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Far From Home

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friend Church

March 27, 2022

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Click to read in Swahili

Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Luke 15:1–3, 11b-32 (ESV)

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 11 “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. 25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ”

There are stories in scripture that we all know. We know them so well that at times we no longer think about them. This is one of the points, especially with the dealing with the parables of Jesus. Jesus’s parables cover the normality of life. Often, they take an extreme stance, but the point of the story is so mundane that they point can be overlooked.

This is what happens with the parable of the sons. We find ourselves identifying with one of the characters but do look at the larger story. We know this passage by a name, “The Prodigal Son,” this directs our attention to one aspect of the story, but there is a fallacy in this. When biblical scholars within the English traditions add this title to the parable it directs our thought. At times these titles can so direct our attention that it can distract. We must always be careful when we read. We need to understand and recognize the aspects that are part of scripture and the things that are not. The things like titles and verse numbers were added. Most of the New Testament was written in Greek, not in English or Swahili. When people wrote in these ancient languages, they did things that we are not accustomed to. The first thing you would notice if you were to look at the ancient manuscripts archeologist have found is that the writing is that the letters, the words, and the sentences are written in a complete block. There are no spaces, punctuation, or anything that would give us a clue that these things are narratives. In fact, when most of us would look at them it would resemble the seemingly random printout a computer makes when there is a printer error. Solid blocks of symbols all run together.

Why did they write this way? They did this because paper and ink in ancient days was expensive. They wanted to get as much information onto a single sheet of paper as possible. We do this ourselves too. Think back to when you were a child in school. You are following the lines on the paper and suddenly you come to the end of the sheet but you have more to say, do you go to another page? No, of course not that would potentially break the train of though so you start to curve your writing up the side of the margin, you completely fill the sheet. We have limited space, and limited resources, so we make seemingly logical decision to make the most efficient use of what we have available.

Our computer systems do this as well. If we were to look at the actual code within a document it would be squeezed together to get the maximum amount of information in the least amount of space possible. Little pieces of code would tell us where one word ends and another begins. And once we begin to understand the context we can break the blocks down into words, sentences, and paragraphs. We use these ques to translate these larger blocks into the language and grammar we can understand, and as biblical translators work through these blocks, they developed verse numbers and joined certain blocks of information together so that we could have chapters and subchapters so that we can get to certain portions of information quickly.

We added chapters and verses, not because they were there but so that we can easily find the information. But we might notice at times that these verses and chapters do not always break up in grammatical coherent groupings. There are times when one sentence is broken up into several verses. And at times a chapter will end before a complete thought is made. It is not always broken up as we would break up a book today. This is done not for reading but for copying. These verses are broken up so they are easier to transcribe. These are tools used by the bible translators, and these translators give us a document that we can read and hopefully understand. The thing is that when the translators do their work, they work within a language. And depending on the language the structure is different. In German this parable is not known as the prodigal son but the lost son. These subtitles give us a clue as to what is going on, but not the complete story. Some scholars have entitled this section the two sons. The subtitle is not part of scripture, but it does help us. It directs our attention to who or what the theme the words are discussing. Unfortunately, sometimes our commonly held and commonly used subtitles can distract instead of focusing our attention. That happens with this passage. What is the focus: The lost son? The loyal son? Or the Father? All of these have been presented as potential titles, but all of these fall a bit short. Because this is a story of relationship, grace, and our ability to participate in reconciliation. But those themes do not have good catchy titles that would grab our attention.

Enough of this nerdy stuff. We all know the story. We have all read this story from a perspective of the lost or prodigal son, maybe a pastor has taken an approach to direct our attention to the older brother or the loyal son. Others might encourage us to look at the story from the perspective of the father. None of these perspectives are wrong, but they do not give us a complete picture.

The passage begins not with the story of the sons, but several verses before. Jesus begins this line of teaching for a reason. There were Pharisees and scribes grumbling because, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” They were upset because people like tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to Jesus and listening to his teaching.

We might see this debate in contemporary circles as well. There are arguments surrounding the concept of making the worship services seeker sensitive, or relevant. The argument is that if we make the service sensitive to the seekers, we might be watering down the message. The reality is it is not easy to follow Christ. Even the most righteous among us struggle, and it should be a struggle. It is difficult but it is also open and available to all. There were teachings within the first century that closed the religious observance off from those deemed socially unacceptable. This is an actual prayer among the Pharisees during that time frame: “I thank you Lord, my God, that you have set my portion with those who sit in the sanctuary, and not with those who sit on street corners. I rise early and they rise early: I rise to attend to the word of Torah, and they to attend to futile things. I exert myself and they exert themselves: I exert myself and receive a reward, and they exert themselves and receive no reward. I run and they run: I run to life in the world to come, and they run to the pit of destruction[1]

This is what Jesus is speaking to. He is highlighting the tension between the godly and the seemingly ungodly. He is explaining that access to God is not based on our works, but our lives should reflect the belief in our hearts.

