11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
Ezekiel 34:20–24 (ESV)
20 “Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, 22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.
This week my mind has been going every way but Sunday. We all have moments like this. The stresses of this world seem to be building up within us and we just seem to have no way to let it out.
Last week you all know my grandfather had a stroke, and I thank David and everyone for graciously allowing me to go be with him for a while. This Friday he passed through the veil of life. My grandpa was my place of comfort. He had this quiet yet deep and strong faith. He did not say a great deal and yet his eyes and his smile could preach sermons I only wish I could give. Many have asked me as I have ministered why I tend to prefer hymns over contemporary music, the greatest reason is I hear grandpa singing them. He had this rhythm of life, he worked hard all through the week. Harder than anyone I know, but the only Sundays he would not be sitting at Mt Ayr Friends church were Sundays that he happened to be visiting my aunt in Denver. He was always at church, always rocking from heel to toe, quietly humming with his eyes closed or singing the base line through the chorus.
Grandpa was a rock of faith. He rarely if ever spoke of his faith and yet I knew. The only time I really remember him speaking about his faith was before I left to board a plane heading to Ukraine, that day he gave me a hug and said, “you are going to the land of the enemy, I will be praying for you.”
I had never seen my grandpa worried. I had rarely seen him express any emotion other than joy, yet I saw something that day. I saw the depth of his faith and where his strength and hope were found.
My mind has been wondering these past few weeks. Focus on everything but Sunday. I looked at this week’s scripture reading, the passage that Vicky confirmed with me over a month ago and like every week, it is exactly the words I personally needed to hear.
Ezekiel is a book I rarely read. I admit that I do not like it. Yes, there are some very good parts that we all remember, but there are other parts that make me uncomfortable even as an adult. The fact that I would find comfort in the words of Ezekiel this week of all weeks speaks not of the book but the God that inspired the words the prophet wrote.
Ezekiel was one of those prophets that emerged around the time of Jerusalem’s troubles. It is believed that Ezekiel was among those that were exiled to Babylon prior to the destruction of the city, so unlike Jeremiah he did not suffer through the impending war. Instead, he lamented the prospect.
Most of us know little about Ezekiel. We mainly know about the vision he had of the throne of God where he describes the beasts and the wheels within wheels with eyes all around. There are vast interpretations of that vision, from helicopters to aliens, but it was a vision of God’s throne. It is a wheeled throne surrounded by throne guardians. Angelic beings that were shining like polished metals. These are terrifying and yet awe-inspiring visions. And his vision gives us a glimpse into the reality described in the fall of humanity. What we often read as snake in scripture, could be seen as one of these beings, also known as the shining ones, because the word for shining like polished bronze and burning as in snake venom is similar. We get snake in Genesis but throne guardian in Ezekiel.
After the vision of God’s throne, the only other story from Ezekiel we all relate to is the store of the dry bones. God meets Ezekiel once again in a vision where he sees the sun-bleached bones of the fallen in the wilderness. The vision is one of desolation, of hopelessness. We can sense the despair in the words. God commands the prophet to speak to these bones, to prophesy over the bones. What is the point there is nothing, no hope, why even bother? Yet God insists, and Ezekiel is obedient. The bones rise, they come together, are reanimated, and restored to life once again. Ezekiel, in the sorrows of judgment and exile sees a vision of hope through hopelessness.
With such amazing visions this should be one of our favorites in all scripture. The problem is Ezekiel does not hold back, he is vile and crude in his descriptions. Most of what he says I do not want to explain or even say out loud because…well if we are honest the books that people are seeking to ban today are less graphic.
The last thing we might know about Ezekiel, we can find in the frozen department of the grocery store. There within those frosty doors you can find a bread boasting to be the healthiest of all the breads, called Ezekiel 4:9. This bread is straight from the pages of scripture so you would think it fly off the shelf. But every time I had to stock it while I worked in the grocery department I would laugh and wonder if they baked it according to the scripture as well as using the ingredients mentioned on their packaging. Just so you know the bread in all its wholesome goodness would render the prophet unclean to worship, because it was to be cooked over excrement.
