By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 10, 2020
John 14:1–14 (ESV)
1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. 12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
“Let not your hearts be troubled.” There are few words more encouraging than these, but all too often my heart is troubled. What does this say about me and my faith? Some might say that I do not have enough faith, that I do not trust enough. That might be true. I might need more faith; I will go so far as saying I need a great deal more faith. I do not want to stand here and lie so I am being honest with everyone listening. I am human, I have concerns and even fears. At times I can let those fears get loose within my mind and they start to take over. This happens to us all. It does not matter who we are or how devoted we might be, we are human, and we all have areas of weakness that can cause our spiritual life to spiral at times.
“Let not your hearts be troubled.” I preach mainly out of the gospels because the words of Jesus are so profound to me. I appreciate the letters of Paul and the other disciples, I agree that they have authority, but the words that are attributed to Jesus are the ones that challenge me the most. Jesus speaks these words during the discussion that he had with his disciples just prior to his arrest. He knew what was about to happen, and they like most of us had no idea as to the extent of change they were about to experience. If someone would have told me a year ago that the main form of worship that we would have over the past few months would be over the internet, I would have laughed. I knew and even embraced the concepts of having content online. I have had my sermon transcripts on my blog for over five years, and we have recorded and posted sermons on YouTube for about a year. But I never thought that there would be a portion of our existence where we would meet online for services for an extended amount of time.
My heart is troubled. I do not know what to think or expect. I have a variety of opinions rattling around in my head that are often conflicting and I am left wondering if every decision we make will be the wrong one. My heart is troubled. If my heart is troubled, that means that those around me have troubled hearts too. Each and everyone of us are living in a state of existence where our life experiences do not really dictate how we should proceed.
“Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus tells us. “Believe in God, believe also in me.” I want us to imagine this scene for a moment. The last supper, which is what this discourse was a part of, was the traditional Passover Feast. This was the meal that Jesus and the disciples had eaten together just after the celebration in the streets that we call “Palm Sunday”. The disciples go into the city and the secure a place of lodging, and they brought back with them the donkey’s colt that Jesus told them they would find. Jesus gets on this colt and rides into the city while the people cheered and proclaimed Jesus as the long-anticipated King that would restore Israel. The people cheered but Jesus rode into the city weeping, because he knew the reality of the situation. I wonder if the disciples saw the tears. I wonder if they recognized the emotional trial Jesus was experiencing at that moment. Then the religious leaders approach and demand that Jesus tell the people to be quiet, but Jesus informs them that if they were silent the rocks would cry out.
The group moves from the streets and they gather in the “upper room”. They take their various places at the table, but Jesus is not there. Jesus should have been at the place of honor, but somehow, he had slipped away, and the disciples are just wondering what to do now. Then near the door they see a figure approaching dressed as a servant and he comes to the gathered men and kneels before them to wash their feet. The twelve look at this man, it is not a servant but it is the one they and half the city had been singing praises about just moments ago, Jesus was kneeling before them about to wash their feet.
After a few choice words, the disciples submit to this anomaly and Jesus takes his proper place, but then he begins to pronounce the feast liturgy in a different way. Instead of just reminding them of their share history, he says that the wine and the bread are his body and his blood. They participate in the feast, but can you sense the discomfort that they might have had. They were excited for this day, yet Jesus is kind of being a wet blanket. He is washing feet and speaking about brokenness when he should be proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” We sometimes read this passage out of context to some degree and as a result we can look at the questions that the disciples raise with some arrogance. How can Thomas say, “We do not know where you are going,” and how can Phillip say, Lord, show us the Father.” But we often forget about the confusing day that they had just had. They lived in a world of customs and ritual. That day Jesus had basically turned everything upside down. They had to accept their Rabbi as a servant. They had to let him do to them what they should have been doing for him. And then he redefined something had had been in their history for centuries. I think it is safe to say that the questions they asked were coming from a confused mind.
But these things had to happen for them to be able to accept what they were soon going to experience. In a matter of hours, Jesus knew that he would be taken by force and begin to experience shame and injustice. These disciples were about to have everything they hoped for in their life taken from them, and everything they lived for was going to be shattered. And Jesus was there with them, he was preparing them for that moment.
