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The Pathway Through the Wilderness

By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
December 5, 2021

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Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Today like every day we wait in anticipation. Today we hope to see the glory of God. Today like every day we look forward to the day of the Lord. Yet, like most days we are left seemingly in the same place we have always been.

This is what life with God is like. There are moments where we have great hope, and then there are moments where God is like a figment of our imagination. We want to believe but what is the use?

This is why this season is so important. This is why I actually take the time to take the approach that is a bit nontraditional among Friends to remember the church calendar. I think it is important for us to recognize the seasons, to feel the emotions, to join with ancient history and the universal confessional church in remembrance of the life of Jesus.

The church calendar was developed in a time of history where bibles were not readily available and even if they were available very few people could read the words inside. Yet during this time the church grew. There was not fancy PowerPoint presentations, there were not church bands, there were not programs for the students and adults to deepen their understanding of scripture. There were just lives lived and people telling the story.

They told the story in many ways. Some were gifted with artistic abilities so they would paint pictures on the walls of their meeting places. These icons of worship were more than decoration they were carefully devised depictions of the story, and these icons were used to aid in the teaching of those with the inability to read. Even to this day there are people that have dedicated their lives to this special art form, even though they are painting a picture the process is called writing. These Icon Writers prayerfully consider the story of the person or event and they incorporate as much of the complete story in the symbolic representation they are painting. As the art form has evolved over the past two thousand years we can see common themes. For instance, the perspective is usually off. The hands are small and the heads are larger. They do this because when viewing an icon they want us to know we are looking into a different perspective or a different realm then our own. In our world things that are at a distance appear smaller and they appear larger as they are moved closer. In an Icon the perspective is reversed, the deeper into the painting the larger things appear and the closer they are to the viewer the smaller they appear. 

Why do I say this? Why do I even care? These works of art connect us to the mind and the thoughts of people throughout the ages. We can see how they considered things and what their hopes were. But we are living in an age where Scripture is widely available, and most of us can read. We even have scripture available in multiple languages, and even several translations within one language to give us a greater understanding of what those inspired writers intended on saying. And every year as people study we gain even more understanding. You would think after studying for two thousand years we would know all we need to know, but the reality is that we have forgotten our history and at times our perspectives have been misplaced. 

This does not change the core message of scripture. From the very first book to the last there is an expressed longing for the restoration of what was lost. When we first open the pages of scripture we have a story of God creating. We are told that God created everything from the light, the water, the soil, the various animals that inhabit the regions of the earth, and finally humanity. When this process is complete God says it is very good. 

Our first parents were placed in a garden, called Eden, they were given a commission to go into all the earth, naming the animals, and bringing the earth into submission. Basically they were to become stewards of the earth so that the whole world would become like Eden. But soon after they were given this commission spiritual beings that were created to assist God, much like humanity, deceived our first parents into thinking that God was not giving them all the information they needed to perform their duties. Our first parents desired to do their job well, so they listened to these deceptive beings and they sought the knowledge that they were neglected from. Sin enters the world. In a moment we no longer had trust in God, we even lost trust of ourselves. We went from doing everything for the honor and glory of God, to vain striving where we can only trust our own observations. Adam could only trust himself, Eve could only trust herself. They might be working together but they were not able to fully trust anyone else because no one can know the inner mind of another without the other person revealing their mind. And it is difficult to reveal your mind if you do not know how the other people will react. In our desire to gain the knowledge we cut ourselves off from relationships and we allow fear to reign in us.

The sin of our first parents is more than breaking a rule. Sin is misplaced trust, sin is the lack of trust, sin is allowing fear to rule our lives instead of entrusting what we have to the will of our creator. We lack trust and yet we have this longing to be known. It is one of our greatest desires. One could say that it is an expression of our animalistic desires to propagate our genetic material, but it is more than that. We need companionship. This goes beyond a mere mate. We need friendships, we need community.

We divide into groups. Sometimes these groups are based on common heritage, at other times the groupings are based on similar ideologies. We have formed these communities on our own ideas and concepts. We have developed nations or people groups. We have developed ideologies and stereotypes to distinguish the differences between various groups and communities. And from these ideologies we have developed defenses, yet deep within each of these communities is a primeval desire of unity. We want the entire world to be like our group. This is a skewed view of that original commission given to our first parents.

We desire a greater community. We want the whole world to be united and yet in this desire for unity we have instituted more and greater violence. We trust only our group, those outsiders we hold in suspicion. Why, because they are not like us. They may not have the same goals and desires as we have. They might not have the same political leanings. They might not give me what I want. The cycles continue. And yet we desire the restoration.