It is from this perspective that we need to look at the story of the prodigal son. It is not just a story of sin and redemption but relationship. “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his propter between them.”

As I studied this, I found that there are two terms used for property or inheritance in this section. The first deals primarily with wealth or the financial aspects, the second deals with life. The son asked for the wealth, but the father did not just give his wealth he invested his life into the sons. This is important to consider, because we often only regard the passage from the financial side of things. We neglect the fact that the father did not just give the son a financial means, but he sacrificed his very livelihood, his lifestyle, his essence so that his son could go off to this distant land. This tells us a bit about what true parenthood involves. We do not simply provide for the financial wellbeing of our children but we invest our lives in them. We give ourselves so that they can succeed. It is not about our success. Everything we do once children are involved is done so that they have a greater chance than we had.

The inheritance would be divided equally between the sons according to the society’s norms. That being that the oldest son would have a double portion. In this case, there are two sons, so the property would be divided in thirds, one third would be given to the younger and two thirds would be given to the older. If there were three sons it would be divided into quarters, and the oldest would get half and the others would get a quarter each. The reason for this was that the oldest son had the greater responsibility. If anything happened, it was the oldest son’s duty to protect and preserve the family. The younger sons could go out to do whatever they could to make a name for themselves, but no matter what happened the older would be the source of security for the family. The younger sons could always come home.

This is the part of the story we often miss. The younger son was not necessarily sinful in the idea of going off to make a name for himself, the problem is in the relationship between the two. The younger son did not want to remain in the family. He did not respect or want to associate with the current direction the family was going. We get this because the younger demanded his inheritance before the father had died, and he gathered all he had and took a journey to a far country. This request does not translate well into English. He has put away social protocols, meaning has spoken out of turn. The eldest speaks first, and if the father lives the father is the eldest. The eldest carries the greatest respect and honor, but the younger son clearly has a problem that he speaks to. He feels as if he is not being heard, and that his ideas are not being honored.

By making this request, the son is not only requesting his property, but he is expressing that he no longer wishes to live within or be identified by the family. He is dissolving any connection with this life.

I mention this because this is the argument that the Pharisees are making. To become a tax collector is in effect a member of Israel turning their back on their family and their faith and aligning their future with the Gentile world. They are not looking to the traditions of their family for they future financial security but they have sold their inheritance to a foreign land.

This is the unforgivable sin among the faithful. To turn your back on the traditions of your ancestors is basically saying that you do not accept your history. By recognizing this we can understand the tension between the two sons.

We all know the story the younger son goes to the distant land and lives with the Gentiles. He goes and he squandered his money. We think that he lived recklessly but the reality of the wording is that he socialized. He lived in the manner of that society. But the son falls on hard times, and we are told that he hired himself out to one of the citizens. This to us seems a bit ambiguous. We understand if you cannot make enough on your own, you get a job. This makes good financial sense, but the word translated as hire or hired has a deeper meaning than he just got a job. It means to bind oneself closely to another or to cleave to. This man did not just get a job, but he removed himself from everything he previously knew and he became a citizen of this country. He no longer identified as what he was before and became fully vested in the country he lived. And as a citizen of this distant land, he was sent out to the fields to feed the swine. This basically means that he has become fully incorporated into that life and lifestyle, he is living as they lived, he eats what they eat. In the end he begins to realize that the glamorous life he once thought he was moving into is what he thought.

When I spent a summer in Ukraine, most of the students I worked with wanted to come to America. In their mind all Americans were rich. We were trained not to speak about things in terms of money. I at the time made a pretty good living. I was making $10 an hour, today that doesn’t sound like much but in 2000 that was a good wage especially for where I lived. The dollar amount does translate well. In Ukraine $10 an hour sounded like $50 an hour, and Kansas City $10 and hour sounds like poverty. The context is what is important. They thought if they could only get to America and make that income all would be well, but it costs much more to live in the United States than it does in Ukraine, or in other countries. What this story is saying is that this man came to America thinking that he was walking into the promised land. He took what seemed like a fortune in Ukraine. He got a nice apartment and tried to live like everyone else, but soon he found that his fortune was not translating well and he needed a job. Once he got a job, he became vested in this new culture. He started paying taxes, he had to go to school and now has student loans, he is connected to this culture but it is not what he thought. He is broke, he is working harder than he had ever worked in his life, and he suddenly gets home sick. I should go home.