He said to them, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” When we are facing those things that seem to cause our lives to spiral out of control, Jesus is encouraging us to take a step back and remember. Believe can mean many things. I have said before that there are three types of belief: knowledge, trusting, and entrusting. When Jesus is encouraging us to believe, he is encouraging us to face those situations that threaten to upset our lives and go through the stages of belief or faith. He is encouraging us to examine our lives. What do we know? What can we trust? And what areas do we need to entrust?
We all face trials of various sorts. We currently share a common trial, Covid19. Jesus is still telling us the same things, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” But how can we face this trial using these words? First, we need to recognize that our hearts might be troubled. Most of us know that the first step to recovery is to admit that we have a problem. If we do not recognize that there is anxiety in our lives how can we overcome? Ok, so we are troubled, now what?
Jesus then tells us to believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? This tells us that there is revelation. There is knowledge and wisdom available to us for the situations that we are in. Let us consider what is troubling us about our common situation. Can we find some knowledge to what is troubling us? The answer is yes. We know a great deal about the virus and every day they are learning more. If you are concerned, then read about it. I say read because those that do research write down their findings before they do interviews. If you want to know how this virus spread or the symptoms you can find what you are looking for. And once we have knowledge, we can adjust our lives to incorporate that knowledge.
God encourages us to reason and gain knowledge. To gain knowledge is just as important in our spiritual lives as anything else. But there are places where knowledge is not enough. At this point in time we do not know how to “cure” Covid19. We do not have that knowledge, yet every day researchers keep working. This is faith. They believe that they will find something that will turn the tables in this crisis. They may not recognize that they are operating in faith, but they are. They believe and hope for something unseen and that is faith.
The problem is that we do not yet know all we need or want to know. This is also troubling. How do we move forward when the things we hope for are not yet seen? I do not know for a fact that there are many rooms in God’s house. I do not know what color God’s house is. What I do know is Jesus said he is going to prepare a place. This is where the faith of the researchers and the faith of those of us within a Church might differ. In what are we placing our trust. Or to whom are we entrusting our future? I trust science, but I do not entrust my future to it. I trust modern medicine, but I do not entrust my future to it. I say this because in my life I have been told that we should not eat eggs and that we should eat eggs. I have been told to not eat butter and then I have been told that butter is ok. I have been told many things that have a great deal of scientific research attached to it, but a few years down the road I am told something different. Science is based on observation and those that observe are human. At times we might interpret things differently, or maybe we were interpreting an observation without all the information. I trust the strength and wisdom of humanity but only to a degree. There is always room for improvement. People have asked me, how I can hold onto my faith and still trust science, and my answer to that is I see God in what is still unknown.
I say this because with every bit of knowledge we gain, more questions are asked. No matter how hard we search or how much we know there is always something just beyond calling out to us. One of my favorite stories is The Last Battle, which is the conclusion of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. In this story the characters are encouraged to go further in and farther up. I have often contemplated that concept. While I was studying crop science, I found the concepts of genetics beautiful and how the coding of simple microscopic compounds could form wheat, or corn. It amazed me that the genetic code of most living things differs by only a small amount. Yet, that small variance can result in something profoundly different. The more I studied the more I found myself in awe of the concept of God. I went further in and farther up. I have read about other that have had similar experiences when they study the vastness of space. There is more and for me that more is God.
When I am faced with the trials of life, I examine with the knowledge that I have and I adjust, but in those areas that I see lacking on my part I trust the more. And I trust the life and lifestyle of Christ. I trust because I have seen that lifestyle lived out in front of me. I have watched as my parents have faced challenges in their lives, challenges that I would not want to endure, and yet they face them in faith believing that God will show them a way forward. I have watched my grandfather, and the picture on today’s slides is a picture along the road leading to my grandpa’s farm, live his life filled with joy, but knowing that there was much struggle there as well. I hope to live a life half as full as my grandpa’s. I have read about people throughout history who got to the end of their knowledge yet move forward in faith through their struggle and in their own small way changed the course of history as we know it. They did this because they believed one simple phrase. “I am the way the truth and the life.”
