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Why Are You Here? What Is Your Purpose?

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

June 11, 2023

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Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Hosea 5:15–6:6 (ESV)

15 I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me. 1 “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. 3 Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” 4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away. 5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. 6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

What is our purpose? Why are we here?

I have asked these questions several times throughout my journey of faith. I ask them primarily because the emotions I feel do not always reflect the reality of my experiences. Why am I standing before you? One might say that I stand here because you have hired me to do so. This is not completely wrong, but I am not a mere hireling pastor. Although much of my remaining in Kansas City depends on my wages, what I say is not reflective of this relationship. I will speak what I feel I am supposed to speak, even if it may cause discomfort. Discomfort is not my intention, my goal is to provide hope, to inspire, and to encourage us all to a place where we can love and honor God, and that of God in those around us.

What is our purpose? Why are we here? Last week I went to church camp with several of our students. I quickly realized that attending camp as a counselor is vastly different than going as a student. Instead of asking questions, I was the one that people looked toward to answer the questions. This is not a problem for me, but the questions that I was asked might surprise you.

When I was a student, we asked questions too, but the questions this emerging generation ask are different. The questions my generation asked mainly revolved around what a sin is and how can we alleviate that so that we can get into heaven. This line of questioning primarily focuses on duty or justification of action. For several generations this has been the line of questions that were asked. This reflects the attitude and the discipleship of those generations. For several generations to be a disciple of Christ required that we follow rules and if we do not deviate from those rules we are justified in our actions.

This has served us well for the past few generations. We were satisfied with the clear-cut black and white answers that our leaders could give. But the world around us has changed. We no longer live in a world where there are only two options. Before there was capitalism and communism. There was right and wrong. There was good and evil. The places we could find answers to our questions were within our schools, our churches and our libraries.  The limited access to knowledge often made life easier, and this is how our theology was often constructed. There is a right way of thinking and a wrong way. Our opinion is right and everyone else is wrong.

Then all at once the digital age hit. When I was a student in high school I remember searching through the library for information. I would spend hours looking through books and microfiche slides to find articles to cite in research papers. Then I went to college and what once took hours, could be accomplished in a matter of minutes by typing words into an internet search engine. The answers to the questions we asked suddenly expanded. Not only could we read articles from our local community or university, but we could access things written across the globe.

We often do not realize how this digital environment changes the questions we ask. We do not realize how access to different worldviews can prompt us to think deeper about things that at one point seemed common. My generation asked questions about how we should act, but this emerging generation at the age of ten are asking questions that I did not wrestle with until I was in graduate school.

Why are we here? What is our purpose? The Prophet Hosea, I believe, probably asked similar questions. We do not know much about this prophet, but what we do know makes him unique. He was a prophet that lived and ministered in the northern kingdom. Most other prophets were born in the southern kingdom of Judea and would make missionary trips to Israel to tell them how terrible they were, but Hosea was a native. Most of us remember Hosea, not because he was the lone prophet of Israel, but because of his marriage. We are told that God commanded Hosea to marry a woman of questionable morality by the name of Gomer. I will be honest the only reason I remembered her name is because it is Gomer. Scholars have long argued about the legitimacy of this. Many believe that Gomer’s adultery was figurative or allegorical, whereas others believe it to be literal. In my opinion I think it is both.

I say this because Israel was a pluralistic society. They had multiple religions and multiple world views. Prior to Hosea’s emergence to the office of prophet Israel had experienced an economic renewal, which gave them the arrogance to start a war against their southern neighbor. This war and subsequent defeat lead to a massive economic decline and eventual collapse. Their nation ceased, the people were absorbed into the Assyrian empire and the ten northern tribes of Israel have been lost.

The Northern Kingdom, known as Israel, embraced a pluralistic society. They followed the kingdoms of the world, and they were eventually absorbed into the kingdoms of men. We often take this as a warning. It is not wrong to believe that, but could it be teaching us more. Could we find hope in their rise and fall?

