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 to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” 4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. For what are we, that you grumble against us?” 8 And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.” 9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, ‘Come near before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’ ” 10 And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 And the Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’ ” 13 In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. 14 And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.
As I have read through scripture over the years, I am often amazed. Sometimes I am amazed at the awesome power of God. Other times I am amazed at the faith of the people. Then there are times where I am amazed at the ridiculousness of humanity. This is probably the reason I love scripture the most. It shows just how ridiculous we can be at times.
I believe in Scripture. I believe in the authority of Scripture. I believe that all of Scripture can teach us something, but by saying that scripture does not always tell us the good things. I will not speak of scripture as some people do, I believe that Scripture is inspired, but I believe that humanity wrote the words. I believe both God and humanity wrote scripture in cooperation, because often the voice of the author is seen through the words. As you read through passages throughout the Old Testament you will see people from the same period writing inspired words that often seem to contradict each other. Many of my friends through the years would look at this and due to the way, they were taught to regard scripture, they turned away from the church because they could not believe in a God that contradicted himself.
It is in those moments I love scripture even more. Ezra and Nehamiah tell Israel to put away the foreign influences and come back to righteousness. This encouraged the righteous men to turn away from their foreign wives and children, so they could strive toward a pure uncorrupt righteousness. Yet a prophet from the same era wrote the opposite. He said God hates divorce. Seemingly one side is saying it is ok, and the other says no. How can this be inspired text? It should encourage you to go deeper. To look beyond and wrestle with the words. We should turn away from the things that pull us away from God, but as we turn, we should draw those we care about into a deeper life as well.
When I look at scripture, I do not believe that God dictated the exact words the authors penned, but he inspired them to write. He inspired them to observe the world around them, and to speak into what they saw. He inspired them to be honest about situations, and to express hope even when things do not seem to be going how they expected them to go.
This is where we are today. Over the past few weeks, we have been walking with Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. We went with Joseph into Egypt, and observed how quickly humanity can forget their own history and begin to cast blame on others for their own problems. We saw Egypt enslave Israel, after they forgot that Israel was their salvation.
We then began to observe the life of Moses. Moses saw the brutality, he tried to ease the burden in himself and was rejected by those he tried to help. Moses responded to that rejection by running. He ran away from Egypt and his own people for forty years, until God called out to him through Moses’ own curiosity. Moses then went back to Egypt, spoke to pharaoh, and over the course of ten plagues, Moses let the twelve tribes of Israel out of bondage and into a hopeful future.
Last week Israel was on the shores of the sea, trapped between pharaoh’s army and chaotic waters. They were in a place where certain death surrounded them.
I reflected on that scene a great deal. I have never been to the lands spoken of in scripture. I have never had to face death before or after me, but I have been in a place where no good option seemed to present itself. I have been in those places throughout my life. Where I will pray, and it seemed as if my prayers were unheard. Then seemingly out of nowhere a path was made. Someone spoke to me, someone provided a helping hand, maybe I received a job offer, or a check came in the mail at an unanticipated time. Something happened beyond my own control, a path was made, and I could walk forward.
I explained it last week as Moses lifting his hands. He lifted his hands in praise. He lifted his hands in prayer. He lifted his hands to help. Or maybe he lifted his hands in desperation. No matter how we look at it, the only way Israel could move forward was when his hands were lifted.
We move forward when humanity and God come together. Where our will and that of the Father become one. When we recognize that I cannot do it myself, and yet I continue to lift my hands in service, while I lift them in prayer.
Israel watched as the waters of the sea divided before their eyes. They watched a dry path form along the course that had only moments prior had been filled with waters of chaos. They watched as God opened a door in front of them while protecting them from behind. It amazes me.
They crossed the sea using the path God had created. They walked in celebration into the wilderness before them. They walked, and they walked for over a month, in the Wilderness of Sin. We did not read about this wilderness in today’s passage, but it is in the first verse of this chapter. It is the wilderness on the western side of the Sinai Peninsula. I always wondered why it was called Sin, and it is derived from the Hebrew word also used for Sinai, which is not exactly the most positive word since it means hatred.
