By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
July 5, 2020
Matthew 11:16–19, 25-30 (ESV)
16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, 17 “ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
But what shall I compare this generation? This is one of the oddest statements I feel Jesus spoke, yet it is a statement that sparks my imagination. It is as if Jesus is gathering all of history to this very moment and distilling all that occurred into one single sentence. Is that something that we could do? Could we even attempt do that with the minimal history of our nation? I say minimal because in the scope of history our nation is young. The two hundred and forty-four years of our nation pales to the history seen in Europe. There is a bar in Ireland that has been in continuous operation for over one thousand years. A bar, a single business has been open five times longer than our country has been in existence. Imagine all that we have seen and heard, every accomplishment and every disaster and describing it in one single sentence.
We try to do this when we think of statements to place on grave markers. We are asked questions by psychologist, wanting us to determine how we would like the world to remember us. I do not spend a great deal of time walking through cemeteries but when I was in school one of my jobs was to mow for the township, this mowing job included mowing the various roadsides as well as one of the cemeteries. I would go out one day and ride back and forth between the various markers, and then I would get out the weed eater and would trim the grass from around these stones. I would look at the names, I would read the statements and the dates. I would wonder what disease might have swept through a community when there were similar dates. I would be saddened by the stones of children and was surprised when some of those children were the children of people I knew, yet never knew of the child. Stone after stone, I got to be familiar with these stones, I would build stories of various adventure the people may have had. And remember this would have been in the 80’s and 90’s so most of the stories I imagined were based in the computer game the Oregon Trail, so most everyone there probably died of fever or dysentery. But there were words that could be found on most of the stones: Husband, wife, father, mother, grandmother, grandfather. All of history distilled into one single statement and that statement by in large revolves around our relationships.
As I thought about this week’s passage I thought about this cemetery. I do not really know why, probably because the memorial stone is the last statement, we make to those yet living. Jesus says, “How shall I compare this generation?” How would he describe the culmination of history to that point? He says, “it’s like children calling out to their playmates in the marketplace.” I want us to stop and consider this. “I played a flute and you did not dance, I sung a dirge and you did not mourn.”
Have you ever really considered what Jesus might be saying? Jesus spoke these words as the crowds were asking questions about the coming Messiah. A group of John the Baptist’s disciple approach and ask Jesus if he was for sure the one that John spoke about. This is one of the few times we can see John the Baptist as vulnerable, he boldly taught on the banks of the Jordan, but at this moment he is in Herod’s prison awaiting his execution. He is facing death because he prophetically spoke the truth of the kingdom, and now as the time draws near, he himself is wondering if he invested his life well.
It is ok to have questions and doubt. The world around us is changes rapidly and at times it does challenge our faith. We can live our entire lives thinking we understand God, and then in a moment something happens in our life that causes us to question the very existence of the one we believed. When terrorists flew airliners into the world trade center, it rattled my life. That event started me into a crisis of faith, and I began to question things. I thought that God would protect a Christian nation, I thought we were a Christian nation, and suddenly I had to question our Friend’s testimony of peace because some people that reject the God I know are attacking us. That event started a war, a war that has been raging for most of my oldest son’s life. And as it has continued, I have gone through other seasons of doubt. The thing about doubt in discipleship is there is a place to seek answers.
John’s disciples had whole heartedly followed their teacher. They loved their teacher and their teacher boldly preached. He was not afraid to challenge those that held power in the seats of government or religion. Yet even that bold teacher had seasons of doubt because each of us have ideas about God. Each of us have a box we like to put our understanding of God into, and when something happens outside those confines, we get nervous.
“What should we compare this generation to,” Jesus asks, “it is like children calling to their playmates saying we played the flute and you did not dance, and we played a dirge and you did not mourn.” What do we see when we read this passage? Usually I imagine kids playing in the playground, but this week as I reflected on this passage, they were not playing but arguing about what they wanted to play. I see two sets of kids dividing over what they want to play some want to dance and are upset that the others are joining them and the others I guess want to play funeral and are upset that the other kids are not being serious. This caused me to think.
