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Being Mindful

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

August 27, 2023

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Matthew 6:25–34 (ESV)

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Exodus 1:8–2:10 (ESV)

8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. 13 So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.

15 Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. 18 So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”

1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. 3 When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. 4 And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. 5 Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

Today we again reflect on one of the Queries from our Faith and Practice. This is the first Query Sunday using the queries from the newest edition of our Faith and Practice. You might wonder why I do not just start at the first Query since we have a new edition, and the reason is simple. The Queries have not changed much since the first Unified Discipline of the Friends Church. In fact, Query #7 has been the seventh query since that time.

Do you try to observe simplicity in your manner of living? Do you frequently inspect your affairs and settle your accounts? Are you careful to live within your income and avoid involving yourselves in business beyond your ability to manage? Are you just in your dealings, punctual to your promises, prompt in the payment of your debts, and free from defrauding the public revenue?

When we look at these questions, we might quickly give an answer without any thought. When we do this, we neglect the purpose of the reading of the Queries. I did not understand the point of the queries for many years. I felt as if they were the most pointless portion of the entire Discipline. They do not provide any information as to how to conduct a Meeting for Business or discuss how to structure our committees. What good are they?

I grew up in the Friends Church. There was a moment when I was in college where I explored other expressions of faith, but I never felt at home. There is something unique and beautiful about Friends. For the past twenty years as I have been a minister among Friends, I have explored why I have always felt at home with Friends, and why I have not had similar experiences with other expressions. While taking this journey, I realized that it was the queries that provided that comfort.

For most of my life, the queries were read during a meeting of business. Usually, it was the first meeting for business of the year. The clerk of the meeting would stand before us and would slowly read all ten of the queries aloud. The weighty Friends would all sit nodding their heads in affirmation and occasionally sigh or grunt as they reflected. But I was a kid, to me it was a list of questions that I either answered yes or no to. I was ready to move on by the time they would read the associated scripture. But then I had to register for selective service. I had listened to the queries for my entire childhood, paid little attention to them and then suddenly one afternoon as I sat filling out that postcard and seeing that there was not a place to check conscientious objector, I realized that the world outside of Friends values vastly different things.

I sat with that postcard for a while. I remember asking my mother how I was supposed to fill it out. I remember her taking it from my hands in disbelief, thinking I was just reading it improperly. In her defense that happened often, and it is a wonder I did not kill anyone when I actually cooked. She read the entire card and we both sat there. The query, the testimony of peace that I had been taught my entire life, the right I was taught was mine as a member of the Friends Church, the right to object to the participation of war, was not printed on the card. For the first time, I had to truly examine what I believed and consider just how I would live it out in the world.

The queries, are just that. They are questions that should direct our mind and our spirit to examination. What do I really believe? And are those outside my community able to observe the things I claim to believe through my words and conduct?

Friends are unique among the expressions of faith. We emerged during the English Civil War, a war that in many ways was a conflict of both politics and faith. On one side were the Monarchists, and the Church of England over which the royal family presided. On the other side were the parliamentarians, the non-conformists, or who we now call the Puritans. Both sides of the battles focused on faith and power, who held the power, and who possessed the proper faith. It is a gross simplification of deep history, but it was from that place in history the Society of Friends was formed.

We did not fit. Those valiant sixty who traveled across the English countryside and throughout Europe, could not understand why people that claimed to believe in the same God, could fight with such ferocity while killing those that claimed a similar faith. As a result, they removed and distilled our faith to what they regarded as the most essential. They removed the ceremonial aspects of faith, the sacraments that the priests and pastors of the various branches of the church performed. And they instead focused on word and deed, meaning if we believe what we say, that should be reflected in how we live our lives. Without communion bread and wine, without the waters of baptism either sprinkled on an infant or the plunging of an adult, how will those around you know what you believe?

In many ways it is more difficult. I cannot rely on ceremony. I cannot show up to worship and go through the motions of accepting communion to present to everyone in the community that I am who I say I am. For you to believe that I have faith, I must show you. That means that every aspect of my faith must be so incorporated in my lifestyle that people would not question it. Do you see the difficulty?

As the various meetings of friends joined together to participate in greater cooperations they formed quarterly and yearly meetings. And eventually shortly after the American Civil War, they made the first Five Year Meeting. It was the Five-Year Meeting that gave us the Unified Discipline. Through all those years, those weighty and respected Friends would meet with people under their care and ask them questions or queries. These questions revolved around our testimonies, and how we express our faith in our daily living. We can learn a great deal about what a group regards as important by the questions they ask.

