By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 28, 2023
Numbers 11:24–30 (ESV)
24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it. 26 Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” 30 And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.
Over the past few weeks, it seems that much of what I have been speaking about is our emotional states. Anger, fear, and anxiety. In much of the discussion, I have encouraged a deepening life of prayer. I have spent a great deal of mental energy on understanding prayer and developing a lifestyle of prayer. And because of this I have spoken a great deal about it. I will be honest with you; I do not have the life of prayer I wish I had. There are times when I live in a prayer desert.
When I speak of prayer, I do not mean what most people mean. Most people have their prayer list. They will spend time talking to God about each item on that list, that is not how I pray. There is nothing wrong with this, it just is not the discipline I developed when it comes to prayer. When I pray, I take scriptures, often the scripture that I intend to speak about during the week, and I will read it repeatedly. I will sit and think about the words. I will reflect on the words as I drift to sleep at night, and again read. I do this throughout the week, every week. You would think how can I be in a prayer desert when this is my discipline? I give a message every week so clearly, I have interacted with the passage in prayer. This is true, but there are times when my emotions distract me.
When I am anxious, I will often rush through and will not let the words penetrate the deeper aspects of my soul. When I am tired, I sometimes will not reflect on the words. And there are times when all I do is beg God for something to say, instead of letting the Spirit work through my own life. Our emotional states affect our life of prayer. I have been drawn to the Spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius because of this very fact. Ignatius, is regarded as the founder of the Society of Jesus in the Catholic church, commonly known as the Jesuits. I know many people have strong opinions about these things. But there is something about the Spiritual Exercises that Ignatius developed that I find fascinating. He does not disregard our emotions, like so many people do. He instead encourages us to examine our emotions, in light of scripture and the Spirit of God. In much of my study on prayer, the teachers will often disregard our emotional states of mind as being immaterial or distracting. Ignatius would ask why we have those emotions, where they are coming from, are the bringing us closer to God or drawing us away from him, and what is God teaching us as we experience these emotions.
I respect the Ignatian Spiritual Disciplines and have incorporated them in my life of prayer. I embrace them because they allow us to be human, while still encouraging us to strive for a deepened relationship with God. And I have found that many of what Ignatius proposes reflect the teachings that George Fox proposed as he encouraged those early Friends. George struggled with faith. He had a desire to deepen his faith, yet often what he saw in the world was hypocrisy. In his journal he would lament over this. He would then say that he would often take his book of scripture out to the field to sit in silence.
Those that study Quaker history often identify with the meeting in silence that became the identity of Friends worship, but we often forget what those early Friends did between the Meeting for Worship. They spent hours throughout the week reading, praying, and letting the Spirit of God work in their lives. They prepared themselves for their first day Meetings. They studied deeply so they could speak a word when the Spirit would lead. They studied, and they prayed. They would take their books of scripture out to the field, and they would sit in silence on their own, so that they could be used of God later. The Quaker spiritual practices resemble in many ways the practices of Ignatius, but they emerged at different times and in very different places. Yet oddly they both seem to teach a similar method. Read, pray, examine, and respond.
Emotions play a large role in our lives. We feel emotions but we should not be driven or led by them. Emotions are a tool that God has given us to observe and respond to the world and individuals around us. They are very important. Humanity would cease to exist without emotions. Emotions draw people together, and they also divide us. They give us cause to celebrate, and they also prompt us to remember that life can be short. We need to understand our emotions, and we need to become disciplined in our lives to tame our emotions so that we can use them for the good instead of allowing them to cause destruction.
Today we celebrate Pentecost. Often, we regard this holiday as the moment the Spirit of God came to the church. It is not wrong; it just is not fully correct. For forty days after the resurrection Jesus walked with his disciples. He would appear within closed rooms and eat a meal with them and be gone. He would walk with them down the road talking with them and after he broke bread he would leave. There was even a time when Peter decided he just could not sit around anymore so he reverted to being a fisherman and Jesus met them on the shore the next morning cooking them breakfast. There is a reason food is often involved in these descriptions. Spiritual beings do not eat as flesh and bone do.
Jesus did this for forty days. It is reflection of the forty years that Israel spent wondering in the wilderness. For these forty days or years, God taught those called by his name how to the people he wanted them to be. At the end of the forty days Jesus ascended into heaven, no longer visible and his physical presence was no longer felt. At the end of the forty years of wandering something similar happened to Israel, the cloud was no longer leading them, the manna stopped appearing as the dew, and both the church and Israel had to enter a period of limbo. What direction will we go, how will we live?
For ten days the disciples sat in the upper room. They had a great weight on them. They had experienced something beyond their human imagination. And Jesus gave them a directive:
Acts 1:7–8 (ESV)
7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
I want you to imagine the emotional whiplash that these events would have caused in a person. Their friend died, their friend’s body disappears, their friend came back to life, their friend eats with them and continues teaching them. Then their friend seemingly flies away and tells them, tell people about this in the capital and the nation, tell people about this in the neighboring nation, and tell it to everyone in the entire world. What will you say? How will you say it? Who would listen?