They are wandering through the Desert of Sin as they travel toward the Mountain of God. I like the image this creates because we can identify with it so well. When I reflect on my life there are often moments leading up to the most significant events within my life. I have reflected on those moments. There are moments where God seemed so close, I could feel the presence, almost in a physical sense. Then there were times of void. Times where darkness filled my soul, nothing mattered, and no one cared. In those voids, I could not see forward, I could not sense God, I could not. But as I reflected on the eras of presence and void, I began to realize something more. Looking back as I was wandering through what I perceived as void, God was still with me leading me toward that next moment where I could again sense the light.
That to me is what the wandering through the wilderness of Sin is. They are in between, the high emotions of one event have diminished and they are again walking in the ordinary time. What is the point and what is the purpose?
They are on the path to the next big thing. They are on the path to the Mountain of God. They are journeying toward the great revelation. They are on the way, but right now they are without. Without knowledge, without hope. I know in my head that the wilderness of sin is not exactly a metaphor for life, but in my heart, in my spirit, it seems as if it is. I know in my head that Sin here does not refer to the theological treaties we have developed around that word, but in my heart, I feel it does tie together. So often we think of sin as being a transgression against the law of God, but they have not even received the law yet. They do not even know what sin is in a legal sense. Which makes me wonder if we might possibly misunderstand sin in general. Could it be that sin might be less about acts of righteousness, and more about relationship?
“And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘would that we had…’”
Just over a month prior, the people of Israel had watched as God brought the greatest empire of the world down to its knees. The God of the slave had brought the taskmasters into submission, and Israel walked out of bondage into freedom. Just over a month prior they had watched Egypt seek revenge on the shores of the sea and Israel watched as the hand of God provided a path forward. They had watched amazing things happen not years ago, but mere months. But they are walking in the Wilderness of Sin, and they are hungry. “Would that we had…” They speak. If only.
We get caught in this wilderness ourselves. We look back in life with nostalgia. Life was good back then. It was simpler. I knew where I stood. Do you know what life was really like back then?
This happens as we wander through our Wildernesses of Sin. When we are in those dark shadows of the soul. We begin to look back and reminisce about begone eras. We remember certain things about it, and we forget the rest. The people of Israel look back with nostalgia. They look back to what life was like in Egypt. They say, “When we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full.”
They are looking behind them, they are remembering one aspect of that time, they had food. But they are forgetting everything else about that era of their history. They were slaves.
They had forgotten every amazing thing that God had done for them. They had forgotten the sea. They forgot the plagues, and they forgot Passover. They forgot everything, because at this moment, in this period they were hungry. And the only thing that they could remember is that in Egypt they had food.
This tells us a great deal about human nature. We forget, we misremember, we justify. If things are not exactly how we would like, we are willing to change our understanding of history so that we can live in the comfortable delusions of our own mind. It happens all around us. Russia is looking back in their history with nostalgia. It was better back then, and they are willing to start a war to go back. Even in our own country we get caught in the same trap, where history books are being written and used in schools that regard antebellum south as being good for enslaved people. It is delusional. It is disregarding our current situation and what we can do today with the hopes of reliving a fantasy of the past.
We cannot go back. Even if we could, we would not want to. As one of the YouTube personalities I watch often says, “The past is the worst.” I say all this while being someone that really loves history. I will watch documentaries all evening, I would even imagine what life might be like back in those bygone eras. But I know that we have changed, and we made those changes for a reason. We invented automobiles and tractors for a reason. We have indoor plumbing and central heating and air conditioning for a reason. We have health care for a reason. The reason is the past was the worst and we needed newer technologies so we could survive.
“Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Israel was hungry. They left Egypt just over a month prior with everything they could carry. They were not prepared to make the journey. They had herds yes, but how long would a herd last when there were thousands of people needing to eat every day, in a period without modern refrigeration?
Imagine if you were standing before this group of people. Imagine if you had been Moses. You did everything asked of you and yet here you are out in the wilderness, and the people are grumbling, they are blaming you for things beyond your control. Moses did not know what was in this wilderness, he was simply being obedient by following the Angel of the Lord. A path was made through the sea, no one stopped to think of where it would lead, it was the only option available to them at that moment. Moses, like so many of us, is caught in the throws of life.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”
God knew their situation and was already preparing a way for them. We are told that God was testing them. This phrase annoys me, but I understand what it means. It angers me to think that God could do something but withholds for a time, because I need to learn something. I understand when people say things like, “If God is good why is there starvation, why is there pain, why do children get abused.” It angers me because I do not know how to answer, and I agree with them. It does not make sense from my current perspective.
