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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By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends

May 2, 2021

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Click to read in Swahili

Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

John 15:1–8 (ESV)

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

1 John 4:7–21 (ESV)

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Last week I spoke about stories. I encouraged us to embrace the tool of imagination while considering story. Story is a powerful tool because it can unlock the power of our mind. But there is another tool that can be used that will unlock perception. Illustration.

Illustration is powerful because it is a tool of deep meaning. If we were to take a trip to the Nelson-Atkins museum of Art here in Kansas City, we would be grace with many illustrations. Each of these works of art are attempts of humans to speak of or show us something deeper. Some of those works of art point us to God, and some of them show us something about us and the world we live or have lived. We use the tool of illustration to give something tangible to concepts that seem to be abstract. Much of life is abstract. Our emotions are real, but abstract. Even knowledge is abstract, we can know but we cannot really grasp or gain wisdom until we can make it tangible.

Jesus uses story and illustration to express truth in ways that can move the abstract into the tangible. Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” What a wonderful illustration.

Why do I call this a wonderful illustration? A vineyard is one of the most labor and financially intensive agricultural crops that can be grown. Agriculture is one of the oldest professions in the world. Agricultural historians would say that the invention of agriculture is what prompted the rise of civilization. When humans began to domesticate plants and animals, they emerged from the lifestyle of nomadic hunting and gathering and began to settle in villages and cities. They could settle because they no longer had to follow the wondering wild herd, but they could manage their food supply. Our ancestors painstakingly sought after the plants that were edible, they gathered seeds or tubers and placed them in the ground. They found the animals that could be tamed and they learned how to keep and train those animals. And over time they were able develop a life and lifestyle around these plant and animals. They were able to obtain a surplus of food, and economies emerged because others could move away from producing food and specialize in other aspects of life that their personal skills could be used to a greater extent and they could trade their skills for the surplus produced by others.

The concept of this emergence is shown in the fullest sense in the vineyard. The vineyard, unlike the grass-based crops like wheat or corn, is one of length. It takes time to establish a vineyard. Wheat yields a crop every year. You plant the seed, it grows, it produces fruit, and it dies all within a year. The vine, and the orchard, take multiple years to yield fruit. Those that plant a vineyard are established in their land. According to the University of California, to establish a vineyard you will invest at least ten thousand dollars an acre. The article goes on to say that you will wait four or five years to get a crop, and it will take another year after that first crop to get the first vintage, or enough fruit to contribute to the most profitable use of grapes, wine.  Those that invest in a vineyard have enough surplus in the production of food that they do not need to worry about feeding their family or their community and they can take land out of production to risk the production of the fruit of a vine. And that land used for the vineyard may not see a positive income for over ten years.

Jesus uses agricultural illustrations often. He uses these because the culture during the first century was primarily agriculturally based. The world by large has been agriculturally based until the industrial revolution. So, these teachings based on agriculture provided a great deal of tangible wisdom for the people. Today, especially among those in urban settings these lessons become cryptic. The further we travel away from the agricultural roots of civilization we lose knowledge, and we must strive to grasp the understanding and knowledge that was once freely available.

The vineyard is a wonder illustration of life with God because it shows the reality that life is hard. To have that fulfilled life that Jesus promises takes time. It requires labor. And unfortunately, pain and suffering are often necessary.

Jesus says that He is the true vine. We are not the vine. You can grow a vine from a seed and it can take root and grow, but that is not the methods used in a vineyard. The most common method of vineyard establishment is a method called grafting. This process requires two types of grape vines: one is selected for the roots, and the other is for the branches. Those that grow grapes choose the rootstock carefully because that is the portion that is in the ground. They diligently study the soil and environmental conditions when they choose the rootstock because if the rootstock cannot become established in the soil the vineyard is lost. The rootstock of the vine is where the vineyard begins. It is the root of the vine that provides the foundation and the nutrients for the fruit. When Jesus says that he is the true vine, he is saying that he is the rootstock. He is the life-giving source that can over come the harsh soil conditions we face.