In life we often think in linear patterns. Meaning that there is a line stretching from one accepted idea to another accepted idea, and we fall somewhere on that line. Nearly every aspect of life that we believe we have choice in has some linear formulation. Our politics has a linear construct, education is linear, success and wealth are often measured in a linear fashion. Sometimes we call the graduated, but it is still linear. And by in large our ethics and morality are contemplated in a binary linear fashion. There are two extremes in these thought processes, and everyone falls somewhere between them on that line. In Jesus’s example the linear construct is between dancing and mourning, or celebration and sorrow.
He says how can we describe what is going on in the generation of his day, and he says it is like children arguing on the playground. Some think we need to be celebrating and others think that the world around them should be in sorrowful. John, he said came to them, he skewed to the mourning side of the spectrum. He did not eat with the socialites; he refused to drink and was even commanded to refrain from fermented drinks by God himself. Yet this man that was sent by God, announced and conceived in a manner that should have been the celebration of Israel since it was similar to the family of Abraham, and they said he has a demon. Why? He did not fit completely on their line.
Jesus comes. Even John begins to wonder if he was right in his statement that Jesus was the lamb of God, and they look at Jesus and again he cannot be placed on the line. Jesus is different than John, Jesus came eating and drinking and they called him a drunkard and a glutton. They called him a friend of sinners. The world is caught in this linear frame of reference. You must be placed on the line and if you are on the wrong part of the line you are not acceptable. And when they finally put that linear label on you, you then become the enemy of everything they regard as honorable. All human history distilled in one statement. We are children arguing about a game of dancing or sorrow. The great achievements of a society, totally disregarded, all because of a linear focus.
Jesus concludes, “Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
I like the personification of wisdom; her name is Sofia. I have this probably unholy attraction to the personifications of Liberty, Justice and Wisdom. All these personalities are represented as feminine which I find interesting, because they are also representations of the personality of the triune God. Father Justice, Liberty being the son, and wisdom as the Holy Spirit. Yet these concepts are often depicted in female form. Last night there were televised fireworks displays around, Lady Liberty. The courthouses across our nation have statue of Lady Justice, holding the scales and sporting a blindfold. But like the holy spirit Sophia, lady wisdom is difficult to grasp. I often wonder why these are always depicted from the feminine aspect of humanity, and I think it has to do with the great care required. You cannot force liberty; it must be nurtured. You can not gain wisdom by conquest it must be developed and reared over time. And justice must be balanced with mercy.
Wisdom is justified by her deeds. There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. I have a degree in crop science. I have knowledge about plants, how they function, what to do to make the best environment for them to grow. I have the knowledge, but my grandfather, he graduated from high school. He does not have a college degree, because at that time they needed him to work on the farm to feed the soldiers fighting in Europe. My grandfather has wisdom. He has years of experience. His experience and wisdom provided for his family and continued to bless through the next generations. Wisdom is taking those things we know and putting them into action. When Jesus says wisdom is justified by her deeds, he is speaking not of a linear representation of applied knowledge. Often, we think of applying knowledge in ways that will provide some benefit, but Jesus says justified by her deeds. This alludes to something greater. Wisdom is applying knowledge in a manner that will benefit all involved.
Consider some of the linear problems of today. Many environmentalist desire that we completely abandon the use of fossil fuels, and if we are honest this is not a bad idea. We know the pollution that oil can cause. But there is more to this one issue. Wisdom show us that our dependence on fossil fuels is much deeper than the vehicles we drive. Oil is used in the processing of nearly every consumer item we have today, from the packaging on our food to the carpet under our feet. Wisdom say look deeper and broader. Find different answers and ask different questions. We cannot survive today without oil, yet we need to find cleaner products. It is not linear but multifaceted, yet by my saying we should find cleaner products will often put me on the same side of a line as climate change advocates, where my saying we need oil at the moment labels me as a climate change denier.
Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds. We want easy answers and clearly defined lines. We like labels and boxes. We like to know that we are right and those that have a different opinion are wrong, but Jesus does not allow for this to happen. Wisdom is justified by her deeds. How you live your life. Our words should be reflected in what we do, and our actions should resemble the testimonies we speak. Jesus calls the generation of his day squabbling school children because they were focused too much on being right instead of doing right or performing the proper action without having the proper motive.
Wisdom is justified by her deeds. Sophia is a woman of action within a community. Nurturing and encouraging growth and mutual profit and health. She lives and works all around her community, caring for those in need, and encouraging those around her to embrace a lifestyle that is not just celebration or mourning but one of hope. Being both and more. Have you tried doing this? The answer to that question is yes of course you have because we are a caring community. We do all that we can, but often we are like John. We get trapped in some linear lifestyle where our good intentions and desires get drown out by the cries of the masses. We get tossed back and forth labeled, and often ridiculed. We try to talk our way out, only to find ourselves deeper.
Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, father, for such was your gracious will.” The things that my parent’s generation struggled with are not the things that my generation struggle with. The things I struggle with are not the same that my sons’ will struggle with. There is hope, and yes, we might not be where we should be, but we are not where we were. And I pray that our children will have more of the gospel revealed to them than was even revealed to me. With each generation there is progress and growth. With each generation there is revival even within the church if we are open to the Spirit. But are we open?
Do we hold on to the past so tightly that we cut off the circulation? Are we so caught up in our success that we cannot see the afflictions others might be facing? These are the schoolyard arguments. And to be honest they are tiring. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” We are caught in so many battles in our lives. Battle that history will probably look back on as being as ridiculous as kids arguing about what game to play. Jesus is calling us to something different, he is calling us out of that linear world of right and left wing. He is calling us to a different lifestyle. He calls us to his yoke or teaching. Which he showed us throughout his life. He calls us take up his yoke, to walk with him. Where he shares the burden and keeps us walking straight. What is this yoke? Worship, prayer, and service. Nothing else just do that. Encourage one another as we join in worship. Withdraw often to isolated places to pray. And allowing that time of pray to direct you into how to speak and act in the larger community. And as we worship, pray, and serve be willing to encourage others along the way.
I said when I began that it was as if Jesus was distilling all of history into one phrase in today’s passage. And I believe that to be true. Everything we attempt to accomplish in our life is just what he says, playground squabbles, unless we allow God to lead us in the building of the community. Are we focused in the right place and walking the proper path? And before we can attempt to answer for a collective, we, we must first focus on the singular you. Are you heavy laden?
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 28, 2020
Matthew 10:40–42 (ESV)
40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
Over the past weeks, we have had to readjust our lives. We have had to hit the reset button on society in some ways. We were and still are attempting to determine what is essential and preference. We have gone through these processes because we are at risk. There is a contagion in the world that can cause illness and we are told that the more we are out in the world the potential risk of contracting the disease increases.
We all have opinions about everything going on around us. For some of us life has not changed that much. For me, I am considered an essential worker, so I continued to work every day. To be honest I have worked more during this time. But aspects of my life did change. Albert’s school was closed, sporting events were canceled, as well as social gatherings including meeting for worship. Because of the changes that we have had to do, I have thought about the events in the New Testament in different ways.
Jesus gave the disciples the authority over all diseases and ailments, and power of demonic forces. He sent these disciples out to the surrounding communities with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the passion in their hearts. He sent them to the communities that knew them, the communities that knew who they were and what they had been doing. He sent them to the very communities that could discredit everything they said.
I do not think we fully grasp what it is Jesus did at this moment. It would be easy to go to a town in a different state and put on a show. It would be easy to go where no one knew who you were and begin to speak. It is hard to go home and live down everything you have done in the past and begin to teach your former classmates about the changes you have experienced in your life. It is difficult to go to that person you have known, and possibly hurt, and teach about redemption.
I want us to think about that for a moment. The disciples were going out into the communities that surrounded their own village. These communities were not like our city, but it would be as if you were going to every family within a mile of your house. And if that community did not receive you, then you would go to the next mile radius. Consider your neighbors, and your relationship with them. Consider the people around you in this Meetinghouse, and the people in their neighborhoods.
