the carpenter within his neighborhood. The fact that the gospel says, “isn’t he the carpenter,” makes me believe that Jesus was good at what he did. He had a good life, a good job, a great community. And then one day Jesus went to the river to see his cousin John, and everything changed.

Each of us has something that triggers our deepest self. For some of us we must create art. We can see a sunset and suddenly everything around us seems to stop until we translate what we are feeling in that moment into a painting or a poem. For others that deep seated self is triggered by perceived injustice around us, and when we hear a story of wrongdoing we are driven to action. Others might have compassion for the sick and when they hear a cough, they are compelled to comfort the suffering. We all have that aspect within us that seed of joy that God planted as we were woven together in our mother’s womb. When we allow that seed to grow, we find who we truly are. Jesus had that too. He was happy as a carpenter but there was something more to him and he knew it. That seed, that spark of fulfilled life, took hold when John dipped him into the water. Suddenly human history snapped into focus, and the reason Jesus was born became clear.

“For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

I want these words to fully saturate each of our minds and let them seep deep into your heart. Jesus was standing before Pilate facing execution, and this is what he says. He was standing in that place because the people within the surrounding community loudly proclaimed that Jesus was their king. This act made the political leaders nervous. He stood there because the religious leaders took advantage of that proclamation and turned him over to their overlords. They did this so they could maintain power within the community. They wanted to preserve a power that was progressively eroding the moment Jesus had lifted his head from the water at his cousin’s side.

“For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world.” He says.  Jesus came into the world to stand before the powers constructed my men. He came to stand before the structures to say that their power is a mere shadow.

Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king. And Jesus does not answer the question. He simply says, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” I find this answer funny. I find it funny because by answering Pilate in this way, Jesus turns the question around and basically asks Pilate the same question he asks Peter and the other Disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” At this moment Pilate is looking Jesus in the eye, he is looking God in the eye and he must answer that very question. And Pilate does not know what to say.

You can almost feel the uncertainty in the words as Pilate answers, “am I a Jew? Your own nation and priest have delivered you over to me, what have you done?” This answer is an evasion. Pilate does not want to answer the question, he may not even understand the question. Am I a Jew? He asks. He has no framework to even begin.

Then Jesus answers the question for him. “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

This is his purpose. He did not come to rule the world in the manner we think of rule. His reign is not like that of a king or a presidential term. His influence does not extend like the might we see on the battlefield. If this is what God wanted to do, who could stop him. We are told in scripture that God, to protect our own future, flooded the entire earth and saved one family. We are told to prevent coordinated destruction he confused the languages and scattered the people. We are told that in a moment of holy justice, God can wipe unrepentant cities off the face of the earth, yet Jesus stands before Pilate and says that is not true power, and that is not my kingdom.

True power is sacrifice. True power is standing for others not yourself. True power is seeing that of God in your neighbor, that seed of joy or spark of life, and encouraging it to grow to its fullness. Jesus’s purpose, the entire reason he was born, is to be the butterfly effect. One action performed by one man, in a seemingly insignificant corner of the world by imperial standards, that will change everything.

With that one action, Jesus began to reverse the chaotic effects that were started by our first parents, and those waves move all around us. The waves of grace and the waves of sin. When we believe in Christ our lives begin to align with the waves of grace. The more we turn to that frequency of life the greater the intensity becomes and the waves begin to affect those around us. And grace spreads. We are also bombarded by the waves of deception and sin. What will we reflect? And what will we do?

Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “a new command I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)

What is your effect? Will you live your life in the power of Christ’s kingdom? Will you stand with Christ before the powers of the world knowing that it will cost you your life? Jesus came, was born, grew in stature and wisdom, became a teacher bearing the words of life. He stood firm even in the face of death, was executed and buried, and rose again. He restores our hope and purpose. And each of us must answer the same question Jesus turned onto Pilate. Will we listen to the words of truth or continue the deception? What is truth, and what effect will you have?


If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:

https://secure.piryx.com/donate/nlcsJT87/Willow-Creek-Friends-Church/

To help support the personal ministry of JWQuaker (Jared Warner) online and in the community click to donate.