This is advent. This season of holy anxiety allows us to recognize this desire for restoration, while we also recognize that if left to our own devices we can deeper into rebellion. The fall of humanity happened early in the Genesis, but the interesting thing is God did not give up. Even though Cain brought in violence, God used the children of Cain for his purposes just as much as he used the children of Seth. It was through Cain that the concepts of civilization were brought about. Cain’s lineage had the technology, and these ideas influenced even righteous. heirs of Seth. To the point that when Noah was called to build the ark, he was the only righteous man left. 

Cain shows us the heritage of humanity’s striving. We can develop wonderful societies, massive cities, outstanding technologies, but what is the cost? There is constant mistrust. There is fear that someone may not care enough about me. Cain’s punishment was to live after he killed his brother Abel. Cain lived but he carried a mark, we are not told what this mark actually was. There are some pretty interesting concepts that have been brought about throughout history, but in reality not a single one stands to scrutiny. I personally think the mark is not something tangible. I think the mark of Cain is suspicion. Cain did not trust, he was afraid that everyone was out to kill him so he withdrew and only let in people that he came to trust. The mark of Cain resides on us all, because we are all suspicious people. This suspicion is what drives our civilization, this suspicion is why we have nations, racism, and  politics. 

God uses this to build his restoration. Even after the flood sin was not abolished and Eden was not restored. Civilizations were once again established and God scattered them. This scattering only deepened our suspicious nature. Wars began to be fought and empires were formed. This continues even to this day. Yet there was one group that was called out of all the nations to follow a different path.

God the Most High, the creator of all things visible and invisible, in his desire to restore his creation left all the people to their own devises but he called one old man, Abraham. And through this one man He revealed the truth. There is one coming that will provide the way to restoration, and through Him God will restore all things. 

For most of history, the idea of restoration was similar to the rest of the nations. We will establish a kingdom, a nation of land with boarders and will expand our influence in that manner. Israel obtained their promised land, and they lost their promised land due to their own rebellion. This tells us something about God and land. His dominion is greater than our concepts, yet he will use our concepts to teach us something greater. They had land, just as they were promised, but land can be lost and gained in war. 

Even when God had no physical nation, no land he still had influence. Even when his people were in exile he still ruled. Yet the people longed for a land. We need a place to call home, we need our garden of Eden. The place we feel safe, secure, accepted and known. Through the language of longing and restoration of the nation we get some insight into this anticipation of hope. 

Malachi 3:1–4 (ESV)
1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Then in the second temple period they began to listen to the writings of Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch and he said:
Baruch 5:1–9 (NRSV)
1 Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. 2 Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting; 3 for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven. 4 For God will give you evermore the name, “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.” 5 Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them. 6 For they went out from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne. 7 For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. 8 The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command. 9 For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.

Then as the people became established once again in the land they continued to have a longing the father of John the Baptist is recorded as saying:

Luke 1:68–79 (ESV)
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; 72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

They have their nation, they have been delivered from their enemies yet there is still a deeper longing.  “To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The restoration of humanity is more than a nation, but it is a change of perspective. It is turning away from the manners and methods of men and taking on a redeemed lifestyle. Not just for Israel but for all flesh.

Luke 3:1–6 (ESV)
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

What do we make of these words? His paths straight, every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways? Is God about to make the entire earth as flat as the prairies of Kansas? No, these are illustrations telling us that the struggles we face under the mark of Cain, the suspicious nature of humanity will no longer be what motivate and divide us. The things once thought to be impossible can be done because of the influence of God. Mountain ranges and river valleys are the natural boundaries we use in determining boarders. Mexico is south of a river and the United States is north and Canada is on the other side of the great lakes. Missouri is on the Eastern bank of the Missouri River and Kansas is on the west. And the original western boarder the Kansas territory went all the way to the Rocky Mountains. 

The language that the prophet is using is telling us that the things we once used to divide will no longer matter. We will no longer be living under the mark of Cain, but the mark of Christ. Paul says this to the people of Philippi

Philippians 1:3–11 (ESV)
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

The longing of the season is that we seek Jesus in a greater way. That we continue to move toward him. We sit in this period of holy anxiety where we realize that we and those around us continue to governed by the ways of men, yet we long for the days were we can leave our fear behind us and live free in Christ. There is a pathway through the wilderness. There is a trail through the mountains.  Our hope and our God lived among us and his spirit guides us. Who will we listen to, and who will we follow?

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About jwquaker

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


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