I have thought about this over the past few days. I have considered how my neighbors might receive me. And to be honest, I do not know if they even know I live in the house. They might see me drive away in the morning, and I might wave to them as I drive by in the evening. If Jesus were to send me to my own neighborhood, I would struggle. I have been a pastor for nearly seventeen years, and I would still struggle.
It is depressing to think about it, because our society does not promote this sort of thing. We drive to work, we drive to church, we drive to shopping centers, and we do not even think about it. Our lives are spread out, stretched tight, and we do not even realize that if one thing happens to go wrong life as we know it will collapse.
What would happen to us if we could no longer travel the extent we do? Imagine that your car broke down, and for some reason you were not able to have it fixed. Could you walk to the grocery store? Could you make it to work? Could you get to your doctor’s appointment? Would you be able to get the things that you need? The nearest grocery store to my house is just over three miles away. Imagine if you had to walk nearly seven miles to get food to eat. How would you adjust your lifestyle?
This is the reality of many people within our communities. The places to work, the places to shop, the places people need to be are often too far away. Life becomes a struggle, just to survive. The nearest grocery store to my house is three miles away. It would take the average person an hour to walk that far, an hour to shop, and then another hour to wrestle all those bags back home. Three hours just to get groceries. Now imagine going that distance with a toddler. This is what it means to live in a food desert and is the way millions of people in our nation live.
I mention this because these are our communities, these are the people that live around us. These are children in our schools, and people we see as we shop. People all around us are struggling, and this pandemic has only intensified the struggle.
Jesus is telling his disciples to go back to the communities. He tells them to stay near their hometowns. Have we ever really thought about why he tells them that?
I grew up in a rural farming community. I love my hometown. I love that I know everyone there and that they all know me. The problem with my hometown is that unless you inherit land chances are you will be forced to leave to find work. Every generation the population dwindles. When my grandfather was in school my hometown had drive in movies, a grocery store, several gas stations, a bank, and a school. Today my hometown has four gas pumps and a vending machine. All the businesses are gone and all that remains is basically a place for farmers to bring their harvest.
Every generation, even in larger cities things change. Business in one part of the city decreases because people move to another part of the city, and shop keepers that once had thriving businesses either relocate or close. There is this ever-expanding city, but the core is hollow and begins to rot.
Jesus sends his disciples to their hometowns. He sends them to heal disease and affliction, to free people from spiritual bondage. He sends them without provision and directs them to live on the hospitality of the community. He sends them to their hometowns, towns that are like many of our communities, towns that are dwindling. He sends them to those towns to change the perspective and to bring hope to the hopeless.
In today’s passage Jesus speaks not of the disciples going, but of the community that receives the disciples. “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” This might seem like a weird statement, but it is a change of perspective. So often communities begin to dwindle because they cannot see beyond themselves. They are either caught in the past or distracted by the present circumstances. Every little change threatens the status quo. If someone does something different, the entire community descends into fear because they do not know what to expect. Often the response is to demonize the ones that are instigating the change. They cannot see life from a different point of view, and often are unwilling to see how those around them might be afflicted because they are not afflicted themselves. To receive means that this community has turned in some manner. They have recognized that there is a need to readjust their life and lifestyle to incorporate what the disciples bring.
Jesus goes on to say, “The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.” This statement is one that bothers me. I have read about the prophets and usually they are not received well. If we look at the life of the prophets it is a life filled with constant struggle, because a prophet is often telling the people that if they do not repent or turn then consequences are going to follow. A prophet brings the word of God to a community, the prophet is often regarded as a threat to those in power, and those in power threaten their lives. But what happens when people listen to a prophet? Consider Jonah, he was sent to Nineveh the seat of the Assyrian empire. This was an empire that threatened the very existence of Israel, yet God commanded his prophet to go to this place to proclaim the word of the lord. When Jonah finally made his way into the city, he proclaimed that in eight days God was going to destroy the city unless they repent. Unless they turn from their current trajectory and align with God. Jonah hated Nineveh, he wanted them to be annihilated, yet they received the prophet and received the prophet’s reward. They repented, they turned and readjusted their lives, and as a result God preserved them.