Provoked to Love

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

November 14, 2021

Click to Join our Meeting for Worship

Click to read in Swahili

Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Hebrews 10:11-25

11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. 19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

The past few weeks we have camped out on the concept of the priesthood of Jesus. The writer of Hebrews spends a great deal of time comparing the priesthood of Israel in the tabernacle and the Temple and that of Jesus. He spends so much time comparing the two that it almost becomes so repetitive that we begin to lose interest. We begin to overlook the connections and are tempted to skip forward to something else. Yeah, yeah, yeah Jesus is a priest what’s next. We forget the importance of the priesthood.

The entire point of the book of Hebrews is about identity. The reason it is called the book of Hebrews is because the main recipients of this letter were those followers of Jesus who came from Israel. We might not fully understand the significance of this, but for those followers they are facing a significant crisis of identity. To the people of Israel, the Torah was important. The books of Moses, what we know as the books of the Law, set them apart from the rest of the world. Without this who are they?

As we read through the gospels and the book of Acts, we notice the greatest threat to the Israelites was to be put out of the synagogue. The synagogue during the first century was the center of the Israelite culture. The synagogue was the center of education. It was the place where disputes were brought for discussion and justice was sought. The synagogue was more than a place of worship, it was the hub of their very society. And these synagogues were ruled by various scribes or teachers of the law, some of which were priests that had rotational obligations at the temple.

If the synagogue was the place of cultural acceptance and unity among the people, the temple was the place of acceptance within the larger story. The temple connected the synagogues or the people with the divine. To be put out of the synagogue severed not only your place within a community, but it questioned the very core of your identity. You were a member of God’s people, and now you are denied access to the only place where communion with God was found. Every time you approached that holy place scandal followed. The apostle Paul faced this struggle. One of the reasons for his arrest was that it was believed that he had brought a Gentile inside the place within the temple reserved only for the chosen people of God. The person in question was a friend from Ephesus who was seen with Paul in Jerusalem, but there was no evidence that he had brought him into the temple, it was all based on assumptions. This did not stop the accusations, and Paul was accused and beaten nearly to death.

The earliest followers of Jesus faced great struggles. They faced persecution, they faced false accusations, they faced ridicule. They faced all of this for one reason, they believed that God through Jesus was restoring all people. This new theology threatened what those within the religious community taught. It questioned their understanding and their power.

We sometimes do not recognize the power acceptance within a community has on us, even as adults. We recognize that acceptance is important to students we speak a great deal about peer pressure among the younger members within our community. Influences that our peers might make in our lives that might lead us into behavior that our community has accepted as being deviant in some way. When I was a student, this largely revolved around the consumption of Alcohol. We do our best to teach our children the dangers the world might pull them into and how those things might trap us into a life and lifestyle that is not best for them. Often though the teaching comes across as legalistic adherence to rules that no one can fully explain. Which often drives our children toward the very lifestyle we tried to convince them to avoid.

This is what those first century believers were facing. One side is urging them to return to the life they grew up in and the other is urging them to remain with Christ. One side has centuries of well thought out and presented teachings, and the other is a mystery. One lifestyle everyone knows their place, and the other is an adventure opening before them.

We find ourselves in positions like this. We all hesitate at the very thought of change. This is why the writer of Hebrews takes such pains in explaining the priesthood and comparing it to Christ. “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” How many of us have thought about the sacrifices that were offered in the temple? I am going to make a wild guess and say nearly none of us. I say this because for two thousand years we have been reading the teachings of the Old Testament through the eyes of the New. The confusing sacrifices mention in the Torah we easily cover with Jesus because we have had this taught to us. It might surprise us that not one sacrifice ever took away sin. Not one.

