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The Rebuke of Ideology

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

June 26, 2022

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Luke 9:51–62 (ESV)

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

I have been a pastor for nineteen years, for some of you that might seem like a long time since you are not that old. For others, nineteen years is nothing, its just the beginning. For me, sometimes I simply do not know. There are weeks where I feel as if I am an amateur. I will look at a passage and will realize that there is so much involved in the words that I cannot begin to scratch the surface of understanding. And then there are weeks where I will look at a passage and just know that it will cause controversy and I am just too old to want to deal with it. Lately, the second response has been coming up quite frequently. This is mainly because I am tired, its harvest season, and I just want to go home. Luckily, next Sunday Pastor Mwenitanda will be bringing a message so I can do just that.

I begin in this manner because being a Christian is not easy. No matter what you say there is someone somewhere that will take offense. Some of those people could be regarded as long-time friends, and others are just strangers that happened to hear something out of context. It is difficult to be a follower of Jesus, because we are constantly bombarded with influences from our culture, both inside and outside the church, and our own opinions and thoughts. There are moments within my week where I must check myself and consider where my thoughts and emotions are coming from. I ask myself if I am upset because of my own political leanings, my own opinions, my traditions, or because of my understanding of scripture. Then there are times where I cannot figure out where things are coming from at all, and that is when I realize that I have neglected time in prayer. And I should return back to the rhythm of life that Jesus shows us of worship, prayer, and ministry.

This week has been one of those weeks that I have struggled. I struggle because there is so much going on in the world. I care about the people of Ukraine, and I feel as if we as individuals within the western nations have gotten tired of their story, so we stop listening. And this causes me concern because I feel as if Ukraine will fall into complete occupation because we got bored. I watch the news and I hear about the investigation concerning the last presidential election and I am shocked by what has been said. Then we get rulings from the Supreme Court, and I should be excited, but I want to be honest, I am not. I am concerned. I am concerned because now we live in a world that is unknown to me. Unknown because what will our actual response be? And will we live up to tasks we claim to support?

“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” This is an interesting phrase. It both tells of destiny and of destination. Taken up, is something that scholars argue about because it can mean different things: death, divine prophetic vision, or ascension.  I want us to just stop and think about that for a moment. Scholars argue about this, and yet it does not take a rocket scientist to know that that does not matter, because they all mean the same thing. “He set his face to go to Jerusalem,” is also a phase that can be interpreted in different ways. It could mean that he decided, or that he was divinely inspired. What this is saying is there is a shift in direction.

Prior to this, Jesus’s focus had been in Galilee, not in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the center of religious thought. It was the seat of religious power. The things that happened in Galilee could be disregarded by religious leaders as just some fringe fanaticism. They could separate from it to some degree. But when Jesus turns his attention toward Jerusalem, this means that the challenges are going deeper. Jesus is about to take on the very core of their cultural understanding of life. Once this course is set, the end will soon follow. Jerusalem was the seat of both sacred and secular power. When you begin to speak truth to those in power they do not often like to listen.

We see this beginning just one verse later. Jesus was traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem. This trip required them to cross through Samaria. There had been a great deal of animosity between the people known as the Jews and the Samaritans. They both claimed to be Israelites, they both claimed to be followers of the Most High God. They both could trace their linage back to the patriarchs, but there was a difference, a difference that stretched back to the golden era of Israel. Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom. It was the center of power for the ten tribes that rebelled against the line of David. And ever since that moment there had been tension between the people of Judah and Samaria (or Israel).

Both nations claim to follow God in the traditions of their fathers, but they do it differently. The history of the Samaritans is not as widely known, and we often regard them as the godless ones because they rejected God’s anointed king within the line of David. We see that they followed the gods that were not their God and flirted with idolatry. We see this because the histories we read in scripture come from the southern kingdom. I am not saying the bible is wrong, I am stating that there is a historical skew on the scripture that we read in comparison to the history that those among the Samaria may have heard taught in their land.

It is important to recognize our bias because it can bring your interpretation into context. The Samaritans rejected the temple in Jerusalem. They rejected the supremacy of Judah over the other tribes. They rejected a great deal, and Judah looked upon their rejection and took it to heart. Their rejection was not only of political nature but of faith as well. And they did reject the faith of their fathers. We see this in the pages of scripture, often we fail to acknowledge that Judah did the same. We judge Samaria for following false gods, yet Solomon the son of David is the one that brought these things into the land, not just in Samaria but also into Judah. The failings of one side are not worse than the other, simply different.

These differences continued to drive a wedge between the groups as time went on. Each side justifying their own positions until the core central, but beliefs became secondary. The divide became so great that people were not only willing to die for their understanding of faith, but willing to kill.

Jesus sent people before him to prepare the way. This is a logical thing to do. We do not know for certain the size of Jesus’s entourage, but it is at minimum thirteen people. Likely, it would be even larger than that because right at the beginning of the next chapter Jesus appointed seventy-two and sent them out two by two. Jesus would have appointed this group from those among his disciples, not just random people walking around in a city. The group coming into this city could have been over a hundred. To secure lodging and food for a crowd that size requires logistical work.

Last Thursday, June 16th, the International Soccer Federation FIFA announced that Kansas City would be one of the host cities for the 2026 World Cup. This is a fantastic opportunity for our community, but it also comes with a significant risk. Thousands of people will be making their way to our city, and we must accommodate the influx. This will require investment in hotels, restaurants, greater soccer facilities for practice and games. Companies will need to make sure our cellular towers are updated, and the broadband internet is expanded to accommodate an entire world’s desire to obtain news about the games instantly. And we have four years to make that happen. Billions of dollars will be invested in our community, jobs will expand, and it is exciting. But there is a problem, most of us do not care about soccer. Some of us do not even know what FIFA is. There might even be a few that may not even know that soccer is a popular sport, let alone know that it is the most popular sport in the world.

Kansas City must prepare for the World Cup games, and Samaria has just been visited by forerunners of Jesus announcing the arrival of Jesus’s disciples. Imagine your response to the World Cup and liken it to this. The people of Samaria have faith and follow God in their understanding of the God, but they could care less about Jerusalem. We live in in the Chief’s kingdom here in Kansas City, we are worried about the next Super Bowl. Why should we care about a silly soccer game in four years? Why should Samaritans care about Jerusalem’s teachers?

We see this story through the lens of Judah, we identify with Judah, we are grafted into the faith traditions of Judah because our Lord came from the line of David, who was and is the king of Judah. We can understand the focus on this southern nation, and its offspring. But we need to remember that the Messiah was not just for the Jews. The teaching was that all of Israel would return from exile, this includes Samaria. And when all of Israel returned from exile then all the nations would return to the Most High God.

Samaria rejected Jesus and his disciples. We look at this as being a terrible thing but remember it would be like an American and a German debating about football. What exactly would they be talking about? Every German would be speaking about soccer and most American would be talking about American Football. It is two vastly different games. Samaria rejects Jesus because they are not concerned with promoting the religion of their enemy. Why would they want to entertain people that would just reject the legitimacy of their faith and deny their own value as children of God?

I want us to look at this from a different perspective. What did they reject when we look at this passage? Did they reject Jesus, or did they reject Jerusalem? What does this say to us?

“When his disciples James and John saw it, they said ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’” This statement links us back the early history between the divided nations. It speaks of the prophets and the judgement of God for rejecting his leadership. James and John look at this history and the present moment as similar. They know that God had chosen Judah and that Israel turned away from God. And they are liking this situation to that early rejection. God allowed Elijah to call fire down from heaven, so in their mind they should do the same. But their mind is not on God but their own nationalist pride.

They forget that the Messiah was to unite the tribes and the kingdoms once again. They forget that the reason Jesus has his face set for Jerusalem is because they are also rejecting the good news. They are blinded by their own opinions and ideologies, and they are failing to see the humanity before them. Does God hate Samaria? Does God hate the Greeks and the Romans? Does God hate? No. Those distinctions are constructs of the human mind. It is true that God chose to reveal himself through Israel, Judah, and the line of David, but this does not give them any greater status, just a different purpose.

Jesus looks at James and John, and he rebuked them. This is not a mere chastisement, but more serious. I might get after my children when I discipline them, but I do not rebuke. This word refers to divine judgement, or wrath. James and John wanted this for the Samaritan city, and Jesus turns that passion to them. He does this for a reason. They were in sin.

“The Zebedees are wrong about discipleship: disciples are not commissioned to commandeer God’s role as judge, but to serve the Son of Man, whose face is set to Jerusalem.”[1] They did not understand what God was wanting to accomplish. Jesus would not accomplish God’s will through force and violence, but through weakness, even suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection.[2] James and John had their mind in the things of this world and not the things of the kingdom of God. And because of this they were responding in kind. They wanted to use the tools and means of this world to accomplish what they thought God wanted. They bookended their desires and statements with scripture and made great references, but they missed the entire point. God does not want to condemn the world but to save it. God does not want to burn the world to the ground, but he wants all to have an opportunity to turn toward him. And yes, I know that Revelation says that God will judge the world, but that is not for us, but him. God’s judgement is not our task, judgement is not our purpose. We are commissioned for one thing and one thing only to encourage the world around us to come into the kingdom.

I want us to think about that for a moment. We are not commissioned for God’s judgement, but to encourage the world to embrace the kingdom of God. We work for admissions, not security. Now I want us to dwell on that. I want us to check our responses to the news considering this. For too long we have been working in the wrong department. We have been attempting to call fire from heaven and when God has not responded in the ways we pray we build the devices of hellfire and launch them ourselves. But as we work within our world, as we vote, pray, support, and encourage have we been admitting or judging?

James and John were two of Jesus’s closest friends. If tradition is correct John was and is the disciple that Jesus loved the most. He was the one disciple that was given the privilege of seeing the whole story to the very end. And John was rebuked, he was treated as if he was the offspring of Satan, because he made a simple statement in religious and nationalist pride. He defended Jerusalem against Samaria, he denied the image of God in them because of a reaction made in ignorance.

This should cause us all to pause. How often have we made a judgement of someone, or some organization based on incomplete information? How often have we made a judgement based on our understanding instead of listening to their explanation? How often have we…no the real question is how often I. James and John’s statements are tame compared to the thoughts that have come to my own mind, and Jesus spoke to them as if they were demons from hell. What would Jesus say about my self-righteousness? Would He be glad about my celebrations of political victories or military defeats? Would He back the ideology that I support?

The truth is that Jesus is not concerned with the things of the world. He told Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world and if it were then the people would rise. We want to make it of this world, but God is concerned with other things. That is what the next section is about. Jesus condemned his closest friends and then as they walk to the next village, he explains to his disciples what it means to be a disciple. Two come to Jesus requesting a place, and one Jesus asks. They all look at the cost and weigh the options and we are not told what their decisions are, but it infers that they turned away. The first looks at the possible rejection and poverty of living a life of serve to others instead of personal gain and he falls silent. The next is bound by his culture and is unwilling to be seen in dissent. And the third needs to have approval before moving forward.

None of these things in themselves are wrong. It is good to have material possessions and to have security. It is good to honor our parents and to live in peace within our culture. It is good to have the support and approval of our friends and family. But do these things come before our God? We might see these two sections of verses as being two different thoughts or teachings, but they are the same. Where is our allegiance and where is our faith? Is our allegiance to our nation more important than honoring our God? Is our race or heritage greater than the creator of all things and through whom all blessing flow?  Is our culture more important, or our security, our finances, or our reputation?

Jesus is calling us, to move forward in faith. Looking forward to the prize set before us. What is that prize? What is it that we are to set our face to? Our glory is in Jesus. The one unique son of God, who came down from heaven to be born of a virgin. Who was reared within a family, in a community and among friends. Who labored along side his kin and his community for twenty years before he did anything resembling ministry. And then when the time had come, he was anointed by John by the waters of the Jordan to proclaim the true Gospel. That God so love the world that he gave his one unique son so that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life in his name. And he proved that by setting his face to go to Jerusalem when he suffered the injustice of the kingdoms of men, was crucified, and was buried. He lay in that grave for three days and rose again with the keys of death and hades in his hand. And he stands before the judge this very day, advocating for each of us.

Where is our allegiance? Where is our faith? Is it in empires and kingdoms that rise and fall, or is it in the one who conquers death? We have a job, each one of us that are called by name by the creator of all things, to go into all the world and bring it under God’s dominion or kingdom. We are not sent as judges, but as ambassadors offering the world a different peace. Will we look back to the powers of the world, or toward Christ?

[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), 299.

[2] 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), 298–299.

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What is Your Name?

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

June 19, 2022

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Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Luke 8:26–39 (ESV)

26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” 29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32 Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned. 34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 36 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.

When you think of all the miracles Jesus performed, what makes your top ten list? For most of us we will quickly recall the feedings of the multitudes, then possibly the raising of Lazarus, then maybe the water into wine. But what after that? What can we recall? The man being lowered through the roof, Peter’s mother-in-law. After this even though we have heard these stories many times over we begin to forget. I find this interesting. The things we remember and the things we forget. Some of the most amazing feats of Jesus’s divine power are often some of the miraculous events we overlook, why? I really wish I had an answer, but the only thing that comes to mind is we remember what we want or desire to remember. There is a reason I remember the feedings first off. Because I would love to never have to worry about access to food. Yes, I make decent money and I live near a grocery store, but there are moments when I have questioned if I would have enough cash to provide a meal for my family.

There are also people within our community where just getting to a store to purchase food might be an ordeal. The concept of a food desert is real. There are reasons for these deserts but in many impoverished areas in metropolitan areas it is not always possible to walk to a store to get groceries. So, the idea of feeding a multitude is striking to many.

We also all have an innate fear of death, so the raising of Lazarus comes to mind. We do not want to die, we do all that we can to avoid death or at least prolong live, so when we hear the story of Lazarus we elated. You might say that you do not fear death but I do want us to consider why we are believers? What caused us to explore faith? Was it the promise of the abundant life, or is it possible that we considered our faith only because it alleviated aspects of that fear we have of death? I am not judging because I can honestly say I first really focused on my personal belief just for that reason. We as humans often make decisions based on fear.

When we think of a list of the signs of Jesus, how many of us place the healing of the Demoniac Gerasene on that list? I ask this because often I do not think of this story. Often it is blocked out of my mind, until I drive through an area that has a high density of pork production. I block it out but as I studied this week I wonder why? I wonder why because this is potentially one of the greatest signs recorded in the gospels.

We are told that Jesus and his disciples sailed to the country of the Gerasenes,’ which is opposite Galilee. I want us to look at our bibles, many of them might have a footnote attached to this verse that states that some manuscripts have a different spelling of the place. This has caused some confusion for people that like to know exactly where events happened. Because each of the spellings are different places. One of those places is nearly twenty miles from the shores of the sea, which makes it unlikely. But Luke confirms that it is opposite Galilee, which is the most important thing because the area opposite Galilee is the area known as Decapolis, which is an area within Roman Palestine that had a greater population density of Gentiles.

The moment the boat reaches the shore and Jesus steps out on the land, he meets a man from the city who had demons. For a long time, Luke tells us, this man had not worn clothing, he was homeless, and lived among the tombs. Among the resources that I have available for study I have access to a book that has excerpts from the writings that church historians would call church fathers, or the ancient theologians that reference certain passages. I do not always read these excerpts because sometimes those ancient theologians are hard to read, but this week they had some interesting things to say. Like this from Cyril of Alexandria: “In great misery and nakedness, he wandered among the graves of the dead. He was in utter wretchedness, leading a disgraceful life. He was a proof of the cruelty of the demons and a plain demonstration of their impurity.… Whoever they possess and subject to their power, at once they make him an example of great misery, deprived of every blessing, destitute of all sobriety, and entirely deprived even of reason.”[1] Cyril goes on to say that God does not permit this that they may suffer but that we may learn by their example how the demons treat us so that as we watch the suffering of one we might turn away from sin and seek God. Cyril has an interesting take on this, but it seems cruel in some degree. The concept of the supernatural has changed in time. We often look at these passages in a clinical manner and reason away the things that make us uncomfortable. And the idea that God permits someone to be possessed almost sounds naive.

The afflicted man in today’s passage approaches Jesus, and as he nears, he begins to cry out, falls down at Jesus’s feet, and screams, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”

Hilary of Poitiers says this, “Did not the devils know the real nature of this name? … ‘What have I to do with you, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’ The truth drew out this reluctant confession, and being forced to obey, their grief testifies to the strength of this nature.” The demons know who Jesus truly is.

I mention these writings only because these are things that were written early in the history of the church, during a time when the polytheistic religions of the Greeks and Romans were still highly active in the western world. And these men were speaking to a people that had a worldview resembling the people of Jesus’s time more than ours today. In the ancient world the demonic was usually not regarded as an intermediate stage between human and divine, but rather a power and authority equal to the divine.[2] To the ancient people the Spiritual world was real, and just as mankind battled, so did the divine realm. Each nation had a god or goddess set over them to protect and guide their destiny and as the people of that nation conquered territory it proved the strength of their deity.

Before you start to question my understanding of God, I will explain myself. Jesus entered Decapolis, an area that was not populated by those of Jewish faith but of the faith of the Gentiles. They had a different understanding of the spiritual realm than the Hebrew people. The Jewish people were followers of Yahweh, and according to their beliefs, after the tower of Babel God had divided the nations of the world to lesser spiritual beings and Yahweh, the Most High God had chosen them to be his inheritance. The Gentiles thought that the various deities battled and could emerge victorious. The Jewish people at that time, believed that the deities of the nations were spiritual beings that rebelled against the Most High God, but Yahweh would eventually restore all those nations to him through the Messiah.

This is what is going through the mind of those ancient fathers of the church. They are seeing the Spiritual battle being waged and the minions of the rebellious deities of the Gentiles are being called out. These minions are offspring of deception and debauchery giving humanity short term pleasure and power but the cost would eventually overcome the benefits, and they would eventually be led to the image of the man we see in today’s passage. Naked, homeless, living among the dead. It was the minions of the advisory that the second temple period of Jewish writings recorded in the book of Enoch that taught humankind the arts of war and lust. And if we consider the images coming from the war-torn areas throughout the world; people are naked, homeless, and living among the dead.

In these pagan religions exorcisms were practiced. They have found writings that depict rituals and incantations that would provide power over these malicious beings, but Jesus does not need the magic of these lesser deities. The demoniac comes and falls before Jesus shrieking the truth. “What do you have to do with me Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” The spiritual beings know who Jesus is, they know where true power resides. They know that they serve rebels and they know their destiny. “And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss.” (Luke 8:31 ESV)

The abyss is interesting. It is a depiction of chaos, the depth of the sea, or the underworld. This is where things get a bit interesting because the teachings of the Jewish people and that of Greeks and Romans have similar understandings. In the mythology of the Greeks Tartarus is the deep abyss that was the prison for the titans the primordial gods that were conquered by the gods of Olympus. Peter, in 2 Peter 2:4 (ESV) says, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgement,” The word for hell Peter uses is the abyss, Tartarus. And Peter does not get this from Greek mythology, but again from the Jewish writings of Enoch. And we see this again in the concept of the lake of fire preserved for the devil in Revelation.

This legion of demons that possesses this man, is professing more than we might know. The man is a Gentile, and in his demonic utterances, he is connecting the teachings of the Jewish people with the teachings of the pagan Gentiles. As the demon speaks, he is assisting the Most High God to teach us that the scattered people at Babel are being called back to the true God. The powers of the adversary have been broken and are driven away by the Word of God. They are released into the herd of pigs, and the pigs respond as frightened animals often do, they run in terror and lead the demons into the sea, into chaos, into the abyss.

The stampede of pork visually declares the healing of the man. And as the people of the surrounding country come to see what happened, they see the man that was once possessed sitting at Jesus’s feet, clothed and in his right mind. And they are afraid.

Luke is careful as he chose these words. To say that the man was sitting at the feet of Jesus means that this man is included as a disciple. This phrase throughout the gospels have included many people that traditionally would be excluded this religious honor, it was used for the Samaritan Leper that was healed and returned to Jesus, it is used of Mary Magdalene, and it is use for this man, a gentile of Decapolis. He is sitting at Jesus’s feet; he is clothed and in his right mind. He has been completely transformed and restored, no longer is he a slave to the torments of the demons. As the countrymen approach and see this they cannot fully grasp what is going on. To them Olympus is falling. This Jesus without performing rituals and magic has merely used his voice to drive out the malicious demon and their entire world view has been shaken, not to mention they just lost their bacon.

And they ask Jesus to leave. Jesus does not even bat and eye or condemn the people for this request. He simply gets into the boat. They had crossed the sea and Jesus does this one thing for this one man and that is it. One could conclude that the healing of this one man was the only reason Jesus made the journey. And you would be right.

The man begs Jesus that he might go with Him, but Jesus does something interesting, he sends him away. You might think this is cruel. The man had just had a miraculous event happen and his only desire is to learn more and to follow the one that had freed him from his prison. But the word sent is from the same root as Apostle. Jesus not only accepted the man as his disciple, but he sent him back to his own people. “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.” (Luke 8:39 ESV) We say that it was Peter’s vision in Joppa that opened the door to the Gentiles to come to Christ, but Jesus opened the gate. Jesus made this Gerasene man the first apostle to Gentiles even before Saul who became Paul was struck by the light from heaven.

And what does the man do? He does not question Jesus. He does not continue to plea his case. He went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.

We all have had struggles. Each of us have faced trials that God has helped us through. Our story may not be as dramatic as this man’s but we have all be released from something by the power of God, something that was once keeping us from living our life in freedom. For those of us that have been freed, Jesus is telling us as he told that man, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”

Maybe we might still be in bondage in some way. “In order to make the possessed man realize that he has a personality apart from the evil spirits that have entered into him Jesus asks his name.”[3] The man could not yet break loose from the state, his identity, his life was defined by his possession. He responds, Legion, because many demons entered him. Where are you gaining your identity? How would you define who you are? Is it work? Is it a vice or weakness? Could we be seeking our identity in places that are connected to idolatry? Who are you? What is your name?

God knows your name. He is calling you by that name and is asking you to come and follow him. Are we willing to trust? Are we willing to entrust our lives to the one that can overcome our deepest and darkest fear, which is death? Are we willing to entrust our lives to the one who knitted us together in our mother’s womb and knows our very frame? What is your name?

Jesus wants us to come, he wants to drive the things that hold us in bondage into the abyss so that we too can live free in him. Will we listen to his call? Do we hear his whisper? Do we recognize our own name?

[1] Arthur A. Just, ed., Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 139.

[2] 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), 248.

[3] Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1952), 255.

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


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The Knowledge We Cannot Bear…Love

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

June 12. 2022

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Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

John 16:12–15 (ESV)

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

There are times where we come to a passage of scripture that seems odd. When we come to those passages, we can do a few things. Usually, and I include myself in this category, we simply overlook it, we skip it and act as if it did not even exist. Other times we take that passage and we look at it as if it is the conduit of some secret knowledge, and we develop a sort of spiritual practice or theology around those weird passages. We have seen this throughout church history. There is this obscure passage about Paul being bitten by a viper and not being harmed, which is attributed to the statement made by Jesus in Mark 16:18 where he says, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” It is a strange passage in both the gospel and in the book of Acts. And we are left wondering what it means. Some have taken the words quite literally and will have snake dancing celebrations as part of their worship. I do not attend one of those churches, and I am not saying anything against them, it is just I have never liked snakes. Another example is the passage in 1 Corinthians 15:29 where Paul seemingly states that we should baptize the dead. This is something that some religious sects have participated in and still do currently, but it is also something that I have read stories about as happening in the Church of Ireland. I wish I could give a good answer for these weird verses, but we do not have the time right now. And I frankly do not have the energy. But today we do have one of those strange verses as well.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” This statement comes near the end of Jesus’s farewell discourse, which is right before he leaves to pray in the garden. We have been in this discourse for the past few weeks and all the statements are connected but this one has a bit of a mystery to it. It leaves us thinking that maybe there might be more revelation to come, or maybe a deeper understanding of what has already been said. It really depends on our perspective and theological approach.

The word “bear” is what begins the mystery surrounding this passage. The word occurs twenty-seven times in the New Testament and eight of times are in Luke’s gospel, and rarely is it used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. We have relatively little context to know fully what “to bear” means in this spiritual context. Most often it has been used in the context of to lift or to carry away, or in a few cases especially in the Old Testament to pilfer or to steal. This gives us the idea of physical exertion, but then there are times where it refers to bearing a sign or name of God. This takes us away from physical exertion into something else. To bear an image, name, or sign from God means that this sort of bearing speaks to our nature. The core of who we are and how we are supposed to live.

I hope that this speaks to the confusion a bit. I hope that this allows us to realize that there is more to this statement than meets the eye. In one aspect Jesus might be saying that he wants to say more but we are not strong enough to handle the weight of the words, in another might mean that our understanding of who God is has not matured enough to allow us to live into our true nature. This second aspect is important. Often times people say that they are not good enough yet in themselves to be able to come to Christ. We have heard this in many forms. People will say things like, “If I were to enter a church, lightning would strike because I am so sinful.” Lucky for us this does not happen because if it did our Meetinghouse would have burned down long ago. But this statement speaks to the concept of bearing. We may not yet understand what life with God means. We grow into it. And at this moment we live into what we know but as we mature, we will be changed.

This is true even outside the church. A student goes to school, in kindergarten they begin with the alphabet and progress into reading simple words and sentences. We do not expect them to be able to contemplate the deeper meaning found within Shakespeare or Tolstoy, many adults are incapable of bearing that. We encourage them from where they are and walk with them as they progress deeper in knowledge and understanding. We do not expect more than they are able to undertake, and yet we still challenge them to go just one step deeper. It does not matter if it is literature or math, we take things a step at a time. Yet so often people feel as if there is this expectation of perfection when it comes to our spiritual life. This is partly our fault; we as more mature followers of Christ have forgotten where we once were and we fail to recognize that those around us might be struggling. We make assumptions that just because we live in a nation that has had a majority population of Christians that everyone knows what we know. This causes us to be short with those around us, and it also causes us to feel as if we have the right to force those around us to comply with our understanding of life.

We must be careful. We can often regard a lack of understanding as a lack of faith. We can regard a question being raised as an attempt to challenge the authority of scripture or traditional interpretation of scripture. Even the wisest among us can have their understanding of faith challenged. Even the most devout and zealous disciples of Christ can at times be found struggling to live out faith. How do we respond? How do we encourage those we live among to continue walking in faith?

Jesus looked at his disciples, people he had invested three solid years of personal interaction and spiritual investment. He looked at these individuals, and he knew that he had shown them a great deal, he taught them a great deal, he had empowered them to do the very things he was doing and yet they still had room to grow. They even after three years of constant teaching and observation did not grasp the fullness of what was going on around them. Judas was on his way at that very moment to sell out his faith for thirty pieces of silver. Peter before the rising of the sun in just hours, would deny Jesus three times. And all of them would that very evening run for their lives. We regard these men as saints, but in truth they are just like us, amazing characters of devout faith one moment and the next a scourge of humanity.

We give them space. We give them the opportunity to grow in their faith, because we know the end of the story within their lives. We know that they eventually become the foundation of the Church. But we do not give the same grace to each other nor to ourselves. Jesus has much more to teach us, much more to tell us, but even we cannot bear them now. At this moment we may only be capable of understanding that reality that God loves us so much that he sent his unique son to live among us, to teach, and to suffer and die for our salvation. But even that might be too much for us to bear at this point. For some of us we still struggle with the concept that God loves us. For some of us the idea of God loving us is still too much to bear at this moment. We are still struggling to become loveable. We are trying to get our act together to deserve God’s love, but God is already there. God already loves us; we just do not understand why.

I want us to just stop at this place for a moment. I want us to simply rest in the idea, the concept, and the reality that God loves us. Why is this such a difficult thing for us to grasp? We love our children even though they have done nothing to earn that love. We love them just because. I have said on several occasions that James my oldest son is responsible for my salvation on January 15, 1999. It was on the day that he was born that I, even though I had called myself a Christian for many years, began to understand the love of God. The first time I looked at my child, I realized that no matter what or who he became I would love this person. I would give anything, go anywhere, do anything to protect and make sure they had the best opportunity to succeed.

We do this for our own children. We do this for those within our family. Those children may not understand what we are doing exactly. They may not know how much we are sacrificing, how much we are investing and enduring so that they can grow, but later they will see. Later, if we do well, they will understand and love us just as we loved them. Later, they will do the same, but in this moment at this time they cannot bear the knowledge. They must simply abide in the fact that you are there and they are as safe as you can make them.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

Again, we are faced with enigmatic words. We cannot bear the words, and then the Spirit of truth will tell us the things to come. Does this mean that God will bring new revelations? Will God change what has always been said and done? Does this mean…

I want us to consider again that these words are being spoken just before the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus. This is before the burial and resurrection. This is before the fullness of God’s glory was revealed. Everything that will be happening in their near future is going to be confusing.

Imagine, for your entire life you have been taught that when the Messiah comes the Kingdom of Israel would be restored to its greatest era of history. They would be united under one king, one faith, and in one land. That they would be the light to all the nations and in your mind the entire world, even those currently under the dominion of the Gentiles, would be untied under God the Most High. This has been and is the hope that we still have to this day. But you believe that Messiah is here, but instead of conquering the world, he says that he must suffer. Instead of uniting all the tribes once again, he turns the tables over in the temple dedicated to God. Instead of battling those that oppose your faith, he tells you to love your enemy. They thought they understood what God wanted from them. They thought they understood what Jesus was saying, but at times they just did not understand. At times the words that Jesus spoke and their understanding of scripture seemed at odds. Not necessarily wrong, but odd. They agreed with what Jesus taught, but sometimes it just seemed difficult to live. How exactly can we love our enemies when they are threatening our very existence? How can we love God with everything we have and yet love our neighbor as ourselves, what would be left? How can we bring honor, and live in unity if we cannot agree?