The prophet is sent to plead with the people to turn to God. They cry out to the people to turn away from lives and lifestyles bent toward destruction and to refocus on the things that God values. When God preserved Nineveh, he told Jonah that he was angry about the things he did not labor for, and was upset about God having pity on 120,000 people that did not know their right hand from their left. They were unaware and ignorant, and God had pity and sent his prophet to show them a better life. Often, we are ignorant, we fail to see because we are focused on things outside of God’s desires. God cared for the people, not the empire. God sent his prophet from Israel to Nineveh.
Jesus goes on, “The one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.” Again, this is a statement on repentance and turning. Recognizing that a lifestyle that is being lived is not focused on the proper things and adjusting. And finally Jesus says, “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
These three verses are all based on some form of repentance or turning. Jesus is sending his disciples back to their hometowns, their own communities to encourage them to turn. He is sending them with the power to heal illnesses and to relieve affliction, and to liberate those that are struggling with the bondage of evil. Jesus is sending his disciples to rebuild the community. He is sending them back to their hometown to inspire them to focus on what can make them better as a whole instead of their own personal profit. Communities diminish when those within turn away and focus on themselves. Those within the community no longer seek what can help them all and instead focus on their personal desires. Jesus is encouraging the disciples to go back to their hometowns to become community builders.
He sends them with nothing. He sends them only with the power to heal, relieve, and to liberate. We often look at our communities and we think, if only I had this or that I could change the community. But God has given us all we need. What needs healing, what needs relief, what needs liberated? We can turn on the news and we are shown areas of ministry if we are willing to go. There are protests throughout our cities and some of us wonder why. Are we listening? Are we receiving and welcoming the prophets of God? I mentioned the food deserts and what we would do if we had to walk to get groceries, many of those that are protesting live in that place, are we receiving them?
This pandemic has caused us to press the reset button in society. It is forcing us to reconsider many things in our lives. We must be mindful of where we are and who is around us. We come to terms with the concept that my actions could directly affect the very lives of those around us. It is reminding us that community is based on helping those around us. Community is hospitality. Community is making a place for the afflicted to find rest. It is sacrificing oneself for the good of another. Are we listening or are we dictating? Are we helping or are we burdening? Are we encouraging or discouraging?
We have the power to heal disease, relieve affliction, and to liberate those around us from evil. We have everything we need right here within each of us to turn our world away from destruction and toward God. And it begins with offering our neighbor a cup of water and listening to what they have to say.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 21, 2020
Matthew 10:24–39 (ESV)
24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. 26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Those that follow Christ often face many struggles. Many come to Christ with the idea that by saying the sinner’s prayer all their troubles will magically disappear. It is not an uncommon thought, I, myself have often thought these things. It is difficult to not consider this thought process. Jesus himself tells his disciples that anything we ask in his name will be done for him. Each of us have faced difficulties. The pandemic we are currently going through is evidence that we still struggle in our world, even though we claim the name of Christ. When we turn on the news we are often challenged with the struggles of the world, and often we as followers of Christ are right in the middle of the conflict.
When we read scripture, the historical context often alludes our attention. We look at the words and our minds interpret those words through the lens of our contemporary struggles. This is an amazing and dangerous aspect of scripture. It is amazing because after thousands of years, the words of scripture are still relevant. Every time I open my bible, I read something that seemingly speaks exactly to the very issues I am currently struggling with. This phenomenon is why Scripture is often referred to as living, it is living because the Spirit that inspired the words is still active in our lives today. That same Spirit that inspired the Apostles to write and teach, is still just as active in our lives today as it was generations ago.