Jesus said those words, the evening before his arrest and trial. He said those words before his unjust execution and before his resurrection. He said those words after he had lived as a common construction working for seventeen years, and after spending thirty years within a family of construction workers. He said those word after three years of ministry where he showed us how to live a life of worship, prayer, and service to others. I have spent years examining the life of Christ, observing, and attempting to put them into practice. Jesus lived a full life within a community. He builds relationships and he struggled. He lived a life like the ones that we live. Yes, there are differences because of various advancements but life is life, our basic needs are the same. Jesus understands life. And he showed us a life and lifestyle that was different from so many in the world. He showed us a lifestyle that is abundant because it looks at the further in and farther up. But his lifestyle was not abundant in the way the world sees abundant. His further in and farther up shows the great potential within us all and even greater potential when we come together in pursuit of a common goal.
“Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says, “Believe in God; believe also in me.” He goes on to say look at his works and believe. And goes even deeper and says those who believe will do even greater things than he. We live in a world filled with trouble, but do not let that control you. Use the trouble you see to inspire you to go further in and farther up. Let it drive you to pursue a way to serve others. We see it all around us. From video conferencing applications like Zoom becoming the classroom, companies like SHIPT and Instacart delivering our groceries to our doorsteps. These innovations began as little things that troubled someone, and they came up with a solution, but there is always more. God is there in the more. His life and lifestyle are where we can find rest so we can look at the problems we face and reengage from a different perspective. His lifestyle reminds us that we are more than individuals but a community working together. And his lifestyle shows us that there is something beyond our greatest fears, there is hope.
He is the way. And as we enter this time of open worship. This period where we as Friends sit in holy expectancy and communion with God, let us consider what is troubling us. And let us sit with God and allow him to use what we know and what we hope for to move forward through the shadows of doubt and fear, as we embrace and trust the God of more.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 3, 2020
John 10:1–10 (ESV)
1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
How are we all doing right now? We are still asked to stay at home, and it is getting harder especially when weather outside is incredible. We get on the news and we see people urging the continued stay at home orders and we also see people asking for those orders to be lifted. It is difficult to know what the correct response is. It is like the old 80’s song says, “should I stay, or should I go? If I stay, there will be trouble if I go there will be double.” It is difficult to know what is right during this chaotic time, and to be honest many of the voices we hear seem to be polarizing.
I try not to speak about politics when giving a message like this because we all have our opinions, and we each come to our own conclusions using the information we have gathered. And when we listen to people that might have a different opinion, instead of considering the information they are looking at and comparing it to what we are looking at, we tend to get into a shouting match. Should we stay or should we go? Am I right or are you wrong?
I bring this up because this is what Jesus is in the middle of during this week’s narrative. Just prior to this story, Jesus healed a blind man from birth. When the disciples saw this man sitting there, they asked Jesus a question, “who sinned, that this man was born blind.” Today we might not fully appreciate the depth of this question because we live in a different era of history. We, as a society, have medical professionals that research various ailments, and find solutions to the problems. The research on these things over the past fifty years is astonishing, and every year we gain more understanding. I personally cannot understand the vastness of the advancements, but I do know that I nearly died because of the Chicken Pox and now neither of my sons will have that disease because of the advancements in medicine. But this man was born blind, and in the perspective of the first century person, there must be a reason for this to happen: either the man sinned or the man’s parents sinned to such a degree that God cursed him in such a manner.
We might laugh at the superstitious ideology, but we should stop because we still do this today to some degree. We still ask questions like, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Most of the people that I interact with outside of the church that oppose my perspective in life, general use that one questions to deem faith as illogical. Their argument is that if there is a good and loving God, how could something like this pandemic happen? And to be honest any answer we could give to this question will never be enough because I am asking it too. I do not know why. All I do know is that it is happening to us and it is happening because of us in many ways.
Well in the story, Jesus’s disciples asked that question that we all ask in some form, and in the area were teachers and leaders that held various opinions and taught those opinions to the people. These opinions, like many of ours were vast. They would range from the man sinned before birth somehow, maybe he dishonored his mother in some embryonic thought that we could not know but it was deserving of God’s wrath. While another view might be that of fate. Another might think that the man was born blind because the parents did not offer the proper sacrifices. Just like today, for every situation there were any number of opinions. The problem is that each of those opinions were so caught up in trying to determine which one was right that they totally distracted from the fact that there was a blind man from birth that had been living in their community, and that blind man was still a human being.