Today we move from accension to Pentecost. This is the day we celebrate the coming of the Spirit. The reality is that if God truly is triune as we claim, the Spirit along with the Father and the Son has always existed. The problem is that the Spirit was always seen as a wild and untamable wind that could bring death or blessing. And yet throughout the scriptures we see the Spirit of God working within the lives of people, mainly Prophets. After ten days of waiting, after ten days of prayer in the upper room, something happened.
This holy day was not something that is unique to the Church, but it has a long history within Israel. This is the Feast of Weeks. It celebrates the first fruits of harvest which is seven weeks after Passover. But even this is not fully what is celebrated. It also celebrates the renewal of God’s promise to Noah, which established a relationship between God and all flesh that is upon the earth. And it also celebrates the giving of the law to Moses. There is a great deal going on in this one little holiday that we often forget.
The disciples were up in that room doing what honorable people of faith did on the night before the great feast. They were up studying Torah; they were reminding themselves of who they are in relation to their God. They are Israel, the nation that God chose as an inheritance. They are Israel, the light to the nations. They are Israel the people of God the Most High.
We might know things, but often knowledge does not always reflect in how we feel. Israel was chosen for a purpose. They were the nation through whom God was going to reveal Himself through. They were to be the instruments of God’s redemption of all of creation. You might think that to be a noble task that everyone would embrace. They had a purpose and a mission. They had a calling, yet they found themselves slaves in a foreign land. They knew their place among the nations long before Moses ever entered the picture. Their father Abraham was given this promise, and it was passed down to each generation. But life is hard.
Moses was called to lead the people out of the land of slavery and restore them to the land promised to their ancestors. They witnessed the mighty hand of God as he brought the gods of Egypt to their knees and established his greatness to the nations. They saw God’s mighty hand working, and they followed Moses out into the wilderness. But as soon as they faced hardship they began to complain. They complained, they challenged, they yearned for the security of their chains. And this weighed heavy on Moses.
Moses felt as if he were a failure during much of this time. He freed the people just as God asked, and yet they complain. There are Biblical scholars who also are trained in psychology, that have read through these passages and have said that throughout much of the narrative within the Torah Moses is exhibiting something that many of us struggle with, depression.
I want us to just consider this for a moment. If we were to contemplate all the great and inspiring people of scripture. If we were to make a list of all our heroes of the faith, many of us would Include Moses on that list. Moses, we regard as a pillar of faith, yet many today will look at what is written either by Moses or inspired by Moses, point that often this man struggled with depression. One commentary says this,” When we are depressed, our understanding of the key issues is scarcely objective. [Moses} jumped to the conclusion that all this was happening because God was displeased with him. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The Lord was angry with the grumblers, not disappointed with the leader. Moses was too wrapped up in his troubles to see that, and spurted out his bitter anguish: ‘What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me?’ His words reflect a common reaction to trouble: ‘What have I done to deserved this?’” We have been there right with Moses. We have struggles and burdens. We have bouts of darkness within our lives. This same commentary continues and says this, “the trouble with depression; it maximizes the problems and minimizes the resources.”
The people God brought out of Egypt, left that land of bondage celebrating and then they began having second thoughts. Now what are we going to do? They were in the desert, what will we eat, what will we drink. And Moses their leader took all those complaints onto himself. He was leading them, how can he, one man even begin to provide for this multitude?
As we follow Moses and Israel through the wilderness, we often see signs of depression creep into Moses’ narrative. He pleads with God to let him die, not let him face his own ruin. He often believed himself to be a complete failure. He believed this of himself, but he was a great leader. Good leaders recognize their own limitations and seek help when needed. Moses knew that he did not have the strength, but he did not trust the people either. And why would he, they were complaining about him. So, he turned to God for relief.
Often Moses has been encouraged to appoint leaders and elders. His own father-in-law encouraged him to do this and a couple of times in scripture we see him responding to this advice. The problem is that he held onto the responsibility. We do not see the depression and concern in today’s passage. We do not see Moses’ pleas for a respectful exit in perceived failure. We see something else. We see God’s response.
Moses’ had elders, within the tribes. He already had the people to support him and to carry out necessary tasks. The problem is that in the perception of the congregation, Moses was the only one that did the work, Moses was the one that had true authority, and was the only one that did. Aaron had some authority, but he was a priest, he worked in the tabernacle. Moses had a special place to meet God, a place only he could go, the tent of Meeting. We often see this as being the same thing as the tabernacle, but it is different. Some scholars even think that the tent of meeting was within the Holiest area of the tabernacle. The problem with this idea is that Moses would not be permitted in that place. Only Aaron, the High Priest, could enter that place and Moses was not Aaron. The people knew that Moses had his own tent, a place separate from where the rest of the congregation would go, and that place was not within the camp like the tabernacle but was outside of camp. Moses would visit this tent and he would return to the camp changed, he glowed or grew horns depending on what translation you are reading. Yes, horns. Translation is not as easy as we think, and I think every person that is in this room able to speak multiple languages has a great gift.
The point is that people could tell when Moses met with God, the others, the elders and even the priests, they just did not have the same status as Moses. And every day that the grumbling proceeded, the deeper Moses sank into his depression. Until God told him to bring seventy of the elders to the Tent of Meeting. Moses believed that He was responsible, that everything was up to him. We get trapped in this mode of thinking as well. If you have ever been in charge of a major project, you understand the stress.