I said that reading the scripture through the lens of our contemporary struggles is amazing and dangerous. It is dangerous because those ancient authors were writing to people that lived nearly two thousand years ago. Those people lived in cultures vastly different than our own, and they had problems that we may not understand. If we are unaware of the history surrounding the words of scripture, we might miss something important, and we might make assumptions about doctrine or life claiming biblical authority that might not be accurate. We can give countless example of this. In the antebellum era those supporting the abolition of and the continuation of slavery used the same King James Bible to support their cause. Denominations that support women in ministry and those that limit the leadership of women use scripture to support their cases. We can use scripture to justify any activity we desire. Harper Lee wrote in her celebrated book To Kill a Mockingbird, “Sometimes the Bible in the hands of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of oh of your father… There are just some kind of men who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”
Scripture is amazing but can be dangerous. This has been the case since the beginning of time, because even in the garden the interaction between humanity and the serpent were based on the manipulation of the words of God revealed to them. The serpent used words out of contexts to inspire desire, and Adam twisted the words of God to control Eve which eventually led to their destruction. Adam could have waited and asked God why they should not eat of the tree, they walked together in the cool of the evening, so it was not as if God were distant. But he did not want to wait, they did not want to seek the truth from the source, instead they relied on their own understanding.
In today’s passage we meet the disciples in a similar place. Jesus had given them the authority over all illness and affliction, and the authority to free people from spiritual bondage. The disciples were amazed at this. They had the authority to do everything they had seen Jesus perform to that point. Can you imagine that? These were things beyond their comprehension when Jesus performed them, and he is now telling them to go out and do it. Jesus gave them that authority, but there is a cost.
The disciples were common. At that moment they were not yet known to be the saintly men and women we regard them to be today. The people within the communities they were going knew who they were. When Peter walked into town, they knew him as Simon the fisherman. They knew Levi, as the despised tax collector that sat at the table when they we attempting to make their way to Jerusalem, they did not know him as Matthew the gospel writer. Then there was that zealot Simon, he was going to get people killed. Jesus sent these men into the communities. He sent them out to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and that kingdom was at hand. He sent them into the communities, where the people knew them and tells them to go without any provision but to rely on the hospitality of those within the community. How many of you would be willing to house and feed the tax collector that just extorted money from you?
Jesus knew that the disciples would face struggles. He knew this because he faced struggles. Jesus went into these communities, and he began to teach. There were already established teachers in the community, rabbis that had experience and reputations. People that had spent years of their lives learning everything they could possibly learn about scripture. And Jesus comes into their town, draws a crowd, heals some people, and they know him as the carpenter’s son. They are upset. And from the perspective of those leaders they have a right to be a bit disturbed. Jesus has their community in an uproar. They have been leading this community for years and suddenly they are getting questions that they do not know the answers to. They were not prepared for this, and it is Jesus’s fault.
I, myself, have an education. I have training. I have a degree that indicates that I have studied theology, biblical studies, counseling, and several other things. There are some things that I have faced as I have been a pastor that I have absolutely no training for. How do I lead and encourage those within this meeting through a pandemic? There was not a class for this, and if there was, I probably would not have taken it because there were too many more interesting classes to take. We struggle because we are unprepared and often unaware of what might happen.
The interesting thing is that Jesus is telling his disciples that they will suffer and struggle. People they love will turn their backs on them. People they respect will seemingly oppose them at every front. People they perceive as allies will become their enemies and many of them will be in seats of power within their own religious organizations. We are often our greatest challenges.
Jesus tells them that disciples are not greater than their master, but it is enough to be like their master. Jesus is their master, he is their teacher, he is the one that has given them power and authority of disease and the spiritual realm, yet their master was accused by the religious leaders of being in league with the devil.
Jesus is sending his disciples out into the world like sheep among wolves. And he sends them saying, “have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known… And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both the soul and body in hell.”
What is Jesus saying? These are not exactly the most encouraging words that could be spoken. But the historical context is key. Remember the religious institution of Israel was probably at its greatest strength in history. They had a religious industrial complex that was the envy of an empire. People would travel three times a year to one place to offer sacrifices. And they had set this religious sanctuary up in such a way that they could not accept any currency because it needed to be sacred coins. Everyone that wanted to worship was required to convert their Roman coins into temple currency, just to be able to give their tithes. But there was a requirement for sacrifice as well. They would need perfect animals for the sacrifice. Priests would inspect each animal prior to sacrifice to determine if the offering were acceptable. If the animal did not meet the requirements it was rejected. That is ok though because you could convert more money into temple currency and purchase an animal to sacrifice that would be guaranteed to pass the inspection right there in the temple courts. Three times a year the people would participate in these holy festivals and then they would go home. When they got home there were synagogues to worship in. And these synagogues had rabbis trained in the porticos of the temple. Everything revolved around the temple.