But I have lived through pain. I have suffered through stresses that I would not wish on my worse enemy. I have seen things I would have preferred never to have seen. Yet when I look back on my life. When I examine where I have been and what I have become. I realize that it was the pain, the suffering, and the trails that made me who I am today.
Why did God allow them to become hungry? Why did he allow them to face that pain and uncertainty?
The wandering through the Wilderness of Sin, the journey to Sinai was preparing them from the next point in their history. It was preparing them to become the nation and the people of Israel. He was preparing them to become a people that would be His inheritance, and a light to the Gentiles. And the only way to get them to that point was to create in them a different perspective.
In Egypt, they relied on their taskmasters to provide the food for them. They were slaves yes, but they had food. Now they are free. They were free to search through all the Wilderness of Sin for food, but God wanted them to look to him as their source of life and knowledge. He would soon provide bread from heaven for them in the morning. He would provide quail in the evening. When the bread came, they did not know what to call it, so it became Manna, which literally means, “what is it?” He needed them to become hungry, so that they would be willing to eat the manna. He needed them to have within them a desire, a curiosity, a need to fulfill.
In the wilderness of sin, we face the future. We cannot go back, and we do not know what to expect as we move forward. We have no knowledge and are at the end of ourselves. We are hungry, and we do not know where our help will come from. We can stand in that place and say, “Would that we had…” we can grumble, or we can open our eyes to a different possibility. “What is it?”
We wander. We struggle. We recognize our own needs. It is at this point we make a choice. Will we go forward or back. Will we enter the kingdom, the nation of God at Sinai or go back to slavery in Egypt? We wander, we are hungry, but there is hope. Let us not get caught in the delusion of “Would that we had…” but instead in our curious hope look forward to “What is it?”.
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…
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…
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 from before them and stood behind them, 20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. 24 And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, 25 clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.” 26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. 29 But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.
Do you make diligent effort to acquaint yourselves and those under your care with the spiritual and material needs of the world?
Do you support by prayer and systematic giving those who are laboring to extend Christ’s kingdom, and do you make evident your loving sympathy with them and their service?
This week I spent time praying with these scripture readings. I spent time contemplating and reflecting on this query. I sat and I thought. It was one of the few weeks where I did not get caught up in study. Usually, I will spend hours on my computer, looking up words and how they are used in ancient languages. I will read through several commentaries and make more highlights and notes that a college freshman does in their first college textbook. This week was different.
I sat, almost in a daze. I sat visualizing the scene. I sat thinking about Where we have been over the past few weeks as we have talked about Joseph, the enslavement of Israel in Egypt, the calling of Moses, and the first Passover. And then I considered the query.
This weekend I also traveled to Wichita to attend a meeting with the elders of the Yearly Meeting. And I was a bit anxious about that. I have served on the Elders’ board for several years. And during that time, we have faced several challenges. I served during two superintendent transitions. I have helped local meetings work through issues. I have seen several new churches move from infancy to full church status within our Yearly Meeting, and I have stood with some as they closed their doors. I love the Friends Church. I love our history, I love our traditions, I love that we have the freedom to worship in many different manners, and I love that we can sit in silence. I love our church and that is why I am willing to serve, even though it has been hard at times.
The interesting thing about Friends is we have similarities and differences. Each is unique to their own community, and even Friends churches that are in the same city may be unique simply because of who is there and what aspect of ministry they encounter. There are differences, uniqueness, and yet there is something that connects us. I have thought about that many times. I have friends that participate in every major branch of Friends, and we may not agree on many things, and yet there is still a connection.
I sat thinking about all of this as I reflected on today’s passages.
Who are we? What are we doing here? Why do we still exist? If we really stop and think about these things it is interesting and amazing. If we just look at those within this room, it is amazing. Only a few of us here spent our entire lives in an Evangelical Friends Church in Mid America. Yet here we are. We each have a different reason for why we first came. We have different reasons for why we have remained. Some of us may still hold on to beliefs from other faith traditions, but we are convinced to stay here. And I am thankful for that every time I stand here. I am thankful because that is part of what makes Friends. Each of us has a place, each of us can contribute, each of us can serve in some capacity. We are equal. The students in elementary school to the oldest of our members have a voice. Men and women. And various languages.
