By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
February 27, 2022
Luke 9:28–36 (ESV)
28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
Luke 9:37–43 (ESV)
37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. 40 And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astonished at the majesty of God. But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples,
Today, we are again meeting together during a time of confusion and fear. We do not know what our future holds, we do not know what the kingdoms of men will do. We do not know. This confusion, this lack of knowledge, this lack of direction can allow fear to grip our hearts. I want us to recognize that fear in our own hearts. I want us to acknowledge that we are in fact afraid. I want us to realize that at times we will make decisions and act out of fear and how often those actions are contrary to our testimonies as Friends of Christ.
I must admit that I succumb to fear. This week has been a difficult one for me. As I look at the news my heart has been torn. As many of you know I spent time teaching English in the nation of Ukraine. Some of you may also be aware that one of my favorite authors is from Russia. And most of you know that I love my own nation. When I look at the news my emotions are mixed. My heart is pulled in multiple directions. And I can barely think.
Along with all the turmoil the kingdoms of men are causing, I am also aware of the things that are happening in our own lives and even in our churches. We have this intimate desire to fight, to be right, to be in charge, and control the future destiny of our lives. I have engaged in the arguments. I have engaged in the verbal battles of ideas, and I must repent of my own strong headedness. But I do this for one reason, there are people loved by God on all sides.
Today we meet Jesus in the most fascinating scene in all of scripture. This is a mysterious and almost frightening scene. It gives great hope, while at the same time it is just weird to the point scholars just do not know what to make of it. I say this because the words used in much of this passage allude to things and yet they do not. Luke in this passage uses words that he does not often use. Is he speaking of Old Testament fulfillment or is he speaking into eschatological shadows? This passage is shrouded in wonderous mystery.
It begins, “And now about eight days after…” How many of you know the significance of the eighth day? The eighth day is often regarded as the future day of the Lord, the day of new creation. When I was getting my master’s degree from Friends University in Wichita, we had to obtain several very odd books to study from. Many of these books were difficult to find and even the university book story struggled to keep them in stock. But there was one bookstore in town that had them all. The name of that bookstore is Eighth Day Books. I love this store. I try to visit it every time I go back to Wichita, because it is not just a bookstore. Yes, it is, filled with shelves of books. But these books are not what you would find at Barnes and Noble. There are classic books of literature, there are political science, philosophy, and history books. But along with these are books of theology and Christian spirituality. They have works from every corner of Christian thought from the various branches of Eastern Orthodox thought to Quakers. Yes, they have Quaker books. And they have Orthodox Icons. It is like you walk into a sacred library when you go into this place. But I always wondered why it was called Eighth Day Books. This bookstore is owned and operated by a very devout Orthodox Christian, and the reason he called it Eighth Day is because of his deep faith. Many believe that God created the world in six days, and on the seventh day he rested. We get the rhythm of the sabbath from this creation narrative. But this keeps cycling from one to seven and back to one. Many believe also that this narrative speaks of ages instead of days, and that what we regard as human history is the era of the seventh day, God is at rest. The eight day is when God becomes active once more.
About eight days after, Luke begins. Is this alluding to this theological concept of new creation of God’s return to active participation in the temporal affairs of Earth? We do not know. Some scholars believe that this is why Luke uses the term eight, because usually they would use the word seven instead. While others simply believe that Luke is saying just over a week later. Just over a week from what?
The gospel accounts as most of us know are not the same. This troubles some people. It troubles them because we have perpetuated a flawed understanding of inspiration of scripture. Many believe, like me that God has inspired the writing of Scripture. But if God has inspired it, shouldn’t everything be accurate? This illuminates the flaw in our understanding of inspiration. God did not dictate scripture, he inspired. God used the unique perspectives of devout disciples to reveal himself to the world. The fact that Mark and Luke differ in how things are presented does not mean that scripture is not inspired it simply means that Mark and Luke are two different individuals that were inspired to write different things. In Luke Jesus had just fed the multitude in the region of Bethsaida, this is just north of the sea of Galilee. After the disciples had finished cleaning up after this massive feast and gathered the twelve baskets of leftovers. Jesus asks them a question. “Who do the crowds say that I am?” The disciples answer Elijah, John the Baptist or one of the prophets. And after this starts the conversation, Jesus asks a follow-up question, “Who do you say that I am?”
The scene has similarities throughout the various gospel accounts but the location is not always specified. In Mark, this conversation happens further north than Bethsaida, in Caesarea Philippi. I do not want this to cause questioning, because in Matthew, Mark, and Luke they all have this conversation happening after Jesus fed a multitude around Bethsaida. Luke just does not mention that Jesus and his disciples moved further north. All three mention the feeding, the conversation, and after this conversation Jesus is found on a mountain praying.