What is our purpose? Why are we here? In many ways these were the questions I was asked many times over the past week. What is the point of faith? As I sat and considered this week’s passage, I pondered Hosea’s story. I sat and I wondered why God would encourage him to marry a woman whose beliefs were so contrary to God’s commandments. It bothered me. How could a good God, a righteous God, a God that is concerned with sin encourage his own prophet to participate in that sort of lifestyle? Is this just allegory as some scholars say or did Hosea marry an adulterous wife? I think this prophet can speak volumes to our own pluralistic society.

The theme of the camp that I was participating in was Creator’s place. We learned a great deal about our created purpose and what we were created to do. I along with the camp directors encouraged the kids to seek and find their own purpose in this world. But there was one question that hit me in the gut, hard. “Why does God want to scare us to believe?”

This hit me hard because that has been the primary mode of evangelism and mission over the past generations. I learned the four spiritual laws by heart before I traveled to Ukraine for a summer of teaching. I learned how to bring nearly every conversation back to a presentation of these four laws and each of us learned to draw them own paper napkins. That is one reason usually have a pen handy because I was trained for this sort of thing. In my mind evangelism is to encourage people to repent and be saved and they are getting saved from the fires of hell.

I participated in these activities. I believe that they were good, but I came to a place where even I found them to be distasteful. Why do we speak so much about hell? Why do we use hell as a means of presenting the Gospel? You might argue that Jesus spoke about hell, our God told us about hell and that makes it alright. This is true but there is something that I have found interesting about Jesus’s discussion about hell, he only spoke about it to the religious elites. When he spoke to those that were regarded as sinners or unclean, Jesus did not speak of hell but hope.

I was taken aback by this question, because it is one that I have struggled with. You might have noticed that I rarely speak about hell. In the past people have even accused me of rejecting the truth of the gospel because I do not preach about hell. When people have made those accusations, I usually say that I do not speak about hell because heaven is better. We all know we are going to hell; we all live in hell every day of our lives. We do not need to be reminded of this, instead we need to be given hope. There is a different life and lifestyle available.

Hosea, for some reason believe that God directed him to marry an adulterous woman. We do not fully know what this means, it could mean that she sold her body, but it could also mean that was involved with ceremonial practices of religions foreign to Israel. I do not want us to jump to any conclusions, instead I want us to consider the point to the union. Through this relationship Hosea was able to teach us. What is adultery? We often look at this from a moralistic stance. It is a cheating spouse or an intimate relationship outside of marriage, or lust. We usually think of this sin as something we do with our bodies, but Jesus teaches us that we can participate in this activity without physical contact. Adultery is unfaithfulness. It is a breach of trust. It is when we place our own desires or self before the united union.

Scripture often speaks out against self-centered ideology. When Jesus is asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” The question is not really speaking of what is most important, but what is the least amount of effort I must exert to pacify God enough so I can continue to live as I want. Jesus answers this question by quoting Torah, “Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And the second is like the first, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

What must we do? We often ask questions like this. This is often at the very core of what is often described as the culture war. And we look at the words of the prophets to justify our stances, but what if Hosea was commanded to take a wife with a different worldview so that he could teach us all how to live this law within a pluralistic society? What if God is less concerned with our score card and more concerned with our attitude?

“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

This last verse of today’s passage is one I often contemplate. It speaks of reality and ritual. It speaks of legality and relationships. It speaks to our condition today.

What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ or a Friend of God? So often we approach faith as a checklist, or the right answers but that is not at all what Hosea is speaking about. It is easy for us to get trapped in this way of thinking. We often speak of our faith traditions in terms of the dos and don’ts. And we often get into this trap because we look at scripture from western eyes and cultural understanding. We often think of commandments as legislation and rules. This is not the culture of Israel.