I understand this feeling. I just spent a few days back home. I love the farm and am also connected to the city because I love our church. There is a constant draw to go home at times. My son may not know that draw like I do, but for me I will always be an outsider in this place. I am always a farm boy. As much as I may want to be something else, I am not. I am still connected to the farm.

This is what Jesus is saying. Although this man turned his back on his family and his faith there is something pulling him back. This is where Jesus wants the focus. No matter how far away you travel the father is always at home ready to welcome you back, because God is the God of all people no matter where you are from.

The younger son begins the journey home. We are told that the father sees the son while in the distance. This is interesting because this is the same word used to describe the country the man went to. He sees his son not just down the road, but in the distance, in the place of his sin. Just as Jesus spends time with the tax collectors and sinners. He is not spending time with the irreverent, but he is meeting them in the distance. And it is while the son is at that distance that the father runs to meet him. We are all far from home. We are all in the distance, but the father runs toward us. We have been in this distant land for so long that at times we do not even realize we are still in the distance. We might think we are where we need to be, but the father is still running out toward us and will take us, escort us back to our home.

He yells out to the servants. Go get a robe, a ring, and some sandals. This son has taken the very life that his father has invested in him and squandered it in a foreign land. The things valued in his homeland and that of the foreign land are not equal. And the son quickly finds that life is different. And he has turned his back on everything he once knew. Yet his father looks in the distance and sees his son, and he calls out to those who are with him to restore his honor. His honor is restored in the distance, not when he gets to the house but in the distance. While we are still sinners, while we are still in the distance Christ restores our honor.

But what about the other son? What about the son that remained faithful, the son that stayed at home? We might think that this son has a perfect relationship with the father, but even this son has problems. He sees that a celebration is happening, but who does he talk to? He does not approach the father, but he calls to servants. His brother was at a distance, but so is this older son. He too is distant from his father. He calls the servants. And his father comes out to him while he is in the distance. His father explains that the lost son has returned, but the older son expresses just how lost he himself is. You have killed the fatted calf for this son of yours, but what about me. I have never done this, I have never disrespected you, I have never disobeyed, I have never…and you have never given me a goat so I could celebrate with my friends. Notice the I’s. I deserve better, not so that we enjoy life together but so I can celebrate without you. This older son may not have gone to a distant land a thousand miles away, yet in his mind he is just as far away. Both sons are distant from the father, and the father meets them where they are. 

We are all far from home. Our sins might be different but the distance is similar. The father will meet us in that distance and escort us back home. It does not matter where we are or what we are doing He meets us there, but we need walk the distance back home with him. We might believe we are where we need to be or we might realize we are far from home. The reality is there is a distance between us and home. What are we going to do? Where are we looking and where are we walking? We might be in a distant land or distant mind, but the father is still running toward us ready to restore us to the place we were meant to be. As we move through our lives, let us assist each other to turn toward the father instead of creating greater distance.

[1] 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), 433.

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Worse Sinners?

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

March 20, 2022

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Click to read in Swahili

Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Luke 13:1–9 (ESV)

1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” 6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

I think I am going to nerd out a bit this week. I have mentioned often that I think studying scripture is one of the most entertaining hobbies one could have. I say this because there is always something new to learn. I literally spent every evening studying for this week’s sermon. I read this passage many times. And took enough notes to probably speak on this for a couple of weeks. But you are lucky that about ninety percent of everything I learn, I do not put into my messages.

When I speak. I speak only on the things that I find to be the most interesting or the things that have convicted me the most. If anyone were to think I might be reading your mind, I don’t, I can’t. What is going on is that you and I just happen to be on the same wavelength. The things God is convicting me of today might be the same things that God has been working with you.

There is rarely a week that I am not fascinated with scripture. And to study scripture is not just to look at the words on the page. It is to learn about the people, the places, the surrounding history, and cultural influences that interact with the people writing or even reading what was written. It is looking at our own history, our own culture, the things that we are encountering and considering how all of this seems to intertwine. Scripture is not a book of answers. Scripture is not exactly a book of laws, although you can see that within it. Scripture is a conversation. It is a call to look deeper into yourself and to imagine yourself in someone else’s place. Scripture is inspired, it is infallible not because God sent the words directly from heaven, but because when we truly engage with scripture in study and in prayer, we do not leave unchanged.

