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Honored or Damned

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

August 28, 2022

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Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Luke 14:1, 7-14 (ESV)

1 One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.

7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Last Sunday as we met together for worship, we joined the disciples as they remembered the last Sabbath Jesus went into a synagogue. I say it was his last time, we do not know this for certain, but we do know that this is the last time Luke mentions that Jesus was within one. We might not see this a being something significant but since meeting together with the community in worship was one of the three pillars of Jesus’s holy rhythm it is.

Jesus had irritated the religious elite to the point that he was no longer welcome. I want us to really consider that statement. Jesus, the visual incarnation of the invisible God, was no longer welcome within the space sanctified for worship. And he was no longer welcome because of the application of an interpretation of scripture. I want us all to really let that sink into our minds. In their desire to bring glory and honor to God, they actively opposed him, and we can also unknowingly fall into a similar situation. This should cause us to be careful when we are dealing with others. I am not claiming that anyone alive today is the God Incarnate, but we interact with people loved by Christ every moment of every day.

Today we meet Jesus again on a Sabbath. This time he is not in the Synagogue but instead is invited to the house of a ruler of the Pharisees for a meal. I will pause for a moment to discuss what it means to be a ruler of the Pharisees. We do not use this term today, but there are similarities in other social systems. A ruler of the synagogue or a Pharisee is most likely the senior member of the respective council, we might equate them with elders within a church or a member of the corporate board. In a synagogue this is usually a council of ten, but the ruler of the Pharisees may be a bit different. During the trial of Jesus, we are told about the Sanhedrin. Sanhedrin is a Greek term for council. According to my bible dictionary we are not exactly sure as to the makeup or nature of this council, only that it was the governing body or the liaison between the people of Judea and the Roman government.

Although the term is Greek in nature, there is a historic precedent for a council. During the Exodus, Moses’ father-in-law encouraged Moses to appoint elders from within each tribe to handle various disputes. After the Exile and resettlement of Palestine, because ten of the tribes were considered lost, it became necessary for the council or the Judges to take a different form. Some believe there may have been two councils, one that dealt with political concerns within the secular realms and the other that dealt with Religion. This is an interesting theory but since much of the lifestyle of Israel were not divided between sacred and secular aspects of life, it is more likely that there was one council and certain individuals within the council were regarded as experts in various fields.

We are unsure of how the members of this council were selected. All we really know is that the chief priest was the head of the body, and he most likely appointed people from the various rabbinical schools of thought that would serve in these roles.

The next thing that we should consider is that the religious understanding within the various schools of thought were not always the same. We know that there were Pharisees and Sadducees. But within these groups there were different schools of thought. We see this within the various questions that Jesus was asked, at times we are told that particular groups were bringing him into an argument, but at other times we are told that only scribes and teachers were present. This is most likely a discussion between two various understandings within one of the larger groups.

I know that this is getting a bit deep but there is a reason for it. These groups all had different teachings and interpretations of scripture. They varied almost as much as the various theological points with the Church today. Unity has always been a struggle within faith communities. This Sabbath Jesus was invited to the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. Jesus was invited to one of the most prestigious homes in all Roman Palestine. He was invited to the seminary president’s invitation only luncheon. And they did this for a reason, they wanted to watch him carefully.

He had made a great stir by healing on the Sabbath, and they wanted to make sure he was not continuing this trajectory. They watched him closely because if he continued to heal on the Sabbath, it would not be long before they would have to speak to the issue. If people are freed from bondage on the Sabbath, why would they oppose it? These leaders simply wanted people to not ask questions. The healing on the Sabbath, the restoration of dignity to the sons and daughters of Abraham that were held in bondage by a disabling spirit is the beginning of Jesus’s condemnation by the council.

Jesus did not hold back. He knew they were watching him closely, and he was returning the favor. They challenged his interpretation, and he call out their own. He went to this prominent member of society’s house for a meal, and he watched how the people acted.

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.” Jesus says as the people stood around him listening because he had just healed a person on the Sabbath yet again, so he had their attention.