Ezekiel was likely among those great men taken into exile to serve in the courts of Babylon. We know them as Daniel, and the trio Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They each were taken to serve in this foreign nation, a nation they despised and would use to describe the very essence of evil. And it was here in Babylon Ezekiel the prophet and priest would teach. He would describe the nation of God’s people as being worse than Babylon. He would pronounce judgement over the people in graphic detail, leaving no one to question just why God was upset. And then after all of that, he would speak some of the most beautiful words of hope and grace.
Israel and Judah were adulterous nations, they left their God and they entertained the gods of the world. Ezekiel would describe Sodom in a better light than the God’s chosen nation. I want us to consider that for a moment. We all have our opinions about what Sodom’s sin was, what caused them to be so detestable that God would say that not a single person was worthy of redemption in that land that deserved destruction by fire. And yet Ezekiel said that Sodom would blush at the description of Israel.
My mind was going every way but Sunday all week. I found that I had to force myself to come to the meetinghouse, I had to leave my blue chair so I could contemplate and pray as I prepared for today. You see that is the point of Ezekiel’s message. We can become distracted. At first it does not seem like we have drifted, but day after day, week upon week, month after month and year over year, we drift. As the cycles of time move forward, we find that we have drifted just a bit further away. To the point we are no longer able to recognize the difference between the people of God and those of the world.
A few years ago, my grandpa asked me about this. He knew I was an elder, and he asked me once to send him a faith and practice because he wondered if what was written there, what we claimed to believe, was what he once knew. I could see the spiritual pain in his eyes that day, and I felt a tremble in the rock. It only lasted a moment, but that slight tremble in the foundations of my life caused me to search. It prompted me to wonder about my faith, and if I lived what I said I believed.
The words of my grandfather. The words of a quiet man of faith that had been my inspiration for so many years, prompted one of the most soul-searching eras of my spiritual journey once again.
Who are we? What are we called to do?
Most of my life there has been a struggle for identity. What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to be an American? Are these one in the same or is there a difference?
I have examined my faith over the past few years. I have looked at the things I once embraced and have examined them in light of scripture. This has often been difficult because I began to see just how hypocritical I have been, and how there were times I led those within my care in a direction that we probably should not have gone. Ezekiel’s words hit me hard. And yet I have continued to seek.
“Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.”
In the sorrow that I have been feeling this past week. And in the encouragement that I received from my grandfather. I can see hope forward. We are often scattered. Scatter brained in my case. We feel this deep within our bones. We look at the world in which we live, and we wonder. Things are not what they once were. I say this not out of some nostalgic view of the past. I would much rather live today than generations past. But there are some things that have changed.
“And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and will bring them into their own land. And I will fee them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down., declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.”
When we look into the past, we see many things. We might look at the discrimination and persecution during World War 2 and say we have come a long way. We might look at the civil rights movement here in America and it might seem like ancient history. The labor movements spurred dramatic improvements within our nation. All these things are profound, but where are they today?
The pendulum swings. Labor once fought for the greater good, but then there was an overreach, and the communities began to pull away. There are cycles of change. Two steps forward, followed by a step back, because we feel as if we might have gone too far. This is what Ezekiel means by fat and strong. We make progress in an area, people involved in that movement gain power and influence and eventually they themselves begin to use that influence in a manner resembling those they once fought against. This is why Jesus said, “the poor will always be with you.” Jesus does not condemn wealth outright; he instead condemns what wealth can become and often what is done to obtain wealth.
Ezekiel continues, “Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep.”
We have recently celebrated Armistice Day, today we call it Veteran’s Day. I personally prefer Armistice Day because it was to remember the great war to end all wars, and what that war cost. The great war, or World War 1, was a battle between German, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire against England, Russia, France, and eventually the United States. That war was the most heinous war the world had ever seen to that point.
Germany was seen as the ultimate villain in that conflict, and I understand this. They invaded France and they inflicted great harm to the British. And the allied forces wanted to make sure that Germany paid for their violence, so they were charge reparations. Before the war German was lauded as the greatest economy of the world, but all that changed after the war. The fees charged to Germany continued to hinder the people of Germany they plead for some relief from the sanctions, but this fell on deaf ears.