The rootstock is chosen based on the conditions of the soil. Not all grape vines will grow in the soil you desire to establish a vineyard in. The vine might make the best grapes but if it cannot take root in the soil, it is worthless. And even though the rootstock vines may be able to take root well in the given soils it might not produce the best fruit.

Jesus says that he is the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. I want us to consider the illustration. The vine, that is Christ, is the root stock. The vinedresser is the Father. The vinedresser is an important person in the vineyard. I said before that when grapes are produced commercially, they do not grow them from a seed like wheat but they use a process called grafting. The first component to this is the rootstock, or the foundation of the vine, but the vinedresser does not want the rootstock to bear the fruit, that is not why that vine was chosen. Jesus came to this world for one specific purpose. He came to provide or establish the means of life. He came to overcome the greatest challenge of life. Our greatest challenge is the wages of sin. Sin is a blight that affects all of life and will be our undoing. We cannot overcome the wages of sin on our own. If we try to root on our own the blight of sin will kill the roots, and we will never be able to bear the fruit we were created to bear.

This is where the vinedresser comes in. The vinedresser knows the vines. The dresser knows what vine can take root and what will not. The vinedresser plants the rootstock into the soil and allows that root to become established. When that vine begins to grow, the dresser comes by with a branch from a vine of the variety of desired fruit and places that branch into the rootstock. This is a precision process. It requires momentary suffering from both the rootstock and the branch because both are cut. The dresser removes the branches from the rootstock this will render that vine unable to bear fruit because it lacks the leave and branches. But the branch comes from a different vine, that branch was removed from the vine it was once part of, it was separated from life, or it dies to itself. The dresser then carefully peels away bark and whittles the inner portion of the vine in such a way that the branch will fit into the rootstock, then the bark or skin is place over the cuts and allowed to grow together. The branch is supplied with water and nutrients from the root and the roots are supplied with the energy from the branches’ leaves. And together fruit is produced.

“I am the true vine,” Jesus says, “and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoke to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”

The word abide is key to this verse. It means to remain, to endure, and in some cases, it can mean to remain undisturbed. When a vine dresser makes a graft, they will then carefully wrap the wound they inflicted and let it remain undisturbed for a while so that the two plants will grow and heal together. If the graft fails the dresser will have to cut the vine back again and make another attempt. But if the branch abides in the vine, it will grow and bear fruit. This is what Jesus means when he says abide. We remain in the vine. We allow the rootstock to provide the foundation and nourishment for us, and we supply the roots with the energy that makes the roots stronger. We remain together. We do not allow the cuts that were made to join us to cause death, but we remain and together we bear fruit.

We must abide. If we are grafted into the vine and attempt to remain independent or in our old nature, we will die. The reason we were grafted is because we could not live on our own in this environment. This is what John means in his letter that we read earlier, “He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” We cannot survive unless Christ took on the role to cover or to cancel the blight of sin. We must abide, remain in that rootstock able to survive in the soils of life teaming with the disease-causing sin. The vinedresser found it fitting to place us in this time and place at this moment in the vine of history. He needs the fruit that we can bear right here, now. But he began this process many years ago.

I mentioned before that it can take years before a vineyard is established. Four to five years for the first harvest, an additional year for the fruit to fulfill its purpose, and ten to thirteen years before the fruit begins to provide enough fruit to overcome the initial investment. God has a plan and purpose for us, as the vinedresser, that process was initiated many years in the past. And all along, during those years God has pruned us. The act of pruning is the removal of excess branches from the vine, the purpose of this is to leave one singular vine dedicated to produce the most fruit possible. When there is only one branch all the energy produced by the leaves is dedicated to the roots and fruit, not the production of additional branches. There are times where a vinedresser wants a branch to be produced so that another graft can be made, but even then, it is up to the vinedresser not the vine to make that call. And that branch will eventually be pruned from the main branch.  