Jesus answered those in that debate by simply saying that this man was born blind so that the glory of God could be shown. Think about that answer for a moment. Those words are both encouraging and enraging, but there is something there that is profound. We suffer, but how are we living our lives through the suffering?
Well because Jesus said that the man was blind so that God could be glorified and then healed the man, a greater debate ensued. Who is Jesus and who gave him the authority to do what he is doing? The religious leaders brought in the poor formerly blind man and demanded answers. They were so caught up with being right that they missed the especially important fact that this man’s condition was such, so that God would be glorified. They were angry because their power was threatened, their standing within society was hindered by someone outside of their social class. They were blind to the fact that both they and Jesus was urging the man to give God the glory for the things He has done, because it was not done in the way that they thought was proper.
This is where today’s passage comes in. It was after the great debate surrounding the healing of the blind man from birth. Jesus told them, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” The religious leaders took great offense to this because they perceived correctly that Jesus was calling them out, he was calling them blind to the truth of God.
In today’s passage Jesus explains why he was saying those things. He explains it in terms of the world surrounding them. He speaks of a sheepfold, of shepherds, and livestock thieves. I have a basic understanding of this story because I grew up on a farm. I have cared for livestock and I have had to make sure those animals were protected. While I was in college, I would wake up at four in the morning to feed the cattle, drive to class for an hour to get there at seven in the morning, then I would attend classes till four in the afternoon, only to come home to gather the cattle back up and fix the fences that they had broken through while I was away. Animals require care. I raised cattle, not sheep, and cattle are more independent than sheep. The amount of care that I gave to cattle is minimal to the amount of attention that was required for sheep. And this would be even greater in ancient times when there was not the luxury of our modern fencing.
Sheep would be taken out every day to the surrounding wilderness to graze. Someone would be given the job to make sure the sheep would be cared for, leading them out to the pastures, leading them to water, leading them back to the place of safety at the end of the day. The sheepfold is that place of safety. The fold was an area where some sort of wall was built to gather the sheep in during the night. They built these folds because at night when the shepherd was asleep, predatory animals would stalk the herd, and try to get one animal separated from the others so that they could eat it. But animals were not the only predators on the prowl, there were also humans that would prey upon a sleeping shepherd and make attempts to merge some of your sheep into their herd. To help protect your flock families and villages would build these walled areas. Shepherds would lead the sheep from one to another, allowing the sheep to graze on the land in between. They were built in the wilderness and they were built on the edges of communities. And they would protect the sheep from the wild beasts and would help prevent the thieves from stealing, because now the thief would have to physically lift a sheep over the wall to steal it.
The ancient shepherd would lead their sheep into these folds, and at times there would be several flocks in one sheepfold, allowing each shepherd to have a bit more rest because there was one gate that needed watched. In the morning each of the shepherds would go to the gate and call out to their sheep. These sheep since they were so accustomed to following their shepherd, they knew his voice, and they would rise and follow only their shepherds voice. There could be several different shepherds using one sheepfold and the moment the shepherds would talk their sheep would approach only their one shepherd. Each shepherd would use their own manner of speech, they would have their own call that would attract the attention of their sheep.
There is a bond between the sheep and the shepherd that is developed over time. For all the daylight hours they hear one voice, urging and pleading with them to follow. And if these animals are like the ones that I raised they might have heard a few words of frustration too. Little tones in the words might prompt a sheep to pick up their pace, or to turn to the right or left. But there is a language that is developed over the time, a language between the sheep and their shepherd. When used outside the relationship it sounds ridiculous and idiotic, maybe even frightening.
Previously Jesus said that the leaders of the people were blind, now he is saying that they are not speaking in the tones of the shepherd. They are speaking with a different voice. They are using their voice to garner power over the sheep instead of leading the sheep. A thief does not lead the sheep, they do not call the sheep, the only way for a thief to obtain the sheep is to physically move the sheep by force, or to distract a sheep from the others. The distraction can be in many forms, but primarily they entice the sheep using the sheep’s own appetite. But why would one want to steal the sheep?