Do you try to observe simplicity? There is so much packed into this little question. Friends emerged in England and in Europe. Throughout that continent you will see monuments built by people of faith. Grand cathedrals, stained glass windows, and tools of worship plated in precious metals. George Fox would walk around England and see these massive Steeplehouses and the community they were in. It bothered him. These great buildings were constructed while the people within the community existed in poverty. He then looked inside the buildings and he would see hireling pastors striving for the greatest position or most lucrative post, while neglecting those that needed them the most. This was not all pastors or even all perishes, but those were George’s observations.

The testimony of simplicity comes from the earliest days of our faith. There is a Quaker folk song about George Fox that I learned as a child. “Walk in the light, wherever you may be, Walk in the light, wherever you may be! ‘In my old leather breeches and my shaggy, shaggy locks, I am walking in the glory of the light,’ said Fox!” This song expresses Fox’s understanding of life in many ways. He oriented everything he did so that he was free to live the life he sensed as his calling. Yes, he wore leather breeches. He chose to wear them, not because they were comfortable, but durable.

Fox and those early Friends dedicated their lives to ministry. They would often go without luxury items so that they could be free to invest their time and wealth in the community around them. Have you ever wondered why our Meetinghouse looks like a house instead of a traditional church? The same can be said about Quaker structures. They focus on durability, and utility so that more can be used in ministry.  

Richard Foster, probably the most well-known Quaker in contemporary history, says in his book Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World, “The goal of work is not to gain wealth and possessions, but to serve the common good and bring glory to God.”  He also says, “God’s blessing is not for personal aggrandizement, but to benefit and bless all the peoples of the earth. To understand the distinction makes all the difference in the world. The theology of wealth says, ‘I give so that I can get.’ Christian simplicity says, ‘I get so that I can give.’ The difference is profound.”

I want those words to sit with you.

Foster, in the same book also states, “People need the truth. It does them no good to remain ignorant. They need the freedom that comes through the grace of simplicity. And if we are to bring the whole counsel of God, we must give attention to these issues that enslave people so savagely.”

Why do we go to work every day? Are we going so that we can have more, or are we working for something greater?

“Therefore,” Jesus says in the passage from Matthew, “I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Look at the birds of the air… Consider the lilies of the field…” How many of us live in that kind of anxiety? How many of us live lives enslaved by the anxiety of our finances?

I will be the first to admit that I am not the greatest example of simplicity. Those early Friends did not have paid clergy, or hireling priests. Yet I am a paid pastor. And if I am honest, I need to be paid because I have debts. I am required, because of my past decisions, to limit what I can do in ministry. What I mean by this is that I cannot be like Fox, I cannot just walk around England preaching wherever I feel led, because I have bills to pay.

That is the point of Jesus’ teaching and that of Foster and Fox. We often enslave ourselves because of our choices.

Many students do not want to be harassed at school so they spend all their money on the name brand shoes, and clothing so that they can fit in. I recently watched an interview with Shaquille O’Neal. I never really cared for him when he was playing basketball. It was nothing about him, personally, I just did not care for professional basketball. But in this interview, he spoke about an interaction with a mother. He had just signed an exclusive deal with a shoe company promoting their high-priced shoes. And this mother mentioned it would be nice if someone would make good shoes that were affordable. I have been in that place, wanting something to fit in and not wanting what I could afford. Shaq took that lady’s comments to heart and developed a line of shoes with durability and affordability in mind. And he did this because he understood how the world around us can exert pressure.

Do you try to observe simplicity in your manner of living?

I have sat with this query several times. It is queries like this that have constantly drawn me back to Friends. We do not necessarily tell you what to believe, instead we encourage you to be mindful of your words and actions.

As I sat thinking about these words. As I sat examining my life. I think about many things. Simplicity is not only financial. We tend to go that direction because that is probably a place most of us lack simplicity. I have student loans, credit cards, and a car payment. All of these have entangled my life to the point that I often feel trapped. But have we considered other areas of simplicity?

What consumes our time? What consumes our energy? Are these blessing or draining our life?

 I speak often in terms of economy, because that is one of the areas of study my mind finds interesting. We so often think that economics is the study of wealth and money, it is so much more than that. Economics is the study of life choices. In economics there is a law of diminishing returns. This law states that an input will yield a certain return. When you add additional inputs, we expect the return to be double what it was before, but instead it is slightly less. With each additional input the return decreases, to the point the return becomes negative. It begins to drain.