I want to share with you something that might be shocking. In 2013, 90% of pastor reported working nearly eighty hours a week, and over half of them felt as if they were unable to meet the demands of the job. That was in 2013, that was before the pandemic. That same study presented something that I found to be quite disturbing, pastors were among the top professions contemplating suicide. This was a report from 2013, and I am sure those numbers have changed. I do know that medical doctors and nurses have had a sharp increase over the past few years, but I want us to think about this for a bit. One in ten ministry leaders retire from ministry meaning ninety percent of all pastors will seek employment outside of the church, and over a third of them quit within the first five years in ministry. If you know five pastors, at least one of them is struggling with depression.
I tell you this because it is startling. Those are my friends and colleagues. They are leaders in the church, and many are devout and caring people. They would get up at three in the morning to help if you needed them. They inspire, encourage, pray, and counsel. Often, they take responsibility for things when no one else will. And yet we are not immune from the very struggles everyone faces.
God asked Moses to bring the elders to the tent. And as they gathered God descended on that tent in a cloud and began to speak to Moses. “And [God] took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and put it on the seventy elders.” I find that statement to be odd, but as I have reflected on it, I find that I like it. God takes some of the Spirt off of Moses, he removes some of the burdens Moses feels he must carry, and God transfers it to someone else. It does not mean that Moses is less Spirit filled, it speaks of responsibility. Once God finishes this division of the Spirit, all of them prophesied.
This is where things get a bit strange. We have a mixed understanding of what prophecy is in our culture. We often think of it as telling the future. Some may even say that it is speaking in tongues. There is something odd about how they describe this here, and we really do not know what they mean. All we can fully understand is that each person experienced something powerfully in that moment, but they did not continue doing it. My opinion, each of these men most likely had a vision of God’s redemptive mission, and how they could participate in it. And while they were in attendance of this vision, they informed each other what they saw. But we are told that they did not continue, I believe that this does not mean that the Spirit left them, it means they were only given a singular glimpse. A glimpse of where they personally fit, or what they could contribute to the greater mission.
There is something interesting about the story. Not all the elders went to the tent, some remained within the camp. Even these men at a distance received their portion of the Spirit. We are not told exactly why they did not attend this gathering, but I think it was part of God’s plan. They went into this state of consciousness among the people within the camp. God met with the elders both outside the camp in the tent of meeting, and inside the camp among the people. It shows us that God does not dwell in any one place but is with us. A young man saw this occur and he ran to tell Moses what had happened, and Joshua Moses’ assistant became angry.
“Stop them” he begged Moses. But notice what Moses says, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” Moses received the message God intended. Moses thought it was all up to him, but it is not, and it never was. Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets.
Joshua, much like Moses, believed that all the responsibility was on one person. That is a lie of the world. I am all for individuality, but each person in this place is important. The truth is those depressed pastors are right, they cannot do everything, and they are silly to try. I am silly to try. That is what Pentecost is all about. God did not give the Spirit to Peter or one of the others, he gave the Spirit to all of them. Each person had a place and a portion of the greater ministry. Joshua wanted Moses to have the monopoly of the Spirit, because Moses was his mentor and his friend. But Moses realized he and the community needed the elders. We need every unique person speaking and telling their own stories of faith. We need everyone helping however they can.
We can often get caught in a state of depression, we can often get caught in a trap of hero worship and becoming jealous for those we admire. The truth is, the president of the United States is human, as is every world leader. They will rise in power and they will wither like a flower after they bloom. Pastors will come and pastors will go. People will join with us in worship and people will find some other expression of faith. It does not matter what other people do, or what others might say, the important thing we should focus on is are we encouraging one another? Are you being obedient to what God is calling you to do in this moment? Are you meeting God in your own tent of meeting wherever that might be, and are you allowing the Spirit to meet you in that place as you read scripture, pray, examine and respond? I will be completely honest. I am often that one in the five. I am often among those that feel inadequate. I am fully aware of who I am. I know I cannot do it all, and I am grateful for everyone that contributes. I am grateful for those that take care of the building because I cannot find a hammer half the time. I am grateful for the musicians and teachers. I am grateful for artists and scholars. For doctors, nurses, and the various technicians in those fields. I am grateful for the clerk at the store and those that repair our roads. Each of us contributes to something larger in some way. Each of us has a story to tell, a story of tragedy and accomplishment, of hope and despair. And without your voice, without your presence in this place at this moment we would not be the community we are.
On Pentecost the Spirit rested on the disciples and they spoke to all the nations, and three thousand people responded. Those three thousand went back to their homes and they told the story and lives began to change. Today God is calling you to participate. Share your story, “would that all the Lord’s people were prophets.”
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By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 21, 2023
1 Peter 4:12–14 (ESV)
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
1 Peter 5:6–11 (ESV)
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Beloved. How many times have we read through scripture and used scripture within an argument and miss this one little word? Beloved. While reading through the various epistles, we often scour through them looking for great little nuggets to support our various traditions and understandings and while we scour, we often miss this one little word. Beloved. The epistles were meant to be words of encouragement in dark times. They were intended to be a balm for the wounds that were gained throughout the struggles of life. We so often use these words to cut and at times harm others, but they were written to the beloved. I want us to remember this fact, as we approach scripture. Just as David in Psalm 23 reminds us that we are sitting at the table across from our enemies, we are both at the same table eating of the feast provided by us both by the same God. Beloved.