We are who we are because you are here among us. But who are we, and where are we going?
I first came to Willow Creek twenty-two years ago. I still remember the first time I walked into this building. Kay greeted me just as she has greeted some of you. And I remember I was wearing a backpack with a key chain containing a picture of my oldest son. I came here knowing that God was calling me to ministry, but I was wanting an excuse to avoid what I sensed I was supposed to do. I came hoping that I would be rejected because that is what I wanted.
I had a child, and I was not married. I had just had an amazing experience in Ukraine, and I knew that I would never be the same, but I got home hoping that I would have this picture-perfect family and life, and everything I was hoping for was crashing all around me. And the people of this meeting saw that picture of my son, and you asked about him. You listened to what I had to say, it is amazing that I even spoke if I am honest. And I was invited to eat. I was welcome just as I was from the very first moment.
And I was encouraged to explore. I was encouraged to participate. I wanted to be rejected but I was not. I wanted a reason not to believe, and instead I saw maybe not the perfect life, but the life I wanted. Then I moved.
This meeting accepted me, and this meeting encouraged me to pursue ministry. Then I returned. Not as a member, but as a pastor. I thought about that this week. I even mentioned it to Kristy. I told her I knew that at some time I would probably be here. It might be presumptuous of me, and I cannot explain it.
For thirteen years now I have participated in this ministry. And I remember the first few months as if they just happened. We sat together asking the same questions. Who are we? And where are we going?
The first few months John Harkness and I both thought the first order of business before we do anything else is that we pray. We asked that people come to the meetinghouse, to sit and pray every day. I am not sure how faithful we were at that, but I know we prayed. We prayed and we talked through those questions and together we came up with a statement of who we are and what our purpose was going to be. That purpose is on the sign outside. It is on the slides on the screen, it is in the bulletin, and I mention it nearly every week in the messages I present. We are a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the love of Christ with others.
I thought about this as I prayed this week.
I thought about the things that brought me to faith, the things that brought me to Willow Creek, that took me away, and brought me back. I thought about how I can have friends across the spectrum of Quakerdom, and what connects us and keeps us. And I realized that it is just that, we are a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. We may not always say it in that manner or even define it the same way, yet it is that of God working in worship, prayer and service that connects us.
Then I began to think about Moses. Moses lived in the palace of the king of Egypt, knowing he did not quite fit. He knew he was a child of Israel, yet he was not a slave like the others. He saw their burden. He wanted to help in easing their pain, he even killed a taskmaster that struck one of the sons of Israel.
Moses wanted to help, but Israel rejected him, and Moses ran. He ran into the wilderness, and for forty years he made a life for himself tending his father-in-law’s sheep. God was working in Moses’ life long before, it was the Spirit of God stirring within him that caused him to want to help, but it was fear that caused him to run. And even while he was running from God, he was curious. He saw a bush that burned but was not consumed so he went to see why. And God spoke to him from the flames surrounding the bush and said, “I have heard the cries of Israel and I am sending you to speak to Pharaoh.” Moses knew his life would change forever.
He knew this but he still rejected the call. He made excuses. “I can’t speak,” he tried to tell God. And God’s answer is funny. He said, “Don’t worry about it. Your brother Aaron is coming he will speak for you.” His brother Aaron was coming. His brother was a slave, and yet somehow at just the right moment God prompted Aaron to walk out of Egypt and they met along the road.
The brothers went to Pharaoh, and Pharaoh hardened his heart rejecting everything they had to say. They went simply asking that Pharaoh allow them to worship God, they were not even asking that he stop the brutality. They only wanted to be allowed to take a sabbath.
God heard the cries of the people. And he sent Moses to plea for rest.
The response was more work. And the plea began to change. It went from a sabbath to liberty. Eventually Pharaoh’s heart became so hard against the people of Israel that God decided that judgement would come. This judgement would come on all the land. To the house of Pharaoh, to the slaves and to the livestock. And the only escape from that judgment was for those that believed to paint their doorways with the blood of their very best lamb. Their hope for their future.
Judgement visited Egypt, just as God had said. And just as he promised the wrath passed over the houses covered by the blood. All of Israel stood watch that night, their robes were girded, and they ate the meal on their feet. They stood in their houses, gathered according to their tribes and clans. And as the sun rose, Egypt handed over their wealth and begged them to leave their land.