Abide. We can do nothing if we do not abide. If we think we can do something apart from the true vine that will be pruned away, because it has nothing to do with the purpose of vinedresser. Yet Jesus says, “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” How does this fit into the illustration? We must abide first. “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered and thrown into the fire, and burned.” When we abide, we are joining with Christ for a shared purpose. Our will is united in his, and those wills are directed by the work of the vinedresser. When we abide the things that we ask are like the sugars produced through the process of photosynthesis in the leaves of a plant. When we abide, those things are dedicated to produce fruit and the maintenance of the roots. When we abide, those are the things that we are asking for. Our purpose is not focused on ourselves but focused on either establishing greater roots or more fruit.

Abide, remain. Stay focused on the singular purpose set before us. You were grafted into the vine at the place you are, at this time and in this place for one thing. That one thing is your calling, your ministry, your entire purpose of existence. God needs you to abide where you are under his caring hand, to produce the fruit of his direction. For years God has been working and tending your branch for this purpose, so that when the time is right you will produce the purposed fruit needed. But this can only occur if we abide and remain when we stand where we are in Christ and stop working against him.

Look around this Meeting. Everyone you see is here for a purpose. Everyone is here for a reason. Everyone of us is grafted into the rootstock of Christ for reasons only fully known by God the Father. But as we abide and remain, we work together to bear fruit. Our stories and our illustrations of life add energy to the branch and the roots to strengthen the vine. Our devotion and our sacrifices all together make the vine stronger and the fruit sweeter. And our unity to that singular purpose will yield profit to God’s economy.

Will we abide? Will we remain in the root of Christ? Will we allow God to direct and prune our lives so that we can participate in the harvest set before us? Let us now enter this time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends. Let us abide in the root of Christ and flourish under the tender hand of God our father so that we can participate in His glory.

The Good Shepherd and the Hired Hands

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

April 25, 2021

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Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

1 John 3:16–24 (ESV)

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

John 10:11–18 (ESV)

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

When we hear a story, any story, our minds are trained to develop some mental image. For some of us the mental image is one that is breath takingly vivid. Some people can imagine in ways that movie directors could only dream of, not only in color but one could almost get the sense that you were sitting within the story. You can feel the morning dew in the grass and smell the aroma of wildflowers in the air. The people that imagine like that are usually artists of some kind. They are the ones that write books that people read for centuries, they are the ones that write poetry, the ones that paint or sculpt. The people with those vivid imaginations are the ones that have such a deep understanding of something that they are compelled to make some attempt at communicating it in a manner that the rest of us might understand. Because the rest of us when we imagine we do not see the details. The rest of us hear the words and we might be lucky if we even develop an image at all in our mind’s eye.

I want us to imagine, I want us to develop this ability to some degree because it is important. When Jesus says that we must be like children to enter the kingdom, in some ways he is speaking about our ability to imagine. The skill of imagination allows us to see beyond. It allows us to explore and develop empathy as we mentally look at things from a different perspective.

Children imagine, they do this when they play. They imagine that they are professional baseball or soccer players. They imagine they are mothers or fathers. They imagine that they are astronauts on a mission to Mars or sailor on a pirate ship. Do you remember when you used to imagine? My parents have videos of my siblings and I playing, much to my embarrassment. In those videos you can see that the imagination can create things and situations that a child must figure out some way to overcome. It is the imagination that allows us to look beyond the known into the unknown, and we can solve the problems that we face.

We must become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. We must become like children because children can imagine. They can see what is unseen. They believe in the possibility of something amazing. They believe that they can figure out some way to overcome the great obstacles set before them. Adults we struggle with this.

I want us to imagine today’s passage. But first we need to close our eyes and listen. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” What image do you see? Let that image develop in your mind and add some scenery. Jesus said these words to the religious leaders of his day. They were angry and irritated with him because he had the audacity to heal a man that was blind from birth, on the sabbath. Jesus goes on, “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and care nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”

Imagine the scene. Who are you seeing? Do you still see a shepherd or are you now seeing a crowd of angry men? Why are those men angry?

It is interesting how the imagination works. With just a few more words the entire scene changes. What we are seeing right now speaks volumes about where our mind is. When we see the angry men, we are identifying ourselves in a different place in the story. Why have we become that person?