It might be a shocking statement because we often read about sin offerings, I even spoke a couple of weeks ago about the offering made on the Day of Atonement. From our perspective these offerings were made to remove the sin, but that was not the intent. The sacrificial system was set up to illustrate the separation of humankind and the divine realm. We often look at the work done by the priests as making the people acceptable before God, but in reality, all the sacrifices are there to prevent our sinfulness from infecting the sacred places. The blood of the animals sacrificed during the rituals could never redeem the people, they were there to remind us that our sinfulness had a cost and if we wanted to have communion with God it would also come with a price. In today’s imagine we as humans are infected with the virus of sin, and the sacrifices are like masks. They are used to help prevent the spread of the disease, but not a cure.

Every day people would bring offering to the tent or the temple. Every day the priest would do their duty within that sacred space. Every day the entire community would look and watch as people struggled to the carry or drag livestock through the city and standing in line as countless other attempt to do the same. And everyone knows something. They know what each animal is for because they themselves have had to bring one at some point. Imagine the gossip that might erupt if someone in high standing within the community had to walk through town dragging a few bulls behind them.

The sacrificial system is not a cure, it is a visual reminder of our inadequacies. It is a testimony to the entire community that even the most righteous among us cannot stand before God, without a protective barrier. The writer of Hebrews says why would you want to go back to that? Why would you want to return to a system where there is no assurance, where there is not true communion.  “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering, he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

One single sacrifice. The writer of Hebrews is showing us that what Christ offers is greater than anything we can offer. Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, while the priests of the temple are skittering around the footstool. He is right there with God.

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is through his flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

Jesus opens before us something even greater than Israel experienced before. True friendship with God. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” Through Jesus we are invited back. We are called to enter once again that place our first parents experienced before the deception in the garden. We are called to walk with God once again, not as creatures but as friends and members of his family. Through Jesus everything that once separated us from God is removed and forgotten, we are renewed and restored. We can know this because Jesus told his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for us. We know this because he told Thomas, “You believe because you have seen, blessed are those that believe yet have not seen.” We have not seen the risen Christ yet the place He prepared for his disciples is also open to us if we believe.

What is belief? I have mentioned often that there are three types of belief. The first is knowledge. We know something and we accept that knowledge in our minds. The second type of belief is trust. This form of belief recognizes that what we know has merit so we begin to enact it into aspects of our life. The third type or stage of belief is entrusting. This level of belief is faith. We have recognized not only the merits of the knowledge and observed it in some aspects of our lives. Now we have confidence to entrust what we have to that lifestyle. This is what Jesus and the writer of Hebrews is calling us to. Life filled with meaningless effort, or a life of Friendship with Christ.

There is power in the argument made by the author of this letter. Every animal sacrificed for the altar in the temple did not return to the flock. Yet Christ was crucified before the entire nation on a cross. He was sealed in a tomb, not just sealed but guarded because the teachers of the law listened to Jesus as he taught and they knew that he said destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days. They placed guards at the tomb because they knew that something might happen, because they knew that this same Jesus had restored to life a man that had been buried several days in tomb. Jesus laid in that tomb surrounded by guards, yet on the third day the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty of everything but the grave clothes. The tomb was empty, and everyone knew it because they had put a seal on the stone. Now they must explain why. The disciples claimed that Jesus was restored to life. Not just one or two, but scripture tells us that he appeared and ate with all the disciples, and to his unbelieving brother, and to the seventy, and Paul tells us Jesus appeared to more than five hundred at the same time. Jesus rose from the dead. Death is the penalty of sin, yet Jesus overcame death and is restored to life. We that believe are joined into that life, even though we face death we know that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, because he has faithfully proven this.

Why continue to strive with empty rituals of righteousness? Why do we continue to struggle to merit God’s acceptance through our own actions and abilities? Why do we continue to try to prove to those around us that we are good enough in ourselves? All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Not one of us is righteous in ourselves. But while we were still sinners Christ died for us. While we still lacked faith, Christ rose for us. And while we still struggle Christ speaks for us to his Father, saying they are my friends.