And God walked with Israel out of Egypt. He led them into the wilderness. They did not take the main road to the north, but they went south-east toward the sea. God led them with a cloud by day, and fire by night. They went out into the wilderness. But again, Pharoah had a change of heart. He gathered his forces and ran after Israel.
They stood on the shores of the sea. No way forward and death at the rear.
All of Exodus to this point is focused on our query. Do you make diligent effort to acquaint yourselves and those under your care with the spiritual and material needs of the world? God heard their cries. And God began to work. I want us to recognize this. God heard the cries of the people, and he began to work.
So often we pray. We carry our burdens to the Lord; we beg and we plea. We wonder if God can even hear our voice. Israel came to Egypt, because one of their own was sitting at the right hand of Pharaoh, but a new king sat on the throne, one that did not know Joseph. And they were placed under the taskmaster. They were once a great and free people, but now they are slaves. They were once.
We need to remember the past, but we cannot stay there. Time moves forward and things change. The past is just that, the past. And those in the future may not remember the things in the past. And we just might find ourselves in a place we never thought we would be. We cry out to God in those moments. “Don’t you remember God; don’t you remember how were served you?” But they don’t remember because they have never seen. Those in the future never knew Joseph.
They do not know Joseph, but God still heard the cries. And God was working within the lives of those that listened. We see Moses, and we think he was this mighty man of God. And he was, but he was not always. Moses was afraid. Moses was full of excuses. He saw all the corruption around him and turned around and ran. He wanted to help; he may have even prayed for help. But the help did not come, until Moses listened, and began walking toward his brother, the slave from Egypt.
Do you make diligent effort to acquaint yourselves and those under your care with the spiritual and material needs of the world? Our query today speaks of walking toward our brothers and our sisters. Are we aware of their needs? Not just spiritual needs, but also material needs of this world. We might want to say all they need is Jesus. If we could only get prayer back into the schools, if only we could get Christians in the court, if only. Our world does not remember Joseph. They have not seen him. Are we willing to walk toward our brother?
Moses began to walk. And God met him along the way. God promised, and God provided. But Moses had to walk first. Now Israel is standing on the shores of the sea, between the water and certain death. This is not what was promised. This is not the life we hoped for. How many of us came to faith thinking that everything would get better only to find that life just seemed to get harder? That was where I was twenty-two years ago. And in many ways, I am still there. I cannot see a way forward and I cannot go back either.
Do we see the spiritual and material needs around us? Do we support by prayer and systematic giving those who are laboring to extend Christ’s kingdom, and do we make evident our loving sympathy with them and their service?
God stood with Israel in their time of trouble. He stood between Egypt and Israel. He was with them in that place of certain death. He is with us now. He is with us as we ask questions about who we are and where we are going. He is with us as we cry out for the needs of our brothers and our sisters of this world. He is with us, standing between and urging us forward.
Israel could not move, until Moses lifted his hands.
The moment Moses raised his hands to the sky, a wind blew and the waters that once blocked their path separated, and dry ground appeared before them. The instant Moses lifted his hands, when he joined God in the work God had already set before them, they were able to move. And Israel walked across the sea with walls of water beside them.
This is the story of Israel. We are not Israel, but God has brought us into that family through Christ. The promises given to Israel, do not always transfer directly to us, and they should not, but the hope remains. The hope of Israel was never exclusive because God promised that through them God would bring the light to all people. That light is Jesus, Immanuel, God with us.
We look out at the world around us, and we often say that it is just deprave and it is all crumbling around us. We are afraid, because everything we once knew, or thought we knew is changing. But the world does not remember, because they have never known. They have never known but that does not mean they are not crying out to the God they do not know, because they are. Have we made a diligent effort to acquaint ourselves and those under our care with the spiritual and material needs of the world? Are we able to speak with them, are we able to see what they see? Are we walking toward them? Are we lifting our hands?
I began speaking about my love for Friends. We have a beautiful history. Our Meeting here at Willow Creek began because someone over one hundred years ago saw the spiritual and material needs of the world. And they were willing to walk toward it and lift their hands. Our meeting began because people released those people that were willing to lift their hand to participate in the ministry. Who are we and where are we going? The answers are all around us. Are we a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others? Are we a people willing to lift our hands? We have been. I am evidence of that. We have been, we are all evidence of that. But will we remember? Will we remain? Will we continue to lift our hand and walk with each other toward those God is calling us to?