1 Peter is filled with strange almost disjointed statements. It is one of the epistles that has weird references to ancient writings that many of us are not even aware of. And yet Peter presents them as if they have some knowledge that can encourage us. One of those statements we read last week. The weird and almost difficult to read portion at the end of the 3rd chapter where he speaks of Noah, authorities, angels, and powers. Not to mention the spiritual milk that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, that is derived from the word logos instead of pneuma. In that case I made it even more weird than it really was by calling it Word Milk, it would have been much more understandable if I used a different description which is logic. We are supposed to drink or consume logic. We are encouraged to grow by the consumption of wisdom and understanding. We are encouraged to think and think deeply.
I often avoided 1 Peter because I do find it weird. And because I found it weird or strange, I felt as if I did not have an understanding or wisdom. This scares me. It is one of those books where the plain reading of scripture just does not work, because at times it is just weird. I have been criticized by colleagues at times because I have expressed that just reading scripture is not enough to build a fuller understanding of what is being said. They looked at me as if I was denying the authority of scripture, which is far from the truth. I have a deep love and appreciation for scripture. I also have a profound knowledge of my own limitations. This is why the word Beloved is where we need to begin.
Peter is speaking to people that are facing struggles. It is believed that the people Peter is writing to are just beginning their journey in faith, and because they are new many of them feel as if the world is out to get them. Some of these individuals are caught between two worlds. They know who they used to be, and yet they are a new creation in Christ. They no longer want to be who they once were, instead they strive to be someone or something they believe is better. They have this vision before them, and they are getting discouraged.
You have bene there. You have made attempts to better yourself in some manner, and then someone says a word and all at once you have fallen off the wagon again. We have this desire to be something, to do something, to change and at every turn we face discouragement. Peter knows this well. He denied his closest friend and watched him hang on a tree shortly after those denials. Peter knows discouragement, but he also knows something else. He knows, beloved. The very one that he denied, came back to him, after the resurrection, and restored and encouraged him to continue the life he began. And the words that Jesus spoke to Peter that day were also the words that Christ used to reveal the life I needed and wanted too.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” If we were to remove that one word from this sentence, these would be words of condemnation and rebuke. But Peter includes that one word, beloved, and everything changes. He is meeting them where they are. He recognizes their struggles, their pain, and he is coming alongside them as a delivering ally. This is what we are called to do in a life with Christ. Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples. Disciples are ones that walk with the teacher. They eat, sleep, breathe the very air alongside their teacher. To make disciples, we need to be with not above, not under, not away from, but with or among.
Peter is with these people, even though they are in Asia minor while he is in Rome, he is with them. He understands how they feel, he hears their pleas. And he tells them, “Even I, the rock, experience this. It is not strange.” Suffering is part of human existence. It is the fruit emerging from various aspects of human activity. It emerges from revenge, greed, jealousy, sloth, lust. We could list countless activities that we would call sin, but what it really boils down to is one sided thought and various forms of perceived supremacy. The question is how will we respond? How will we react and live through the agony of these trials.
Peter says, “Beloved… do not think that something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings.” I have been in various trials throughout my life, and my initial response to these words is violence. I want to scream at Peter. I want to smack him in his face. How can I rejoice in the suffering? Thank goodness there are more verses. “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”
I had to stop for a moment and think about this. I had to break this down word for word and consider each as they pertain to the whole. Insulted is a reprimand for a real or perceived fault presented in a harsh demeaning manner. Where or to what are the insults we face, focused? We often have misconceptions as to what is being insulted and why. As I work, I often listen to podcasts and YouTube videos. I tell my brother it is my daily dose of conspiracy theories and random facts of science and history. In many of these sources of media, I will listen to arguments from many different perspectives. I will listen to people complain about the world and I will listen to commentary on why the insults were given. As I have listened to these various voices, I have come to realize that I often agree with people I never thought I would agree with, especially when it comes to the culture wars that we often find ourselves in. This has caused me to stop and consider if my actions and words reflect God, or if they more resemble the preference and ideologies of human cultures and nations. At times, the insults are justified. Especially when they point out our own hypocrisies.
We often take the criticism of the church as a badge of honor because of words like Peter’s, but when we do this, we might be taking the scripture out of context. Peter does not say all insults are blessed. He says, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ.” There is an action we must take when we consider this verse. When the word, if is present then logically a then statement should follow. When we consider these sorts of statements there is always a possibility that the if statement is not true, therefore, the then statement will differ. If we are insulted for the name of Christ, then we are blessed. If we are insulted for any other reason, that blessing is not guaranteed. Peter is urging us to examine our lives. He is encouraging us to listen to the words that are being said. Listen because there may be some truth within their perceptions, and we might be dishonoring the name, or bearing or using his name in vain.
Now there are times where the if statement is true. Where the world’s perception is contrary to the reality of what we are saying and doing. This is where the insults that we receive do result in blessedness. In the ancient world many Christians were martyred because those outside the church had a perception that was faulty. The Christians would say that they eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ, and the world accused them of cannibalism. Or when Quakers protest conscripted military service because it is contrary to their expression of faith, many even in the United States were accused of crimes and sentenced to prison terms over the perception that if you are unwilling to fight for us, you must support the ones our nation believes to be the enemy. These martyrs and saints that suffered insults for the name of Christ, put their words into action and the world rejected them. This is very different to many of the arguments we hear today.