I have been a hired hand on a farm. And often we get a distorted picture as to the personality of the hire hands from this parable. When someone hires people to assist in work, they are hiring those people to assist in the care of the entire scope of the business venture. In this parable the business is caring for sheep. Because of the wording we think of the hired hands as being cowards that see danger and run away. That is not a full picture. The hired hands were hired to help protect the herd. Their job is to help keep the flock from danger. When they see a wolf coming it is their job to get as many sheep away from the wolf as possible. They were hired for the herd not individual sheep. Their mindset is by default focused on preserving the as much of the herd as possible and the best way to do that is to avoid danger. But when a wolf enters the herd, seeking to devour the sheep, the hired hands must make a quick decision preserve some or lose them all. The hired hand must go with the greater number, preserve more and as a result they will lose some.

Jesus is speaking to the religious leaders; he is speaking to those that have been set in a place to care and preserve the congregation of Israel. Israel throughout their history has often be referred to as God’s sheep herd, so these religious leaders are the hired hands of God. They are set there to move and direct the herd to still waters and green pastures, but they are not the owners of the sheep. Do they care about the herd? Yes, they absolutely care about the herd. They are there to help keep the herd together.

These men that were listening to Jesus had just seen Jesus do something. They saw that he had worked a miraculous sign on a day that they were charged to preserve for God. As hired men, they were duty bound to move the sheep away from this dangerous act. If they did not distance themselves and the flock from this threat soon all the sheep would conclude that it would be ok to work on the sabbath. They enter a defensive mode. And they begin to sacrifice and distance themselves from those that have embraced this divisive teaching.

They, in their devotion, leave the healed man, who had never seen a spring flower bloom, behind. They removed him from the synagogue or exiled him from the community. This man who was shunned from his birth. He never once heard a kind word because people always regarded him as being sinful and cursed by God. He was excluded from the community and the moment his life changed, just when he was made complete by God, the community continues to reject him. Why?

The hired hands sensed change in the air. The hired hands noticed that the sheep were getting restless and their attention was being drawn to areas they were not leading them. The hired hands interpreted that change as being something treacherous that would cause harm to the herd, so they flee from the perception of danger. What they missed though was that the sheep were not sensing danger but the voice of their shepherd, who was approaching. Little by little, sheep by sheep begins to hear and turn. The hired hands try their hardest to keep the flock together. They are so focused on the flock, that they do not take the time to listen. They do not take the time to seek out what might be attracting the sheep’s attention. And because they fear the unknown, they instead of leading the sheep home, they lead them deeper into danger. They are unconcerned for the singular sheep, but instead more concerned with the organization.

“I am the good shepherd.” Jesus says, “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Last week Pastor Bilengana spoke about living by the Spirit and being children of God. This is what that means. We focus on the Spirit of God. We seek the Spirit of God, and we listen to that voice. This takes discipline and effort both on our part and on God’s. Jesus spoke about leaving the ninety-nine to get the one sheep that strayed, that is God’s effort in bringing us in. Our effort is to listen and abide.

In the first reading today, John told us in his letter of encouragement, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s good and see his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

To love as John encourages us to love can cause some fear. We do not know what will happen, we are laid vulnerable before people that we do not trust and do not know. When someone asks us about our faith we are faced with a dilemma; are they honestly seeking or are they mocking? When we begin to see someone, we once regarded as sinful making attempts to change, how do we respond? Do we rush in to encourage or do we step back and continue to reject them from our community? How do we respond when the world and the church seem to be at odds?

Listen to the Spirit and abide with him. John goes on to encourage us, “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our hearts before him; for whenever our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we as we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, jus as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”

What does that mean? If our heart condemns us? This means if we sense danger, if we sense that maybe evil is lurking before us, trust that God is there. Look for where God is in that place and encourage that little spark of light to grow. If we focus on that of God within those around us and contribute to that identity it will grow. And as it grows, we do not need to worry about sin because the Spirit will direct those in sin out of sin if we feed the light.