There is something within our human nature that desires recognition. We want to be near greatness. We have in our mind that the closer we are to important people the better we will be seen within our society. This is why scandals in Hollywood are often bigger news than actual news, like say a war in Ukraine. We want to know where celebrities are and what they do. If we use their products we feel as if we are closer to them and people around us will know our worth. We even take it one step further; we go to events where these people might be. It does not matter if it is Comic Con or a political party’s convention we want to be at the event where the people we perceive as great will be. And we tell people about it, so that they will know just where we stand.

Jesus looks at the people at this ruler’s house and he says to them why are you all crowded around the table of honor? You all know good and well there are a limited number of seats at that table and more than likely none of you are going to be sitting there. The person that delivered the invitations will choose who the honored guests will be. The host will choose not those that were invited.

This is significant. As much as I would like to be recognized by the people I respect, the reality is that most of them do not even know I exist. Celebrities are in all practicality, pointless. The people that are truly important are the ones you interact with every day. Our community, the people around us, are most important. How we encourage our neighbor has more lasting and greater long-term effects than who we vote for in a national election. The people teaching our children and grandchildren in our schools are more important. Who we hire to trim the trees or where we buy our groceries effect the lives of people in our community more than any celebrity we may respect. Are we honoring them? Are we encouraging and engaging in a relationship with them? Are we letting them know how important they truly are?

Jesus tells us be honest with yourself. Do not expect respect without relationship. If you are not actively engaging in the lives of those within your community then you should not expect them to know who you are. And if you are active in their lives, more than likely you are not expecting honor because you are more focused on them than yourself. Those that are truly honest with themselves and humble within the community are not concerned with their status or their personal profit. Their concern is their community. All that they do, from their charitable giving to their business practices, from their speech too their family life have the same trajectory. In their mind we rise together.

The problem is that we will always have celebrities. There will always be the people within our society that garner greater recognition than most. And we each desire to be near that greatness. I admit that I have those feelings also. I will stand in line to get autographs at hockey games. I do this so that I can encourage my son to try his best in the game that he loves, knowing full well that it is unlikely that he will ever reach that level, but he should still try. I have books in my personal library that I cherish more than others. I own a printing of Barclay’s Apology, which is the first and one of the few theological texts of Friends, that is older than our Yearly Meeting. It is one of the few books that I display, and I do this for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I am proud of my heritage, and the second is that I want you all to think that I am smart. Along side that book is my great grandfather’s bible, the one that he used when he spoke as a pastor in this yearly meeting as well as others across our nation. I also get excited when my favorite authors publish a new book. And I am even more excited if I have an opportunity to have that book signed. There are even times where I will look at a calendar to see if I could squeeze in a trip to a conference where they will be present. I look but I have yet to go to one of those conferences.

It is part of our human nature to be attracted to great people. It is not sinful, unless we allow those celebrity figures to distract us from God. And it is also not wrong to have honor, respect, or even fame. The question is how do you live your life?

Jesus first spoke to the people in the banquet hall, his fellow guests. He chided them for their social acrobatics. In all our attempts to be known we often miss the whole point of why we are even here. Why do we attend a wedding? Why do we go to a memorial service? Why do we think it is important to go to a conference or even attend any gathering? Jesus then turns his attention to the host.

“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, let they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”

I want to stop for a moment and just say that Jesus is using hyperbole. He is speaking to the extremes of a situation. If I know you and you do not invite me to your wedding I will be upset, and you better believe if your mom is not in the guest list you will have problems. This is not what Jesus is saying in a concrete form. He knows that you will invite people close to you. But he wants us to think beyond our little social circles. Remember who the host is. The host is a ruler of the Pharisees. A high-ranking member of the Sanhedrin, and possibly one of the greatest Rabbis of all time.

Imagine NT Wright was giving a feast. NT Wright is one of the most famous Christian teachers today. If you are watching any program on church history or beliefs, you will often see NT Wright being interviewed. This man is giving a feast. Who do you think will be at that event? You would see other authors, maybe you will see bishops, you may even potentially see members of the Royal family of the United Kingdom. That is to be expected when famous people throw a party, even if the person is famous for religious reasons. I have great respect for NT Wright, and I imagine that if he were to throw a party there would be people at that party that were not dignitaries, because he is a man that lives his faith. But what about other prominent teachers and leaders? How many of us have ever been invited to the Governor’s mansion or the White House?