I start in this manner for a reason. This past month has been challenging to me. My emotions have been all over the place. I pull up the news on my phone, I watch reports from various news outlets, I have watched commentaries, interviews, history presentations and pretty much anything that I could to gain a better understanding of why things are happening in our world.

I spent two months in Ukraine. I went to Ukraine during a very important time of my life. I went in the summer of 2000. I was an unmarried father, still in school, trying to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be. I was in a crossroad of life. Was I going to be like every other person I knew my age, would I just pay child support and do my own thing or would I be a man? Would I become someone that stood for something important or would I just live for my own self-indulgence? I went to Ukraine that summer, I went to help organize and teach conversational American English classes to college students. I went to help, but I never imagined that those two months would change the course of my life.

I was a small-town farm kid. The largest city I have ever spent a large amount of time in was Wichita, Kansas. And I lived for two months in Odesa, Ukraine. I spent my entire life in the center of a continent and I spent a some a short walk to the shores of the Black Sea. I spent twenty-one years of my life speaking only if I had to, and that summer I taught classes, interviewed students, attempted to make calls to set up meetings using an extremely broken Russian language, and I also first began studying scripture in a more in-depth manner.

I was a painfully quiet person. It would not be uncommon for me to spend the entire day without say more than ten words prior to that summer. But that summer something changed. Seeds were planted deep within my being that began to sprout. And by the next December in less than six months my entire life changed. I was studying crop science, and as I sat in my car eating lunch one day, I heard a pastor read from John 21. “Do you love me more than these,” Jesus asked Peter. God took me to the other side of the world to show me something. He took me across the ocean and to the eastern regions of Europe to show me that no matter where I am there is something the same as what I am used to. Ukraine is flat. Ukraine in many ways is just like the rolling hills of Kansas. He took me across the world and showed me that people no matter where they live are basically the same and once, we can get through the barriers of language and our own oddness we are all interesting and have more similarities than differences. I heard that pastor read the words Jesus spoke to Peter, and I did not hear anything else that pastor said. All I heard was Jesus asking if I loved wheat more than him, if I loved corn, sorghum, or sunflowers more than him. I heard Jesus calling me out of everything I thought I knew and he led me into a life I have embraced for the past nineteen years. God called me to study scripture and to share what I have learned. God spoke to me, but he first had to get my attention by taking me to the other side of the world and showing me that we might all be different and yet we are the same.

I have spent many evening near tears as I have watched tanks moving down roads, and buildings being turned to rubble because those were the places I had once traveled. Places that to me and my life’s story are holy ground. It was in Ukraine that God really got my attention. It was in Ukraine, in a field of sunflowers where I began to realize that there was more to life than I first imagined.

Today we see Jesus in a conversation. He is again talking with the people within a community and during this time of conversation, like many others, Jesus teaches something profound. We might not get the teaching at first, we might look at these words and simply see Jesus giving some weird altar call. “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.”

There is something very interesting about this verse. The sense of the wording is that these people had just returned from one place and were sharing the current events that had happened along the way. This is something that had seemingly happened recently. This is intriguing. If we were to investigate the works of the Jewish historians, we can find a couple of instances where something like this has happened, although many scholars would be quick to point out that the timing makes it seem a bit off. Some would say that this would make this portion of scripture less accurate, but the thing is that this historical source places events like what is described both before and after the accepted time frame of Jesus’s ministry. This tells me that it is probable. The depictions are so similar that we can determine that these events most likely happened during the feast of the Passover because that is the only time the sacrificial animal is slaughter by the worshippers.

This is important to note because Passover is one of those feasts where the entire Jewish community comes to one place, the temple. They travel from the far reaches of the world, from western end of the Roman Empire as well as from the Eastern regions of what we would know as Persia. I want us to think about this. The Roman Empire stretched the entire Mediterranean and as far north as the British Isles. And the Empire of the Persians stretched as far east as India and up into the areas we would be bordering what is now consider Russia and Ukraine. The entire known world at the time had pockets, communities of Jewish people. And many of them at some point would make their way to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts. Imagine now you are a Roman official charged with the security and taxation of this land. Imagine three times a year people from all over the world were congregating in your province, carrying with them ideas, news, and goods. It is a security nightmare. And the annuals of history tell us this. Several times the Roman soldiers used deadly force to keep the peace.

