By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
August 27, 2023
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?
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…
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…
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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