We have experienced this in many areas of life. Something that was once a blessing, has become a source of anxiety. Instead of encouraging life, it consumes. A life of simplicity does not necessarily prevent this, but it creates margin, another good economic term. Margin provides a buffer and can come in many forms. When there is money remaining in your account at the end of the month, that is margin. You feel just a bit better, less anxious. When you have completed your daily tasks with time to spare, that is margin. When we have a margin in time, we can use that unallocated time for something we enjoy.

We need margin. And we can only have margin if we are mindful. In the Exodus reading, a new king emerged over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. I think we often forget the importance of that one phrase. Joseph was enslaved in Egypt, yet he lived his life in a manner where he became a blessing to those he served. This lifestyle eventually brought him to a position second only to Pharaoh. Joseph lived a life of margin because he was a blessing to others. We saw that in his response to his brothers. “God brought me here to preserve life.” That is profound.

Now there is a new king, one that did not know Joseph. Joseph was a blessing to Egypt, and to the surrounding nations. It was through Joseph’s wisdom that Egypt retained its power during a period of famine and decline. This new king forgot how Joseph preserved his nation, and neglected what was learned from him. He soon became fearful of the people of Israel. “Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and if war breaks out, they join our enemies.” I want us to stop and think about that statement.

There are too many of them. We need to control and regulate them. We need to preserve ourselves, is what he is saying. There is something happening in Egypt at this moment in time where stress and anxiety are the driving factors within their decision making. They see a problem and they see someone they can blame, Israel.

Then there is something else. Israel had taskmasters over them, they were afflicted, and enslaved. Whatever was affecting Egypt, the same thing affected Israel. Israel had nothing to offer because they had neglected the ways of Joseph and became powerless leaving submission as their only option.

Joseph’s life was one of margin. He taught simplicity, we know this because he was able to store grain during the good times and when the famine hit, they lived off what was left over. But now they did not know Joseph. They no longer followed his ways, and they, both Egypt and Israel, began to live an undisciplined lifestyle.

Egypt was anxious and they pinned all their anxiety on Israel. They became the scape goats for all of Egypt’s problems. I do not have, because of them. We see this throughout history, and even in our own country. Not too long ago, many within our nation were bemoaning immigration as the root of all our problems. Immigration is not the problem, our nation has always been a nation of immigrants. That is a scape goat mentality. But before you begin to think I am too liberal, tax the rich, is also scape goat thinking. If you think all your problems are because Jeff Bezos is a billionaire while you open your front door to pick up your amazon order, you are also overlooking the real problem.

The problem is we live in an overextended culture. We live without margin. We constantly want more and more, but in the pursuit of this goal we get less and less in return. And suddenly we find ourselves in a place where we are in too deep.

We are often overextended. We are busy. We are in debt. We work and work. We neglect our family and our health. We forget to rest. We do not utilize our vacation time, and we go to work sick. We make justifications and point at scape goats. These are not signs of dedication, but symptoms of disease. We need margin, and the only way we will obtain that is if we observe simplicity in our living.

Richard Foster, again in his book about Simplicity says, “We too are yoked to One who is trained. Our only task is to keep in step with him. He chooses the direction and leads the way. As we walk step by step with him, we soon discover that we have lost the crushing burden of needing to take care of ourselves and get our own way, and we discover that the burden is indeed light. We come into the joyful, simple life of hearing and obeying.”

with him, we soon discover that we have lost the crushing burden of needing to take care of ourselves The simple life requires discipline, but when we enter that life, we find freedom. We will see as we free time, money, and countless other resources, that the margin returns. When we have that buffer, when the struggles of life come in, we are able to respond without fear and anxiety and can offer those around us assistance in their own personal famines. “Consider the birds,” Jesus says, “they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they…Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these…But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Do You try to observe simplicity in your manner of living? What is preventing you?

Would that We…

By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church September 24, 2023 Click here to join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Exodus 16:2–15 (ESV) 2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said…

Lift up Your Hands

By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church September 17, 2023 Click here to join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Exodus 14:19–31 (ESV) 19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved…

Hope in Sorrow

By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church September 10, 2023 Click to Join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Exodus 12:1–14 (ESV) 1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall…

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God Has Brought You Here

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

August 20, 2023

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Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Genesis 45:1–15 (ESV)

1 Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. 4 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.

The story of Joseph is one that often captures the imagination. It is no wonder that this story was adapted to become one of the most well-known musicals in contemporary history. And has been the subject of children’s movies as well as the feature in children’s books. There is something about this story that grabs hold of our hearts and gives us sparks of hope.