Jesus is warning us in this parable. Yes, you must invite those that are close to you and those within your social class, but where is your focus? If we are only inviting people that can increase our standing within a group, we are just like the guests seeking the honored seats. I found this in the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary:

Jesus lists four groups one should not invite—precisely those groups most often invited: your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, and your rich neighbors … Balancing this list is another list of four groups who should be invited: the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Such persons were explicitly forbidden to serve as priests (Lev 21:17–23) and were barred from entry into the Qumran community:

And let no person smitten with any human impurity whatever enter the Assembly of God. And every person smitten with these impurities, unfit to occupy a place in the midst of the Congregation, and every (person) smitten in his flesh, paralysed in his feet or hands, lame or blind or deaf, or dumb or smitten in his flesh with a blemish visible to the eye, or any aged person that totters and is unable to stand firm in the midst of the Congregation: let these persons not enter.

The contrast between such restrictions and the spirit of Jesus’ teachings could hardly be more striking. Jesus does not merely prohibit inviting those in a position to benefit us if our reason for inviting them is to curry their favor. He advises not to invite the powerful or well-to-do because they might return the invitation. Instead, we should invite those who have never had such a meal, who could never return the favor, who will never be our superiors.[1]

Culpepper, R. Alan. “The Gospel of Luke.” New Interpreter’s Bible

That section in the commentary ends by saying, “God is ultimately the only one who can bless us or whose praise matters.[2]

Culpepper, R. Alan. “The Gospel of Luke.” New Interpreter’s Bible

The teachings of the day barred or forbid some, Jesus tells those that propagate those teachings that they are wrong. Jesus seemingly contradicts the very teachings within Torah. But is that what is being said? No, the crippled and lame may not be able to serve in the Temple, but that does not condemn them from participation in the community. They are still people loved by the Most High God, they too bear God’s image.

Today there is a great deal of discussion about Equality. Friends have been concerned with this from their beginnings in the 17th century. We believe that all people bear the image of God, and that we all carry the light of God within us. We might even say something like love that of God within someone. We are sometimes criticized for this, and some may say are universalists because of that claim, my answer to that is that does not matter. God is the one that judges, not us. Our place is to live in the light and to encourage the light to shine greater in all that we meet. When we begin to limit access, when we make judgements and restrictions, we come very close to condemnation. Those that have been discouraged will look at our faith, our lifestyle, and say that they want nothing to do with God. We effectively close the door and damn them to a life without God. We do this for many reasons, some of those reason may even be supported by scripture. But are they right? Do they reflect God’s mercy and Grace?

Jesus looks at the guests and the host of this banquet. He observes their actions, and he reviews their guest list. And he encourages them. He is asking them to consider their actions. He encourages them to question their intentions. He queries whether their actions and the words that they speak truly reflect the God they acknowledge. And as he questions them, he questions us. Are we being a blessing to those around us? Are our homes and our meeting places able to provide hospitality to those with disabilities? Do our words encourage those around us to strive for something greater? And do we reflect and draw people to the love of Christ?  Are we seeking honor for ourselves or are we Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the love of Christ with others?

[1] Culpepper, R. Alan. “The Gospel of Luke.” New Interpreter’s Bible, edited by Leander E. Keck, vol. 9, Abingdon Press, 1994–2004, p. 287.

[2] Culpepper, R. Alan. “The Gospel of Luke.” New Interpreter’s Bible, edited by Leander E. Keck, vol. 9, Abingdon Press, 1994–2004, p. 287.

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Released from Bondage

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

August 21, 2022

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Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Luke 13:10–17 (ESV)

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13 And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.

Over the past few years, I have made a point to mention what I see as Jesus’ holy rhythm. He made it his custom to worship with the community in the synagogue, He withdrew often to isolated places to pray, and he ministered to the needs within the community. The rhythm of life, Jesus’ yoke or teaching to his disciples was worship, prayer, and service to others. This is the life that Jesus called his disciples to. This is the life that Paul encouraged those that followed him to put on when he said follow me as I follow Christ. This is the life that each of us are called to as well. We are called to worship, prayer, and service. We can even find this in our mission statement: Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the love of Christ with others.

I want to remind and inform you all how we came up with this statement. I came to this Meeting along with another copastor in 2010, over twelve years ago. Our meeting was struggling at that time. We were divided. We were dysfunctional. We were hurting, and out of our pain we lashed out to those around us that seemed to irritate those sore spots.