The conversation that occurred just prior to today’s passage happened at a particular place that has a long history. A history that reaches to the pages of Genesis. So often we think the reason the world is corrupt is because of the fall in the Garden of Eden when our first parents ate from the tree God commanded them to not eat from, but this is just part of the story. Later in Genesis we find an odd story just prior to the flood narrative about Sons of God lusting after the daughters of men. This story in our bible does not have a great deal of context, but in the ancient cultures surrounding Israel there is a great deal of context. It is the site of divine rebellion and spiritual warfare. Those spiritual beings that rebelled against God and prompted the fall of humanity continued to deceive our ancestors. And some ancient writers believe that these Watchers, or rebellious spiritual beings, came down to Mount Hermon and gave them forbidden knowledge and became intimate with humanity. We know that the story of the flood can be found in the writings of other ancient cultures, but there is another story that can also be found. The story of the gods visiting humanity and producing the great warriors of ancient days. We see glimpses of this the mythology of the Greeks, Babylonians, Persians, as well as in the Hebrew bible. The offspring of this union were the giants, the titan, or the gods of ancient mythology that were thrown into hell after a spiritual battle. And in the region of Caesarea Philippi, around Mount Hermon there is a cave that was believed to be the portal to place these giants were imprisoned. We would call this the gates of hell.
Jesus asks the disciples who do they and who do you say that I am, and Simon confesses, “You are the Christ.” And after this Simon was called Peter, and Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
I mention this because we are not alone in our battles. We are fighting against forces seen and unseen. We are being influenced by powers that may come from human and spiritual places. I am not a charismatic teacher, but I believe scripture. Paul says we do not struggle against flesh and blood only but powers and principalities. There is a war going on that transcends what we see. A war. A war that started over the jealousy of spiritual beings over the creation of humanity and God’s desire to dwell with us in the garden. A battle that still wages because each faction of humanity wants to believe that they are the ones that have God’s divine favor.
After the flood, there was a third rebellion in Genesis, the tower of Babel. From that rebellion God scattered the people of the earth and confused the languages. We are told that he divided the earth among the powers and that he maintained Israel as his allotment. It is through Israel that God chose to reveal the truth. It is through Israel that the word of God is given to humanity.
A week after the conversation about who Jesus is occurs, Jesus withdraws to an isolated place to pray. I cannot fully express the importance of prayer in our spiritual lives. Prayer is where we are given strength. It is through prayer that we are given direction. It is in prayer that we join and commune with God. As Friends prayer is our expression of communion how we express our union and devotion to Christ. It is through the prayer that we join with God in his kingdom, and in prayer that we are guided into ministry. Jesus goes to the isolated place to pray, and he takes his three closest friends with him.
While Jesus is praying, something profound happens. Luke tells us that the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became a dazzling white. The English does not do this justice. We say dazzling but this word in Greek means to flash like lightening. Jesus is praying and before their very eyes, they see power. They see energy. They see the unshrouded divine nature of Jesus, clothed in the pure energy that was the first cause, causing the creation of the world. They saw a glimpse of the Big Bang! I want us to imagine this scene. The images we have seen in art have Jesus in white clothing but this does not do it justice. Jesus was flashing lightening, clothed in the brightness of the sun. The disciples are looking at God.
And something else happens. Two men are seen talking with him as he prays. Moses and Elijah. And they catch waves of the conversation. “Who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” I want us to consider this for a moment. Who are these men? Again, scholars find this to be a mysterious scene. Some will say that it is a foreshadowing of the two witnesses of Revelation, so liken this scene to the eschatological fulfilment yet to come. Yet others see this as being a symbolic representation of God’s revelation to humanity, the law and the prophets speaking to the true word of God which is Christ. I like the later view personally. John tells us, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of will of man, but of God. And the Word become flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John in his introduction to his gospel I believe speaks of this encounter. He speaks of light and the word. He speaks of his own people, and the world. He speaks of dwelling among his people and children of God. He speaks of knowing and not knowing. John is speaking of this divine battle between the powers of rebellion and God. Everything goes back to the beginning and the end. Everything revolves around God’s ultimate plan and design.
Peter, James, and John saw Jesus fully and clearly. They saw him speaking to the law and the prophets, they saw him as the fulfillment and the true word of God. They saw the rebellion perpetrated on that mountain and they saw that God was about to reverse all that had happened and restore creation to its rightful place. They see this and they are confused. They are unable to fully understand what is occurring around them. And in this confusion Peter says, “Let’s make three tents.”