The religious leaders looked upon a man born blind with disdain and they rejected him. When Jesus come to that man and healed him the religious leaders again rejected him because the healing did not happen according to their accepted traditions. They saw danger where God was walking, and they fled from the presence of God. Jesus speaks to them in that place of rejection and tells them that he is the good shepherd that will lay down his life for the sheep. They understand fully what Jesus is implying. God is the shepherd of Israel; God is the one that will protect and lead those he has chosen from the beginning of time. He is telling these devout religious leaders, that they are missing the point. They are running away from God because they are not listening to his voice. They have forgotten to look for God in the stillness, and instead demand signs. And when they see the signs, they still run because the signs did not come in a manner they expected.

We can become distracted from God, in so many ways. Even the most spiritual among us can be distracted even while they remain disciplined in their faith. We should listen to our hearts. Listen with the very center of who we are. Listen in our weakness and listen from that place we know we failed. Listen with the strength that God has given us to overcome and listen with the strength we still seek. Listen, and then respond. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But while we were still sinner, enemies of God, Christ died for us, so that we could have life. Not just life but a fulfilling life. That life comes to us when we believe in the name of Jesus and love one another as he not only commanded but showed us to do. Let us live lives loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others.

Whispers of Restoration

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

April 4, 2021

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To read the sermon in Swahili Click here

Kusoma mahubiri hayo kwa Kiswahili Bonyeza hapa

John 20:1–18 (ESV)

1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

Today is the greatest day we as Christians remember. It is the greatest day that all humanity, if they knew, would remember. Today we celebrate the restoration of hope!

If you have followed the Daily Meeting on YouTube, you with me have walked through the final week of Jesus’ ministry before his trial and execution. On Monday, like Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus coming into the Holy City triumphantly on his barrowed donkey. Often, we think of this image as being lowly. We almost consider Jesus as being the popper’s king because he is on a donkey instead of a great war horse. This is a cultural phenomenon, we regard the donkey as something lesser and lowly, but in other cultures that beast of burden has a different significance. This donkey symbolizes peace. Jesus came into David’s city as a king of peace. But as he approached the city, as his eyes first spotted the sun’s reflection on the alabaster faced temple. He came not in victorious pride, but in tears. He was grieved over the city that would fail to recognize their day of visitation. He was paraded to the very courts of the temple, where he became incensed at the corrupt business between the religious leaders along with the bankers and merchants. After destroying the market, he attracted a crowd with his teaching. And that evening he joined Simon the Leper for a meal where tradition tells us Mary anointed his feet with oil and tears.

Tuesday, Jesus returns to the temple and challenges the teachings of the religious elites, and praises the offering given by an impoverished widow. It is on Tuesday that we memorialize the God-fearing Gentiles that came to Philip with the hopes of speaking with Jesus, and Jesus accepted them joyfully into the crowd as he gave his last major sermon.

Things begin to change on Wednesday. The religious leaders have had enough. They have been challenged in public, in the very place that they should be honored and revered. And they convince one of the disciples that maybe Jesus is not what he seems to be. We do not know what went through the mind of Judas that day. For two thousand years Judas has been held in disdain because he became the one to betray Christ. But have we spent time considering it? He was a disciple, he too said with the others that Jesus had the words of life, but somewhere along the way Jesus just was not what he expected. And on Spy Wednesday we are reminded at how easy it can be to get distracted and betray even the ones we love the most.

Thursday, Maundy Thursday, I always wondered why the liturgical churches gave it that name. On Thursday, the disciples met together in the upper room and ate the holy feast. They began to gather and Jesus steps away, removes his clothes and wraps a towel around him, and begins to wash their feet. The disciples are sitting in shock, their rabbi, the one they believe to be the king they have been waiting for took on the role of the lowest servant. And at first, they reject his offer. Peter says, “You will never wash my feet!” only to have Jesus yet again scold him saying, “If you do not allow me to wash your feet, you will have no part of me.” Peter then, like usual, goes to the extreme, asking not only for his feet to be washed but also his head and his hand. You really must appreciate the humanity of Peter. Jesus finishes this task and he challenges the disciples to understand why he did that, honestly, disgusting, task. Then he says, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” This is the Maundy of Thursday. Maundy is derived from the Latin for commandment. We are commanded to live the love of Christ with others. And after this meal Jesus goes to the garden to pray and Judas proceeds to betray the one that just washed his feet.