Peter encourages us to examine our lives. He encourages us to contemplate the words that are said. And to respond according to the answers revealed to us. Are we suffering a fiery trial for the name of Christ, or are we suffering because of a masquerade?
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” Humility is often misunderstood. To humble ourselves is to be honest about who we are and what our abilities are. To deny our abilities is not humility but pride, because everyone else knows better. False humility is a form of manipulation where we are forcing others to grant us position. To be humble is to be moderate, modest, and authentic. It is knowing ourselves and living within who we are. To humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God is to recognize who we are in relation to others and to God. Allowing God to handle the things that God should handle and stepping in when there is something you know you are able and should do. God gave us our abilities and wisdom for us to use, it is pride to neglect this gift from God, just as much as it is to exaggerate our own abilities.
Know who you are Peter encourages. Know who you are in relation to humanity and God. Step up if you are able, but at other times we do not know what to do or where to even begin. How are we going to fill a position for our employer if there are no applications to review? How are we going to feed our children if our bank account is overdrawn? How are we going to solve poverty, violence between nations, or countless other crises facing our contemporary world? Peter provides counsel on this as well. “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
Every time I went to my mother for advice, her first answer was always the same. “Have you prayed about it?” It is almost a cliché within the Christian community. We say we pray. We have prayer meetings which often turn into an hour of juicy gossip. And I know that often prayer just does not seem to work. We speak the words and then we dwell on the situation some more. This is not what Peter is saying. He says casting, this means to place or put something on something else with great energy. I like that definition, because it sounds like something I would write. I want you to visually imagine placing or putting something on something else with great energy. When you imagine this casting is throwing…hard. We are to cast those things causing us concern and worry. We are to propel with great energy those things that we are brooding over to the point of sleeplessness on him.
This means we should be emotional in our lives of prayer. Let God know just how important this is to you. Our anxieties are those things within us that we are unable to remove ourselves.
As stated in the ska classic “Superman” by Goldfinger:
“I’m trying to sleep, I lost count of sheep, my mind is racing faster every minute. What could I do more, yeah, I’m really not sure, I know I’m running circles, but I can’t quit. And I’m so confused, about what to do, sometimes I want to throw it all away.”
If our anxieties were unimportant, we would not be losing sleep over them. They are just simply out of our control. We want God to know just how troubled we are, but often we treat our prayers as if they were a yo-yo instead of a lifeline. We throw our troubles toward God but then we jerk our wrist and bring them back. We cast with great energy, but we forget to leave them on the something else. We let God know it is troubling us, but we do not leave it to him. We need to change this method of prayer. We need to clear our minds of these anxieties and let them remain with God.
This is easier said than done. I cannot tell you how many nights I have lain in bed praying over and over about various things that have troubled me about our Meeting, the Yearly Meeting, and people that I know. This is where the Psalms come in, and the discipline of contemplative prayer and Lectio Divina. We express ourselves, and cast our anxieties on God, then we need to fill our minds with something different and break the yo-yo cycle of our anxieties. Say your words, then read a Psalm and just let the words flow through your mind and over your heart. Meditate and redirect our thoughts away from our struggles and focus on the words that God inspired throughout the scriptures. When we focus on those words, we will be reminded of God’s care and grace. His mighty hand and his gentle heart. As we grow in this discipline, we will find that eventually the anxieties we once carried are indeed cast away. But it is important to note that at times it is important to have trusted friends and counselors to assist us in these things, because anxiety disorders are very real, and it is not a weakness to seek professional help. It is a sign of strength.
Peter encourages us to examine ourselves and the situations we face, he then encourages us to cast the anxieties we carry on the Lord in prayer. Peter then advises us to be sober-minded and watchful. When we hear the word, “sober” our mind drifts to intoxication. And I have heard well intentioned pastors use this very verse to promote abstinence, but this is not what Peter is meaning. To be sober-minded is to curb the influence of inordinate emotions and desires. It is becoming reasonable, self-controlled and well-balanced. This is important because often when we are in the clutches of our anxieties, we are unreasonable. We are caught in a loop and cannot find our way out. By engaging in the disciplines of prayer we break that cycle so that we can be reasonable once again. He then speaks of being watchful, or aware and mindful of the situation and your surroundings.
When I was a manager for a company, I would often listen to people wishing to make major life changes to relieve the anxieties they faced. They would come to talk, they wanted me to listen and to accept their resignation, and many would be surprised at the suggestion I gave. In most cases I would give them a few days off to rest, and I would encourage them to explore their options and determine what was causing their anxieties. In many of those case, they would return from the extra time off and would continue to work in the position they were in. In other cases, they would request a transfer to a different position within the company, but in every case, they remained, and they remained because they became aware of the situation and their surroundings. They took a step back from their anxieties, rested and they were able to make the necessary corrections to alleviate what was causing their troubles. This is the sort of thing that Peter is speaking of. He is encouraging us to drink the milk of the word, to use logic and wisdom, as we step back and allow the anxieties to calm to a point, we can see beyond the trial we are facing.