Today’s story started long before the words that we read today. I started while he still lived in his father’s house. Why did the brothers despise Joseph in the first place? We could make a case that it was because he was given the steward’s coat, which elevated his stature as the second youngest son to that of the first born. But I presented an argument last week that Jacob was not necessarily outside of the cultural norms by doing this. Joseph was the first born of Jacob’s second wife. When Reuben brought dishonor to the family and was disinherited this left a gap within the family. Jacob could have transferred the honor to the second born son, but that son was from the same mother as Reuben. Reuben’s actions did not only affect him, but they also affected that entire line. Each of Leah’s sons carried similar personality traits. They were quick to act without thinking things through. They had spent the most time with their maternal grandfather, so they had the potential to continue that lifestyle, a lifestyle Jacob had hoped to leave in the past. The lifestyle so manipulation and self-centered desires.

Reuben’s sin not only disqualified him, but half the family. The rights of the first born were by necessity transferred to the line of the second wife. I can understand the contempt that the elder sons held. No one likes being passed over when it comes to honor and position. But what made everything worse. The aspect of Joseph that irritated them above everything else was his dreams.

I will not go deeply into these dreams, but we need to mention them in passing. These dreams leave little to interpretation, in each case Joseph found himself in the center of the dream, and surrounding him were symbolic representations of his brothers, and even his parents. In each case these symbolic representations gave homage to Joseph. The thing I find most interesting about the dreams is that Joseph was not something different from the brothers. They were sheaves of wheat, as was Joseph. They were stars, and so was Joseph. The only symbolic image that was of different initial status within the dreams were of the sun and moon. These, the greater and lesser lights of the heavens, seemed to represent the most important aspects of a culture. Many ancient religions would have their greatest god within their pantheon represented as the sun and in most cases the greatest goddess was the moon. This dualistic nature would often represent the dual aspects of human experience. Labor and rest. Male and female. Order and chaos. Light and dark. Ying and Yang. The dreams that Joseph had prophesied of humble beginnings being lifted into greatness. Greatness so substantial that even the foundations of society within a culture would pay homage to him.

These dreams annoyed the elder brothers. Joseph was just like them. Who or what did he think he was. He might have been given the honor of family steward, but he was still one among equals. In Joseph naivety as an adolescent, he shared these odd dreams with them. I do not think he intended to exert himself over the others by sharing these revelations, I really think he was confused by the dreams. Joseph knew who he was. He knew he was a simple farm laborer. He knew he was just one son among many. He might have found the dreams to be interesting, but it is only a dream.

These dreams angered the brothers, and it became more aggravating when they began to see that the dream come to fruition. Reuben had fallen from his place of honor and now out of weird cultural tradition this boy was being lifted over them. Well, it was ten to one why not just get rid of him and his ridiculous dreams.

I am not saying that they are bad people. They are simply people of the world. This is often how the world works. Our problems are caused by some outside factor. You can fill in what that factor is with pretty much anything you would like. They are the reason I do not have what I want, so we must rid the world of that influence. We see it in the news, we see it on display every election cycle. We see it in our workplaces, and in the interactions of our children. The ideology of the scape goat runs deep in most cultures.

The brothers schemed to murder their problem, but then they decided that they should profit instead. They sold their brother into slavery, and Joseph found himself in a far-off foreign land.

Joseph was sold into slavery. This practice is quite possibly the vilest of any human activity. It dehumanizes individuals that bear the same image of God as us. It cannot be justified no matter how hard people try. It is vile and in complete opposition to our faith. Joseph had a dream that he would become great, and his brothers dehumanized him, and said no you are beneath us, you are subhuman. Joseph left in chains. He was a slave and a prisoner, in both cases, he became indispensable to those that he served. He was alone in the world and yet he did not allow his circumstances to overcome him.

It would have been easy for him to fall into dismay. No one would have blamed him to simply give up. But that was not how he lived his life. He was sold, he might have wallowed in self-pity for a moment, but he quickly got to work. He worked his way up to the very position he once held in his father’s house, he became the steward. Then he was cut down again by a false accusation. Again, he could have wallowed in depression but instead he became an asset to the warden of the prison. And through all of this he remembered the God of his Father.

Then dreams come to play again. I am not one that will say that every dream has spiritual significance, but I do believe that God can use dreams. I say this because that is what scripture indicates. You do not need to go and get a book to help you interpret every symbolic meaning within a dream but if you do have a dream that strikes you as important use it to deepen your life of prayer and allow it along with scripture to guide your actions within the world you live. Joseph had dreams, and he knew that those dreams held something important. He knew that they spoke deeply to him, and likely influenced him through the dark days of his life in chains. Eventually others spoke of their dreams to him, and because of his contemplative nature and devotion to God, he was able to speak to their conditions. This eventually took him to the very feet of Pharaoh.