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 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,…
By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church August 20, 2023 Click here to join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili 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…
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 be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. 4 And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, 6 and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. 7 “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. 10 And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. 14 “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.
Last week we spoke about Moses’ call to go to Egypt. This week we meet again with Moses after he responded to God’s calling. I encouraged us to be curious. To explore the things around us because in that exploration we too might sense a leading from God.
Well, I did not say that exactly but in essence. When we are not curious. When we are unwilling to open our eyes and look at things from a different perspective, we miss something. We miss the wonders of creation. We miss hearing how scripture has encouraged a different culture than our own embrace life with God. We miss.
Moses did not miss. Moses, in his curiosity, turned to see why the bush burned but was not consumed. Moses was curious and his curiosity changed his life. He had reservations, but he walked in faith. It is ok to have questions. It is ok and necessary to be curious. But eventually we do need to walk by faith.
The walk by faith is hard at times. I have been there. I often find myself in this position because I am very curious. I want to know why God said certain things, I believe there should be a verifiable reason. The problem is I am limited in my knowledge. How do we walk in faith in that gap?
Moses went to Egypt, and he spoke to pharaoh. He did everything God asked him to do. And God did the things that He said He would do. Egypt refused to let Israel go, just as God said. Egypt faced nine plagues, Israel was spared, yet they saw what was going on. I do not know how many times I have read through these verses. I read through them, but never once have I been curious about them. To me it was history, and I did not care. But this week, something struck me as odd.
God warned Pharaoh. After the plague of darkness Moses came once again to Pharaoh to ask him for permission to take Israel out of Egypt to go and worship their God, and Pharaoh denied the request. Moses said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord: about midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first born of Pharaoh who sits on the throne, even the to the first born of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the first born of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again.” Pharaoh was hot with anger, and rightfully so. In his mind he was appointed by the gods to sit in this role, and the God of the slaves was telling him what to do.
There is something here that we often miss. There is something between the interaction of Pharaoh and Moses, of Pharoah and God, and God and Moses, that we just cannot see because of our own cultural influences. Our culture is different than those in ancient times. We would like to think we are more advance, but at times I wonder if maybe there are things that they understood that we miss.
The thing we miss most is the connection to natural cycles. No, I do not believe that Pharaoh is divine and controls the seasons and all that. The ancients’ lives and faith depended on and were connected to the cycles of nature. We have become disconnected from nature in many cases. We no longer see the significance of the lunar cycles, and those that attach any significance to them are often seen as weird. I am not going to read you your horoscope but, I do want us to think about something.
After Moses delivers this message to Pharoah, he begins to speak to Moses and Aaron. “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.” God is speaking about the lunar cycle; he is speaking about the cycles of nature. He is telling Moses, Aaron, and all of us there is some significance to the natural world that we should pay attention to. This month shall be for you the beginning of months, something is about to happen that will be so significant that everything about your life will be reset to reflect this. God then urged them to go to the congregation of Israel, to tell them what is going to happen, and what they should do.
Israel had been living in Egypt for multiple generations at this point. Their life and their lifestyles were based on the Egyptian way of life, not that of their own ancestors, but there is something similar. The Hebrew people and the Egyptians based their civil and ceremonial calendar on the cycles of the natural world. Particularly the moon. Egypt divided their month into three parts of ten days each. The new moon marked the beginning of the month, and the full moon marked the middle. This lunar cycle is important because it marks the months within the year.
Like I said we are disconnected from these cycles, but to the ancients this was life. We look at the equinoxes as being pagan, and things we should avoid. This is not really the case. These are the things God used to teach Israel in those ancient times. This month shall be for you the beginning of months. What was this month? It was the month of the spring equinox. The month where the when the darkness of the night and light of the day were equal. The Light overtakes the darkness, hope returns.
Nature testifies to the words of scripture. But we often do not listen. We often ascribe these things to be pagan or contrary to God, but are they? The month of the spring equinox marks the hope of the harvest to come. Winter is gone, the crops will soon bear their fruit and abundance will once again be on the land. But this spring will be different. All of Egypt was preparing to celebrate their hope. They were about to honor their god king, the one through which the Nile’s floods to feed the land would rest. It was the spring floods that brought fertility to the land and fed their crops. Spring was the time they celebrated Pharoah the most because he was the one appointed by the gods to rule over them. Pharaoh brought the blessing of the gods to the people according to their religion.