When I was younger, my family would often drive around the countryside looking for wild fruit. We would go out and pick sand plums, choke cherries, wild grapes, and other fruits so that my mom and grandmother could make jelly. My mom even had us collect yellow clover to make a honey substitute. But there was one fruit that we collected that was irritating, prickly pear. You must be careful when you pick prickly pear fruit, because it is a cactus. There are long white spines that will embed themselves into your skin and they hurt. But the white spines are not the real problem, all around these white spines is an area that is red. It looks almost like it is just a pretty highlight that offset the spine so that you can see them better against the green background of the plant. But this red outline are also tiny spines. If you happen to stab yourself with the white spine then all around the puncture are hundreds of these tiny needles that are also stuck in your skin. The worst thing about these little red spines is that they are red in color when you see them on the plant and all together, but when they are in your skin they disappear. They are nearly invisible once they imbed themselves into your skin. You will pull out the larger spine, and for the next hour you will be plucking out these tiny things.

You pick all the needles out and you go back to work, knowing that soon mom will be making jelly and it will be the best jelly in the world. Nothing you can buy at the store even comes close to what mom and grandma makes. Then seemingly out of nowhere you brush up against something and if feels as if you were shocked, or a knife was just jabbed into your skin and you look down and see nothing. You try to go back to work, and again you are randomly met with pain. You cannot see it, but there is a prickly pear spine still stuck in your skin, and you carefully examine your extremities until you find it. You cannot proceed again until that spine is removed.

This is where we were twelve years ago. We had little spines sticking in our collective skins, and we were trying to figure out what was causing the problem. Some of us wanted to just move forward and start doing outreach ministries. Others of us just felt as if we were in shock because we had just lost a pastor and faced division as we sought the next. And during all that turmoil you called two pastors: John Harkness and me. And both of us were in unity about one thing, we need to slow down and get our bearings before we began to move forward.

We encouraged everyone to pray, and even encouraged that someone come into this meetinghouse every day to pray for at least an hour. For several months we walked with all of you and ask an important question, who are we and what is our mission? For several months we all discussed the topic. We did not want a statement recycled from somewhere else, because we as a meeting needed to know who we are and what our mission is.

After praying individually, after sitting in holy expectancy for several meetings, and much discussion we came up with a simple statement of who we are and what we do: Loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, Living the love of Christ with others. I did not come up with this, John Harkness did not come up with, the clerk of the Meeting did not bring this statement about. It was something that we, each one of us, contributed to and I hope it defines who we are individually and as a community. I want us to be a group of people known as Loving God. I want the entire community of faith to know that we as individuals and as a meeting of people embracing the Holy Spirit. And I hope that the entire city will see each of us living the love of Christ with others.

We have come a long way since 2010. We used to have a gravel parking lot, not anymore, and now our building is more accessible for those with disabilities. The first Sunday I spoke as one of the official pastors there were twelve people in attendance, and about half of them were my family members. Now we print things in multiple languages. We faced a worldwide pandemic and were able to adjust and continue our worship without much trouble, and in many ways, we came out of that stronger than we went into it.

Loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, Living the love of Christ with others. In those three simple statements we say a great deal. We are a worship community, we are Friends, and we are Christ centered. Those words are not only a mission statement but can easily be turned into spiritual checkpoints or queries. How are you loving God? How are you embracing the Holy Spirit? In what ways are you living the love of Christ with others?

Jesus has a holy rhythm of worship, prayer, and ministry or service. He called his disciples to join him in that sacred rhythm and to share it with others. I want us always to remember that rhythm. If you only learn one thing from me, I hope you learn the holy rhythm of Jesus. I bring this up because it is difficult to live that rhythm.

There are some Sundays that I really do not want to come to church. At times I even wonder if I really believe the things, I claim I believe. There are times over the past twelve years that I even wondered if it might have been better if I would have just resigned eleven years ago. But just as soon as those thoughts come into my mind, I am reminded of something else. Recently my son was listening to music on the google speaker. A song came on that caught his attention, and he yells, “Dad you have got to listen to this song.” Something in the song sparked within his mind something that I have said or read out of scripture. The song that sparked this in him was, “Hymn for the 81%”, the chorus of the song says:

 “You said to love the lost, so I’m loving you now. You said to speak the truth, I’m calling you out. Why don’t you live the words that you put in my mouth, may love overcome and justice roll down.”