What caused Pharaoh to see Joseph? What caused him to believe the words that Joseph spoke as being truth? God gave him the power to interpret dreams. But Pharaoh did not believe that Joseph’s God was any greater than his own. What caused Pharaoh to believe the words of Joseph was the lifestyle that Joseph led. A man living in prison is not often brought before the leader of an empire for counsel. Pharaoh likely asked the jailer, and everyone connected to Joseph about him. He watched Joseph as he walked into the room. He observed the way he carried himself. And how he spoke. Joseph did not take undue credit, instead he was honest.

Joseph is the ultimate rags to riches story. We have lifted him up as the pillar of human achievement and the ability to overcome adversity.  When we do that, we miss the point. Joseph was not a pull yourself up by the bootstrap’s kind of guy. Joseph was the opposite of that mentality. Joseph lived and worked within the community. He took life as it came and made the most with what was offered. He honored God and those around him as he did this. “It is not me, God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

Fast forward to today’s passage. God provided Pharaoh with the favorable answer through Joseph, and because of this Joseph was lifted up to being father or advisor to Pharaoh. He was once the steward over the house as a slave, he became steward of the jail, and now he is the steward over all of Egypt. He had been knocked back time and again. Yet he remained true to who he was. He was just a sheath of wheat. Nothing spectacular, common. One among a multitude, but he was dedicated to working for the good of his community. It was the community that took president over all else. This community mindedness allowed Egypt to survive and to become a blessing during the hardship.

People from the surrounding regions all came to Egypt because they had what no one else had. They had hope. Even the sons of Jacob, looked to Egypt as a land of hope in hardship. Joseph recognized them as they approached, he challenged and tested them, as he accused them of wrongdoing. He observed a change within his brothers that he did not expect. The very one that presented the idea of selling Joseph, came to the defense of Benjamin the youngest son.

This moved Joseph. It took him by surprise. These were his brothers, but they were not the same as they once were. There was a change within them. They once sold their brother, and now they were willing to give their life for a brother. Joseph is moved to tears and he sends everyone out except these men from Cannan. This is odd. Joseph had only spoken to these men through interpreters before, so the fact that he remained alone with them caused the entire court to become curious.

He then speaks to his brothers. Scholars have noticed the change in the language usage at this point. Prior to this point, Joseph only spoke of Jacob as “Your father”. This they say indicated that the words were spoken through translators. But now Joseph says, “my father”. He is no longer speaking in the language of Egypt but that of Cannan, the language of his brothers. “I am Joseph! Is my father alive?” He looks at his brothers and he inquiries about his father’s health. The brothers stand in shock before him.

Their entire life came to a halt. There was only one person in the world that could accuse them of wrong. Others could dislike them, but their actions were justifiable. Joseph was the only one that was wronged out of spite. And he had not only a reason but the power to seek justice.

The brothers were speechless, and dismayed. Our English translations do not do this justice. They were not just dismayed they were terrified. The word translated dismayed here is bahal. In the Lexham Research Commentary of Genesis 12-50 they say, “This is a term used of paralyzing fear as felt by those involved in war, it indicates the panic that seizes a person when surprised by obvious doom.” They are like deer in the headlights. Unable to move or speak because their demise is quickly approaching.

Joseph then does something interesting. He calls them closer. “Come near to me, please. I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

God has brought you here. I do not know every aspect of your life; I do not know every hardship you have faced. I do not know if those hardships were brought about by injustice within this world or if they were consequences that resulted from your own actions. We all face hardships. Some might even make the argument that to be human is to suffer. That is a pessimistic way of thinking, but hardship is part of life.

God has brought you here. I do not say this lightly. I am not saying that it is fate that you must endure what you have endured because it is God’s providence. I am not saying that God wants you to suffer. What I mean is that there are times where the hardships we endure can be used to bring about something beautiful.

It was terrible that Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. It is something that cannot be justified and anyone that tries is as vile as those that sold him in the first place. Slavery is never good. Yet Joseph looks at his brothers in complete honesty. He does not overlook their transgression, nor does he demand repentance. He simply speaks the truth. “You sold me,” he says, “but get over yourselves. I don’t want to get even. Because if I was not here, I could not help.” Joseph was mature enough in his faith to realize that God was able to use this terrible situation to save lives. The hardships he endured provided him with the wisdom and empathy to lead them through this trial.