On the brightest night of the most important month of Egypt’s year. The month of Pharaoh, the month they celebrated the hope of their future, something was going to happen. “On the tenth day of this month,” God said, “every man shall take a lamb according to their father’s houses.” The full moon was coming the great hope of all of Egypt. And four days prior Israel was to go out and find a lamb.
They were to gather to their fathers’ house. Often, we think of this as being a small family gathering, but the use of the plural fathers indicates that they were to gather according to their tribes and the clans within their tribes. This is not a family holiday, but the gathering up of the nation for war. It is as if they were gathering around the banner of their lord.
“You shall keep it,” the lamb, “until the fourteenth day of this month.” As Egypt is gathering to celebrate their king, Israel is also gathering. And for four days they keep this lamb among them. These four days of keeping the lamb made me curious this week. I searched for a reason they kept the animal in their midst for four days. I thought there would have to be a reason for this. The answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know. You would think after four thousand years of history we would have some sort of answer, but the best answer I found was that it represents the four generations Israel lived in slavery. That is a decent answer but is still inadequate. I say that because I have children. If I were to bring an animal into the house and care for it for four days, there would be an attachment. That animal is a pet by this time. And that caused me to pause. Then I continued to read, and the next verse speaks of the blood.
Blood was important to ancient religious ceremonies because ancient people knew that blood was required for life. They equated blood with life, because if a person or an animal lost too much blood, life was lost. For Israel this was very significant. Our minds tend to think of it only in a sacrificial sense, because the blood was collected and taken to the altar for offerings, but all the blood for every animal was considered sacred. The blood, the life, belonged to God. Even if you were out hunting and you bagged wild game you were to bury the blood. Some say that this was because it was unclean. Scripture does support this in some fashion. They were unclean not because blood was bad, but because the loss of blood represented the pouring out or loss of life. My understanding of Hebrew culture is that God is the life giver. The blood of all living creatures belongs to God because God is the source of life. They were to bury the blood to honor the life of that being, and to praise God for the life that it would substation through the giving of its life.
Blood was important in all ancient cultures not just to Israel. Blood was life. But the blood of the yearling beast was special. Most domesticated animals reach maturity after a year. They then begin to expand the flock. It was common to remove the males from the flock and to keep the females because the females carried the next generation. But without the males that next generation would not come. In ancient cultures they believed that the males carried the seed of the next generation. They wanted to keep the best male and would eat the rest but in Israel’s case the very best of the males were given in sacrifice. They are going to give the very best seed of their future to God in sacrifice. And they are going to live with this lamb or kid, for four days.
For four days the very best of the flock will be cared for in the home. The children will pet it, feed it, hug it, name it. This lamb becomes part of them. If you have ever had a pet, you know how quickly an animal can become part of your family. All of nature comes together. And God is speaking to us. The light is overtaking the dark, hope for the future is coming forward. The greatest seeds of the future are right there in front of you. Where is your hope?
“You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.” I hope this makes us a bit uneasy. It makes me a bit queasy. For four days this lamb has lived with the family, it became a pet, part of them. It almost makes me mad at God. But we must remember something important, God told pharaoh through Moses, that the final plague would hit all people in Egypt. The first born of the house of pharaoh, the first born of the slave at the handmill, and of the cattle. Even the slaves, Israel was the slaves being spoken of there. Israel was not immune from this plague even though they were immune from all the others. This plague is different. It is different because it required them to take a stand. To publicly proclaim in what and upon whom their hope would rest.
The first born was the hope of the future. The family will live on. The first-born son carried the family name into the future, the first born of Pharaoh would become the next Pharaoh. God was telling Israel through Moses that on the day of celebration, when all of Egypt was going to celebrate their hope of the future, God was going to execute judgement. He would come at twilight, between the two evenings. Egypt’s celebration was on the Fifteenth, the middle of the month. But all of Israel would gather according to their tribes, and clans, according to their families. And they would give to God the best they had to offer. The blood of their hope would be placed upon their doorways, and they would stand ready.