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,” the author says. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” This takes us back to peer pressure. The term to stir up is to provoke. Usually this is a negative thought, but just as we can be provoked or irritated enough to participate in the lusts of this world, we can also be provoked or encouraged to do good. The author encourages us, to turn away from the pressures of the religious, and the world and to focus on something greater. Provoke each other to love, and to good works. This is not empty attempts of righteousness to gain God’s favor, but participation in what Jesus has started in us. He has removed the sting of death and given us the hope of life everlasting through him. Our sins are forgotten by God, and Jesus is whispering in the Father’s ear that we are his friends so we can boldly approach God not as creatures but as restored members of God’s divinely appointed steward of the earth. We can once again assist God in making the entire earth into Eden where we can once more walk with God.

Let us become people of encouragement. Let us be tributaries of God’s love and blessing to others. Let us become people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. Let us become Friends of God. This is all ours through the freely given grace provided to us through Jesus. Who passed through the heavens to become the son of man, who was sacrificed outside the city and buried in a tomb, and who rose again to overcome death and restore us to life. Let us not neglect meeting together to celebrate our hope. And let us be provoked not to anger or sin, but to love and good works.


If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:

https://secure.piryx.com/donate/nlcsJT87/Willow-Creek-Friends-Church/

To help support the personal ministry of JWQuaker (Jared Warner) online and in the community click to donate.

Skittering Around the Footstool

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

November 7, 2021

Click to Join our Meeting for Worship

Click to read in Swahili

Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Hebrews 9:24–28 (ESV)

24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

The letter of Hebrews is a letter filled with emotion. As we have read through this letter, have you noticed this? The author is pleading with those that hear the words to consider what, who, and where they are. The author is reminding those within the community of who they were, and who they are. This writer is pleading with those who will listen to recognize and hold on to the truth.

We often look at this letter and we identify key themes; one is Jesus is a priest. If you have not recognized that over the past couple of weeks, then might need to start making coffee again. The other theme that most of us recognize is later in the chapter where the author speaks of faith. Most of us only remember the chapter about faith, the rest of the letter we find strange and repetitive. Well at least I do.

But I have enjoyed going through this letter this year. I have enjoyed it because it has challenged me. I have been a pastor here at Willow Creek for nearly twelve years. This blows my mind a bit, I feel like I am still the new guy in the church and yet I also feel as if I have been here forever. At times we get used to being in one place, in one role, in one group and we forget why we are even there. I feel like I am new because there is so many opportunities that are all around us and it seems as if we have just started the journey. And then there are times where we seem to just continue going through the motions without ever thinking about what it is we are doing.

Twelve years. You might have noticed that I do not normally go into the letters over the past twelve years. I tend to preach in the gospel and leave the letters and the passages in the Old Testament for classes and Bible studies. I tend to do this for one reason, the letters and the Old Testament require a great deal of time, research, and study. There are things going on throughout the letters that we do not necessarily see in the pages of scripture that are influencing what is being said, and if we do not take the time to fully research and study those things, we can use our own culture to fill in the gaps.

This can be done through all of scripture, but I find the letters as being more difficult because these letters are filled with catchy phrases that we love to memorize and unfortunately take out of context. We have all done this, we have all used the writings of Paul and the other apostles to provide some support to our various positions. And we will continue to do this because we are human. We have ideas in our heads and when we see words that support our ideas, we put them out there as proof that we are right.

This is why I tend to shy away from the letters. I love the letters they are some of the most meaningful and encouraging scriptures, but they can also be used to divide and cause injury. They are used in this manner so easily because they were written for similar purposes. They were written to defend one idea over another. They were written to provide encouragement to continue in a way of life, to speak to a misunderstanding, or to highlight abusive behaviors.

The writer of Hebrews is encouraging the community to remain faithful to Christ. This was one of the earliest letters written, and it was written because those that believed were struggling. The early church in many ways resembled the gatherings of the first century synagogue because it was filled with people that emerged out of that lifestyle. The first followers of Christ were ethnic and religious Jews. They were by in large descendants from the tribe of Judah and could trace their heritage back to Israel. There were certain cultural understandings attached to this. The Jewish people have a rich history, both culturally and religiously. They had the greatest temple built to a single deity in all human history, and they were proud of this. Even the disciples of Jesus were proud of who they were and wanted Jesus to affirm their pride.