A shepherd builds the flock, a shepherd cares for the flock, but a thief is looking only for a quick return. The shepherd is concerned with a long timeline, where the thief is focused on something right now. Once they have the sheep, they are moving that animal to a market of some sort. Jesus says that the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, but he came to give life more abundantly.
I have thought about that final verse of today’s passage often. The word abundantly just grabs our attention because we live in a consumer culture. I like the thought of having more. This is not exactly what Jesus means. When I was a child, my dad took me to my grandpa’s house, and we looked at the cattle. He and my grandpa told us to look at the cattle and pick the one we thought would be the best mommy cow. I do not remember how old I was at the time, but I know I was young and still in elementary school. I looked at all the cattle and I found the one I like the most, it was the only one that had spots and the color was also distinctive from the rest. My dad, then unloaded a steer from a trailer and we loaded up the cow. This cow gave birth to a calf, when it gave birth to a bull, I would trade it for a heifer, and if it gave birth to a heifer, I kept it. Eventually I had a herd of my own. This herd was capital I used to obtain my education. This is the difference between a shepherd and a thief. The shepherd builds with a goal in mind. Carefully tending so that there is an increase for the future. The thief consumes, lives for the moment.
Jesus wishes to give us an abundant life. When we look at that word from a consumer mindset, we think of blessing now. God will give me wealth, health, fame, and power. This is the mind of the thief, instant gratification. Yes, God might make some immediate changes in our life, but still struggle. Jesus speaks of an abundant life in different terms, it is a change of lifestyle or focus. It is training our hearts and minds to listen and look deeper and wider. It is trading a bull for a heifer so that the herd grows.
Jesus spoke these words to the leaders of the people. He is telling them that the sheep will hear the voice of the shepherd and follow him. The shepherd is the God that everyone in this story claims to follow and the voice could be the words of scripture. There is something powerful in this, because after numerous wars, after countless quests to eliminate the children of Israel both in ancient and modern history, they remain. When we look at the words of scripture, we can see some profound things regarding society and healthy living. The dietary laws if followed promote a healthier lifestyle, that medical science and prove, yet they were given thousands of years before we even knew of heart disease. The law of God promotes abundant life because it is a long-term focused lifestyle. Jesus did not dismiss that law, but he called the leaders out on how they were manipulating it. They were twisting the words of God to satisfy their appetites and to gain power and influence over the people. And the words that once promoted life, became instruments of oppression. What was once good lead to coercion as well as apathy both were working together to destroy the lifestyle of God with us, because the focus was instead on us.
Jesus came that we may have life and have it more abundantly. He is God with us. He came born of Mary, so that God would be with us in every aspect of life. He grew up in a community with us. He grew not only physically but in wisdom and knowledge just like every child. He had a career, becoming a master in his trade. And after thirty years he began his ministry. Jesus came to show and teach us what life with God looked like. His complete life speaks the fulness of God. And when he says that he is the door or the gate he is telling us that he is the way because he is God with us. And he proved this through his life, death, and resurrection.
Jesus is the gate to the abundant life, and he is calling us to join him in that life. The world is out there arguing about staying at home or going out again to work, and Jesus is calling us to listen to his voice. Are we listening or are be being distracted? The abundant life starts right here. It begins when we turn to Jesus and respond to his lifestyle of worship, prayer, and service to others. Maybe this is just what we need to do: Worship, pray and be of service to others. Maybe we have been so focused on abundance that we have put ourselves in a position where plague was bound to happen and God is calling us to a different life, a life of less but more.
As we join in the silence, I encourage us all to consider how these times we are living through could be for the glory of God. And consider how we can participate in the abundant lifestyle of Christ even in a time of social distancing. Let us now take time away from the distractions of the world so we can focus on the voice of our good shepherd and become a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
April 26, 2020
Luke 24:13–35 (ESV)
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. 28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So, he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
This has been a time filled with the unexpected. When I have been at work, it is as if something has changed every day regarding how we will do things. At first, I got on well with these changes but eventually those changes began to weigh me down. I began to get frustrated, and soon found myself reacting in ways I normally would not. This is how life often is, and when there is a pandemic around us, it only intensifies the uncertainty.