Would it surprise you to know that when speaking of the ten commandments, Israel would look at this in a different way than we do? They do not see rules but words of wisdom. I often heard sermons saying God gave us ten commandments not ten suggestions. As I have gained more understanding, I have come to realize that this is not exactly right, God gave us ten teachings. Ten discussions or queries. The commandments are not law, but an invitation to a conversation. This is what Hosea is speaking about in this last verse of today’s passage. God wants a relationship, a conversation with him, not ridged adherence to rules.

Why are we here? What is our purpose? We live in a world that has changed and is constantly changing. We once had all the answers, but now we have more questions. We as the church must adapt. I am not saying that we need to become universalist. I am saying that we need to listen and discuss. We need to figure out how to authentically live our faith in a pluralistic society. We often wonder why people turn from the church, and we try to hold on ever more tightly to ever more ridged interpretations of legalities. But in our attempt are we asking the right questions? What exactly is God’s desire of us?

Hosea most likely wrote these words shortly after Israel’s defeat in their war against Judah. He most likely wrote these words as the world they once knew was coming crashing down around them. He most likely wrote these words when people were honestly seeking answers, but those that were in positions to answer were unwilling to engage in conversation. Those that stood on the threshold between God and mankind were not bearing the name of God but were instead focused on ritual and duty. They looked at those that asked questions and instead of having compassion they gave them an empty ceremony.

And we wonder why people turn. Why do people reject God? Why did Hosea marry the harlot? Because that is what happens when we fail to engage in real conversations. This is a cycle that has been going on since the dawn of human civilization. We see the cycles even within the names listed in the genealogy of Christ. We move to and from God. It is found in the history of God’s people, in Israel and in the church. Our own tradition of faith, the Friends, emerged out of this very same place. George Fox yearned for God, yet when he spoke to those, he believed to be religious leaders they gave him cliché instead of hope. Getting married, self-medicating, singing psalms, get off my grass were the answers he received. So, what did he do? He took his book of scriptures out to a field, and he sat alone and, in the silence, according to his journal, he heard a voice say, “there is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thine condition.”

What is our purpose? Why are we here? The answers to these questions are all around us. They are sitting next to you and across the room. The answers are in the grass blowing in the wind, and in the dandelion bouquet a child brings to their mother. The answers are on the pages of scripture and on the faces of clerks that scan your groceries. We are here to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are here to love and encourage. Our purpose is to show a better lifestyle in how we interact with others. We are not here to be right or to have every answer, but we are here to live in a joyful relationship with all of creation.

God desires, he wants us to know and to be known. Yet our desires often become more important. God wants us to trust and to believe, yet often our wants supersede what God desires. We seek our own face instead of that of God. And as we seek, we miss the point. We want hope but where are we looking?

I want to close this message with the lyrics from a song called “Hymn for the 81%”

I grew up in your churches, Sunday morning and evening service, knelt in tears at the foot of the rugged cross. You taught me every life is sacred, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, I learned from you the highest law is Love. And I believed you when you said that I should trust the words in red to guide my steps through a wicked world. I assumed you’d do the same so imagine my dismay when I watched you led the sheep to the wolves.

You said 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.

Why are you here? What is your purpose? It is to love God with everything you have and all that you are, and to love that of God in everyone around you. Anything other than that is denial and rejection. Let us enter the ten conversations and ask God to show us the life he is calling us to. And let us know the one who made us and gave us life.

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About jwquaker

I’m sure everyone wants to know who I am…well if you are viewing this page you do. I’m Jared Warner and I am a pastor or minister recorded in the Evangelical Friends Church Mid America Yearly Meeting. To give a short introduction to the EFC-MA, it is a group of evangelical minded Friends in the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. We are also a part of the larger group called Evangelical Friends International, which as the name implies is an international group of Evangelical Friends. For many outside of the Friends or Quaker traditions you may ask what a recorded minister is: the short answer is that I have demistrated gifts of ministry that our Yearly Meeting has recorded in their minutes. To translate this into other terms I am an ordained pastor, but as Friends we believe that God ordaines and mankind can only record what God has already done. More about myself: I have a degree in crop science from Fort Hays State University, and a masters degree in Christian ministry from Friends University. Both of these universities are in Kansas. I lived most of my life in Kansas on a farm in the north central area, some may say the north west. I currently live and minister in the Kansas City, MO area and am a pastor in a programed Friends Meeting called Willow Creek Friends Church.


