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Hope in Sorrow

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

September 10, 2023

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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 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?

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…

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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…

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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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About jwquaker

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


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