We look at this statement as Peter wanting to dwell or stay in this mountain top experience. I have even spoken from this position. We have all had times where we feel extremely close to God and we desire to keep this going. How can we keep the spiritual energy flowing when we come down from the mountain? Peter says let us build a tent. I have thought that as well at times. I personally often have great spiritual experiences when I go to the mountains of Colorado. I am fully aware that if I were offered a ministry position in the mountains, I would struggle to say no. I would want to stay because in my mind I would be closer to God in that place. But life must go on. We come down from the mountains and the struggles of daily life come back into play.
But Peter sees something that we often miss. He wants to build a tent not only to preserve the spiritual experience but also to restore Eden. The tent or tabernacle in ancient Israel was where God dwelt with them in the wilderness. Peter desires intimacy with God. He desires the restoration and reconciliation. He might not have understood what he was saying completely but God sees through our intentions and reveals the truth.
At that moment, a cloud came and overshadowed them. What is the cloud? A cloud overshadowed the mountain when Moses received the law. The cloud entered the tabernacle in the desert and entered the temple of Jerusalem. The cloud is God’s tabernacle. And through the cloud they hear a voice. “This is my Son, my Chosen One, listen to him.”
Peter made a confession, and God confirmed his confession. Jesus the embodied word of God came to dwell with us. He pitched his tent among us. He did this so that we could be restored to our rightful place. From the beginning of time God’s only desire was to dwell with his creation not because he needs us but he wants us to dwell with him.
God desires to dwell with us, but the war rages on. Just as the full nature of Jesus was shrouded, the origin of our desires and will is shrouded. We are not always aware of where our ideas come from. Are they from God or the kingdoms of men? Where does our help come from? And can we be deceived? We are surrounded by spiritual powers and desires of this world. Where is our attention?
Peter had his heart in the right place, and yet in his desire to follow Christ he opposed the will of God. He wanted God to dwell on earth. He so desired this that he was blind. The glory of God and his desire to be close caused him to forget the ultimate mission. We have always been called to make the world around us like Eden, the kingdom.
And we come back to the eighth day. God created the world and commissioned us to make the world like Eden, while He rested on the seventh day. The eighth day all things are restored. Peter wanted to jump to the eighth day without fully completing the mission set before us. And Jesus shows them this. The next day they went down and continued to minister. They pushed back the forces of darkness and reflected the light of God. I ask if this is where we find ourselves?
In our desire to be close do God, do we pray that the Lord will return? I know we do, how could we not. It is our greatest desire. In that day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. But the reality is that God so loves the world that he does not wish that even one person will pass into eternity without knowing him. As we wait for that day, God also waits. And as time continues to move forward the distractions get greater. And we are called even more to love God, embrace the Holy Spirit and to live the love of Christ with others. God revealed the truth, and he called us to listen to him. But will we listen? Will we enact? Will we participate in the prayer of Christ that His kingdom come, His will be done on earth as it is in heaven?
The world around us is filled with fear and turmoil. In the kingdoms of men, we find only uncertainty and postures of power. We like to say that we are the good and they are the bad, but the reality is that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. God does not want Christian governments, he wants us. He wants his people, those that believe in him to reflect the divine light he shares to those who are in the darkness. This Transends the kingdoms of men and extends into the heavens. But that does not begin in Washington DC, or Kyiv or Moscow. That begins right here. It begins in our hearts. Will we stop looking at the kingdoms of men and begin to live Eden in our communities. Will we stop waiting and pitching tent, and instead share the hope that we have in Christ. Will we listen to Him?
If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:
To help support the personal ministry of JWQuaker (Jared Warner) online and in the community click to donate.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
February 20, 2022
Luke 6:27–38 (ESV)
27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. 32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. 37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Most of us know the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount and on the Plain. Much of the words we have committed to memory and yet we struggle with incorporating them into our lives. Last week we looked at the section of blessing and woes. Blessed are the poor and woe to the rich. I think I might have brought out something that most of us have not considered. The terms rich and poor do not necessarily represent wealth but perspective. The poor are those that are oppressed, neglected, and lorded over. In most cases the poor are those without worldly wealth, but this is not always the case. The poor are those without a voice. Those that are not allowed to participate in the direction of the culture.
The opposite of the poor is commonly seen as the rich, but this is not the complete story. The opposite of poor is the violent. The rich are those that have the power to enforce rules, they are the ones that control the means of production and rule those that do not have that power. The rich in ancient cultures, and in many ways today, are those that govern and have a monopoly on the use of force. Force is the opposite of poor, and this is why Jesus states that the poor will always be among you. There will always be people that fall through the cracks of society, there will be portions of the population that hold a minority voice and therefore laws seem to deny them the things that others may enjoy. We often see them as the other. It is an us or them mindset. When we get into this mindset we often fail to recognize the imagine of God that they too possess. And when we deny the image of God in the others, we participate in the violence against them and are living in a life of sin.