Between the evenings, God would move through all Egypt. And on the day, they celebrated Pharaoh as their god and king. The first born of every family was struck down. The royal family, the family of the slaves, the livestock of the fields. The day they celebrated hope became a day of sorrow. “On all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments.”
I grew up reading this story. I saw it as the might of God. And it is a story of that. But this week I realized the pain of Passover. It was a pain that left no one unaffected. The children of the houses of Israel lost their pets that night. The children of the houses of Egypt also lost. The pain is all around. But the blood of the lamb changed something. The word used as passover is interesting. In Hebrew it can mean to skip or spring over which gives the idea of being spared. But in the Akkadian language, which was the trade language of Egypt at that time, there is word that is similar when transliterated into Hebrew that can mean appease. I find this interesting. Languages from both cultures meet. One side focuses on grace, the other judgment. One is spared, the other appeased or satisfied. They do not know for sure which it means, because they do not know if Hebrew gained the word from Akkadian or if Akkadian gained the word from Hebrew, but there is a difference in meaning. One side gave the first-born lamb to spare the family, the other the life of the first-born was taken from them to appease.
There is pain and sorrow in both cases. But is there hope? For the Egyptians that twilight, the time between the evenings, their hope was lost. They placed their hope in gods that did not give life but were instead the instruments of death and separation. All of life is granted by God. Pharaoh stood in the place of God before the people of Egypt. He claimed to be God. In that man the people placed all their hope for the future. Pharaoh is a man, powerful yes, but a man. Every Pharaoh has died, not one has lived forever. We as humans do not control life, we can only steward it. To those that put their hope in themselves, appeasement will come.
But for those that place their hope in God, the giver and sustainer of life?
Death will come to us as well. We are not immune to death. And death did visit the houses of Israel as well. But there is a difference. They offered their best, they offered their hope, their future. They gave their life and their blood to the giver of life, and they were passed over on that day of Judgement. They were spared. Sorrow was still there because the children lost their pet, but they had a future. God spared their lives so they could live another day.
I have feelings as I speak about this passage. Mixed feelings. Feelings of hopelessness and of hope. Feelings of disgust and of relief. Feelings that are hard to express. But there is something here. The giving, the sacrifice. Where we place our honor and our praise, and where we derive our meaning for life. I admit that from one perspective it seems sickening that a God that I continuously speak about as a God of love would require, the giving of a life for appeasement or to spare the life of another. But then I look at the beginning of the book. I remember our First parents and the decisions they made. I look at the story of Noah and the sons of god and the daughters of men. I look at the tower of Babel and the division of the nations. I look at the life of Jesus and I look at the lives of my two sons, and the pride I feel as I celebrated the tenth birthday of my youngest with my family and his friends. I listened to the sounds of nature outside the window as I sat contemplating these words. I just sat in my big blue chair, and I thought.
Where is my hope? What would I give? I know that death will eventually come. But will I steward life while I am able? I know eventually my last breath will leave my body. Will I breathe that last, knowing that I did everything in my power to give my children and grandchildren hope for the future? I know we all question the existence of God at times. We would not be human if we did not, but do we have hope?
“This day shall be for you a memorial day.” God tells Israel. “and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever you shall keep it as a feast.”
God did not have to spare Israel, but he did. God could have spared the lives of Egypt, but they refused to see the humanity of their neighbor, so he did not. Where is our hope? How do we live our lives? The remembrance of this day has been passed on. We celebrate it a bit different now because Jesus gave us a new month to be the beginning of months. It during this feast, the feast of the spring equinox, Jesus gave his life on the cross, was buried in a tomb, and overcame death on the third day when he rose again to life. But historically the church has continued to remember and praise God for the lives of those throughout the generations, the feast of all saints and all souls occurs on the opposite equinox when the night overtakes the day, which is approaching next month. We call it Halloween. We often see it as a time of darkness and hopelessness, but as Christians we know life is spared for those who put their hope in Christ.
Will we remember, and will we hope? These are the things I think about as I sit in my chair. The things I contemplate as I examine my life and my faith. Where is our trust and upon whom does our hope rest?
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…
By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church August 06, 2023 Click to Join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Genesis 32:22–31 (ESV) 22 The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.…
By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church July 23, 2023 Click to Join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Genesis 28:10–19 (ESV) 10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set.…