Your hardships are hard, and they should not be taken lightly. They are painful, and traumatic. But I want to ask a simple question. What are you going to do about it? God has brought you here. I do not know why, and at times I am just as upset about it as you are. My little sister died when she was ten years old. Nothing can fill that void, that loss. As much as I would like to explain why that had to happen I cannot. Yet I know that God has brought me here. He has carried me through that hardship, he has shown me time and time again that there is hope even though the way seems dark. God is not the cause of our troubles, but he is with us through them.

Joseph faced his trials with integrity and hope. He continued to pursue the life he knew he should. He became a blessing to those around him and he encouraged his community. It does not change the fact that his own brothers sold him. It does not change the fact that he sat in prison for a crime he did not commit. It does not change anything, but he made a choice. He did not let the circumstances surrounding him determine how he lived. He chose to honor God in all that he did as a son, as a slave, as a prisoner, and as a steward of Egypt. God brought him there. God did not cause the hardship, the brothers started that, but God was with Joseph even in the darkest time. And God was able to show Joseph how he could help his community prosper within his new situation.

God has brought us here. How or why, we can ponder, but what are we going to do about it? Will you allow yourself to be sucked into the ideologies of the world, casting blame on scape goats, or will you seek God? Will you be pulled into the darkness of self-pity, or will you stand like Joseph. We are here. God has brought us here. We might as well make the most of it.  

Stay Curious

By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church September 03, 2023 Click here to join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Exodus 3:1–15 (ESV) 1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of…

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By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church August 27, 2023 Click here to join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Matthew 6:25–34 (ESV) 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body,…

Steps Toward Heartbreak or Hope

By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church August 13, 2023 Click to Join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Genesis 37:1–4, 12-28 (ESV) 1 Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. 2 These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen…

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Steps Toward Heartbreak or Hope

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

August 13, 2023

Click to Join our Meeting for Worship

Click to read in Swahili

Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

“Joseph and His Coat of Many Colors” by Suzanne Tornquist

Genesis 37:1–4, 12-28 (ESV)

1 Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. 2 These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.

12 Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” 14 So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So, he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. 15 And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16 “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17 And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’ ” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan. 18 They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. 24 And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. 25 Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. 28 Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.

Like most narratives within the Old Testament, there is a great deal going on within today’s passage. I spent hours this week studying, trying to figure out what it was I should focus on this week, and like most weeks I found myself jumping from one aspect to another. In my first stint as a pastor, I ministered in a church plant in Winfield, KS. I did not start the work in Winfield, there had been three pastors there prior to me, and I was only there for a little more than a year before the yearly meeting suggested it close. One might say that this was a failed church plant. And in many ways, they would be right because it does not exist anymore. But there was good that came from that church. There were a few students in that meeting. One of those students continued to meet with me as we moved to Arkansas City, KS. And we would have bible studies that would last two to three hours. We would often refer to these times as rabbit trail studies because we would get off topic and go all over the place and eventually would return to the passage we were focusing on. This student would later go to Barclay College, and continued to obtain a master’s degree in ministry and currently serves as a pastor in Oregon. I would not call the work in Winfield a failure because it produced fruit.

But the study method we employed is interesting to me. We once called them rabbit trails; I now call them squirrel tracks. As I have matured, I have noticed that I am often distracted. I would not self-diagnose Adult ADHD, but as my attention span diminishes even more, I tend to wonder. Squirrel tracks. That is my bible study method. I begin to study, thinking that I am making progress, and then I look at my notes and realize I am not even in the same passage. And to be honest I do not even know how I got there.

Today’s passage is one of those passages that lends itself to squirrel tracks. “These are the generations of Jacob,” Verse 2 states. This is where my adventure began. I began to look deeper into the sons and daughters of Jacob. I began to count the years, and attempted to figure out how old each of the people would have been. And I realized that I misspoke last week. This then had me trying to figure out how I was going to apologize for misleading everyone and how to make amends. Anyways, I apologize. I said last week that Jacob spent fifteen years with his uncle, I was wrong. He spent twenty years with Leban. Fourteen years to cover the bride price, and he offered an additional seven years as wages. The reason Leban was upset with Jacob was that once Rachel gave birth to a son, who was named Joseph, Jacob left with a year remaining in his contract.

Jacob worked for seven years and after that he was married to Leah. They enjoyed a wedding night and Jacob went to his now father-in-law upset because the woman he married was Leah instead of Rachel. Jacob was completely fine during the night hours, but that did not matter after the sun rose. Leban manipulated Jacob through his daughters. He told Jacob, “I am sorry it is just our tradition that the oldest daughter needs to be married first, but if you sign on for an additional seven years, you can marry Rachel next week. Jacob decided this plan was worth his time.