The thing about pride is it can often be misplaced. They marveled at the temple constructed by their hands and Jesus told them that on the day of the Lord not one stone would be left standing. Their pride was in themselves, not the God who was believed to be dwelling inside.

This pride continued even after the church emerged. The apostles knew that Jesus was greater. They knew that he had the words of life and they followed him. But pride hung Jesus on a cross. Jesus challenged the accepted cultural narrative, he exposed the sin within the religious pride, and that exposure angered the ones that benefited from that system. Their pride was misplaced, and when we misplace honor, we participate in sin.

This pride plagued the early church. We are told that Jesus came first to the Jews, and rightfully so. It is to and through the Jewish people that God made his revelation. God called Abraham. He chose him to be his portion, his people of all the people walking the earth. He chose him, and that choice was made so that through this one nation God could reveal the truth to all people. Why that nation? Why were they chosen? Are they better than everyone else?

The truth of this chosen people is that they were not great in themselves. They were in many ways least. In Genesis we are informed of the fall of humankind. Adam and Eve were deceived in the garden by the shining one that we commonly known as a serpent. I say the shining one, because serpent is a bit misleading. Snakes do not talk, yet Eve had a conversation with it. Adam and Eve’s job was to have dominion over the earth, they were to name and care for the animals and tend to God’s creation. They knew the animals, and yet a snake deceived Eve? She knew this being to be what it was, it was an intelligent being, a being devoted to God’s service, what we would call an angel. She listened to this being because from her experience it should have been speaking truth and assisting them in their divinely appointed work. Yet this being was in rebellion against God and convinced our first parents that to do the work God wanted them to do, they needed something that God was withholding from them.

This is what we all know as the fall of humanity, but that is only part of the story. Later we hear about a man called Noah. Noah was the only righteous man in all the earth. The entire rest of the population was corrupted and lead away from the one true God. And in this story, there is something strange. We are told the sons of God lusted after the daughters of men, and these interactions were what caused God to destroy the earth with a devastating flood. Who were the sons of God? Who were the daughters of men? Why would it matter? Some believe that this is a similar story to that of Adam and Eve. They say that the sons of God were spiritual beings in rebellion against God, and that these beings were giving and filling humanity with knowledge that was causing harm and destruction. And God needed to stop this rebellion so he initiated the flood to prevent greater destruction.

Then there is a third story, the tower of Babel. In this story humanity was inspired to build a tower to reach the heavens, so that they could have access to the divine realm. This prompted God to confuse the languages and scatter the people. In Deuteronomy we are told that God divided the nations among the sons of God. He left the people of the world under the dominion of the spiritual rebels, but chose one people to be his potion, Jacob. It is only after this scattering that Abraham is called to follow God. It is in this divine and spiritual battle over the hearts and minds of the people that God called his people, for one reason. He was going to gain victory over this spiritual rebellion, while reclaiming and restoring humanity to their rightful place.

This rebellion began because those beings were jealous of humanity. God created us to rule over the earth as his representatives. He did not give that task to the beings we know as angels. We were the last beings created, and we were given power over the angels. Some of those beings desired to destroy humanity. They thought if they could get humanity to turn from God, then God would reject and destroy humans. Pride and jealousy cause destruction, sin, and death. But God did not give up on us.

He established his portion through a single man, Abraham. And through this one man he built a nation, and through this nation, God came to dwell among us. But somewhere along the way the story was twisted. Pride reentered the nation. The idea of chosen to assist God in redeeming the world became chosen for other purposes. And that pride distracted from and twisted the truth. Israel exists to redeem humanity.

The community surrounding the writer of Hebrews is caught in this narrative. They want to follow Christ, yet their pride as children of Israel is also extremely attractive. Their heritage is enticing them to come back. They know their history; they know their place within that history. And following Christ is difficult, because the rest of the community around them is urging them to follow a different path.