This does not only apply to work. Peter says, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Before we get too deep in this sentence, I want to be mindful of the words and grammar. Devil in this sentence is not capitalized. In fact, in the thirty-four times the word we translate as devil is used it is never capitalized. For most of us when we see and hear this word we immediately think of an adversarial spiritual being, but the lack of capitalization indicates that this is not necessarily referring to a specific personality. Devil can also refer to slanderous people; people that wish to separate and divide through the telling of lies. This does refer to a specific spiritual being but there are many other personalities surrounding us that could fit this definition. There are people surrounding us whose very existence seems to revolve around, preventing us from living a life of joy and hope. This is what the term roaring refers to. It is a cry with a loud and continued sound. These devils will not stop they are constantly speaking and deceiving, they continue to promote division and separation until they accomplish their destructive work. Peter tells us to be mindful and aware of them and their activities so that we do not provide fuel for their slanderous activities.
“Resist him,” Peter says, “Firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of sufferings are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” As we face the trials brought about by slander, we remain loyal to the Word. This is what faith means, its loyalty and trust. It is recognizing who and what we will believe. Will we be swayed by the slanders spoken about ourselves and others, or will we remain firm in the truth.
Each of us faces the agonies of trials. Some jaded and pessimistic philosophers will say that to be human is to suffer. They are not completely wrong, we just do not like being reminded of it. At times we bring the trials on ourselves, while at other times the anxieties are out of our control. How will we respond? How will we cope? Peter once looked at his friend, Jesus, as the crowds were turning away from him due to the slanderous words people spoke about him. Jesus looks at Peter and the other disciples and he asked, “Will you also turn away?” And Peter said, “Where will we turn, you have the words of life.” Where will you turn, where will we turn? Beloved. Friends. Where can we turn? Our experiences are not strange but common. We have anxieties, we have doubts, we even question if we believe or ever believed. We look at the world around us and at times it does feel as if everything is falling around us. I encourage you to drink the spiritual milk found in the Word. I encourage you to throw your anxieties as hard as you can to God, and then to let the words of scripture flow over you in prayer. Beloved, He cares for you. He loves you, and he loves us to such a degree that he sent his one unique son to be born into a family and community. He loves us so much that he grew in knowledge and wisdom, and he taught us what life with God truly is. He loves us so much that as he hung on the cross, he cried out forgive them for they do not know what they do. While we were still sinners, while we were still enemies and adversaries of God, Christ died for us, and was buried in a cold and dark tomb. And then on the third day he rose from that grave to give us hope. He rose to confirm, strengthen and establish us in his glory. This hope and strength are available to all who believe and put their trust in loyalty in him. Beloved will we believe?
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By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 14, 2023
1 Peter 3:13–22 (ESV)
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
I pick the best scriptures for Mother’s Day, I will promptly meet everyone outside for the tar and feathers after worship. But before we begin that process, I picked these scriptures for a reason. Most of our lives we have heard these verses out of context and often used without gentleness and respect.
Today we centered on the fourth query within our current Faith and Practice. This query speaks to parents, but it also speaks to all people within a community. I remember when I was in school, the very conservative community I grew up in would make fun of Hilary Clinton’s book, “It Takes a Village.” I never read the book and to be honest I have no desire to, but my community often scoffed at the idea that a village would take care of children. They scoffed, but as they scoffed, I contemplated the idea. The rearing of children does take a village.
The community I grew up in was small and rural. The nearest gas station was eight miles down a gravel road from my house. The nearest grocery store was a thirty-minute drive away, and that grocery store often sold out of the things you would need, and the next grocery store would be another thirty-minute drive or possibly over sixty miles away. I love that little rural community. I grew up in Mt. Ayr township, which was named after Mt. Ayr Friends Church. This township was settled by Friends that traveled from the eastern parts of the nation and you can tell where they settled because across our nation there are little communities that were named Ayr, and those communities follow a suspiciously similar pattern to the major migrations of Friends.
In this small community everyone was important. It did not matter who you were or what you needed, if you needed help someone would be there. It was not uncommon for me to hear stories of a farmer getting sick and the community would work together to make sure that the fields were planted so that the family could survive. It takes a village.
That is not the only thing. My teachers in school and at church were parents of the children in my class, and if they were not parents, they were often related to someone in the class. The librarian at school was my great aunt, and I loved going to the library to listen to her read. Then there was the religious community. Each of my Sunday school teachers were important. They were often the parents of my friends, my mom, or the pastor’s wife. Usually, my Sunday school teachers were the women within the church. And they had to put up with a lot. But each of those women, as I look back were important. If they did not volunteer to serve and put up with our unruly class, I cannot even imagine where I would be today.
Often these teachers were mothers, but not always. One teacher was my dad’s sister. She was a single woman in a church. No children of her own yet she played the organ for worship, she directed the Christmas pageants, and would often volunteer to help teach. She did eventually get married later in her life, but during my formative years she was single. What I am getting at is it takes a village to raise children. So, this month’s query is for all of us not just mothers, or fathers.
Do we provide for the suitable Christian education and recreation of our children and those under our care, endeavoring to train them for upright and useful lives?
I want us to really consider this.