3 thoughts on “Why Are You Here? What Is Your Purpose?

  1. You have made three statements in this post that I am commentng on. Those statements are:
    1. “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
    2. “I am not a mere hireling pastor.”
    3. “Why does God want to scare us to believe?”
    Taken together, these three statements reveal a picture that must be seriously considered.
    First, “I desire…the knowledge of God.” This is not knowledge about God. This is not a command to study the Bible and memorize key concepts. The foundation of the nation of Israel as expressed in both Exodus 19 and Jeremiah 7 contains the conditional statement “If you will hear/obey my voice I will be your God and you shall be my people” as rendered by Jeremiah. This is the knowledge of God required. Hear/obey my voice brings us to be a people of God who live according to His direction, who walk in His counsel, who are made alive by the word He speaks into us. Isaiah put it this way, “Woe to the disobedient children who cover themselves, but not with my breath; who take counsel, but not of me. (Isaiah 30:1)” Edward Burrough wrote “For when we looked abroad ahd beheld the world…leaves we beheld upon every soul.” (Works of Fox, Vol. III, pp. 14-15) Edward Burrough’s statement was made about a ‘Christian’ society. Going to church, participating in church camp, being a preacher–all manner of religious activity can be nothing but fig leaves. The knowledge of God that is required provides the covering of life. Without this life we are naked, no matter what sort of covering we devise. The knowledge of God that is required is that we live by His counsel, that we become a people brought together by our waiting for and our obedience (corporate and individual) to His counsel.
    Second, “I am not a mere hireling pastor.” In the eyes of the congretation, have you been hired to do a job? Can you be sent away by being fired or by not renewing your contract? Would you stop having something to say if the church stopped paying you? What about Jesus’ command, “freely you have received, freely give?” Have the people who hired you become the people of God who together hear the voice of Christ, together obey His voice, and together suffer the consequences of living under the headship of Christ in a Christ denying world? How much energy do you spend avoiding asking such questions either to yourself, to the congregation, to other pastors?
    Third, “Why does God want to scare us to believe?” This question lays bare the lack of knowledge of God. This query calls into question the fabric of evangelical Christianity. What has been going on that gives rise to this question? With all the religious activity in EFI Mid America–preaching, praying, attending church services–why have you not become the people of God who hear/obey his voice?

    Posted by Ellis Hein | June 17, 2023, 8:50 AM
    • Ellis as always I do appreciate your comments. You have asked some important queries and I would venture to say that the answers to your queries can only be answered by the Willow Creek community as a whole.

      I do ask one of you as well? Why do you find it necessary to point out the perceived failures of the Evangelical branch of Friends instead of participating in the encouragement of greater conversation?

      The Meeting I minister among do earnestly seek the spirit of God, and they would continue with or without my participation. The questions I raise in this message come from a place of encouragement to examine and to seek a deepening relationship with God. I am sorry you were unable to see and hear this.

      Posted by jwquaker | June 17, 2023, 4:50 PM
      • Thank you for your response to my comment.

        You asked me, “Why do you find it necessary to point out the perceived failures of the Evangelical branch of Friends instead of participating in the encouragement of greater conversation?”

        I would have preferred to remain silent and not write any comment to this post, but the Lord required it. And thus seeing my way clear to make comment on your post, my endeavor was to write only what the Lord gave me. My words would have been and are useless. If there is any virtue in what I wrote in my comment it is because I was faithful to the task given me.

        Posted by Ellis Hein | June 17, 2023, 9:39 PM

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