I sat in my big blue chair listening to my son tell me why he wanted me to hear that song, and I sat in tears thanking God for showing me yet again why he called me. I am here, I am called to be a person loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. An eight-year-old kid heard those words in a song and that kid yelled out to his deaf dad, and he told me that this song is what we are supposed to do.

There is nothing like being taught by a child. Now you all know why I do not mind teaching the kids Sunday school class. They often teach me as much as I teach them.

We get distracted from the truth of who we are and what our purpose is. Life is filled with unexpected situations that seem to bombard us from every direction, and each one demands our attention. Even if we are not overwhelmed by the stress of life, if we stop for a moment and look at what is going on, we often find that we once had a plan and somewhere along the line we ended up in a completely different place. That is why I hate the question that so many people ask in interviews, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I can tell them where I would like to be, but I am such a realist I know that the reality of the situation is I am probably going to be two or three steps farther back than I started because I have the attention span of a squirrel. And just so you know, according to the internet the Warner coat of arms has a squirrel on it so I must come from a long-distracted line.

This is where we find Jesus today. This is the last time that Jesus is in a synagogue, according to Luke. I am not saying that Jesus himself is distracted, but he finds himself facing a distracted community. They are all caught up in the systematic aspect of history and expressions of faith that they have forgotten the whole purpose of their existence. And when Jesus comes in, he irritates them like one of those red prickly pear spines.

There is a woman that had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. Luke does not tell us where she was, or what she was doing. Only that she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. Some commentators have said that she may have had a medical condition we know as scoliosis. When people have this condition their spine curves in a manner that is not ideal. And if it is not corrected eventually the vertebra will develop calcium deposit, to strengthen the spinal column that will prevent the individual from standing straight and will cause the curve to worsen. We do not know what exactly caused this woman’s weakness or disabling spirit. All we know is she had some sort of condition that was keeping her in bondage. And she was in bondage. There were cultural and social stigma attached to illness in ancient times. Many believed that if you were sick, it was because God cursed you. Even today some people still teach this.

This woman lived with this burden for eighteen years. Who sinned? Was it her or her parents? Is she possessed? Imagine if you had to live within a community where every time you left your house, people would turn away and avoid you because they were afraid that you were cursed. Yet Jesus did not turn away, he saw her. And he called her over to him.

We often fail to recognize just how important this last visit to the synagogue truly is. When we read about Jesus turning over tables in the temple, we know he means business, but this is even more shocking. Jesus is turning over the tables of accepted tradition. Within first century tradition Rabbis would rarely speak with women, this is not the case today because a Rabbi I listen to on YouTube teaches women conferences all the time. But back then women were separated. They were not taught; they had their role and men had theirs. And when it came to faith, men were to lead. Jesus acknowledges her, he sees her, he calls to her, and he brings her into the community. He says to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he places his hands on her, blessing her. And she stands straight. Imagine seeing that happen before your eyes. Imagine being freed from that kind of chronic pain.

What is the response? The ruler of the synagogue speaks to the crowd saying, “there are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” The ruler of the synagogue did not see the woman, he did not acknowledge or have compassion for the woman in her need. He did not even praise God when he saw that she was healed. He was distracted by the letter of the law and missed the point of the law. He raised his voice to the crowd within the synagogue and made a proclamation, “we must honor this day and keep it holy!”

Jesus looked at the man, he looked at the crowd, and he responds, “You Hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

We can often get distracted by the rules. We want to make sure we keep them all and, in the process, we fail to see why the rule is even there. Why is there a speed limit? Depending on the day I might say it’s a tax on people that need to get somewhere, but really it is there to promote attentive driving. You all drive a machine that is capable of massive destruction and death, be careful! The law is not there to restrict you, it is there to remind you. Just like the Sabbath. God wants to remind us to relax, stop the daily grind and remember who we are and what the point is.