These verses contain a great deal more than we might otherwise think. But it is important to recognize the reality of the rich and poor before we move forward. It is important to recognize how easy it is to participate in these sorts of activities. For the past couple of weeks we have watched as Russia and Ukraine have come to a stand off along their boarders. We do not fully know what all is involved in this conflict of ideas because unfortunately when it comes to our media and Russia, we will always see them as the offending party. We see the people of Russia as the other. We see them as the ones exercising force on the poor. This might be the case, but in the eyes of Russia we are the one that are exerting power and they are the ones being oppressed. The response is one that is all to common in the kingdoms of men. Those that feel oppressed feel that their only options is to take up arms against the oppressing powers. They use fight against the oppression using the very violence they wish to alleviate.
When the poor or the oppressed use violence, they do not rid the world of the rich oppressor. They have not changed their way of thinking or the minds of the groups they see as other. They simply change the position of the groups, the poor become the rich and the rich become the poor and the cycle will continue throughout course of time, because there will always be poor among us. The cycle must stop.
We cannot fully grasp the verses we read today until we recognize that we are all poor in some way, and we are all rich. If we use the power that we possess no matter how large or small against the humanity of others we are participating in this struggle between rich and poor even if we do not possess what the world would see as wealth. We are the problem. We often find ourselves in the place where we label people loved by God as others. They are the ones that need to change, but that will not happen. We cannot force change. We cannot force those that have the power today to relinquish that power through violence. The only way change happens is if we look at ourselves first. How are we contributing to this seemingly never-ending cycle of otherness?
Jesus in today’s passage, right after he speaks about the blessings and the woes launches into the ethical teaching that defines his kingdom. He does not tell us that these are the things that we should do. Instead he is telling us that if we are truly participants in the kingdom, this is who we are. Those in the kingdom are by default poor. The Kingdom of God does not function as the kingdoms of this world. The kingdom of God is not based on power, but on mercy. It is not based on wealth but on charity. It is not based on might but on grace. The apostle Paul tells us these things remain faith, hope, and love and the greatest of these is love.
What is love? We live in a culture that has perverted this word to such a degree that we no longer even know what it means. We say things like we fell in or out of love and we base our actions on these terms. Love is greater than our cultural understanding. John, who tradition tells us is the disciple Jesus loved, says this in 1 John chapter 4:
“7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
God is love. Love flows to humankind through God and this is how God wants us to interact with the world. I know I sound a bit like a hippie, but they actually are not too far from the truth. They twist the truth a bit, but as the Beatles say, “all you need is love.”
John tells us that love is from God and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God, and if we do not love we do not know God because God is love. This tells us a great deal when it comes to the relationships we have within our culture. If we participate in any form of violence against those we see as others, we are not associating with the kingdom of God. We are working against God and his kingdom.
Jesus tells us, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.”
Love, do, bless, and pray. These are all present tense imperative words. This means that they are, for those that are part of the kingdom, a constant state. Just as there will always be poor among us, those in the kingdom will always approach the culture in this state of mind. We will love, do good, bless, and pray.
The Greek word we translate as love, self-giving. This is not lust; this is not necessarily the love that we have for our children or our parents. This is an action that denies our own self interest so that we can participate in encouraging those around into something better. Yes parents have this type of love for their children, but the difference is to whom this is directed. Our family is part of us, not them. This type of love transcends us, and is extended beyond to those who are other. When Jesus says love our enemies he is telling us, right off the bat, to stop the cycle of otherness.
We can no longer look at anyone as an enemy, because that is not how God see them. We were once all enemies of God, but while we were in that state of being, Jesus gave himself for our redemption. To love our enemies means that we must change our perspective. We can no longer hold a grudge, we cannot seek vengeance, and we cannot retaliate. We cannot interact with those around us as the world does because we are not part of their kingdom, we are part of something else. We are to love.
Do good to those who hate you. For most of us we cannot understand what this truly means, because we have not experienced true hate directed at us. This is why we should listen to the stories of those within our community. We need to listen to the life experiences and the stories of people of color, because many of them have experienced hate, where hate was not part of my life experience. The closest most of us have come to experiencing hate has been in the past couple of years where we were inconvenienced by mask mandates. Think about the divisiveness we have experienced by people that have a different perspective than you might hold. How are we responding? Are we actively do good for them? Our natural response to hate is to give it right back to them. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. If they burned our house we will burn theirs. This continues the cycle of violence within the world. Riots and looting are responses to hate. And our responses to these actions are also reflective of the same hate that boils deep within us. It is there even if we do not notice it. I say it is there because have we actively participated in doing good?