The writer of Hebrews says, “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” The whole narrative of Christ as priest is focused on how the Old Testament and the cultic practices of the temple are a mere shadow of the reality that is within Christ. Human hands made the temple. Human hands fashioned the altar, the lamp, even the Ark of the Covenant itself. The religious practices of the sacrificial system, although instituted by Moses and one hundred percent part of scripture, were not the full story. They were illustrations that pointed to something more, something greater. The human priesthood in all its honor was still corrupt and filled with sin. It would never fully connect us to God because it was built by and employed men. Every year blood would need to be carried into the holiest place and placed on the altar. Every year this life-giving organ, dedicated only to God within the religious practices of Israel, would be offered to God. It is a symbol that we are not enough. We do not have the power over life and death. We can only offer a symbol and hope for the best. We know we are not enough because the blood is not of our own. It is provided by a spotless, perfect animal. Have we ever really thought about that? The Israelites offered things to God that they had no control over. The perfect animals were offered to God, the creator. They could not use those animals for themselves. Meaning their breeding programs would always contain, imperfect stock, so everything they offered was a blessing provided by God.

Every year, these priests would go into the holy place created by human hands, begging that God would be faithful to his promise, even though humanity failed. Every year. And they knew full well that the system could fail, they had already experienced it. Their history recorded that eighty-three percent of their nation had been completely lost. Ten out of the twelve tribes were totally cut off from a relationship with God within the temple. And even the two tribes left were exiled to Babylon, due to their unfaithfulness. None of the sacrifices made by men could guarantee acceptance before God.

But Christ entered that holy place, not made by the hands of men. He entered heaven itself and appears before God’s very throne for us. I want us to build a true image of this scene. The Ark of the Covenant was in the holiest place of the temple. This Ark is often called the Mercy Seat, but it has another name. It is the footstool of the throne of God. The footstool. The priests within the temple system never fully enter the place of God, they never command the full attention of God, because they are crawling around the place God rests his feet. But Jesus, enters that place human hands have not built. He is on a plain above the footstool, meaning he has full attention and access.

I want us to consider that image. Human priests at the footstool and Jesus standing face to face. Which is greater? This is what pride, jealousy, and sin is doing to us. If Jesus has the Father’s attention face to face, the actions at the footstool are not even seen. They are vain, empty, and powerless. They lack value because there is something greater available. It would be like rummaging through the trash eating the scraps left over from making a Thanksgiving Feast, when you have a place set at the table to enjoy the real thing. The rebellion of the angels, which was passed on to us through our first parents, which grew into the division of the nations and the failing of humanity, were all the result of misplaced pride and honor. It was the wisdom of created beings that causes our own failings. And our attempts of righteousness are like mice skittering around the feet of God. What is our righteousness? It is nothing without the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The author of Hebrews says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

Christ took on what we were unable to do on our own. He took our sin, our injustice, our inhumanity. He carried on his shoulders our attempts of righteousness which resulted in an unjust trial, execution, and burial of an innocent man. That is our righteousness, our pride, and our honor. We nailed Jesus to the tree. We do this constantly because in our pride, in our humanly wisdom, we continue to look at the world around us and attempt to make it into our image instead of making it into the world our creator intended. But while we were still sinners. While we were still trapped in the bondage of our best attempts of righteousness, Christ died for us. He took on our judgment so that when we stand before the throne of God, it is Jesus that stands there with and for us. No longer are we rats scurrying around the footstool but we are brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God. God does not see the sin that once separated us, God only sees love.

As it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. God loved humanity so much, that he took on the responsibility to bridge that gap, and all that believe in him no longer need to struggle in the bondage of sin, because he has released us to live life with him. Our righteousness is no longer bound to works of the flesh but are freed. We are free to love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and live the love of Christ with others. This is all God wants and desires. Let us now eagerly wait for him, and trust that in Him we have all we truly need.


If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:

https://secure.piryx.com/donate/nlcsJT87/Willow-Creek-Friends-Church/

To help support the personal ministry of JWQuaker (Jared Warner) online and in the community click to donate.

Translate

Meeting Times

816-942-4321
Wednesday:
Meal at 6pm
Bible Study at 7pm
Sunday:
Bible Study at 10am
Meeting for Worship 11am
%d bloggers like this: