By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
July 24, 2022
Luke 11:1–13 (ESV)
1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread, 4 and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” 5 And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Of all the disciplines of the Christian life, prayer is the most important. Prayer is also the most difficult. We are encouraged to pray without ceasing and yet how many of us feel as if we have a grip on what it means to pray? If we are honest with ourselves, we all have room to improve in this. While I was in school, I took several classes that focused on prayer, and after I completed school, I enrolled in an independent study on prayer. Even after all of this, one might think that I could pray and yet I struggle.
I struggle because prayer is something that is often deeper than we think. It is one of the pillars of Jesus’s life and lifestyle. Jesus made it his custom to worship in the synagogues with his community, he withdrew often to isolated places to pray, and he ministered to the needs of those around him in word and in deed.
That lifestyle of worship, prayer, and service is the lifestyle that we are called to put on, to reflect, and to live in front of those around us. We have a good grasp on worship, I say this because we are all here on a Sunday morning worshiping with our community. We sing our praises to God, and we encourage and are encouraged by the teaching derived from scripture. We have a grasp on worship, and we understand ministry or service. Service is where we provide help to those around us. People let us know what is needed and we do our best to fulfill the needs. At times we struggle with ministry but for the most part if we have been a person of faith for any amount of time, we aide those in need. Many of us did this even when faith was not important in our lives because ministry is being a good member of society. That is why the civil governments in many countries elect ministers. Ministers serve those around them, and our elected officials are in service of the people, their work and their purpose is to do whatever they can to provide aide in areas that we cannot provide for ourselves.
Worship and ministry we understand but pray is often where we struggle. This is because we do not understand what prayer is. Many of us were taught that prayer is simply talking to God. That is not wrong, but in many cases, that definition is one sided. It is dictating our will to God. We express our needs and desires but what do we do after that? We struggle with prayer especially if we have made our petitions and we do not see the results that we expected. This causes us to assume, either I do not really know how to pray, or God does not really listen.
Prayer was central in Jesus’s lifestyle. He worshiped, he prayed, and he served. It is right in the middle. It was in his time of prayer that Jesus found his rest. It is after prayer that Jesus changed his courses of ministry. Jesus prayed alone and he invited others to join him. And Jesus protected his time of prayer. Often when he prayed, we see him taking his disciples to a mountain. He would leave most of the disciples at the base, and would move up the slope with Peter, James, and John. Then he would withdraw from those three and pray off by himself. I have often wondered about this, but I realize that Jesus was making sure that he could pray by those actions. He was setting a perimeter around him so that he could pray uninterrupted. And even though he was being incredibly private, he was also inviting his disciples to share in the intimacy of prayer. He withdrew but in his withdraw he could be observed, and often he would ask his disciples to watch and pray with him.
Have you ever watched someone? As a child, I would often observe the people that I respected. I would listen to what they had to say and would try my hardest to reflect their lifestyle. There were a few things that I really wanted to do I wanted to be an astronaut and a basketball player. I watched every documentary I could about the space program, and I learned that to be an astronaut you had to be physically fit and smart. So, I studied hard, and I tried to stay fit. That is where basketball came into play. I loved playing basketball. I spent hours in the afternoon trying to hone my skills. I would shoot free throws, I would do dribbling drills on our driveway, and whenever possible I would ask my dad to play a game with me. I practiced because I listened to people like Larry Bird. They said that they practiced all the time on their own and with a team. If I wanted to be good, I was going to have to practice. I learned these concepts because I watched others. I observed what they did and because I respected them, I tried to emulate them in my own life. In both cases I realized that I did not have what it takes to continue in that course. I was born deaf and the best way to become an astronaut was to serve in the military. I cannot serve in the military, so I pursued other dreams. That left basketball. I am not tall, and even though I practiced hours a day, I am not coordinated enough to be a real basketball player. I would practice my free throw shots; I would tally how many I did and keep track of my statistics. And I was terrible. I would do dribbling drills and we did not have a concrete driveway so I would dribble on gravel only to lose the ball. I tried and I love the game, but I am not good. I played on the freshman team as a senior, but I still tried.
The point of that story is not that practice makes perfect, but discipline. I watched, I observed, I tried, and I continued to try. My lifestyle became practice, and practice became a part of who I am. Jesus’s disciples watched, and they tried to reflect Jesus. But watching only goes so far, sometimes need information. So, they asked Jesus to teach them to pray.
“And he said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins. For we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’”
There are two instances in the Gospel accounts where Jesus teaches us to pray, we are more familiar with the version that in Matthew’s account. There is a difference in the wording of the two, but the overall theme remains. We use this prayer as a formula to guide our own prayers, if not our prayers themselves. The lesson that Jesus gives is more than a prayer. It is an attitude, or a temperament.
Jesus begins with Father, or in Matthew’s account our Father. There is something to the difference here. It is common for the prayers within the faith of the Hebrew people to use the phrase, our Father, but it is unique to address God in such a familiar term as just father, or more accurately dad. This is important to note. We should be familiar with and even intimate in our language while we pray. So often we try to use sacred words when we pray. My grandfather’s generation would only pray with words like thee and thou because it was how they were taught to pray. That is how they were taught, but that was not how they spoke in their everyday conversations. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it does place a distinct division between the secular and the sacred. In our mind there is a switch that is flipped. I speak one way with those around me and a completely different way when I pray. I say there is nothing inherently wrong with this, because we do this all the time. When we speak with our children or our spouse we speak in terms of endearment, if we were to use those same words with our coworkers, we would find ourselves in the Human Resources office being investigated for harassment. There is a time and place for intimacy in our language and formality. Jesus is telling us that our relationship with God, our conversations with God are intimate, not formal. We should be as familiar with speaking to God as we are with speaking to our earthly parents.
I want us to consider the last conversation you had with your parent, how many of us addressed them as my mother or my father? Or if you have siblings, did you say our mother or our father? No, we might speak that way if we were speaking of our parent, but not in a conversation with our parents. When we speak to our parents in conversation, we are informal. When I call my mom, I do not say “hello mother” I say, “Hi, mom.” If we use anything other than the informal greeting, we are usually being sarcastic. If it is not sarcastic then it is a sign of a lack of intimacy in the relationship, or a coldness where there is not trust or love within the relationship.
Jesus is teaching us that our life of prayer should be so familiar that we should feel comfortable enough to speak to the God of the universe using terms of endearment. I want us to think about that for a moment. How many of us hesitate at that thought? I will admit, I do. I cringe at times when I hear someone being a bit too familiar in their language while praying. I know people that will literally say daddy in prayer. I think how crass. Do they not know that they are speaking to the God of the Universe? Have some respect! But I am wrong. I should be so comfortable with God that I could say daddy. Will I get that comfortable? Only God knows my heart, and God knows that I struggle, God knows that I am awkward and not good at expressing myself in words. This means that I do need to work on relationships in general, especially in prayer.
Jesus is the only known teacher within Hebrew traditions that taught this kind of intimacy in prayer. And Luke points this out. Matthew puts a more traditional Hebrew mindset in his rendering of the lesson on Prayer, but both agree with the next part. “Hallowed be your name.” We do not use the term hallowed much in our language today. The closed we come to using the word Hallowed in everyday conversation is when we say Halloween, which literally means All Halloweds’ Eve. Which is the night before All Saints’ Day.
Hallowed means to sanctify or to make holy. The tense in which this verb is used means to let your name be set apart or above, may it be honored above everything else. There should be familiarity in our prayers, and there should be awe. We are speaking with God the most high, creator of all things visible and invisible. What a privilege we have in this. Praise and honor should always be part of our conversation with God. And with this an acknowledgment of our place. “Your kingdom Come.”
When we think of kingdom our mind is often transported to a place of castles and nobles. We do not live within a kingdom in America. We pride ourselves in this. We live in a democracy where we are free to pursue our own definition of happiness. Because we are culturally removed from the concept of kingdom, we often have a negative view of what that word means. When we think of king and kingdom our mind is often drawn to an idea of a tyrant. There is not a relationship with a tyrant. There is no interaction and no conversation. One does not approach a king and say daddy, unless you happen to be a child of the king.
That is kind of the point. A kingdom the scope of influence of a king. Some kingdoms stretch as far as our eyes can see and beyond, while others may not even get out the door. To say your kingdom come, means that we strive to participate in the expansion of God’s influence throughout the world. Your kingdom come, is not just a future embrace of heaven, but it is allying ourselves to God here today. It is denying our own will and seeking his face in all that we do.
Your kingdom come is probably the most difficult part of the entire lesson on prayer. We can praise God for his greatness and his holiness, we can even accept that we can have a relationship with him. But when we say your kingdom come something must happen. My kingdom, our kingdom, the scope of influence that I live and participate in is no longer mine to dictate. For us to have intimacy with God, our will and our influence must be absorbed into that of God.
How many of us have had an argument with another individual? Why did we argue? Often it is because our ideas did not resemble the other’s. I wanted to eat pizza and you wanted a burger. The argument ensues. I wanted to watch a movie, and you wanted to play a game. The argument begins. Or maybe the argument is completely one sided. I assumed that you and I were on the same page and in reality, we were not. Assumptions are relationship killers. I might assume that my spouse will do something because that is how it has always been in the home I grew up in, and my spouse assumes something different because that is how it was in their family. I expect them to do it, they expect me to. And now there are no clean clothes or dishes and who is to blame? Our kingdom, our will, or our expectations were not met. We are upset but the reason we are upset is because we did not align ourselves together.
In prayer we acknowledge that God is the most high in our praise. God is most high, where does this leave us. God is the one that created all and knows us from the time we were formed in our mother’s womb. God is, was, and is to come. God is the expert in all things, and yet how do we live our lives? We assume, we argue, we make decisions without consultation. We want our will, but why? We want it because we believe it is in our best interest. What exactly has that gotten us? Arguments.
“Give us each day our daily bread,” This is a turning point in the prayer. We are submitting to the intimacy and adjusting our will to the will of the Father’s. And something that comes with that is a release of need. Why do we control? Because if we do not look out for ourselves who else will? We do not trust. We do not feel that the people around us care about our interests and as a result we pull away and provide for ourselves. Let me ask one question where is the relationship in that mindset, where is the intimacy?
In the garden the serpent brought deception to the human mind. The result from that event we often call sin, but the reality is that we lost trust. Eve no longer trusted God, because the serpent suggested that God was withholding knowledge. But I want us to think of something else. God told Adam not to eat of the tree, and Eve told the serpent that they were not even to touch the tree. Sure, the serpent deceived Eve, but if we are to take the words literally Adam was the first to deceive her. Adam even though he loved his wife, did not trust that she would follow God’s commandment so he either directly or indirectly caused Eve to believe that touching the tree was just as wrong as eating from it. History has put the blame on Eve for too long, when Adam failed. Adam did not trust Eve, even before she handed him the fruit. And the result was that once the fruit was eaten their eyes were opened and they saw that they were naked. They were vulnerable. They could not trust. Sin brought in death, but death is separation from life. True sin is separation. And separation is the lack of trust. We sin, we separate from others, because we do not trust. And because we do not trust we cannot entrust our future to another.
That is what “give us each day our daily bread,” means. It is petitioning God to live up to his word. If we are to join him in his kingdom instead of our own, he will need to provide. The word for bread is translated accurately because bread is the primary source of food in ancient times, but it is food. The idea It is those that live within God’s kingdom will be provided with their necessities. But when Luke says give us each day it is not merely asking for our daily needs, it is a statement of trust that God will provide not just today but tomorrow.
Jesus is telling us in this lesson on prayer to live for God today, participate in God’s kingdom work today, and trust that God will provide what we need now and in the future. This does not mean that we will have everything that we want. We cannot just claim something in the name of Jesus and expect that God will provide it, that is our will not His. I want a new car. I want to take a trip. I want this salary. I want this or that. Where is the kingdom of God in those petitions? I justify my desires before God. God will provide for those that listen to his voice and participate in his kingdom’s work. He will provide, but that does not always mean we will have everything we want. It is his kingdom not mine.
“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation” This goes back to trust. There is intimacy in “Father”. There is honor and recognition of God’s high status in “hallowed.” There is trust in the statement, “Your kingdom come.” As we continue to pray, we move from mere trust to entrusting our life to God in the statement, “give us each day our daily bread.” But there is a weakness in our own heart. We pray for God to intervene in a situation, and the answer we receive was not what we hoped for. We question the trustworthiness of God. The shades of sin begin to separate us once again. Or maybe we were inspired to serve in some way, but we neglected that ministry. Which might have been the answer to someone else’s prayer, and we caused their trust in God to faulter. Or maybe someone failed us. Maybe they breached the trust that we had in them which is causing us to question the trustworthiness of God. Trust is important. When we do not trust others there is a wedge of separation.
Relationships are delicate things. They take a long time to develop and can be destroyed in an instant. This is why grace and forgiveness are important. I confess that I have failed to be the most ideal pastor. There are times where I want to do things, but I allow my attention to be drawn elsewhere. I confess that I have done this even to my own family. I have forgotten dates. I have put my job before deepening the relationship. I have so often failed to be the person I would like me to be. And I have also been wronged also. I have had people say things that are untrue about me, I have had promises made to me that have gone unfulfilled. I have had events happen within my life that have caused me to question why I even care. People can hold a grudge against me, and I could hold a grudge against others. There are people I interact with where we are basically at a stand off and a single word could ignite a war.
“Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” Do you know what this is saying? Lead us not into temptation, we know from the teachings surrounding God, that God does not lead us into temptation. But we often find ourselves in them. This is petitioning God to guide us. As we face the trials that come from the breaches of trust that have been caused by ourselves and others, we are asking God to guide us to a place of reconciliation. As we seek to forgive those that hurt us, we can recognize what caused the pain and we will avoid it. And if pain appears to be unavoidable, we will speak to them so that we can both work together to bridge that gap that separates us. This is not easy, but we pray that no matter what, we will not let the breach of trust cause us to stop moving forward and living the life God is calling us to.
The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and Jesus gave them some things to think about. But the words go deeper. They are a call to intimacy with God and our neighbor in word and in deed. Our prayer is the parable of the Good Samaritan lived out in all that we are. Prayer is Love. It is loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others. Prayer is a lifestyle where we actively participate in the kingdom here now and forever in the future. Teach us to pray Lord, teach us to live.
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By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
July 17, 2022
Luke 10:38–42 (ESV)
38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
When I read scripture, I am challenged. If you have known me for a while, you might know that I am opinionated. I try extremely hard to avoid political conversations because I will make everyone upset. I make people upset because I tend to pull out areas that people have not thought about and I ask questions concerning those areas. This is part of my personality. I try to encourage people to think a bit deeper than talking points when making their decisions. And because of this you all probably think that I agree with you, until you ask me a question. After that, you will regard me as the very problem with the world.
I am not proud of this aspect of my personality. At times it is good, but there are other times where I just wish I would shut up and let things be. I have had close friends ask me questions, I have tried to avoid the question and even warned them that they would not want me to answer the question, because I am not an either-or type of person. To me the world is rarely black and white, I rarely find a yes or no answer, but tend to look at things through situational awareness. I look for the exceptions, and if we have not spoken to those exceptions satisfactory, I will drag my feet. I do this because the exceptions are usually the ones that affected the most. I have lost friends because of this aspect of my personality, and it saddens me, but it is who I am.
It is generally better for people to get an education, go to college and get a job. But there are exceptions to this. Bill Gates, love him or hate him, did not finish college and he became one of the wealthiest men in the world. Generally, it is better for pastors to go to bibles college and get a degree, it is even better if they go on and receive graduate degrees and even complete doctoral studies. But there is an exception to this, George Fox the person most regard as the founder of the Society of Friends from which our Church finds its roots, did not go receive a traditional education and his contemporaries often regarded him as illiterate. And yet he spoke passionately, authoritatively, and often the things that he promoted and were regarded as heretical when Friends first began have since been affirmed in many ways through scholarship. Generally, we can make many statements and many of those statements would be right most of the time. But what about the exception, will we deny God’s ability to do great things because of generality? That flies in the face of the miraculous.
If you have come here for political advice, I am not your source. But I will encourage you to look deeper. God has given me the gift of being annoying. We cannot dictate what gifts we are given, and at times we may not be able to tell if what we are given is a gift or not. That is not the point. God has made us who we are so that we can bring glory to him through our unique perspective and encourage others to do the same.
Last week we spoke about the parable of the Good Samaritan. I mentioned that Jesus purposefully gave this parable to shock the people listening to him. He told this story to especially cause the established religious leaders to look deeper into what they are teaching, to draw them into the deeper conversation within the word of God. What was that deeper conversation?
We do not and cannot control God. We in all our pious zeal can be blind to the truth. And God can do extraordinary things with the unexpected, so we should generally be open to the exceptions. Many may not realize but this interaction with Mary and Martha is a continuation to the story we looked at last week. Last week we saw that even the enemy of Israel, could be a neighbor to someone in need, and that in the eyes of Jesus this was good. It is good because love, the love that God has for his creation, does not recognize boarders, political systems, races, or anything else that we use to divide and label those around us. To God there is only humanity.
“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.” I want us to stop and consider this for a moment. I have mentioned often that Jesus not only taught us how to live a life with God, but he showed us, he lived that life and lifestyle before our eyes. At least before the eyes of his disciples. When Jesus sent the disciples out in groups to proclaim the good news, he told them something. He said to them not to take extra food, not to pack their bags, or take spending money. He told them to stay with those that welcomed them and if they were rejected to knock the dust off their sandals and keep moving. Jesus is showing them this lifestyle in this passage.
He entered a village, and Martha the matron of the house welcomed them into her home. We know Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus. We know that they are friends of Jesus, such dear friends that when Lazarus died, Jesus wept. We are not told how this friendship began. Church traditions have noticed this lack of information and they have tried to fill that gap, but the truth of the matter is that we just do not know. What we do know is that Martha welcomed them into her home, and Jesus stayed with them and accepted whatever was provided to him.
“And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.” When rabbis taught, those that listened would gather around and sit with their teacher. The closer to the rabbi showed how devoted you were to them. To sit at the feet of a rabbi meant that you were one of his disciples. The disciples were those individuals who were called to live life with the teacher. They walked where he walked, they ate what he ate, they lived where he lived. They took on their rabbi’s lifestyle, and eventually they would continue their rabbi’s teaching. We know the twelve disciples; we know that they followed him wherever he walked but there are instances within scripture where there is someone else in this position that causes our eyebrows to raise just a bit.
A few weeks ago, we met one such person, the demon possessed man that lived among the swine. We were told that when the people from within the town came out to see what was going on, they saw the demoniac clothed and sitting at Jesus’s feet. Jesus was then asked to leave their land because they were afraid. We are often told that they were mad because of the loss of pigs, but it was much deeper than that. They were afraid because they were not Jewish, and this man possessed by demons they believed was being controlled by one of their gods. Jesus overturned their world view and the sign of this was the man in his right mind sitting at Jesus’s feet, and just incase people did not believe it they had a secondary witness from everyone that lost swine that day.
That man sat at Jesus’s feet, and he expressed a willingness to follow Jesus wherever he went. Jesus had a different plan for that man. He commissioned that man to go to his community, to tell them everything that God had done for him. That man became an apostle, and he proclaimed throughout the land, all that Jesus did for him.
That man was siting at Jesus’s feet, and he was sent on a mission. To sit at a rabbi’s feet is special, and rabbis would not allow just anyone to take that position. Just like today a student would have to prove that they were a worthy student. Today we fill out applications, we must have references and they need to provide information to the institution to let them know that this person is a worthy student. And if everything checks out you can attend. Rabbis had a similar process, different yes, but similar. Disciples had to live the rabbi’s lifestyle, so many could not afford it. And you had to have a recommendation from another rabbi, meaning you would have had to prove your knowledge and wisdom before hand within your local synagogue. This is where Jesus rocks the boat a bit. I just mentioned that a gentile was sitting at Jesus’s feet. Later in Luke we will see that Jesus allowed Samaritans to in that position, and today we see Mary. A woman sitting at the feet of a rabbi, sitting in the position of a disciple. Women were not allowed into the area of the synagogues where the rabbis taught. It was very uncommon for a woman to be in this place being taught by a rabbi. It is generally not accepted. But there are exceptions to that generally accepted rule, because God will use those that are willing to participate in his kingdom to accomplish his kingdom’s work. Some of my favorite stories in the Hebrew Scriptures are just such women. Women like Deborah, Ruth, Esther, and Judith.
We have Martha here welcoming Jesus and his entourage into her home, and we have Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. Martha was distracted with much serving. Martha often gets a bad reputation because of this story. Throughout church history teachers have used Martha’s busyness to speak out against salvation through works. Even today you could pull up YouTube sermons across the world that will speak poorly about Martha criticizing her for being distracted with much serving, saying that she was attempting to find favor through works instead of grace. I want us to give Martha a break. Jesus loves her, she welcomed Jesus into her home, and she was serving her Lord.
I am not saying that there was nothing wrong with the situation though. Martha was distracted with much serving. Martha was distracted. She was busy doing the very thing she was called to do, the very thing she wanted to do for her lord. A thing that was honoring not only Jesus but was something that honored God. Israel was commanded to supply hospitality by Torah, and Martha is obedient. But Jesus rebuked her because she came to him saying, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” I want us to contemplate this scene today. I want you to put yourself in Martha’s shoes and listen to that rebuke. It is heart wrenching. Jesus looks at her and speaks to her both gently and with firmness. He gently speaks her name not once but twice. He can see the stress boiling within her mind and body. He knows that she is nearing her end. And he speaks her name twice, to get her attention.
We are all stressed. Many of us are stretched to our breaking point and we continue to add more to our schedules and stretch ourselves thinner. And there are times where we just want to cry, even the men. But that is not the sin, that is not what caused Jesus to rebuke Martha. It is not exactly wise, and Jesus does address this. He tells Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Scholars debate over what Jesus means here. Is he telling her that it is ok to just set out a box of cereal and some bowls? Or is it something more? Yes. Mom’s, I encourage you to give great nutritious meals to your children. I pray that you will be blessed with the house of your dreams, but I want you to know that it is ok to let the laundry sit in a basket at times, and your kids will not be traumatized if you serve mac and cheese with hotdogs occasionally. Fathers, I hope you have a great job that will provide everything you want for your family. But it is ok to allow yourself time to just sit and watch a tv show with your kids. And I am fully aware of the generalization within those statements. I know moms work and dads can stay at home. I know that most families today have both parents working one if not two jobs. The point I am trying to make is to take a day to relax. Take time to catch your breath. And take things one at a time.
The schedule is not what Jesus was rebuking in Martha. The stress Jesus addressed, but it is not main point of Jesus’s rebuke. Martha sinned not because she was busy, but because she wanted Jesus to make her sister do something that she wanted her to do. She wanted Jesus to require her sister to take part in the activities that Martha deemed most important. Martha sinned not because she was busy, but because she desired to control those around her, and was not allowing them to serve according to their own giftedness.
My sister, brother, and I are similar in many ways. We all are very opinionated. We are all passionate. We are all brilliant and talented in our own ways. And that is the key. In our own ways. We are similar, but we are also very different. My brother is more technically minded than I am. I can do quite a bit with technology, and I even know how to use a variety of tools. It might even surprise some of you to know that I can even use a welder. That is not who I am. I can do it, but it is not my passion. My sister loves making things beautiful. When Kristy and I moved into our first apartment together, my sister came in and decorated. My idea of decoration is furniture, a Star Wars calendar turned to a month within this year, and bookshelves. My sister owns an antique store, she restores furniture, so it is safe to sell, and her store looks like you walked into a Rockwell painting. My brother has a job in networking and gets excited about installing smart locks and firewalls. And I like to read and talk about what I read. Although we are similar, we are completely different. We know this about our siblings, our children, our friends, and coworkers. We know this and yet we get upset with them because they do not do what we want, and how we would do it.
Martha’s sin was not the busyness within her life. That was her ministry, her gift, and her calling. She pursued that with everything she had, and she did get overwhelmed. That is not sin, but lack of wisdom that can lead to sin. Martha’s sin entered when she began blaming her own shortcomings on her sister, Mary. She sinned when she began demanding that God command her to take part in the culturally accepted generality. She sinned because she forgot one thing. We are all unique and called to different things.
We look at this passage and we often encourage everyone to be like Mary and not Martha. I do not want us to look at these women in that way. I instead encourage you to be you. But be aware of your own limitations. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed it is fine to ask for help, but it is also ok for those you ask to say no. It is fine. It is not the end of the world.
Jesus closes out his rebuke by saying, “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Is Jesus telling Martha that Mary is better than her? Is he telling Martha that she should be more like her sister Mary? No. He is simply telling Martha that Mary is different, she has chosen to pursue what is good for her, and Jesus is not going to take that away. Mary and Martha have different personalities. They have different passions. Martha finds her fulfillment in hospitality and Jesus honors her in that. Mary has a different desire. She desires knowledge, her desire is to sit at the feet of Jesus and to learn. Jesus honors Mary in that.
We as religious leaders of various traditions have failed many. We encourage those around us with the generalities instead of speaking to the exceptions that make each of us unique. Is it wrong to say that in general women are more often the care givers? No, it is a generally the truth. But it is wrong to say that women are only allowed to be care givers. I would not be standing here today if the women in my life lived according to the generalities. My mother was a business owner. She passionately pursued her degree and to serve within her own giftedness. Those that encouraged me the most during the formative years of my faith were women, living their lives through their own giftedness. They were the exceptions to the rules society often taught.
Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” What is Jesus saying? Is he telling us to read the bible more? Is he telling us to serve the community more? Is he telling us to sit in silence, do penitence, go to church? No. He is telling us to find that one thing that God has created us to pursue and pursue it with everything we have. He is telling us this because when we find that one thing that sets our spirit on fire it is in that one thing, we will be most able to Love God with everything we have and our neighbor as ourselves. He is also telling us that we as a community should make every effort to encourage and support those around us in this. If we know someone that is passionate about computers, we should go to them before we go to best buy. If someone is passionate about art, we should buy their artwork if we are able and encourage them to use their art to bring glory to God. If someone you know wrote a book, buy it even if it is not your favorite type of book. Why, because that is what a community is for. We are here in this place at this time to encourage people to love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and to live the love of Christ with others. We can only do this if Martha is living into her gift of hospitality, and if Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus. We can only do this if pastors preach, and teachers teach. We can only do this if mechanics are fixing our vehicles and people that love to drive are giving us a ride. We can only live life loving God and our neighbor if we are willing to let those around us be exceptional.
As we enter this period of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends, I want us to consider Mary and Martha. I want us to consider our friends and the members of our family. And I want us to repent. I want us to repent because we have been instruments discouragement and we need to change. We have told people they cannot do. Not because they are not gifted but because we are afraid of what people might think. God called Mary to be a disciple of Jesus, a woman, and Jesus would not take that away from her. Would we?
If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:
To help support the personal ministry of JWQuaker (Jared Warner) online and in the community click to donate.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
July 7, 2022
Luke 10:25–37 (ESV)
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
There are a few passages from scripture that almost everyone knows. Today we have read one of those stories. Most of us could tell this story to anyone at a moments notice. Most of us could explain the meaning within this story to anyone we meet. We know this story but most of us would say that we cannot share our faith because we do not know enough scripture.
I want us to think about this for a moment. I want us to think about the purpose of scripture, and why God inspired it. I want us to consider why after thousands of years we still read this book, why we translate it into nearly every language across the planet, and why we think it is important.
I have said on multiple occasions that I love studying scripture. I remember one summer afternoon while sitting at McDonald’s in Odessa Ukraine talking with some students and other friends of mine while we ate a chocolate ice cream sundae. One of our students asked us what our dream job would be. This was twenty-two years ago, and I remember it as if it were yesterday. This was twenty-two years ago, and I thought I had my entire life figured out. I was going to go into genetic research, I was going to work for a seed company and was going to make more nutritious crops that could be grown in arid places of the world. I thought this because I lived and worked on a dryland farm. There were not many options for our farmers. We grew wheat and grain sorghum, and when I was coming out of Highschool and going into college genetic engineering of crops was just beginning. This new scientific discovery was opening the dryland farms of Kansas to corn and soybean production. These discoveries were making rice that had greater nutritional content that could be grown in areas that previously could not. It was an exciting time for those that produce food. I know that some of you might think this is crazy and you may not want to eat those products, but for a farmer this is great. Farmers want to produce products that will feed people. Their livelihood and their lifestyle are to raise food so others can eat with the hope that they will also be able to feed their own family. That was my hope and my dream as I left high school and entered college. I thought that God had given me a gift of knowledge and curiosity so that I could use that knowledge to feed the world.
But on that summer afternoon while eating ice cream someone asked me a question, what is your dream job. And in that moment my mind and my mouth seemed to be disconnected. I spent the entire summer talking with students about science and faith. I had conversations with young adults that had just started their career in the Ministry of Agriculture in Ukraine, I had visited the home of a student and spoke to their grandfather who was an agricultural researcher in the Soviet Union, and he took me around Ukraine, and we looked at the fields. Acres and acres of wheat and sunflowers. I even had an interview for a job in Odessa. They wanted me to stay in their country and help them make their agricultural economy more like that of Kansas. But when that student asked that question, I did not say what I expected to say. Instead, I said, “I would like to sit around eating ice cream and talking about scripture.”
As soon as those words came out of my mouth, I was terrified. What had I just said? Had I just lost my mind? I quickly recovered and played it off as I really liked ice cream, which I do, and everyone laughed. They knew I loved ice cream and all of us that went to Ukraine to teach English did, because we would eat all the ice cream out of their coolers within two days. Ukraine had some of the best ice cream in the world. But the second part of the statement stuck with me. It scared me, because if this was true, I had been pursuing the wrong life and lifestyle. Everything I thought I knew was turning upside down. I had one semester left before my degree was finished and was, I seriously going to pursue a different path.
That summer in Ukraine taught me something. I did not have an education in biblical studies. Yet I would sit down with students, and we would talk, we would open scripture and read a passage and discuss it, and I found that the quiet farm kid that would rarely speak began to talk. And when we had these discussions those around me would talk, and soon we were telling each other how we should change aspects of our lives and began encouraging each other. So often I regarded the scripture as a book of law, as the source of answers for moral problems. But in that summer, I realized that scripture is a conversation. It is God speaking with us and as we listen, consider, and respond we leave the conversation changed.
I tell this story, because this is what Jesus taught. We often wonder why Jesus spoke in parables, and the reason is because scripture, even the books we often refer to as the books of the law, are stories and conversations. They are case studies to prompt us to think and reconsider how we live with each other and with God.
“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” I want us to consider this scene, imagine it in your mind. In ancient times, when a rabbi or a teacher was speaking to their students or disciples, they would gather around and sit together. When someone wanted to ask a question, they would stand up. Today we raise our hands to get permission to speak, back then they stood up. This lawyer was sitting with the disciples of Jesus, he was listening to Jesus teach, and was interested in what Jesus had to say. He was eager to learn. How often do we imagine the various scenarios of Jesus’s confrontations with religious leaders like this? Do we realize that they were eager to learn just as much as the everyone else?
This lawyer stands and he asks his question. But there is something here that we might miss. When we see the word lawyer, we assume things. The word that Luke uses for Lawyer is important. He uses a different term here than the other gospel writers; it is a word that means an expert of the law. This is a man that most would regard as an equal to if not greater than Jesus in knowledge. Meaning that he is not only one that can bring clarity to the law but is authorized to teach it. He is a master professor, a doctor in his field. I bring this up because it brings clarity to Jesus’s response. “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” This second question Jesus asks this man could be rendered not only as read, but how would you teach and explain it.
Jesus does not simply give information; he invites the man into a conversation. The man is given permission to explain his own understanding of what scripture says, before Jesus speaks. And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” This is the Shema, a prayer or confession that was encouraged to be spoken twice a day to remind the people of Israel of who they are. We often think that Jesus gave a new teaching but everything that he taught is rooted in the teachings that had been around since Moses. This teaching of which the lawyer speaks is from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. This is from the very core of the teaching of Israel that is accepted across all branches of their faith. And Jesus responds to the lawyer, “you have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
This is the core of our faith even to this day. The law that we are to live by is to love God with everything we are and all that we have, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The word for love in this sense is the same, there is no hierarchy to it. Love of God is to be equal to love of neighbor, and it should be equal to the love that we have for ourselves. It is telling us that everything should be in balance. We cannot love God more than we love our neighbor, because this would lead to neglect, and we cannot love our neighbor without loving God, because this would also throw things out of balance because we would then be worshiping our community more than God. And the hardest part is loving our neighbor as ourselves. We so often get this wrong because we want to be humble. So, we neglect ourselves and give to others, or we justify doing special things for ourselves because we are to love ourselves, and if we regard ourselves too highly, we become self-centered and selfish. There needs to be a balance between all three aspects.
We struggle with this balance. If you do not struggle with this, please talk with me after service because I would love to know your secret to success. We must constantly examine ourselves and at times we need to listen to others because we might be blind to our own actions, because we have justified them in our own minds. And this is exactly where we find this man. “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor.’”
This man is calculating, he is looking into his life and his actions, he is making his list within his mind and trying to determine just how much he must invest and where he can draw lines of exemption. He wants to have eternal life, and he realizes that his understanding of this differs from what Jesus teaches. For so long he believed that simply because he was born an Israelite he was safely and secure in the kingdom of God. And the manner in which Jesus responded to him, brings things into question. Is there something more? Could his calculations be in error? All I must do is love that is it? What about all the other laws? And he quickly notices that there is this big hole in his thinking, who is included in this love?
Now we get into the story that we all know. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.” To get a better picture of this scene it is important to understand the geography a bit. Jerusalem is up in the mountains, and Jericho is in a valley. The two cities are about eighteen miles apart but there is around a three-thousand-foot change in elevation between the two, because of this the road twists and turns. It snakes through the hills giving the most level and easiest path avoiding the shear ledges. This makes the terrain pretty perilous, and to make everything worse there were zealots that hid in the hills. We are told that they are robbers, but what scholars believe is that surrounding the holy city were freedom fighters or religiously minded zealots. These men were those that sought to liberate Israel from the rule of Rome, and they justified their violence with self-righteous thought. They were purifying the land, they were making the nation fit for the Messiah, they were acting out of righteous devotion, but in reality, they were filling their pockets with ill gotten gains and were simply terrorists and gangsters. They preyed upon travelers to fund their campaigns. They extorted money and justified the killing of those that opposed them. They hung out on this road for a reason, Jericho was an important city of commerce. The taxes or tolls were collected in Jericho and basically everything that entered the holy city had to be processed in Jericho before it entered Jerusalem. There was money on this road. And the man that was traveling in this story must not have been keen on supporting their righteous cause, so they took their tribute by force.
“Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.” Again, imagine a mountain road, with steep walls on each side. On one side a person would have to climb up a cliff, and the other the ground dropped off into a void. To pass by on the other side is not something one would do with ease. We are often told that the priest might have avoided the man because it would have caused him to become ritually unclean. This would be important because priest that served in the temple only served two times a year for a week and many of them lived in Jericho. If we were to look up the law surrounding touching the dead, they would be unclean for a week, so we can see the justification of this priest avoiding the man. But there is more to the law. If one came across a dead man and no one else was around it was their responsibility to bury the dead. If anyone found out that this priest avoided the duty it would be just as taboo if not worse than being ritually unclean.
We are to honor humanity, because they were created in the image of God. The priest dishonored the man, and dishonored God. And so did the Levite. Both men took extra effort to avoid the man. They went out of their way to avoid. They exerted extra energy to get out of doing the right thing, and they justified their actions just as the robbers did.
Then a third man came upon the body. If we were hearing this live, we would have noticed that Jesus used a Priest and then a Levite, those were the clerical or the religious class within Israel, so our mind would assume that the third person that came would have been one of the people of Israel. Jesus knew that this would be the anticipated conclusion to the story, but he does not go in that direction. The third man was a Samaritan. If we were there live, we would hear the crowd gasp. Samaritans were unclean. They were worse than Gentiles. They claimed to be of Israel, and yet they did not worship at the temple, and they did not have pure blood lines. They were the enemies of God; they were the ones that turned away and worshiped false gods.
This Samaritan saw the man lying there, and he rushed up to him. He bound up his wounds and poured oil and wine on the bandages to provide a healing compress. He then lifted the man onto his own animal. Some say it was a donkey, but it could have been any beast of burden, a donkey, camel, maybe even an ox. And he took the man to an inn. He gave the inn keeper two denarii to care for the man. As I was studying, I wondered why Luke felt it was important to mention just how much money he spent. And I found that an inn would often cost one twelfth of a denarius, so he basically paid in advance for twenty-four days lodging. Samaria is around seventy-four miles from Jericho, and if a person would walk ten miles a day, he could be back to Jericho in about fourteen days, but he would have to spend some time gathering goods, so the Samaritan covered the lodging for the man, up to the point that he would be back in town. This Samaritan man was taking responsibility for him. He was making sure he not only had his wounds bound, but they he would have food, and a place to rest until he was able to come back to him. He went above and beyond what was necessary, or even wise.
Jesus ends this story by asking one final question, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The crowd is in shock. They are staring at Jesus in horror. In this story the righteous failed to respect the humanity of the individual, and the one regarded as unrighteous became the hero. The lawyer hesitates to even speak. He cannot even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan.” And he replies, “the one who showed him mercy.”
Why did he hesitate? We have no problem saying the word Samaritan. We even make laws called Good Samaritan Laws that require us to help those who have been in accidents and protect them from lawsuits if something happens. Why could this man not even bring himself to speak the word? Because the Samaritans were the enemy. They were always regarded as less human than the people of Judah. They were not counted among God’s people. And he knew what Jesus was implying.
Love has no borders, it has no race, or nationality. We cannot in any way have prejudice in justice and regard ourselves as righteous. If we are to say that we love God, but fail to love the individual from Mexico, Russia, or Iraq we are not honoring the image of God. If we close a door of opportunity based on anything that is not of and individual’s control, we are not treating them as an individual loved by God and a fellow image bearer of his image. The man acknowledges that the man that showed mercy was the neighbor. And Jesus says to him. “You go and do likewise.”
We are not told if the lawyer responded to this story in a positive or negative way. Luke often writes in this manner. He leaves the resolution of the story open, and this causes whoever reads it to wrestle with the implications. I say that Luke did this, but I actually think that Jesus wanted this to happen. He does not give a straight answer but causes us to think and stew. He wants us to place ourselves within the story and see where we might fall. We have each heard this story countless times, but have we thought deeply about it? Have we made justifications within our minds that would dishonor the humanity of others because they were not us? Have we rationalized in our minds acts of callousness?
When Friends first emerged the major driving force behind their movement was that their words and actions resembled each other. They would not use sacraments or means of grace because they felt that all of life was a holy to God and that every moment we lived and every word that we spoke should give glory to God and encouragement to those around us. This is one of the reasons I love our religious society. I feel our name is not only important, but a reality. We are Friends, and we will encourage and treat everyone as such. But do we really believe this? Do we really take the word that God inspired and live them out, or do we, like the lawyer, make justifications for our lack of action? To be a neighbor is action, it is our ministry and our mission. It is something that we each are required to participate in, not just the priests, or the clergy, but each one of us in our own way. How will we respond? The resolution of the story is left open so that each of us can participate in the conversation, and the response Jesus gives apples to everyone, “You go, and do likewise.”
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.