The ruler was telling them to follow the rules, I cannot fault him for that. Ninety-nine percent of the time I would back him up, but there are always exceptions to the rules. One exception is for a thirsty animal, you need to untie them and lead them to water. The point of this exception is that life should be respected and honored, even the life of your donkey. They want to make sure that we are keeping the rule, yet Jesus points out that they are treating this woman in a manner lower than an animal. The ruler is worried about the violation of the rule, yet Jesus is worried about restoring health and dignity to a daughter of Abraham.

William Barclay says in his New Daily Study Bible commentary, “Jesus’ action in this matter makes it clear that it is not God’s will that any human being should suffer one moment longer than is absolutely necessary. The Jewish law was that it was perfectly legal to help someone on the Sabbath who was in actual mortal danger. If Jesus had postponed the healing of this woman until the next day no one could have criticized him; but he insisted that suffering must not be allowed to continue until tomorrow if it could be helped today.[1]

Who are we? What are we here for? We were created to Love God with everything we are and all that we have, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We were created to go out into all the world and let love overcome and justice to roll down. We were created to bring all of creation to a place where we all reflect the image of God in all that we do.

Will we look at the rule or will we see the woman? Will we show those around us that there is a better life available and live that life in front of them. Will we live that life so they too could choose to follow the God who loves them so much that he sent his one unique son teach, restore, and redeem them. How are you loving God? How are you embracing the Holy Spirit? In what ways are you living the love of Christ with others?

[1] Barclay, William. The Gospel of Luke. Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, p. 211.

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.

Fire and Rain

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

August 14, 2022

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Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Luke 12:49–56 (ESV)

49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

I must make a confession today. I confess that this week’s passage is one that I did not want to speak on. I confess that for many years I have used this passage in properly and maliciously. I confess because I am wrong. And I also believe that most people have been led astray by the misuse of these verses.

I say this because often these verses are used in a prideful manner. We use them to justify laziness in the realm of reconciliation and the pursuit of unity. We use these verses to justify judgmental attitudes and self-righteousness. We use these verses and verses like them to demonize those who do not agree with us.

When I looked at the readings in this week’s lectionary list, I was tempted to skip it. I was tempted to go somewhere else and not even engage with the text. I was tempted to do this because of the current events that have been occurring throughout the past weeks. I wanted to skip these verses because I was afraid. I am afraid. I fear because division is something that happens frequently within our various communities. It is occurring in political spheres, within denominational spheres, within our own families, and among our friends. I am tired of all the division, and I desire unity and peace. But living in fear does not move us forward. Taking a step back from a conflict does not lead to resolution nor reconciliation. Staying silent in the face of division does not always demonstrate wisdom but can sometimes lead to the continuation of unhealthy relationships.

While I am speaking of division, I want us to start there. Jesus says in verse 51, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” I hope that this verse troubles you as much as it troubles me. This statement seemingly goes against everything that the church teaches about Jesus. We call him the prince of peace and yet in his own words he very clearly states the opposite.

This is not only troubling to me, but to the disciples within the narrative. The disciples believed that Jesus is the Messiah. This title had some baggage attached to it. There were expectations, ideologies, and opinions as to what that meant and what would happen when this prophesied figure appeared.

Our call to worship included a strange Psalm. A Psalm that is in scripture but one that probably makes us cringe a bit. “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods, he hold judgment: ‘How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?’” What is this divine council? Who are the gods that are sitting with God? I thought we believed in one God not many. This one Psalm should get us thinking, but what I want us to focus on is the last verse of that Psalm, “Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!”

The idea surrounding the Messiah was that as a result of sin and rebellion against God, the entire world was divided among spiritual beings. These beings were stewards. They were given authority over specific areas of the earth and God begin to work through one person, one nation, to start bringing people back. It is through this one nation, Israel, that Messiah would emerge, and this Messiah would bring all people, all nations, back to God the Most High and humanity would be restored back to the place they were created to be. And peace on earth would finally be accomplished, and God would inherit all the nations! I want us to think about the temptations of Jesus for a moment, one of those temptations was directly related to this Psalm. Satan tempted Jesus to worship him, so that all the nations would be given to him. This was the goal that Jesus wanted to achieve. It was his ultimate mission. He could have completed everything he set out to do, but there was a problem. When we seek to achieve good goals through evil means we negate the whole thing.