At the close of the war, Germany made reforms that should have led them into peaceful future. Armistice should have made all the nations of the world equal, but weak and strong, the malnourished and the fat. Sheep and Sheep together, nations of the world. The once oppressed became an oppressor and the once strong became weak. This does not sit well with people. When injustice occurs violence often follows. We either need to beat down the violence with greater violence or find another way. The reparations applied to Germany can be seen as a factor that ushered in the politics that prompted war to again break out just a couple of decades after the war to end wars.
We cannot simply win; we all must change for lasting peace. We push with side and shoulder, we thrust at the weak with our horns and we scatter them abroad. Russia invades Ukraine, Syria engages in a civil war, Hamas terrorizes the civilians of Israel. What is the result? Folgers and Monsanto go into Latin America to promote the growing of their crops, the governments of those nations remove people from farms to obtain greater profits for themselves. What are the results? In both cases people flee, they are scattered across the world, they seek refuge in places that they see hope. The immigration problem we see in Europe and here is a sign of injustice. We cannot merely close the borders because that does not promote justice. We need real change, and not weak and fat.
I said that over the past few years I have examined my faith, and I have lamented my own hypocrisy. I have been excited about an area of injustice that I could assist only to see the organizations grow and become instruments of injustice themselves. They like so many get distracted. They sought to do good, and they did great work, but as they rose in power and influence, they became fat, and they began to prod with their horns.
My mind has strayed every way but Sunday all week. I have pled, and I have mourned. I have sought distraction and comfort. I looked at this passage and I was reminded of something profound. In my mind my grandpa was a great man, the greatest of men. But his greatness was different. He was patient and kind. He was joyful and encouraging. He inspired and with a slight change in expression promotes a reexamination of actions. He embodied the testimony of St. Francis, to “preach the gospel always and when necessary, use words.”
My grandfather showed me faith. That faith became the bedrock of my own faith. My grandfather taught me kindness and I hope that I have lived into his example. I grandfather gave me hope, but not in him, he gave me hope in God. We are often distracted; our minds can often be taken every way but Sunday and when that happens, we can often find ourselves in the very places we were seeking to eliminate. We end up in that place when we forget to love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and live the love of Christ with others. We often get distracted, but God will draw his people back to him. He draws us back himself and he binds our wounds and strengthens our weaknesses. He will show us our own errors and again point us to justice. Let us pray that we will listen to his voice and not become like the rebellious nation described throughout the pages of Ezekiel.
By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church December 03, 2023 Click Here to Join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Isaiah 64:1–9 (ESV) 1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— 2 as when fire kindles brushwood…
By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church November 12, 2023 Click Here to Join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Joshua 24:1–3a, 14-25 (ESV) 1 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And…
By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church November 5, 2023 Click here to join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Joshua 3:7–17 (ESV) 7 The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as…
1 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. 3a Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many.
14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” 16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” 19 But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem.
Last week we watched as Israel prepared to enter the land of promise. They were reminded of where they had been, and who they were. They had to face the failures of the generations past and decide if they would continue that path or take a different route along their journey.
A few of us this week attended the Rend Collective concert. If you did not attend, I am sorry you missed it. But one of the songs they played during that concert was the first song we sang this morning.
I can see the Promised Land. Though there’s pain within the plan, there is victory in the end. Your love is my battle cry. When my fears like Jericho. Build their walls around my soul. When my heart is overthrown. Your love is my battle cry. The anthem for all my life. Every giant will fall, the mountains will move. Every chain of the past, you’ve broken in two. Over fear, over lies, we’re singing the truth. That nothing is impossible with you.
Often, we look at the conquest of Joshua in literal terms. We imagine these wars as wars are today. We think of thousands of people packed within the walls of Jericho; we envision columns of soldiers meeting for battle in Ai. The reality was a little different.
The land of Canaan was not the densely populated area Israel is today. It was largely unpopulated. There were a few strongholds or military outposts scattered throughout, like Jericho, but for the most part Canaan was little villages or family-oriented tribes surrounded by land devoted to agricultural production.