This takes us to Friday, Good Friday. Imagine the fear and the confusion of the disciples. Just a few days ago, Jesus was being lauded as a king, and now he was arrested. Peter tried to fight, and Jesus told him to put the sword away. They stand around listening to the conversations around a fire, Peter even denies knowing Jesus, even when one man admits that he had seen him in the garden when Jesus was arrested. And we are told that that man was a relative of the man who had his ear removed by Peter’s sword. The disciples quickly realize that they have failed. Everything they thought they knew, everything they thought they had vanished before their eyes.

Why do we walk though this week? Why do we remember these things every year? We remember because it is so easy to forget. It is so easy to get distracted by things going on around us to the point we miss the most important things. This week as I prayed, I realized just how easy it is to be Judas. Some scholars have concluded that Judas was not as bad of a man as we often depict him to be. They have studied what is known about him, even the origin of his name, and some believe that Judas may have betrayed Jesus out of passionate devotion to Jesus. They think that maybe his betrayal was an attempt to push Jesus into the role of the victorious king many believed the Messiah would be. They theorize that Judas was colluding with the religious elites not because he despised Jesus, but because he wanted them to see Jesus for who Judas believed him to be. This scares me, because it shows that in my attempts to do what I think is right, I might be betraying the one I love the most. And I need to remember. I need to remember that even when I believe I am right, I can be completely wrong.

And on Friday, as I contemplated the crucifixion. As I looked on paintings depicting that cruel and inhumane manner of execution. I was faced with the injustices that I have not spoken out against. The death of Jesus is filled with injustice of the worst sort. People justifying the taking of a life because they do not agree. Priests saying it is better to get rid of this outspoken teacher that is drawing people away from them, than to have the attention of the Romans be turned to an entire nation. To listen again to the words spoken by the Pilate, I find no guilt in him, yet to keep a riot from breaking out he sentenced an innocent man to death.

We crucified Christ. We crucified him when we did not speak up for the kid being bullied. We crucified him when we like the religious leaders at the trial of Jesus cry out “We have no king but Caesar!” We crucify Jesus when we put our nation above the person sitting next to us, or living down the street, or across town. We crucify Jesus every day, when we fail to see that of God in the people around us, and do not promote true holy justice.

Then there comes Black Saturday. This day is the hardest day. We do not like remembering Saturday. Jesus is dead and he is sealed in a tomb. But even this dark day Jesus is with us in every aspect of our humanity. From the world’s perspective everything that Jesus stood for, everything that Jesus did was a failure. He was a failure because he did not conquer, his disciples ran away, his movement was not strong enough to resist even his own countrymen let alone the might of Rome. Jesus was a complete failure in the eyes of the world that Saturday.

We have been there. We have seen ourselves as complete failures. When I was in school, I had trouble in one subject. I was regarded as one of the best students in my class in everything but this one subject. I could get A’s on every test in science, and math. I could understand the deeper meanings in literature when we read books like “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “The Great Gatsby.” But no matter how hard I tried I could not spell.

Every Friday we would have a spelling test and every Friday I would go home knowing I was dumb, and I had enough of it. One Friday I decided I would cheat so that I could finally get a good grade. Unfortunately, well probably fortunately, I am a terrible cheater. I was caught. And I went home again with an F in spelling. That was the lowest I had ever felt to that point. I thought life was going to be over. I thought that teacher would cause every other teacher to question my grades and I would be put into some sort of academic purgatory. That is Black Saturday. When we feel as if life cannot go on. When we feel we had given all we could and received nothing in return. We took a chance and the world beats us back. That is Black Saturday, we are failures, without hope.