Bless those that curse you. I have experienced this. I have been wrongfully accused of things that I have not done. I have had to face disciplinary actions for accusations that cut deep into my character, and I have had to decide what to do. I have even had member of the church stand in my face screaming accusations that are false. How do we respond? They are cursing us. They are falsely accusing us. They are putting us into a position where we might lose our livelihoods. Do we retaliate? Those in the kingdom bless those that curse you. We continue to live our lives among them. We continue to show them a different way of life. And we continue to make sure they are not overlooked.
I must admit that I am not perfect in this. It is difficult to stand with people that have wrongfully accused you of things that you have not done. But it is necessary. It is necessary because every individual within our community is important. We need each other to accomplish the mission that God has placed before us. So we need to find a way forward, so that our community can succeed. And the only way we can find a way forward is through prayer.
Prayer is a conversation we have with God. It can be difficult at times because we do not have the words to say. This is why I will often use scripture to assist me in this. I will withdraw to an isolated place, often I will come and sit in this meetinghouse, and I will open up the scripture and I will let God know what is bothering me, and I will read and reflect of what God has inspired the prophets and apostles to write. I will pray that God will change those around me, but more often than not, God will change my perspective so that I can see how to interact with them in a different manner.
Jesus is telling us that this is how people that live in the kingdom act. This is their lifestyle and their culture. When God created the world and placed our first parents in the garden, he gave us a job to go into the world, name the animals, be fruitful and multiply, and to ultimately make the entire earth into what they experience in the garden. Many look at Eden as God’s goal. It is a place where heaven and earth come together, where we and God live together in complete harmony. This is the mission and the goal of God. That has never changed. When our first parents initially turned from God, we began to participate in something contrary to God’s plan. We were deceived into this, by a being that was jealous and did not fully understand God’s plans, but we listened to the voice of deception and the result caused death. Separation from life. Since that time we have had to strive among ourselves, we have had to determine what is good and what is evil. We have had to struggle against all the forces around us as we strive to build the kingdom that is still in our primal mind.
Our default setting no matter who we are or what we believe is to make the world into our image of good. This is our default because we are image bearers. The problem arises because we are distracted by other voices. We get ideas that we perceive as being for the good of others, but do we step back and look at the larger picture. Do we see the image and where our actions might lead? We define good and we define evil. And this is something that everyone around us is doing as well. We define. I define. We ally with those that have ideas that resemble our own. We ally with those that resemble us. And we make assumptions that anyone outside our group are evil. Jesus asks us what good is that? Even sinners love those that love them. Even sinners do good to those that do good to them. Even sinners give money with the expectation of receiving back what was given.
Even sinners. Most people believe themselves to be good people. They believe this because we define good in our own minds. But when someone called Jesus good he asked them why do you call me good, because only God is good. I believe that Jesus is good, and the point of Jesus’s statement was to bring an understand within that conversation that our definition of good should not reside in our own thoughts, but in something greater than ourselves. Most of you may believe that I am a good person. I only wish that I could live up to that. The reality is that I am just as stubborn as everyone else. I will argue my position. I will not back down, and I will fight for what I think is right. And many of you might agree with me. I can be wrong. I can misunderstand scripture. I can error, because I struggle just like everyone else.
We all do. But we are called to break the cycle. We are called to change the world. We are called to make the world we live in like Eden of ancient days. Jesus is telling us how to do this. We change the world by doing for others what we would like them to do to us. We stop the cycle by recognizing that of God in others and honoring that. We change the world by treating those we once regarded as enemies as friends. This does not mean we do not have conversations; it does not even mean that arguments will cease. We will still be humans and we will still have struggles. But in those struggles we will consider the position of others before we act.
As we enter this time of Holy Expectancy, I encourage you each to re-read this passage as we sit in silence. I encourage you to use this passage as you pray and have a conversation with God. In what ways do we need to repent? And how can we live this our in a greater way. The cycles of vilence in our own lives need to stop before we can change the world. And God is calling us to pray, “his kingdom come, his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:
To help support the personal ministry of JWQuaker (Jared Warner) online and in the community click to donate.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
February 13, 2022
Luke 6:17–26 (ESV)
17 And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, 18 who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all. 20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. 26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
Last week we joined Jesus and the future disciples on the shores of the sea. They had just worked all night doing the things that they did best, fish. It found it interesting that the way Jesus got Peter’s attention was through Peter’s own strengths not his weaknesses. Peter was a master of his trade. He knew what to do, he knew when to go. If you were to speak to someone that does a great deal of fishing, they know fish. They have specific places they go depending on the weather. They have particular tools they use in specific places, and if you were to try to use something other than what they use they are probably going to laugh at you. This is why last week’s story is so remarkable. We get a glimpse into the reality of the humanity of Simon Peter and that of Jesus.
