By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
September 17, 2023
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 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 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…
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