Now at that very time, men that had just returned from Jerusalem had come to talk to Jesus. They told him about this injustice that had just occurred in their holy city. These Galileans are also interesting people. For those of you who have visited Israel, you know that the land of Galilee is beautiful. Galilee is filled with rich farmland and other resources. This is the land that was coveted by the various occupying empires. As these occupying forces came in, they would displace the current inhabitants and place their own people into those areas. People were removed from the homes their ancestors occupied. And they were given a couple of options. Either they had to pay rent to continue to farm the land they had always farmed or they would be removed.

This caused great social, political, and economical unrest in Galilee. The people of Israel were forced to live in towns, they were forced to go into debt, they were forced to find jobs that they were not accustomed to. Disease was rampant because people were living closer together than before. Work was hard, poverty was high, and archeology has found that nearly fifty percent of those buried in Galilee died before they reached adulthood.

From the writings of Josephus, we know that it was from Galilee that the rebellion against the Romans began. From the Book of the Maccabees, we find that is if from Galilee that the rebellion against the Greeks began. Galilee was known as violent and rebellious people. And Pilate sees a group from Galilee congregating in Jerusalem. Imagine what you might think, this group had a stereotypical reputation, and Pilate acted with swift ferocity.

These men came back to Galilee and they shared the news. They brought the news to the synagogue. They shared the news with the men within their community, and they began sowing the seeds of rebellion. But Jesus does something profound. He does not let the talk of nationalistic pride take root around him. He does not speak about these men as martyrs of the faith. He listens to their words and says, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?”

Jesus is doing two things with this question. He is pointing out their pride as well as their hypocrisy. The teachings of the Pharisees at this time were that the reason bad things are happening in your life is because you have sinned. If you got an illness, it is your fault because you were not following the law faithfully enough. If your crops failed, you were not righteous enough. If your husband died, it was because you were not a good enough person and God was judging you. We often get into this trap even today. There are teachers within our churches that will preach that the only reason you have not overcome an illness is because you do not have enough faith. There are teachers that will say that the reason you are in poverty is because you have not claimed your receipts in heaven so the blessings are not flowing. And yet these good men of Galilee died. Their blood was mingled with the blood of their sacrifice.

Do you see the hypocrisy? These men died in such a terrible way because they were sinful, and yet those same teachers would rile their countrymen up in nationalistic and religious pride saying that these men were martyrs of the faith. They were holy and righteous and we should take up arms to defend their honor. Jesus asks, were they sinners? Were they worse sinners than everyone else? “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Jesus answers.

What is he saying? He is not holding these men as being martyrs, and he is not condemning them as heretics. Jesus is calling the people within their community to take a step back and consider what they are doing. He is calling not for war, but peace. He is calling not for fire and brimstone, but repentance among the righteous. Look at yourselves.

Twenty-two years ago, I boarded a plane that took me to Ukraine. In the months leading up to this trip, I remember my grandfather tell me that he would be praying for me because I was going to the frontlines to face the enemy. He told me that he would pray for their repentance and my safety. I love my grandfather. I think he is one of the greatest men that on Earth, but that statement has never really sat well with me. I boarded that plane nervously. I boarded that plane with the self-righteous fervor that I was about to embark on a holy crusade against the heathens. I quickly found out that nearly every student I spoke to were Christians. Most attended worship multiple times a week. I was not converting heathens, the only thing that I was engaged in was mutual discipleship. They taught me just as much about God as I taught them.  

Jesus that day encouraged the people of Galilee to stop looking at the people around them as enemies. He encouraged them to stop looking at everything that happened to them as a sin against them or a sin they had committed, and instead to look at how they were living their own lives with each other.

To me Russia has invaded the holy land. They have desecrated that thin space where God got my attention, they have contaminated my holy mountain. I am angry. I am furious. I, at this moment am not a great example of the Quaker testimony of peace. But then God speaks to me, “do you think that these Russians were worse sinners?” And I am taken aback. I listened to their political leaders use scripture in their speeches. I remember that they are the largest Christian nation. We might not agree because they are not Evangelicals and they do not believe the same things that we believe, but that is not the point. They are who they are and they believe that they are following Christ. I listen as the leader of this invading army used scripture to justify something offended my faith to such a degree that I shook with anger.

And I read this passage again. “Are they worse sinners?” We too misuse scripture to manipulate others to do what we want. We too believe our actions are just and our cause is righteous. I still think Putin should withdraw from Ukraine, and I think it in words that are more colorful than I should utter, but I too have sinned.