During the expansion to the west here in the United States, our government offered people quarter sections of land to anyone that paid the registration fee and construct improvements. This was one hundred and sixty acres of land basically free. My family moved west for this very reason, and as these families moved west, they improved the land. They built a house and started a farm. But life was hard in those pioneering days. Survival was not easy so people would often build their homes where the various quarter sections of property would meet. This formed a little village where the families could live in community helping each other as they made a future for themselves and their families.
This in a lot of ways was what Canaan was, fields surrounding communal structures. Joshua and the rest of the nation of Israel walked across the Jordan and they marched across the fields. The people saw them approaching in the distance and they ran. Most of the conquest that we imagine to be these bloody battles were the people inhabiting the land running away. And archeology proves this. In many of the excavations they have found from the time of the conquest they are not finding signs of battles. They are not finding rubble or ash that would suggest a battle. Instead, they are finding pottery of Canaanite and Israeli origin mixed together in the same structure, appearing as if one group abandoned the structure and another simply moved in.
There were battles that involved weapons of war, but even then, these battles were not like the battles we see being played out on the evening news. Jericho was the first and arguably the largest of the military outposts within the area. It was a walled city meaning it was a fortress. Jericho was the strength of Canaan. How did Israel defeat Jericho? Israel did not defeat Jericho, God did.
I often watch videos produced by a group called The Bible Project. This is a group of self-identifying bible nerds, who make videos and discuss scripture in a deep and interactive manner. Since I aspire to be known as a bible nerd, I love this group. I recently watched a video they produced about Joshua, where they encourage us not to look at the words literally but as hyperbole. Hyperbole is a literary device where they use extremes to tell the story. We use this in our own conversations, “It is so hot outside you could fry an egg on the sidewalk.” Or maybe your grandmother once told you not to go outside with wet hair because you would catch your death. These are not accurate depictions of the situation, but they are using extreme language to make a point. The scholars of the Bible Project recognize hyperbole in Joshua because in one place it will say Israel destroyed everyone and everything, but later it says something different. Am I saying that scripture is inaccurate? No. And even though I have gone outside many times with wet hair and not died, my grandmother was not lying either. Hyperbole is used in teaching general concepts. And what the scholars of the Bible Project want us to see is that these stories are lessons about trusting God, and not necessarily literal descriptions of ancient battle history. This is seen clearly in between the battles of Jericho and Ai. The battle where God is trusted and the battle where people trusted in themselves.
When Israel united with God, the people were driven into panic, and in the chaos that resulted from the panic they battled with themselves to find safety. God won the battle, and Israel watched as the city seemingly destroyed itself. Shortly after this, Israel began to trust in their own strength and strategy. They trusted in their own ways and their own desires, this is when loss occurred, as in Ai. Then there are stories of a different sort, like the story of Rehab, where they convert and join Israel. We sometimes forget that the destruction of an enemy does not always mean death in a battle, there are times where enemies are destroyed because friendships are built. This is why Joshua can use hyperbole, and still be telling the truth. Israel did enter the land, they did destroy their enemies, they drove out the inhabitants and the giants that once cause their ancestors to fear.
No matter how we look at these stories. There is something that we need to consider. The people inhabiting the land of Canaan were by all intents squatters on claimed land. In Deuteronomy we are told that after the event at Babel, God divided the nations up among the sons of god, and he claimed Israel as his inheritance. I hope by now this language does not scare us. God divided the land, he allowed some of the people inhabiting the earth to live a life according to their own desires. And they followed the deceptive spirits that rebelled against God. God allowed some to drift away, but this does not mean that God no longer cares for them. He left the nations of the world alone, his interaction was distant and seemingly vacant, but he called Abraham to go to the land, and in that calling he promised Abraham that he would become a nation that would become the light to the nations. It was through Israel that the once scattered nations would be drawn back to God to once again be honored as the image bearers they were created to be. This calling included land. And this land of Canaan was claimed by God and deeded to Abraham. In the ancient world view, this cosmic geography was a battle ground between the spirits of rebellion and the Most High God. Those people groups devoted to the spirits of rebellion were opposed to Israel and Israel’s God, and they believed that if they could simply keep Israel out of the land the rebellious spirits would conquer the one true God.