The disciples wrestled with the things of faith just as much as we do. Jesus is telling them to live within their understanding, but to be open to guidance. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. Jesus had told them that He is the way the truth and the life. Jesus had told them that everything that he says is from the Father, and that all that he does he does within the Father’s authority. If Jesus was given the authority to bear that image, the image of the Father with humankind, then the Spirit of Truth can only lead them to Jesus, who is truth.

Does this passage tell us that we should expect a new revelation from the Spirit? Does it tell us to expect some sort of inspiration that we have not noticed before? This is where things get a bit tricky. The answer is yes, and the answer is also no. Truth is always truth. It does not matter where it comes from nor from whom it comes from. All truth comes from God. If a thing is not true its source is outside of God. Those things might work well for a moment but they are not universal. This statement might shock you a bit. It might sound as if I am a unitarian or worse, but that is far from what I am saying. To deny that all people have access to aspect of truth would mean that we do not believe that all humans come from the same creator. If we all have descended from Adam and Eve as scripture says, if those two individuals are a common ancestor to all humanity, then at some point in time our ancestors knew the truth of God. It also means that we have all distorted the truth. Each of us in our own self interest and the interests of our community have within us the capacity to distort truth and merge something that is good with something that is of a lie.

We can see this even within scripture. Even God’s chosen people were and are capable of this deception. Jesus said in one of his sermons, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45). The reason Jesus speaks in this manner is because something somewhere along the way had been lost. Somewhere along the pathways of life and faith people began justifying activity that contradicted God’s original message.

We can justify the ill treatment of many people and people groups. Russia justified their invasion of Ukraine by claiming that they were Nazis. The United States justified their invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq because we were going in to find terrorist. We might feel justified in our actions and may even have evidence in support of our arguments. This does not mean we are right. When Jesus says that God makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust, he is saying that all people are loved by God. Even though they may not be his chosen people, they are still members of his human family. People that He loves to such a degree that while they were still enemies of God, Jesus came to die for them, to offer them the opportunity to have life in his name. I want us to recognize the gravity of that statement. God does not withhold sun and rain, the life sustaining elements of existence from even the vilest people on this earth. Why then would he withhold an opportunity to know the life sustaining truth?

This leaves us in an awkward position. We know things, and yet Christ tells us we have more to learn because we are not able to incorporate all truth. We are still growing, still maturing. And we live among people that are not that unsimilar to us. They too do not have full knowledge of the truth. They may not even know of where the truth comes. What should we do? How should we live? Do we have some secret knowledge that others do not have access too? No. I wish it would be the case. I wish I could say that the Friends have a monopoly on life saving grace. But God is available to all. We do not have access to God only in this Meetinghouse. We can have communion with God wherever we are and with whomever we are with to some degree. But are we seeking God where we are?

This is the truth within this passage. It is not that we can gain something secret. It is that when we seek to deepen that relationship with God, the Spirit of Truth will continually guide us into a greater understanding of life, the universe, and everything. And the deeper we go the more like Christ we become and we are better able to bear the image or name we claim in faith. Seek first the kingdom, Jesus tells us, and all these things will be added unto you. Take on the life and lifestyle of Jesus and we will find that there is a satisfaction in the simplicity of loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others.

The spirit does not give us new information or prophecy, but a deeper relationship. A relationship that is open to all who believe. Will we accept that relationship, and will we encourage others to embrace it? Will we encourage the person siting next to us to love God with all that they have and to love their neighbor as they love themselves? Will we life for Christ? The longer I have served in ministry the more I understand that faith is complex and simple. It is complex only because I am so ignorant but once I begin to see, once I can get beyond my own lack of understanding and my own stubborn resistance, I realize that the reality of all that I seek is, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong.” We can sit here looking for the knowledge Jesus wants to reveal to us, we can seek it every minute of every day. Or we can simply embrace the reality of Jesus’s love and let that love flow from us to others. Let us allow the love to flow and let the Spirit guide us where we need to be.

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Meeting Times

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