Jesus is telling us, “Are they worse sinners? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” My demands for better service, my snide comments at the customer service desk, the words that I utter out of frustration and anger, are an invasion of sacred ground. When I demand a refund beyond the true value I am contributing to the violation of God’s sovereignty. Why? Because each human being on the face of this earth is created to bear the image of God. When I think of myself as greater, I have declared war on God. I need repentance, and if I do not repent, I contribute to the continuation of sin and death in this world. I am damning those around me from the blessing of life with God because I speak in God’s name, but I reflect something else. What they see is no better that what they see all around them. What they see in some cases is worse than the things I declare as ungodly.

Over the past few weeks, God has shown me my own hypocrisy. I say I am antiwar, and yet I will get into a shouting match with my own child. I say that I believe all people are created in the image of God, yet at times I will make sure the doors on my car are locked when I come to a stop light. I say a great deal of things, but how do I live? Are they worse sinners?

As we enter in our time of Holy Expectancy we will listen to No Man’s Land by Eric Bogle

Lyrics are here

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.

The Fox in the Henhouse

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

March 13, 2022

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Click to read in Swahili

Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Luke 13:31–35 (ESV)

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33 Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ 34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Last week we considered the temptations that Jesus faced. I hope that we were able to see how similar those temptations are to our own temptations. They are not necessarily a desire or urge to do something wrong, but often temptations are a desire to do the right thing the wrong way. We in our desire to do the right things can sin, we can oppose the will of God, because we are not able to see or are unwilling to see how God is using the process.

The first temptation was to turn a stone into bread. And I mentioned that this was a temptation to withdraw from the community aspect of life. Instead of encouraging others to get involved you take all the power on yourself to fulfill your own needs. This does not sound terrible does it, it sounds like great business sense. But what is more important to God? In the kingdoms of men profit is important. Profit is looking out for yourself or your group first. But in the kingdom of God, mutual profit is what is important. Mutual profit is looking out for something larger. Making sure that all within the community benefits from the transactions.

The second temptation was to being all the kingdoms of the world under the rule of Jesus. This is the ultimate goal of God. That all nations, tribes, and languages will come to praise the one Most High God. But the temptation was to get to take a short cut to that goal. So often we are tempted with the same things. I want a good grade on a test because the goal at that moment is to pass. How do I get that grade? I could spend hours studying, or if I just write the answers down on my arm and wear a long-sleeved shirt, I can just cheat my way to the top. Businesses want to make a larger profit, so they use inferior resources to make their goods. They sacrifice quality and possibly safety for their goal. And we see this in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. We could say that this is a battle between the East and West, but really it is a desire to take a short cut. Instead of developing a deeper relationship, they will use force instead.

The third temptation was to make a spectacle. To attract attention not by substance but by show. I want us to think of this. How often are we manipulated by the show? Every political campaign is a spectacle that manipulates the people into thinking that one person is better than the other. The ads are propaganda filled with half-truths to convince each of us to regard the other candidate as just one step less evil than the devil. Even movies, an industry that is based on entertainment, have increasingly devoted resources to special effects instead of plot development. If you do not believe me, look at the latest trailers for the emerging movies, they are filled with special effects. Half the time the best parts of the movie are in the trailers, and the rest of the movie is often a waste of time. This of course does not happen in Star Wars, because they are all good.

Then we come to the church. How often do we get distracted by the spectacular? There are churches that claim to be so holy that gold dust will fall from the ceilings as people sing praises, and that feathers from angel wings are often seen floating down around you. The fact that scripture never says that angels have wings let alone feathers is suspect, but the spectacle is there. We are drawn in by the exciting, but what about substance? I am not saying that those places do not have substance, but the spectacular feats surrounding them causes me to pause and look deeper.

These temptations always surround us. They bombard us from every direction. Half the time we do not even notice that we are being subjected to their influences, and there are people that have gotten very good at manipulating the use of these very things for their own advancement. We as followers of Christ are called to something greater. We are called to look deeper, and to live differently.

This is something that has been part of religious life from the dawn of history. Today we meet Jesus during a conversation. A group of Pharisees come to Jesus and they carry with them a dire warning. “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

The first thing I want us to see, is that these Pharisees seem to be allies with Jesus and not opponents. Usually when we see the word Pharisee, we quickly assume that they are the bad guys of the story. They are the leaders that are mindlessly trapped in the bondage of religion and fail to see the working of God around them. Many times, we would not be wrong in this assertion, but in this case, these men have respect for Jesus.