We saw that Peter had respect for Jesus, because he did not think twice about putting out his boat to allow Jesus to teach more effectively. Peter knew Jesus as a teacher, he respected him as a teacher and rightfully so because prior to that day, possibly the very day before, Jesus had provided relief to Peter’s mother-in-law’s illness. But when Jesus began to encroach on Peter’s turf, we see something different. Jesus suggested that they row out to the deep and cast out the nets one more time. Peter pipes up and says, “wait right there Jesus. We have been out all night and caught nothing. You are being ridiculous, but because its you we will humor you just this once.” That of course is my own personal paraphrase so please do not quote it as an authoritative translation, but that is the sense. Peter did not want to trust Jesus in that area because in this instance Peter was an authority, not Jesus.
We all know that Jesus showed Peter something that day. Peter was shown that everyone has room for improvement. Just when we think we know everything, we find out that there is much more to learn. This is why I love bible study. There is not a day that goes by where I do not learn something that I did not know before. Every year scholars publish papers, articles, and books that investigate various aspects of grammar and the usage of particular words within ancient writings, and suddenly everything on the pages become vibrant again. There is always more to learn. We need to continue to learn to keep our minds active. When we stop learning, when cease filling our minds with new knowledge, we begin to notice something. We notice our brains have a leak. It is a leak that has always been there, we have all forgotten things along the way, but when we stop filling our minds with new learning our brains seem to lose the ability to retain information. Of course there are exceptions and pathogens that can affect this, but overall those that continue to learn have less trouble adapting to change than those that stop learning.
Peter thought that he was a master in his trade. People might have even come to him for advice, he might have even been the man that fathers would send their children to learn newer methods within the trade. Peter thought he knew his business. When Jesus filled his nets, Peter was struck with a reality that is often hard to swallow. He was not that exceptional.
I repeat this story because today we meet Jesus and the disciples in a similar place. When we read through scripture we recognize two major sermons from Jesus, they are often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain. These two sermons are similar, but there are some discrepancies as well. The first discrepancy is the location, or probably more accurately the orientation. I say this because in the sermon on the mount Jesus is on the hillside speaking down toward the people. And in the sermon on the plain, Jesus is on a plain speaking up toward people that are gathered. So even though the content of the message is similar, we are led to believe that Jesus presented these ideas at a couple of different times. I would venture to say that Jesus probably gave a sermon similar to this multiple times, maybe even every time he spoke.
I say this because that is what pastors do. We kind of get into a rhythm, there are key points that we find to have eternal importance, so we weave them into nearly every sermon we preach. You probably notice that in my own messages. I often repeat the holy rhythm of Jesus’s life. He made it his custom to worship with the community, he withdrew often to pray in isolated places, and he ministered to the needs of those within the community. There are not many weeks where this is not mentioned. And I mention this because I believe that disciplined lifestyle that I see in the witness of Scripture, is the very lifestyle that Jesus and the apostles are calling us to. When Paul urges us to put on Christ, he is suggesting that we live or reflect the lifestyle that Jesus lived. To be a disciple of a teacher, literally means that we practice their disciplines. I want us all to be disciples of Jesus, I want us all to be friends of Jesus, so as I prepare and present messages, I do want every I can remind you of what that lifestyle is.
Jesus is a great orator. Jesus had an ability to use the spoken word to cause people to think deeper and to change. One commentary writer said, “Power often divides, and great power easily, almost invariably, becomes coercive. The magnetism of Jesus’ unconditional love is a power that unites, however, drawing people into fellowship with himself.” When Jesus speaks, he does not speak like the great leaders of this world. So many of the leaders of this world look only to giving themselves or their group more power and influence. Jesus takes a different route. A route that many of us might miss. A route that we often overlook because all too often we get distracted by the systems of this world.
Jesus walks with his various disciples out to a level place, a plain. We are not told exactly where this plain is but we know that they are still in Galilee. If I were to make an educated guess, I am guessing that Jesus is most likely in the very place outside of Capernaum where last week’s sign with the fish occurred. I say this because there would be a level place where an entire community of fishermen could lay their nets out to dry, clean, and repair.