When I read the verses for this week, I myself cringed a bit. Who would speak from Ephesians 5 and 6 on Mother’s Day? And why would I focus on 1 Peter 3? Mothers have a difficult job. They must encourage and raise another human being from a fragile infant to an adult, and beyond. Each mother is responsible for not only themselves but for someone else, sometimes two or more. That puts a great deal of pressure on an individual. We sometimes do not even think about it, we just take on the responsibility. And then later we lay in bed wondering if we have traumatized that innocent human being.
I am going to tell you a secret. If you are trying to be the best mother you can be, your children will know. They will not see the times you think you are failing. They will not remember the times you feared for your life and theirs. They will not remember the negative emotions you might feel as you struggle, because all they see is you, their mother. They see the person that makes them snacks and dinner, even though they refuse to eat it. Those meals in twenty years will be the ones they long for. They see the caring and gentle hands that tend to their scraped knees. When they thought, they were going to bleed to death you fixed it with a band aid and a kiss. To our children we are magic. But it does not feel that way.
I chose these verses today because it does not feel as if we are magic as parents. I grew up thinking my mom was the most wonderful person that walks on the face of the earth. I see her as an inspiration, she sees herself all too often as inadequate. She is not perfect, I know that, but she taught me more than she could ever realize.
Nearly every Sunday our family was in church. I sat in the Sunday school classroom with the mothers of the church, I listened to the stories, and I read the scriptures. Every Sunday I was there, but I like everyone else, am human. I do things that make me look just a bit hypocritical. I became a father out of wedlock.
I grew up in a very conservative and religious community, and I did not live up to the expectations of that community. In my mind I should have been cast out, because that is what I thought the scripture said. That is not how my mom responded. I remember the night I told my mom that she was going to be a grandmother. My mom did not react the way I anticipated. I expected to be belittled, yelled at, called names. Not that these were my mom’s normal activities, because they were not, but that was the way that I felt. I was upset with myself and the situation I had gotten me and James’ mom into. I expected the worst, but my mom did not do these things. She gave me a hug, she talked me through what needed to happen, and she encouraged me.
There was no condemnation, no judgment, only encouragement. I could tell that she was disappointed, but she was not going to let that disappointment hinder or discourage me, James’ mom, nor the child we were going to raise. My mother showed me the reality of love and faith. Faith is not being perfect, but a lifestyle. It is treating those around us as the individual, uniquely created beings reflecting an aspect of God’s image. True faith is living as if those unique individuals are equal to us in the eyes of God, and worthy of our respect and encouragement.
Both Peter and Paul speak to this in these passages. And in these sections, they both speak about the relationship within a family and within a community. Often these passages are used with passion and judgement, but as I have grown in faith and as I have learned more about the cultures surrounding these letters, I have found that often what we have always been told might be less strict than we once thought.
Ephesus in the first century was a place very foreign to our way of thinking, and it was in many ways contrary to the wider culture. When we read about Paul’s initial journey to Ephesus in the book of Acts, we would find that Paul was driven out of the city by the silversmiths. I always thought this was strange. Even when I learned more about this region, I still found it strange, because I never took the time to look at the culture.
Ephesus was an important city. If we were to look at the world religious centers of the first century, this city was on par with Jerusalem in secular religious importance. Like Jerusalem, Ephesus had a major temple devoted to a deity, Artemis of Ephesus. We often do not fully recognize just how important this center was to the surrounding culture. Neglecting the cultural significance of this religious cult greatly skews our understanding of what both Peter and Paul are speaking about in their letters. And I believe this has also caused many of our own faith traditions to build on misunderstanding.
Artemis, according to Greek Mythology, was the daughter of Zeus and his jealous spouse Hera. Tradition says that Hera gave birth to Artemis in the Quail lands, which was supposedly near Ephesus. This was a wild land according to the myths, filled with wild animals and unspoiled nature. Artemis grew to become the mistress of the animals and the goddess of the hunt. Later, because of her connection to nature and the bounty of game, she became a goddess of agriculture and fertility in general. People would offer the first fruits of their harvest to her with the hopes that her blessing would ensure continued abundance within their flocks and fields. She was in many ways the ideal depiction of natural and sometimes ferocious femininity.
Her brother was often regarded as the god of the sun, so Artemis was the goddess of the moon. And because of this connection to nature, the moon, and the cycles of life that are associated with the moon, she became the goddess of the child-bed, or childbirth. She was basically the goddess of motherhood, and her animal representation is the mother bear. This is why I said ferocious because you do not want to get between a mother bear and her cubs.
To understand Ephesians and really 1 Peter, we need to understand a bit about Artemis and the cultic practices surrounding her temple. Unlike most religions where men dominated the rituals, the cult of Artemis was dominated by women. Women participated in the ceremonies, women were the priests, in many ways in Ephesus because the culture was devoted to this religious cult, women were the greatest influence in the community. The only way a man could participate in the religious ceremonies were if he sacrificed his own fertility to this fertility goddess and became a eunuch.
When Paul speaks of the relationships between men and women, he is speaking to this aspect of the culture in Ephesus. Women naturally took charge of the religious practices, and men naturally stayed away. Paul would tell his young apprentice, Timothy, that he would not let women speak, not because he dislike women but because he wanted the men to step up and become part of the community. Women were active and men were passive this is not what the world needs. We need both men and women active and involved. We need the village to participate together to encourage and exhibit hope.