For the next seven years, Jacob’s wives and servants were caught in a battle of births and in seven years twelve children were born. Leah had six sons and a daughter. The servants each bore two sons, and at the close of the seventh year Rachel bore Joseph. It was then at the close of the fourteenth year of service that Jacob requested leave, but Leban again manipulated the situation. “I cannot let you go without payment,” So they devised a plan for wages.

At the end of lambing season on the sixth year, the sons of Leban noticed that Jacob’s portion of the flock was growing at a greater rate than their own, and they were convinced that Jacob was involved in treachery. “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.” At this point Joseph was around six years old, and the oldest child Reuben would have been around twelve or thirteen. Culturally this is significant because Reuben was coming of age.

This age does not carry the weight today as it once did, but in this ancient culture Reuben was at the age where he would be leaving the influence of his mother and joining the family business as a man. Jacob had a decision to make, would he allow his family to remain under the house of Leban or would he go back to his father’s house? This is one of many decisions that weighed on Jacob’s mind as he decided to return to Canaan. After twenty years, Jacob decided to return to the land promised to his grandfather, his father, and promised to him in Beth-el.

As we read through these stories, I sometimes wonder if we grasp the significance of the situation. They were leaving the place they called home. Jacob was leaving a career that had provided for him and his family for the past twenty years. He was going to take his children away from their grandfather and take them to a land they had only heard about in stories. Jacob looked at the situation and decided it was better to leave than to continue to raise his family within a community that would make fraudulent accusations out of jealousy.

Jacob ran from his father’s house; he ran from his father-in-law’s house and last week we found him wrestling with God. After this bout in the night, Jacob then met his brother Esau. Jacob expected his brother to attack, he expected that everything he had labored for over the past decades would be lost. But after he wrestled with God, Jacob was changed. He emerged with a new name, Israel, and a limp.

And Jacob then settled just east of the Jordan, just outside the land promised for a time. He built a house and made lodgings for his livestock in a place called Succoth. The next thing we know is that they then traveled west over the Jordan to a place called Shechem.

This region is important in the history of Israel as a people and a political entity. This was the first place Abraham camped within the Canaan. That night, God visited Abraham and reestablished his promise saying, “To your offspring I will give this land.” And Abraham built an altar of praise. Later as Joshua leads the tribes of Israel back to the land after their forty years of wondering in the desert, it is at Shechem they gathered after their initial battles. Joshua stood before them and recounted their history and said to them, “No therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” And the people  answered that they too would serve the Lord. It was from this place Shechem that Israel took their inheritance.

It is fitting that it was to this place that Jacob, Israel himself, entered the land after his own exile. But this place became a place of trouble. Jacob left Succoth and came to Shechem, and his daughter Dinah desired to see the women of the land. And as she walked within the city a prince within that land seized her, took advantage, and defiled her. Shechem, the prince begged his father to go to Jacob and retrieve Dinah as his wife, but the whole situation angered the brothers.

We do not know how old the children would have been at this time, but Dinah was the last child Leah bore to Jacob. And she was born before Joseph, which would lead us to believe that she was nearly the same age as Joseph. When they left Leban’s house she would have been around six years old, while Reuben would have been nearly thirteen. She was now old enough to marry, which would mean she would be twelve years old or older. The brothers convinced Shechem’s father to agree to their terms of circumcision before a marriage could occur and while they were recovering from this, the brothers extracted revenge for their sister’s honor.

Jacob was upset by this matter. He had just entered the land and hoped to settle once again in the land promised to him. But as soon as he entered his children began to make trouble. We can understand the brother’s desire to defend their sister’s honor, but their violence and looting continued the cycle Jacob was hoping to leave behind. And they find themselves again traveling to get away from their troubles. On this next journey the last of Jacob’s children was born, Benjamin. The distance in age between Joseph and Benjamin was like the distance between Reuben and Joseph. Approximately thirteen years.

I say all this because that is where my mind went this week. I had to know the range of ages and why they took these various journeys, so that I could look at the narrative in the proper context. When they initially left Shechem all the boys except for Joseph would have been considered adults. And their ages would have ranged from approximately twenty to fourteen, maybe older. Each of the boys were old enough to be responsible for their own actions, and Jacob moved them to avoid war. Now his favorite wife has died, left him with a baby, and he is not a young man anymore.

Five years down the road Joseph is now seventeen. I speculate the age of the others based on this one fact we are given. Reuben would have been seven years older than Joseph, so he is now twenty-four. And each of the boys except for Benjaman, who is five, would be out working for the family. Jacob is at this time basically retired. He is the patriarch of the family and still has final say on all that is done, but much of the operations have been turned over to the eldest son. But this is not the case here.