This crowd gathers, there they know that this community and these men from Capernaum have become the central location that Jesus travels from. And they come to listen to what he has to say. People have come from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and even from Tyre and Sidon. We may not recognize the importance of this at first glance, but the locations mentioned are important. They are in Galilee, which is not mentioned, but they are not mentioned because it would make sense that people from the surrounding area would be there. This is shortly after Jesus began his ministry. Jesus has remained in Galilee; he has only recently gathered the disciples that he will invest the most time with. His ministry is still a local thing, only within the area around the sea. Yet, people have heard of his work. People from Judea have traveled to listen. People from the capital city, the seat of the temple, left their sacred grounds to listen to him speak. And people from Tyre and Sidon are there. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that the people of Nazareth sought to kill Jesus and the reason they were upset was because he did not condemn people outside of the nation of Israel. He included the gentiles with the people of promise in the blessing of the Messiah. Tyre and Sidon are cities of the Gentiles. There might be Hebrews that live in those areas, but by in large the people of those cities are largely influenced by the Gentile worldviews.
All these people: the locals, the elites from the capital, and people from outside the religious community are gathered on this plain listening to what Jesus has to say. Early in Jesus’s ministry the doors to the nations were opened and they were coming to the one true God.
Jesus moves out to the open space, he stops, and he lifts his eyes to his disciples. This too is important. The people gathered here are not merely curious. These are people that have moved into some sort of belief. These people look at Jesus as a teacher worthy not only of listening too, but to follow. To be called a disciple means that you have taken on the lifestyle of a particular teacher. Jesus is not addressing a curious crowd trying to decide, these people at this moment believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed leader they have been waiting for. They believe this because of the power and authority Jesus has already exhibited. Jesus has already fulfilled the very things that he proclaimed in the first sermon Luke recorded.
He lifts his eyes to his disciples, and as he lifts his head in this manner a hush settles on the crowd. They look toward Jesus in expectancy. Eager to hear the words that he will say.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” This first statement is probably the most important part of this entire section because everything hinges what is defined in this one statement. Blessed are you who are poor. The word poor is one of those loaded words. It has a wide context.
Often, we look at this word from our own cultural perspective and because of this we misunderstand and often misuse what Jesus is saying. When we think of the poor today several things may come to mind. In ancient cultures this was not always the case. If we think of the story of Robin Hood, robbing from the rich to give to the poor, we often think of that as being a great story of wealth redistribution. Those of us that have a more social justice mindset might think that we should continue this practice. I am not saying that your ideas are wrong, I am suggesting that there is more to it.
The poor then like today are those without means. They are people that live in poverty. They live, as some might say, hand to mouth. Meaning they work for their daily bread. They are not making plans for their financial future because everything they make today will be going directly into providing food and shelter to their family. This is part of the story, but it is not the complete story in scripture, nor in the story of Robin Hood. When looking at the word deeper and looking at the opposite words associated with the usage of this word, they have found that the antonym of poor is not rich as we might think but violent.
I want us to think about that for a moment. Jesus is not saying blessed are the poor because they are living in poverty, but because they are living under threat, they are persecuted, they are living in a state of need not because of anything they have done but because of what is going on around them. In many ancient cultures there was not a real concept of the middle class. There were those that governed and those who were lorded over. In ancient Rome the merchant class, the class we would more closely associate with our modern understanding of the middle class, the merchant class was feared because they were not always living under the same rules. They were not controlled. It is easier on the government to have everyone in the servant classes because they can rule them. And that is why Robin Hood has been such a literary success is because it speaks not of the rich and poor but the oppressed and the oppressors.
Blessed are you who are aware of your own poverty, your own needs. Blessed are you that understand that you cannot provide or do everything by yourself. Because yours is the kingdom of God. Those that recognize that they cannot do everything for themselves are required just to survive to work with those around them. They are required to make peace with their neighbors because if they do not work together how will they survive?
This is something that we so often misunderstand especially in a culture where we think and pride ourselves in self-sufficiency. But even in systems of capitalism this rule applies. Those that recognize their need will be more successful. A business needs their employees, they need their customers, they need their suppliers and their distributors. Our current labor shortages are a testimony to this dynamic relationship of the poor. When businesses do not recognize their own needs and the needs of those they serve or serve them we have problems. Problems that reach well beyond our paychecks.