The disciple sat in the upper room in a depressed state like I hope we never know. They had given everything they had to follow Jesus. They walked away from careers, they abandoned their reputations, they had invested in what they thought was the best future they could imagine, and that future was crucified and sealed in a tomb. Then Mary comes running to the door out of breath saying the stone had been taken away from the tomb.

You run out to the tomb and when you get there not only is the stone moved but there is no body. The linen coverings are laying where the body should be and there is something odd. The face cloth, the hood that goes over the head and is held in place with the wrappings is not with the other wrappings but is folded off by itself.

The scene is bizarre if you think about it. As I read this to prepare for today my mind was focused on that folded face cloth. It was folded. Who would take the time to show that much care to a cloth, if they were going to steal the body? And I realized that they took the time to mention that it was folded for that purpose. It showed care and kindness. It showed that there was respect. It is recorded that when “the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first,” saw this he believed. When I sat with this passage this week, my mind went to a word I had heard my grandpa utter thousands of times. Welp. It is a nonsense word basically has no meaning except well now what, or well I guess we should just get going. I read this passage and I saw that they saw the folded cloth and all I could hear was my grandpa saying welp. And it is pretty much what I think went through their heads, because in verse nine it says, “for as yet they did not understand,” but they went back to the house.

Welp. That is the beginning of hope. You realize that there just might be something else to do and you might as well get moving. They did not understand what was going on, but they could sense profundity in a simple folded cloth. But Mary stayed at the tomb.

There is something interesting about the Gospel according to John. When we look at the major stories included in John there are ten primary characters named. Five of them are men and five are women. There are debates around why there is equality in this, but I think it shows that God can use anyone even if culture would dictate otherwise. Mary is one of those women that John focuses on. And she is regarded with the same care by Jesus as the other disciples, because she is allowed to sit in with the men while he teaches.

Mary stays at the tomb and she looks inside. She knows what the Peter and John saw when they went in, but now as she gazes in, she sees two angels in white sitting where the body should have been. And these angels speak to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” The word woman in this sense is the same that Jesus used when he spoke to his mother. It is not derogatory but endearing. They are there assisting her in this moment. Attempting to help her through this state of confusion. She is there weeping knowing that Peter and John sensed that God was at work, and here she is looking at two angels and she is weeping. She cannot get her mind around what is right before her eyes. Her mind is stuck, like so often ours get stuck. The body is gone someone must have taken it, but the face cloth is folded who would do that?

She turns around, and a man is standing there. She is standing out there weeping and this man asks, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Again, this is a term of endearment not derogatory. But Mary begins to take offense, she assumes he is a gardener so she lashes out, “If you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” She is anxious, confused, and terrified. Her emotions are waging a war within her. And like us when we sense all hope is gone, we cannot see a path forward. We lash out at those that try to help. But Jesus does not take offense, he simply calls out to her by name. “Mary.”

With a word, one word the desperation is gone. The hopelessness has vanished. There is restoration.

This past week basically takes us symbolically through life in general. We have highs and lows. We hit rock bottom and can be hopeless. But with one word everything can change. That one word is your name. The name your mother breathed on your forehead as she held you in her arms as a baby. The name your spouse cherishes. The name your friends scream at you when you step off a plane. Your name. It is the word God whispers in your ear when all hope seems to be lost. This is not the end, Mary, it has just the begun.

With a simple folded cloth, we can begin to see change, and with a whisper of a name the spirit can be quickened. The world thought that they could stop him, and seal him in a grave, but God will not be tamed. He lives! And because he lives, we can look at the injustice of the world and we can speak out. Because he lives, we can look at our lives that the world may see as failure, and we can stand up again. Because he lives, we know that the story is not over, the adventure has just begun. He lives!

And Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” Let us now enter this time of open worship. And let us remember, the hope that He has restored to each of us. And let us testify to the things he has shown us so that the world can know He lives!


Meeting Times

Meal at 6pm
Bible Study at 7pm
Bible Study at 10am
Meeting for Worship 11am
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