This is at work within the texts of scripture. This is why the ten spies sent by Moses came back with a report of Giants in the land. Those ten spies were afraid, they did not trust that their God could overcome the powers at work within the world, because these powers were devoted to war, wealth, and hubris. How could their God overcome these established powers?
For forty years Israel paid for that lack of trust. But last week Israel entrusted their future to their God. They took steps into the wild and raging waters of the flooded Jordan, and they walked across on dry ground. They filed in. They made their camp. They filled the fields and the people inhabiting the land ran to their fortified city, Jericho. The God of Israel brought the walls of that city down and the great stronghold was handed over to Israel.
The fortress was taken by God in the beginning of the conquest. The war was over before it began. The rest of this testimony of Joshua is just a description of Israel’s trust in their God, or in some cases lack of faith.
Today we meet Israel at the end of the conquest. Joshua leads the people to Shechem. He begins by reminding the people of their history saying to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many.’”
Nahor was Abraham’s brother, and the father of Isaac’s wife Rebekah. When Jacob fled from the hand of his brother Esau, it was to Nahor’s son’s house he ran. And Laban’s became Jacob’s father-in-law as he married Leah and Rachel. Jacob again fled, this time from the house of Laban and he re-entered the land promised to Abraham. On that return, he stopped at this very place Shechem. Laban’s daughter Rachel had stolen the family idols and brought them with her on the journey. And at Shechem as they reentered the land Jacob took those idols and buried them in the ground. He buried the gods of his ancestors as he began his journey back to the God of his father Abraham.
Joshua brings Israel back to the place of their historic beginning. The place their common father dedicated himself and his house to God. Where Jacob began that journey away from his past. Away from his heel grabbing and scheming, toward his new future Israel. He began that journey by burying the old gods.
Joshua takes them to this place. They had just driven the nations devoted to those old gods out of the land under the direction of the God of Abraham, and they again remember their story. This is who we were. We were once a people deceived by rebellious spirits. We were once people devoted to the influences of beings opposed to the very creation of humanity who influenced and deceived us to turn from our place within the Garden of God. We were once.
“Now therefore fear (or revere) the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness.” Sincerity and faithfulness. Joshua is urging this infant nation to consider what they had experienced. He urges them to remember what they had seen and heard, what they had tasted in the wilderness, and witnessed on the fields of battle. Joshua is asking them to reflect on their history and make a choice.
They had seen what God will do to those rebellious nations that opposed him. They have seen the mighty power of God reduce the central stronghold of Canaan to rubble with the sounding of worshiping trumpets. Revere God whole heartedly. Honor God completely and with peace and stability. Entrust yourselves to God entirely and with constancy.
Revere God and put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River. Bury them here at Shechem, just like Jacob. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve.
I want us to imagine this scene in your mind. I want you to imagine the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I want you to remember Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers. Remember the famine that brought them back together in Egypt. Remember enslavement, the order to throw the sons of Israel into the Nile, and how out of the river Moses was saved. Reflect on the bush that burned but was not consumed, the plagues, the exodus. Remember mountain from which God spoke, and the manna from heaven. Remember.
Remember the life that this God was calling this people to. A life that honored God, and the image of God that resides in all people. Remember. Reflect.
I ask you to close your eyes now and just listen.
These are the words attributed to Solomon. Words of wisdom, justice, and liberty which are attributes of God from a feminine perspective.
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12–25 (NRSV)
12 Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her, and is found by those who seek her. 13 She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her. 14 One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty, for she will be found sitting at the gate. 15 To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding, and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care, 16 because she goes about seeking those worthy of her, and she graciously appears to them in their paths, and meets them in every thought. 17 The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction, and concern for instruction is love of her, 18 and love of her is the keeping of her laws, and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality, 19 and immortality brings one near to God; 20 so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom. 21 Therefore if you delight in thrones and scepters, O monarchs over the peoples, honor wisdom, so that you may reign forever. 22 I will tell you what wisdom is and how she came to be, and I will hide no secrets from you, but I will trace her course from the beginning of creation, and make knowledge of her clear, and I will not pass by the truth; 23 nor will I travel in the company of sickly envy, for envy does not associate with wisdom. 24 The multitude of the wise is the salvation of the world, and a sensible king is the stability of any people. 25 Therefore be instructed by my words, and you will profit.