The poor are those in need. We are all in need. It does not matter if you live in the United States or in Panama, we are all in need. When I was in Ukraine 22 years ago, we were advised to never speak of the amount of money we made. This advice was given because if you speak of these things out of context it can become misleading. I made at the time $10/hour that to most Ukrainians sounded like a fortune and it would be in Ukraine. But when we speak in context things changed. How many hours did I have to work to go to a movie? How many hours did I have to work to provide one meal? How many hours did I have to work to take my girlfriend on a date? These things were very similar between Ukraine and the United States. Both of us had to work approximately two hours to buy a ticket to see a movie. Both of us would have to work all week to be able to afford to go out on a date. Both of us would have to work the same amount to provide for the basic needs of life. Because wealth is contextual. Everyone needs.
But like I said this is not necessarily speaking only about our purchasing power but is connected to the use of violence. The poor are blessed because they live in a world system where they have no voice. They are oppressed and live in a system where they at the mercy of others. When Robin Hood is stealing from the rich in that great story during the feudal age, he is stealing from the those that rule over the people. He is stealing from the government and returning the taxes to those that were forced to pay. We often look at the story as a champion of socialism, but we could also look at it from the complete opposite perspective. We can do this because rich and poor are not necessarily about currency. It is a relationship between those that need and those that provide for those needs.
But Jesus goes on and says woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. This first woe is similar to the first blessing because they the woes like the blessings hinge on each other. Woe to the rich, not because they are rich, but because they are unaware of their own needs. The rich have lost sight. They have forgotten that they do not hunger because they have much, but why do they have more than they need? This is where things get a bit dicey and why violence is the antonym for poor and not necessarily rich. The rich are the ones that are in control of the society. They are the ones that provide the jobs, they are the ones that control government agencies. They are the world’s leaders. This is no different from today. Very rarely is a working-class person elected to a significant seat in the government. They are not elected because it costs too much to get their name out to be elected. It is the rich that rule in our world.
Woe to the rich, because they can so easily be blind to their own needs. They can be blind to the needs of those that providing them with the very things they enjoy. Without each and every one of us the owners of Amazon and Google would not be able to live their lives of luxury. Without us our president would not have been elected, even though we may not have voted for him. Without us the rich could not live the lifestyle they enjoy. This is why Jesus says woe to the rich. Woe to them when they look at the bottom line and make choices that threaten the safety of their consumers or their employees. Woe to them when they fail to recognize that those on the production line are just as valuable as those that sit in the corporate office seats. Woe to them when they forget that they have an important place in this world not because they are rich, but because they are the conduit through which society thrives. And when the rich forget who they serve and who serves them they become the oppressors. They are often the cause of their own downfall.
Woe to the rich. But again, this is not just about wealth. Jesus goes on and says blessed are the hungry not for you shall be satisfied. And woe to those that are full now, for you shall be hungry. These are examples of the relationship between the oppressed and the oppressors, the rich and the poor. How many of us have left a church potluck hungry? If you have it is your own fault. When there is a healthy balance within the community there is no need. Everyone does their part, and everyone eats. This does not mean that everyone has complete equality it simply means that there is balance. When Jesus looks at his disciples, he is not giving them philosophical ideals, he is telling them this is what is expected of my disciples. If you have enough to eat, make sure your neighbor does too. If you do not have enough to eat talk to the community. See if we together can figure something out. But do not make assumptions. We all have needs, and we do not always know what the needs of others are. We cannot judge them, but we must live together within our communities. To be a disciple of Christ, to be a Friend of Jesus, we must take on his lifestyle. We must die to ourselves and life for the kingdom. And what that means is that we need to be honest with each other. We need to stop with petty jealousy, we need to stop with living in envy and greed. Instead, we need to love God with all that we are and all that we have and love our neighbor as ourselves.
Each of us are important. Each of us have a role within our family and within our community. Every person within this Meetinghouse is plays an important role in the kingdom of God. Some of us might stand to speak or sing, and some of you may think you have nothing to offer. A couple of months ago I stood up here as worship was coming to a close and I watched as the youngest in attendance came up and stood next to the oldest member of our Meeting. Everything the world uses to divide us was present and yet that child’s actions spoke more than every word that I uttered. We all have needs and we are all needed. It was the first time that child came to worship with us, and that child taught me the meaning of everything we should be about. The kingdom is for us all, and those that live in the kingdom love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and live the love of Jesus with others.
Blessed are the poor because they understand need. And woe to the rich because they fail to see the need that they have. As we join with each other in this time of Holy expectancy let us reflect not on who we are on the spectrum of wealth and poverty, but instead let us reflect on our community. How are we showing the person next to you that they are loved by God? How are we showing the person that brings the food to the table at a restaurant that they are loved by God? Do you children know before they go to bed tonight that they are loved, and that they are important to you and to this community? Blessed are the poor. And may we who are rich in God’s mercy share with those in need.
 James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Luke, ed. D. A. Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos, 2015), 191.
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