I say they have respect, but I also want us to recognize that they have information. They know that the king, or the political ruler over this territory, has a mind to assassinate Jesus. These men and the group they are members of have an insiders’ knowledge of what is going on. This highlights that the larger group of Pharisees are in fact plotting with Herod, but these men are in opposition.

We often regard the religious sect of the Pharisees as this unified monolithic organization that has one overarching perspective to life. But the reality is that they are a human organization and there are different opinions within their organization. With the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls we can develop a deeper understanding of this group of people. First off, their name literally means, to separate, divide, or distinguish. What are they dividing from? The Sadducees, which were largely in charge of the temple traditions. I want us to think of the Pharisees not as this monolithic religious organization, but as the reformers. They are basically the Protestants of the religion of Israel. And their focus was to bring the center of religious identity away from the outward ceremonies performed in the temple, and instead place the center of their religious identity into the home.

They sought to decentralize religion, making it into something that we all could live. It was this group that laid the foundation not only for the rabbinical Judaism we see practiced throughout the world today, but they contributed a great deal to the formation of the Christian church today. Regarding theological understanding the Pharisees and Jesus were very closely related. And yet there were disagreements between Jesus and this group, and if we were to look closely at the various tests the Pharisees challenge Jesus with, we would see that there are differences within the ranks of the Pharisees. Scholars have noted that there are two major schools of thought within the Pharisees. One is the conservative school of Rabbi Shammai, and the second is the more liberal school of Rabbi Hillel. I use the terms liberal and conservative, for a reason because I want us to realize that they are simply words used to scare us. Neither Shammai nor Hillel would be considered liberal today, but Hillel taught that the interpretation of the law was not fixed, but it needed to adapt to the changing conditions of the world. This would mean that the torah are teachings, a moral and ethical guide, instead of divine mandate. To Hillel we were supposed to think and use reason to determine how the law applies in the circumstances of today?

These differences of perspective come up often in the conversations with Jesus, and that is something we see today. Some Pharisees are working with Herod and his plot against Jesus, while others want to preserve this popular teacher.

Jesus tells this group of unsuspected allies, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.’” This is a very interesting statement that is packed full of… well insults. Even today we use the term fox in a derogatory manner. We use this as a way of describing a cunning and deceptive nature. This is true even in the ancient days, but there is another view that may come into play. In some Jewish circles, a fox can also symbolize an individual that is regarded as or considers himself a lion but is in reality a very small threat. This could explain Herod in many ways. He was the son of Herod the Great and had aspired to reunite the territory of his father. Herod wanted to be seen as great, but when he made attempts to show his authority, Rome quickly stepped in and removed him from power. He regarded himself as a lion, but he was nothing more than a small predator that stole chickens from the farmyard.

The insults do not stop there. Some other scholars look at this statement and they see something completely different. The Hebrew word for Saul and fox are homophones. Meaning they are different words that sound the same. Veggie Tales has a wonderful song about homophones if you want to do a quick google search. Jesus might be using a play on words and basically calling Herod Saul. Saul was the first king of Israel that fell from God’s graces. God then chose and anointed David to be the next king and Saul spent the rest of his life focused on how he could somehow get rid of David, only to find every attempt foiled because David had God’s blessing. The will of God will triumph over the will of mankind.

After Jesus insults Herod, he then says something that is also strange. “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow and the third day I finish my course.” The expression today, tomorrow, and the third day is a Hebraic idiom for a short and indefinite period. Jesus is telling this fox and his allies that I have work to do, and I am going to finish the course set before me, and you will not be able to stop it.

Jesus, had to go to the cross. He had to die so that he could conquer death. Often, we think of the fall of humanity as being where sin entered the human existence. But the reality is that when our first parent ate of the tree of knowledge, death entered. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they turned from God’s will, that was sin, but the result of that sin was that they were severed from the source of life, God. Death is separation from life, it is not sin. Sin is the opposition of God’s will, where death is the resulting curse that comes from our sin.

We all face death because we have all sinned, we cannot help but to sin because the connection to life has been severed so we are all making vain attempts using whatever is at our disposal to determine good and evil. The reality is that our knowledge is at best incomplete. And when we act with incomplete knowledge, we will inevitably cause harm in some way. When we cause harm, we participate in the continuation of sin because we are making decision based on our will instead of the will of God. Jesus forgives sin, but death is still our destiny. Only God can change the course of our human destiny. The book of Revelation tells us that Jesus holds the keys of death and Hades. And Peter tells us in his letter that Jesus descended into hell. We can get some pretty skewed theological positions from this, but what it means is that Jesus entered the realm of the dead, he was buried and he took the one thing that the devil can hold over us, death.