The wisdom of which Solomon speaks is the lessons we learn from those ten words or lessons of God. Wisdom comes when we devote our entirety to those lessons which can be summed up with the words of Jesus as he describes the greatest commandment or the greatest lesson of wisdom, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Love God with everything. This is the very thing Joshua is calling Israel to do there at Shechem. Revere and serve God wholeheartedly. And service to God is to love your neighbor, to honor that of God within you, and those around you.
We can twist the words of scripture and use them to justify anything we want. We can use the words found in Joshua to justify the slaughter of the people of Ukraine or Palestine. We can use the words of Paul to promote the subjection of various people groups. We can use these words to do the vilest things. But when we do that, we have not listened to the words of lady wisdom. We are not listening to the words of Jesus or of God from the mountain. We are missing the point.
God is calling us to become a people loving him, embracing his Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. Those are the lessons God wanted Israel to learn in the wilderness. Those are the lessons that Joshua is calling them to at Shechem. That is the lesson I hope we learn in our Meeting.
“If it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church November 26, 2023 Click to join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Ezekiel 34:11–16 (ESV) 11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks…
By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church October 29, 2023 Click to join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Deuteronomy 34:1–12 (ESV) 1 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed…
By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church October 22, 2023 Click here to join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Exodus 33:12–23 (ESV) 12 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will…
7 The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. 8 And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’ ” 9 And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” 10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. 12 Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. 13 And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.” 14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.
Moses is no longer the leader of Israel. The Desert wanderings are now over. The future is now upon us. What do we do? Where do we go from here? How will we know what to do?
For thirty days Israel mourned for Moses. He had been their leader for these past forty years. An entire generation. They had heard stories from their grandparents about life in Egypt and the crossing of the sea. Their parents had told them stories about the day God spoke to them from above the mountain. How shortly after this encounter, the older people among them worshiped an idol instead of the living God. They had eaten the bread of heaven their entire life, along with quail. But now Moses is gone. Who will lead them? Where will they get their food? Is God still with them or did he vanish like their beloved leader?
Change is never easy. But this transition is probably worse than anything we have ever experienced. The people that were looking across the valley had only known one way of life. They had only known the desert. They lived their entire life looking toward the future, but now this future they had dreamed about is upon them. Can they really move forward?
I have struggled with this week’s passage. I do not really know why. I sat with it in prayer. I contemplated it repeatedly. I looked at the words hoping to receive some divine inspiration and, to be honest, all was quiet.
This happens on occasion. In our lives of faith, we have expectations. We want to hear God’s voice. We want to experience intimacy with Him. We want, and we need to know that God is near. We have this expectation that if we are faithful, God will show up. If we sing the right songs. If we keep the commandments. If we give our tithes, read scripture, and say our prayers. Unfortunately, God does not always succumb to our formulas.
I wrestle with this often. When I first came to Willow Creek, I was excited about what could be. It was the first time I had ministered among people in a city. Everything was new, and I was nervous. In my mind I did not know what we should do, and luckily the co-pastor also did not have a clue, so we both suggested that we begin with prayer. We prayed. We asked questions, we got to know each other. We became a family before we did anything else. Then after a year, the co-pastor left.
I started that entire process over again. How can I lead this group of people? Was I even qualified? I knew who you were, I had been part of this congregation. I struggled. This led me deeper into prayer and study. Because there was a concern that we would even survive? I looked at who we were, I looked at our community, I struggled to find where or what we should do. Our community did not seem to want to hear what we had to offer.
This is when I began to read about the land of Ireland. Patrick was not the first missionary to go to Ireland. Others went before him, and they made no difference. Ireland was happy with who they were and the direction they were going. But after Patrick came the entire island seemed to convert to his faith. Why and how did Patrick succeed where others failed?