This is where division comes into play. When we hear the word division our mind immediately moves to a negative image. We often see division as being a bad thing, but I want us to take a step back. I want us to look at things from a different perspective.

I want us to look at the people within this meeting space and consider what we see. This place is filled with people from various background, and various ages. We have infants and we have people in the golden years of life. We have people that can trace their roots to Africa, and others that have heritage derived from European regions. We could look at this and say we are divided. Or we could look at our meeting and say that we are diverse.

As we look at each other I want us to consider the youngest among us. Many of these individuals we saw from the moment of their birth or a few weeks after. Some of these young people that we once saw as infants, are now two years old, eight years old, some that we once observed are now over forty years old. We have watched them grow, we have observed their personalities develop and we have watched as they have become adults right before our eyes. What a beautiful thing to see, and participate in. But I want us to realize that this does not happen without division.

Growth is division. One cell divides and becomes two cells. And these two cells divide and become four, this happens with a multiplying effect that will eventually become a multicellular being that once began as a single microscopic cell and now stands several feet tall. Division when healthy creates growth. We see this even in the first chapters of Genesis. When we read about the creation of the world, we read about God creating order out of chaos. God does this by division, He divides light from darkness, he divides the waters to make the sky and the sea. He divides the sea from the land, and then on the land he divides more and creates plants, animals, birds, and all the creepy things, and he calls all this division good. Then he says, “Let us create man in our image”, and he created them. This final division within creation he calls very good. And he gave us a mission to go out into all the world and bring it into submission, which means we as humans are to continue this growth of order out of the chaos, so that the good earth can become very good so that all the world can bear the image that God created in us.

Creation is growth, and growth is division. And with growth comes discernment, differentiation, and diversity that all works together toward a greater goal.

“I came to cast fire on the earth and would that it were already kindled!” There is both hope and distress in these words of Jesus. We can sense the distress, but do we see the hope? As much as a parent would like their children to stay small, this is not their future. Every child grows and growth at times hurts. Usually this happens while we sleep and we do not realize that it is happening, but there are times where this is happening so fast that we are awaken from sleep in pain, and there are even times where this growth continues even during our wakeful hours. This has been happening in our household over the past couple of months. Growth hurts. We do all we can do to avoid pain, but in many cases the pain is essential. This is what Jesus is referring to when he speaks of fire. This is a refiner’s fire. A fire of purification. Through the pain something greater emerges. Something of value and of purity. Jesus came to purify the earth.

The blacksmiths among us might understand this better than most. Metal is placed in the fire so that the smith can draw it out and reshape it. And through the process create something news, something useful or beautiful. But to get to that final product the metal is repeatedly plunged into the flames, and then beat with a heavy hammer. Depending on what the metal is, and what the smith is attempting to make there are different methods employed, and at times even different materials. And some of the most useful tools created, extreme heat is required.

Jesus is telling us that he came to cast fire, a refiner’s fire, a smith’s fire on the earth. He came to transform and to encourage growth. That is another thing about fire, that is not directly implied in this wording. Fire is also necessary for growth in nature. A wildfire is one of the most terrifying things within nature, but also necessary. I grew up on the high plains and fire is necessary for the ecosystem. If there is not an occasional fire that removes the old dead plant material the prairie grasses will not emerge from the soil. The fire triggers within the seeds something that causes greater growth. And when we prevent fires within this ecosystem, we disrupt growth. This causes certain plants to grow at a greater density and others to diminish. This might not matter too much but for animals it could mean feast or famine. And when animals cannot eat, they move to other areas to find food, or if there is greater food supply the animals that eat that food flourish. And suddenly we have more deer and less rabbits. We get less songbirds and more vultures. All because the ecosystem got disrupted. Fire can bring growth and diversity within nature. It can reset the earth.

Jesus came to cast fire on the earth and would that it were already kindled! This is an odd phrase, but it speaks volumes. To kindle a fire is to build it up, you do not start a fire with the giant logs that we have laying up at the top of our meetinghouse lawn, but you start it with something small. You get twigs and leaves; you might even get shavings of wood or even dry grasses to catch the spark so that the fire would begin to take hold. Jesus is saying that he came to cast fire on earth, but something is wrong. It needs kindled. Meaning what once might have been burning brightly has died off, and we must start from the beginning once again to build the blaze once more.