You might say that I am stretching a bit here, and that is okay to think. We have centuries of tradition that would speak against my position. But there is an interesting thing that occurred in Ephesus. When Jesus hung on the cross, he looked down to the one apostle that did not run away, the apostle John. There are many debates as to why John was the only man there, I think he was there because he was an adolescent not fully recognized as a man, so it was still acceptable for him to be in the care of the women. Jesus looked at this young man and he told him to take care of his mother Mary for him. John the youngest apostle is believed to have cared for Mary the rest of her life, and John when he left Jerusalem moved to Ephesus. Mary the Theotokos, moved to the city of the goddess of motherhood. The temple of Artemis soon sunk into a swamp, because something changed.
Peter encouraged the people of Asia minor, of which Ephesus is part, to always be ready to speak about the hope that you have. He tells them to have no fear of those people within the culture wishing to do harm to you. He says this because we are not supposed to argue and fight. We are not supposed to defend our faith in the face of opposition. We are not to act like so many of us do, I among them. There is a complete course of study within the church called apologetics, giving a defense, answering the questions people might ask. I love apologetics and I like many believe that it is founded on this very scripture. But Peter is not telling us to argue and fight, but to live our faith. He is encouraging us to exhibit what we believe in front of those around us. And when we are asked about why we act and live as we do, to explain with gentleness and love.
I want us to consider this picture. The whole picture. So much of religion is proving we are right and that others are wrong. That is what the cult of Artemis revolved around. When a woman died in childbirth it was because she angered or offended the goddess of motherhood, and the curse of the offense was that she would die while bringing about life. This school of thought completely cuts one aspect of humanity out of the picture. It puts all the focus on one gender. But sadly, we at times are not much better. There are many, some might argue most, Christian traditions that have used the words that Paul penned to do the same thing. Wives submit to your husband because he is the head as Christ is the head of the church. We see these words and we think one gender is greater and the other is subservient to them. NO.
We read these verses but so often we forget that most of these passages are speaking about men, not women. Men we should be like Christ. What is the example that Christ gives us? We should sacrifice ourselves so that others may live. And Paul tells us, as does Peter, that the way we do this is to show our faith not by anger and ferocity but by encouraging our children, and those under our care, in the ways faith.
John took the mother of Jesus to Ephesus, the city of the goddess of fertility and childbearing. He took the mother of God, to live in this community. And not only John, but Peter and Paul, the pillars of the church, go to this place the crossroads of the east and west, partly in Asia and partly in Europe. And what do they say? As so often is the case they go back to the very beginning. It was not good for humanity to be alone, that was the only thing in all of creation that was not good in the eyes of God in creation. And he caused Adam to go to sleep and out of his side, he created Eve the mother of life. And Eve was to be the help mate, or as Tim Mackie from the Bible Project suggests, Delivering Ally. It is not good to be alone. It is not good to focus on one aspect of God’s reflected image. We need a fuller picture. We need an ally.
God created us with this need. It is not good for us to be alone. It is not good for one to dominate over another. It is not good for us to be without a community around us. It takes a village. It takes a village to encourage children. It takes a village to inspire our children to dream and build, to hope and achieve. It takes men, it takes women, it takes mothers and fathers. It takes aunts and uncles. It takes the young and the old. It takes us all. We cannot do it alone, we need each other. God knows this, we know this. God knew this to such a degree that he came to live in a family and community. He lived thirty years just like us, before he even started his ministry. He came not to condemn but to save, he became our delivering Ally, the seed of the woman promised to the mother of life when time began.
Ephesus, Asia minor, a community devoted to the cult of motherhood saw the truth. They saw a woman that said yes to God. A woman that said yes, even though she did not understand how she would trust that God would provide a way. They saw a man devoted to this mother, even though it was not his own. They saw a scholar that spoke boldly that men as well as women should step up and participate in every aspect of faith. And they saw a friend that encouraged them to not fear but live faith with gentleness and respect.
Ephesus saw a different lifestyle lived before them and they began to turn to God the Most High. They began to turn not because of clever arguments but because the people lived their life and their faith. Their words and their actions were genuine. They began to turn because they saw hope and love. Today I want to thank you all for your service to our families, and to our children. I want to say thank you for showing your faith not just by word, but by action. I want to thank you for encouraging the youth of each generation along the way. And I want to challenge you to become the delivering allies to those within that are currently participating in that important aspect of the cycle of life, parenthood. Mothers and women of faith thank you for showing true faith to me when I was a youth. Mothers and women of faith thank you for showing true faith to my children. And thank you for showing your devotion and faith to our Meeting. It takes all of us to provide suitable education and recreation for children. It takes all of us to train our children to be upright and useful. It takes all of us to show them a life of faith, and how to grow in that faith. And God calls that community very good. It is that life and lifestyle that God so wants that he sent his son to be born of Mary, to live among a family within a community, to teach and encourage, and to die for. And in his life, death and resurrection we can join him in that life. If we only believe and entrust our lives to him. Putting off the old and clothing ourselves in him. It takes a village. It takes a community. Let us know go out today and thank those delivering allies that have helped us along the way. And let us thank our mom.
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