I thought in my mind that Patrick held the answers that I was seeking. I read everything I could find on ancient Ireland. I read about their culture. I read about geography. I read about their ancient mythology, the customs they held prior to conversion, and I read about Patrick’s ministry. Something changed in Ireland that moved them from completely closed off to the testimony of Christ, to fully engaged. And then I found the answer.
I found the key, and it was anticlimactic. Why did Ireland embrace God? They embraced God because Patrick was not afraid of the dark.
It is ridiculous I know. It seems almost too simplistic, and it is. It was not simply that Patrick was not afraid of the dark, he was not afraid of what could lurk in the darkness. Ireland prior to Patrick was a land of spirits, fairies, leprechauns, and ghosts. It was enchanting and chaotic. We, today, have a nostalgic view of that pagan land but these spiritual beings could be cute and devastating. The people lived in fear that they might offend one of these beings and death could be the result. It got so bad that people were said to have been literally scared to death. And the night was the worst. The spirits of vengeance would act when you least expected it, they would strike when your guard was down. And Patrick came into that land bringing the Gospel of Christ, and that Gospel was an offense to these spirits. Everyone expected spiritual retaliation and death to Patrick, but he was not afraid.
They watched him day after day, listened to his stories into the night, and he would simply pray and sleep. He did not consume alcohol to force his slumber like so many did, he simply went to sleep.
Patrick did not fear. He faced the chaos of the unknown with confidence. He continued to live the life he felt he should live, he presented the message he felt led to give, he would sleep, and wake up to do it again. This intrigued me, it brought clarity to the mission I felt led to as well.
Patrick faced many struggles. His life was not easy, because many opposed his message at first. Change is never easy. He would feel like he should go one direction and then seemingly all at once things would change and he would go the opposite way. The later monks that followed Patrick’s ways would describe this as chasing the wild goose, which is where the phrase wild goose chase comes from. And it is describing what it often feels like when we embrace the Spirit of God. We do not always know where it is going to lead us, Jesus calls it the wind. We do not know where it comes from nor where it is going.
I bring this up, because that is what I imagine was going on in the minds of Israel as they prepared themselves to enter the land before them. It was the land of the Giants.
As Joshua seeks God for direction, God tells him, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel that they my know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” He then tells Joshua what to do. And Joshua tells the people, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites…” If we were to investigate these people groups, we will not find a great deal of information. Many of them are only mentioned in the bible and there is no outside collaboration that they ever existed. But of the groups we do know have information from, we do know what type of people they are. The Hittites for example are the people that once lived in the land we now know as Turkey. They were also the group of people that moved to the east and would eventually become the empire of Babylon.
This is important because it connects back to the spies, and to the statue that Aaron created that the people began to worship. These people were followers of great men of renown, the offspring of the gods of the world.
They had faced this test once before. Forty years prior their parents and grandparents stood on this border. They looked upon the land in fear because the inhabitants of the land had gods that protected and led them. Who was their God, how could they trust Yahweh in the face of these established nations?
God had already defeated Egypt, the greatest of the nations on earth at that time, yet they were afraid. They did not know God. They did not trust or entrust their life to the ways of God. As a result, God took the people back into the wilderness. And they wandered in the desert until all that generation perished. Those that remained only knew one life and one lifestyle.
Today they gather once again at the border of the land promised to them. The land God claimed for his people as his portion from all the nations of the world.
The people stood on the banks of the Jordan, and they were concerned. They faced an unknown. Everything they could see in front of them seemingly opposed everything they had known before. Can they trust God? Will God even be with them as they face the giants?
God spoke to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you.” You can sense the anticipation in those words. Today I will begin.
Today. I want us to just let that declaration seep into our souls, because it is a reality now just as it was in the day of Joshua. Today, is filled with great potential. It can be the greatest day of your life. It could be the start of something new. It could be boring; it could be terrible. It could be any number of things. Today is about to unfold, how are you going to face that great unknown?