I have started many fires over the years. And it is not always easy. It takes discernment and patience and when we are inpatient, we often find ourselves burnt. But when we take the time, when we get the proper pieces in the right spot so that there is proper ventilation and fuel it burns hot and bright. Jesus came to cast a fire, but he must first prepare the way for the fire to take hold. This also links to baptism. So often when we see the word baptism, we think of it as an initiation rite. But it is much more than that. The word is derived from the immersion of cloth into dye. This is much like preparing a fire. There are steps and processes that go into it, and they are brought together for a purpose so that what went in comes out changed. Drab natural wool comes out vibrant red. Initially it was cloth fit for the peasant, but it emerges as fabric fit for the kingdom. Will we be changed? Will we be kindled, into the refining fire? Will we reset the ecosystem?

This takes us back to division. Look at verses 52 and 53, “For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Do you notice something here?

Majority against the minority and minority against the majority. And then the mature against the youth, and the emerging generation against the established generation. How many of us have notice this before? All too often we look at these words and we see it as our world is continuing to get worse. Just look at the music of the younger generation its terrible. Of course, my parents told me that, and so did yours, and I can’t stand much of what is coming out now. We look at this and we see the change, and that change is painful. We want things to remain as they were, why do we need new music, it was just fine the way it was.

But things need to change, or we will not grow. The younger generations need to express themselves or they will not find their voice. The minority populations need to rise, or injustice will never be eliminated. If we prevent change, the fire will die, and need rekindled again. And if we are unwilling to embrace the change, we will often find ourselves in opposition to the kingdom of God.

I want us to sit with this for a moment. I want us to consider the news that we have heard over the past few days, and our responses to it. When we hear words like critical race theory what happens within your body? Do you cringe or do you become hopeful? And what if you were to ask the person next to you what they thought would it be the same as you or would it be different? If it is different, why?

The negative side of growth occurs when people stop listening to others and they move off into their own like-minded areas. This gives our ecosystem too much of one kind of plant and not enough others. Suddenly we find ourselves with an overabundance of one thing and a critical need of another. One example can be seen in the labor shortage. What caused this? One might say the young people just don’t want to work, and others might say that too many people retired. One might say that the social safety net is too vast so people have no incentive to work, and another might say that wages are not good enough to bother taking a job because it would not cover the most basic of needs. The conversation has different views and when we only listen to one side we have an over abundance of one idea, then we will get a majority for that idea, and suddenly there is a law passed. Was the problem fixed? Probably not, because we are divided three against two, and two against three. Younger generation against the older.

The point of this whole passage is to give us a shock. We have our ideas and our ideologies. And that is great but that does not mean you are right all the time and in every way. Unchecked growth in one area is cancerous and unhealthy. We need the refiners fire, and the baptism to promote real change. We need to listen to the minority and emerging voices so that we do not continue to promote injustices and instead promote greater health to the community. And I do not say this because I want to be political, far from it. I say this because this is the tone of the passage.

You can see the division all around you. We see it in our homes, and in our workspaces. We see it on the streets and in the seats of power. Its all around us, but are we listening? Jesus said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so, it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” We know what we should do in most cases. We know what is right and what is wrong. We know but we refuse to admit it. We refuse because it might require us to acknowledge that we might be wrong, we might have made a mistake, we might have contributed to something unintended, and we do not want to endure the pain to reconcile and rebuild.

First century Israel, wanted the Messiah, they were ready for the messiah. They wanted hope, they wanted change, they wanted to make Israel great again. They wanted everything that we want. But there was a problem. To get what we want we must listen, we must change, we must repent, and we must be willing to put in the work. Jesus told them that the kingdom of God was at hand, it was right in front of and all around them. And that kingdom is still at hand, but are we willing to see it? Are we willing to participate? Are we willing to say that the ways of God are not the same of the ways of men and admit and turn from our own sin and align ourselves to that of God? Are we willing to stand up and bear the image of God within us so that those around us can see it and know that there is a better way? Will we allow growth through the fire and rain? Will we allow God to hit the reset button in our lives so that we can be recalibrated and restart the Edenic ecosystem around us? Or will we allow our divisions to go unchecked and continue to spread cancerous sin among us? How will you interpret the present time?

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Meeting Times

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