Jesus is telling the disciples that they will not be greater than their master, but like their master. This is true even with the rabbis. They have influence because of who they were taught by, the better the school the more respect. Jesus was teaching and he did not have the proper educational background, yet he taught with authority and this set the religious world on edge. And they lashed out in words and deed. Jesus warned the disciples that it was coming, and they had already heard some of the words. They knew that Jesus did not fit the leadership mold, yet they trusted him.
Why? Jesus was not just words. He lived what he said. He would teach the disciples while they gathered by their evening’s fire and he then encouraged them to live it out in the day light. They had seen Jesus live this way. They had seen him worship in the synagogues, withdraw to the isolated places to pray, and minister to the needs of the community. Jesus was the same on the Sabbat as he was in the community the other six days of the week. His words and actions were consistent. And he says do not fear the struggles you will face.
Jesus lived a consistent life. He taught and he then proceeded to put his words in action. He proclaimed that Kingdom of God was near, that it was at hand meaning it is right around you. And he demonstrated it by restoring the lives of lepers, by healing the lame, the deaf and the blind. He called the children to him and included them among the adults. He allowed women to sit with the men while he taught, and he even said that some of the gentiles he interacted with had greater faith than Israel. Jesus said do not fear the world, because all they can do is take your life, instead focus on God. Respect the things that matter to God.
Over the past few months, I have struggled with this. I am a stubborn person. I have ideologies that I think are the best way to live. I think I am right most of the time. And I have come to a place where I do not have the answers. I cannot rely on myself. When our yearly meeting advised us to move worship to an online format, I was grieved, and I was on the board that made that decision. I sat in prayer asking how can we close and say we are living by faith? I struggle. But it is the right decision.
God cares for the lives of those around us. Not just the soul. He wants us to have an abundant life, now and in the hereafter. We can get ourselves worked up, on one aspect or another and miss the point. And that is what Jesus is speaking about. People will hate you and people will love you. Who cares? People will agree with you and people will disagree. It does not matter. What really matters is how are you living with those people during the disagreement and through the struggle?
The past few days, I have watched people go crazy over pancake mix. Pancake mix. I have watched people buy more pancake mix in the past three days than in a month. We are yelling and crying and have we ever really listened to ourselves? These past few weeks has shown me what Jesus means when he said that he has not come to bring peace to the earth but a sword. I have watched people argue over pancake mixes. It has nothing to do with pancakes, and in most cases those in the argument never even buy the questionable mix anyway. Jesus says that he does not bring peace, because people are too concerned with their own opinions. Jesus wants peace, that is why he came. He wants to give us an abundant life filled with hope, but all too often we are more concerned with our opinions than we are with the humanity of the person we are arguing with. We are more concerned with our reputation, and our heritage. Where is God in the great pancake debate?
We struggle. We find ourselves in the middle of struggles. Where is God in those struggles? For a couple of months, I have been alone in this Meetinghouse, preaching to a camera. And it has been a great deal of work. But last night I found myself longing for that time alone before the camera. I longed for it because I would sing and pray while I was setting everything up. I would listen to the service again while I was loading and editing. I would spend twelve hours a week in worship and prayer, just to get one hour of video. It is not about my opinions; it is not about my preferences. It is about God. We often want God to back our ideas, but we have not allowed God to shape those ideas with us. We have built institutions on the ideas we claim God is for, and God is nowhere to be seen. Jesus does not bring peace because we often have no desire for peace. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
We are in the middle of many struggles. How are we approaching them and how are we responding? We have been in a fast from church as we know it, have we learned anything from this time?