The people walked out that day and they looked across the valley. They looked over the waters of the river and they saw the land that for so long seemed a distant dream. And there is even more. The river that was before them was flooding. Usually, the Jordan river was around one hundred feet wide and anywhere from three to ten feet deep, but that day it was outside its banks. Have you ever stood on the banks of a river during a flood? The water is moving fast, it is eating away the soil as if it were a pie at thanksgiving dinner. Branches and even trees are pushed along in the current. The water rushes so fast that even the birds do not trust that they could fly out from it. God calls the people to stand on the banks of the Jordan during a flood and says today is the day. And Joshua tells the priest and one man from each of the tribes of Israel to walk forward.
Their parents and grandparents stood in that very place and trembled before the giants. And now they are back. They may not be afraid of giants this time, yet fear is still present. There will always be something that causes us to hesitate, to pause. No matter who we are, no matter how much we have prepared, when today comes there will always be an obstacle threatening our journey forward. What will we do?
Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out before you the giants and terrors…when the soles of the feet shall rest in the waters, the waters shall be cut off and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.
Imagine if Joshua said these words to you.
You have heard stories, but can your God control the waters? You know that God can provide bread, but can he really provide safe passage? You know your God can lead but can he really drive out the giants that haunt your dreams?
A generation prior 83% of Israel, could not even begin to think of crossing that barrier, has anything really changed during that time? The old has passed away and the new has come.
The people of God are standing on the banks. They are looking into the land. They are remembering the past. And the lessons that Moses taught them.
Exodus 20:1–17 (ESV)
1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. 8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
They consider these lessons. They think to themselves what type of world they would like to reside in. Do they want to live in constant fear of giants? In a world where people only look out for themselves? Or would they rather live in a land where they could worship God, and honor the image of God in those around them?
They have an opportunity. They have a chance to live differently. Today could be the day that all things could be different. Will they bear the name?
Joshua stood before the people. He stood there as their leader, but he knew he was just one of them. He is Joshua son of Nun. He was not the son of Moses, not the son of Aaron. He was just one among the congregation. Yet God had commanded him since the day Moses died to be Strong and courageous, to not be afraid, to walk forward. The raging flood is before him and the people.
A new job, retirement, a baby. Your child broke a bone, your grandfather is in hospital. A paper is due, the game is on the line. It does not matter what today is. There is always a raging river that threatens to drag you under, and our doubt is urging us to turn away. But hope is just on the other side. Will we step forward?
I hope you see the great faith of Israel that day. Giants still inhabited the land, yet they took a step. The waters rushed before them, yet they took another. They yearned for the land, they did not dwell on the struggle, but looked to hope. They desired a life where they could live according to the wisdom Moses taught them. The giants, and a flood were in front of them, and the desert was behind. They wanted the land; they wanted life. They had hope.
The priest took a step, and they each followed behind, step after step they moved forward. They faced their giants, they braved the chaotic waters, and they moved forward. They did not allow fear to grab hold because the land and the promise was greater than their fear.
Thirteen years ago, we faced an uncertain future together. Yet we walked. Today the future is no more certain than it was then, or even forty years ago. Today we, like Israel in the days of Joshua, must still make a choice. We still must choose whether to walk or not. I cannot stand here and say I possess every answer, or that I can prove to you that God is trustworthy. All I can say is that I can look at the world and all it has to offer, and I can look at Christ. I choose to follow Christ; I choose because that is how I want to live. I want to live in a place where there is no Jew or Gentile, male or female. I want to live in a land where we love our neighbor as ourselves. I want to believe that healing is possible and even if it does not happen as I would like that my God weeps with me. I want hope.
I might be idealistic. I might be naïve. Frankly I do not care. I stood here as I did a decade ago, unsure of what the future holds, but I do not fear. I do not fear because God brought Israel through the sea, across the desert, and into that land. God raised Jesus from the grave. Life goes on, even in the darkest hours. Hope remains. Let us take those steps forward. Into the raging river of life and let us grab hold of the promise.
By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church October 15, 2023 Click here to join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Exodus 32:1–14 (ESV) 1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him,…
By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church October 8, 2023 Click here to join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Exodus 20:1–20 (ESV) 1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out…
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…