Jacob’s family is filled with drama. While Benjaman was just a baby, while his father was distracted by the loss of his wife and this new addition, Reuben decided he would make a move of his own. He went to Rachel’s servant Bilhah and dishonored his father’s name. Because of this action Reuben was disinherited. He lost his standing within the family, so that honor would go to another. We would immediately think that the second born would take that role, but Jacob had multiple wives, so this makes inheritance tricky. He had two wives and two concubines. He had options available to him in this regard. He could make Simeon the second oldest the one who would take the double portion, or he could make Joseph the first born of the second wife the one who gained the inheritance.

Family life gets very messy in scripture. Jocob chose Joseph to take the position of the first born, because he was the second first born of his wives. This did not sit well with the other brothers, all of which except for Benjamin were older. This seventeen-year-old man, just in his fourth year of adulthood was given the position of steward over the family. And Jacob codified this position of honor with a robe or a coat of many colors, some of us know this as the techno-colored dream coat.

Another squirrel track. Tradition tells us that the coat was multicolored. This tradition arose because when the Hebrew scriptures were translated to Greek, they did not have a word that was similar, so they used a word that meant diverse. As we have gained more understanding and more Hebrew fragments of scripture, we have learned more about what this coat really was. The term in Hebrew is derived from a word for palm and ankle, so some believe that this coat was not necessarily multicolored, but a long-sleeved robe that stretched to his ankles. I bring this up, not because I want to ruin a wonderful musical based on multiple colors, nor because I want to throw out tradition. I bring it up because there is much to learn about scripture, and we are always learning. The fact remains that this coat was special. It was a garment specially designed using various colors, premium fabrics, or unique sizing that set the wearer apart from others. Jacob gave Joseph the steward’s coat; he gave him the lead supervisor position. Jacob made Joseph the youngest of the men, manager over the rest, and Joseph had only four years’ experience within the family company.

Reuben, the first born, was disinherited. Dan and Gad, the first born from each of the servants were overlooked because they were the sons of the servants and not the wives. And each of the others were overlooked because of some cultural convention. In their eyes life had treated them unfairly. And as they watched their brother approach in his special coat, jealously gripped them.

They plotted to kill him, but Reuben stepped up and prevented the death. “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him.” Reuben, the one that dishonored his father, was the only one that understood the gravity of what they were discussing. Reuben understood that his actions had set all this into motion. But he also knew that his brothers were rash and prone to act hastily as was seen previously with their sister. Reuben hoped that if he could convince them to simply put him in a pit and then distract them, later he could go back and pull Joseph out and allow him to return to his father.

Maybe Reuben was hoping that by saving Joseph his father would restore his own honor, or maybe it would at least assist in reconciliation. But the brothers agreed, and they put him in one of the pits that gave that region its name. Dothan means two cisterns or wells. Then something unfortunate happened. Dothan was a wealthy region because it was situated along a trade route. It was not an international trade route that went from Mesopotamia to Egypt, but it was a tributary to this route because it was along a resource rich area. While the brothers were eating, Judah was inspired. “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hands be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” The brothers stripped Joseph of his coat and took twenty shekels of silver from the traders.

We can learn a great deal from these verses. The first thing is how easily I can be distracted. But we also learn that actions have consequences. Jacob kept doing things and then running from the consequences that he faced. I am not saying he was right or wrong, I am simply saying he ran, but consequences always follow. Even though God had blessed Jacob, his life and lifestyle had been passed on to his own children. Reuben lost his inheritance out of desire. They were all filled with jealousy. And they were each willing to take advantage and even manipulate a situation so that they could take advantage of others.

So often we look at this story and see a coat. We see jealousy, we see greed, we see how group thinking can lead to evil plots. All of this is true, but there is more. The sons of Jacob, learned from their father. They learned from Leban, their grandfather. They learned from their mother and their stepmothers. They learned from all these figures in their lives that it was acceptable to act in a manner that would give themselves and advantage over others. They learned plotting, manipulation, conspiring. They were children of the world, and they gained a profit.

Reuben was the first to understand the true cost of this lifestyle. He lost his position within the family with lustful tryst. But when the brothers took the coat soaked in the blood of a goat, the rest saw something that shook them to their very core. They saw the father they once cherished, the father they thought was wise in the ways of the world, brought to tears. He tore his garments and he put on the clothing of mourning and none of them could comfort him.

We cannot change our past actions, but there is hope. We can change the course and the cycles within our lives by making changes today, for good or evil. We can take steps toward heartbreak or hope. The choice is ours. What will we choose?

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