Jesus had to die, Jesus had to face death with us and for us. He faced this so that he could reverse the curse. And that is what he is speaking about.  I cast out demons, the minions of death, and perform cures, the inflictions of death. He speaks of reversing the damage that this spiritual rebellion instituted. And no plot of man, nor the powers of demonic forces can change that. Just as Saul sought to deprive David of his anointed destiny as king, the fox of Herod will not prevent God’s will to be fulfilled on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Jesus has a divine mandate to reverse the damage caused by spiritual rebellion and sin, but this will occur in a way that is beyond human understanding. Last week I spoke about hypocrisy. How our own hypocrisy can sear or dam the lifegiving flow of blessing because it can cause us to lose sight of the image of God within those around us. We can easily fall into this type of hypocrisy. It is found in the three temptations of Christ and always surrounds us. We all want to profit, but we often do not seek mutual profit. We all want the ultimate goal to come to being, but we often do not want to put in the work of developing the relationships to make that happen. We like the spectacular, but we do not have time to develop the substance to make the spectacular a constant reality. This resembles what Jesus says about prayer. We want but we do not ask, and when we ask, we ask wrongly.

The Pharisees were seeking to make the world around them ready for the messiah. Even today you can hear this being taught by the rabbis, we must make the world ready for messiah, and when he comes all things will be set right again. We often get caught in this same practice. Some of us because of our understanding of Eschatology or the theology of the end, believe that certain things must happen before Christ returns so we eagerly watch and wait, and we make decisions based on what we believe will make that return happen more promptly. We look at the world around us and we nearly praise the debauchery instead of seeking to inspire a different lifestyle. The same could be said about the Pharisees. They had ideas; they had their own theories. And Jesus calls them out on it. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Jesus here is telling them that they do not understand. They do not understand what God desires. The prophets spoke out against the sins of the Gentiles but they did not only speak out about their sins, but also the sins of Israel. “It is mercy I desire not sacrifice.” Hosea says. The prophets spoke out against the sins of their own people. And the result of their preaching was to be stoned.

Stoning is the prescribed form of execution for those that are apostate and idolatrous. Stoning was the legal means God commanded the people of Israel to deal with those that lived contrary to His will. Yet, it was those that He chose to be his spokesmen, that faced this divinely mandated punishment. We can become so blinded by our own ideology that we would reject the word of God and subject those that speak it to a perversion of justice. God was calling out to his people, yet they rejected God and killed those that were calling them back. What does God want? What does God desire?

The greatest lions among us are simply a fox in the hen house. We think we can change the course of history with our wars and our policies. But where exactly do we stand? Jesus told his followers not to fear the ones that can take life, but the one that can judge the soul. I like everyone reads the news and I wonder if the concept of nuclear war will become a reality, but the lions that I perceive are nothing but foxes, because God is still at work. Are we following the lion or the fox? Are we looking at the people around us as threats to our ideology or are we seeing them as imagers of God in need of mercy?

Jesus looked at the people of his day, people that had the ear of power, and he called them out. They in all their religious posturing were connected to the kingdoms of men instead of the kingdom of God. Fear keeps us in bondage within the kingdoms of men. But perfect love casts out all fear. Our God came to live among us. He was born of a virgin, and he lived a complete life. He taught and ministered within his community and showed us the lifestyle God wants us to live. He stood up to the foxes of men and took on our fear, our shame, and our curse as he was nailed to the cross. He was buried in a tomb and challenged the one thing we all face with fear, death. He ripped the keys out of death’s hand and broke through the vail that separates us from life, as he rose from the grave on the third day, and our God restores our hope.

What does God want? What does God desire? He wants us. He wants us to turn from the foxes that make spectacular claims of power among mankind’s kingdoms, and he wants us to come to him. God so loved the world that he sent his one unique son to us so that whoever believes in him will not perish but will have eternal life with him. And this is eternal life that we believe in God, and the one He sent. Putin and Biden can rattle their sabers, the nations of men can make their postures of power, but they are but foxes in the hen house. They too face the same end that we all face. They cannot stop the goal that God has set from the beginning of creation. We are to bear the image of God, we are to make our world into God’s Garden, and dwell with him. Everything apart from that is sin. Will we stone the prophets and follow the foxes, or will we boldly stand with the lion of Judah?

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.


Meeting Times

Meal at 6pm
Bible Study at 7pm
Bible Study at 10am
Meeting for Worship 11am
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