Our lives can be described in many ways, if you read epic poetry, they might compare it to a quest to win some conquest or find some magical relic that will make all the struggle seem disappear. In musical lyrics it has been likened to a highway, well at least AC/DC said something about a highway leading somewhere. Life has been called a journey, an adventure, and many other artistic references. I think this is a good thing, even scripture makes references like this. Jesus would say that broad is the road to destruction and narrow is the pathway that leads to life. Life is a journey; it is a road that we must traverse. And just like any road, journey, pathway, or quest there are challenges along the way.
Today we meet some disciples along a road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They are literally on a journey with a beginning and a destination off in the distance. They are walking along this pathway in a deep discussion. Then as they are walking along a third person joins them in the journey and joins in the conversation.
This is one of my favorite narratives during the season of Easter. And I think that is a favorite of many since there are entire ministries revolving around it called Walk to Emmaus. We can identify with this story because we have all been on a journey of some sort.
Maybe you have taken a road trip with the family. Some of my greatest memories have been made on the road, this is probably because I grew up in the middle of nowhere, so just going to the grocery store required the entire family to load up and drive for miles. But let us imagine we are on a trip. These men were walking seven miles, this does not sound like a great distance to us, but that is because we do not walk. The average person walking at a moderate pace generally walks at a speed of three miles per hour, so to travel seven miles it would take most people around two hours and twenty minutes to walk the distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus. There are other factors that would play into this of course, the terrain could cause a variance to this time, the weather, or even who you are walking with. They were talking as they walked, and I am sure they probably paused a few times as the discussion got deeper, so let us just say it took them three hours. How far do we travel in three hours? I currently live in Kansas City, so I wondered what interesting things we could do if we were to travel three hours.
Google is an amazing tool we have available to us. I searched, “3 hours from Kansas City” and the first thing that came up is an article, “19 Spontaneous day trips that are less than 3 hours away from Kansas City – Narcity”. Because I am curious and right now, I like everyone else have put travel on hold, I looked. The first on the list is Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area. This is probably a great place to go at night because it has the lowest light pollution near the Kansas City Metro, so you can get a good look at the stars. Then just under 3 hours away we could see Coronado Heights Castle in Lindsborg, Kansas. This site is allegedly where Francisco de Coronado gave up his search for the seven cities of gold and returned to Mexico, they came to this conclusion because they found Spanish chain mail in the area around this hill, but the castle itself was built during the Great Depression as a WPA project. Also, within the 3 hour mark you could travel to Ha Ha Tonka State Park and check out rock formations and the Ha Ha Tonka Castle Ruins, or drive to the Mushroom Rock State Park in Kansas. But my favorite thing to see in this three-hour window of travel is the Konza Prairie. This native tallgrass preserve is filled with natural beauty and some of the best sunsets in the world. Why am I giving a travel report, maybe it is because want to get out and about, but its also to let us know that there is much to see in our area.
We do not often see the beauty around us because our journey through life is often filled with chaos. We work hard most of the week and then when we have a day off, we fill that day away from work with work that we were unable to get done around our houses due to work. Our lives are distracted by tasks that need to be finished, projects that we have put on hold, sporting events and school or church functions. We are busy most of the time. We move from one thing to the next with little time between, and because our schedules are so full, we blow up in fits of rage when someone drives too slow on the interstate. Have we ever wondered why someone driving the speed limit could set us off like a bomb?
The men in the story are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, they are deep in conversation. They are distracted by the gossip and news. They were taking this journey and were unable to recognize the man they were walking with, because they were more concerned with spreading the latest headlines than getting to know the person. Can you see where we might be able to identify with these men?
We live in a culture that has been on the go for far too long. The drive thru restaurant is no longer a convenience or a luxury but a necessity. For many of us to stop what we are doing to cook a meal is often not something we can do. If we did not go to drive thru, we would not be able to eat as we go from job to job, or event to event. This says a great deal about our culture. We are too busy. As much as I dislike the various state issuing stay at home orders, these orders and this past month has taught us all some good lessons that I hope we will not forget as those orders are lifted.
We are busy. Our bodies are surviving on adrenaline and energy drinks. We have a constant barrage of news clips that we consume without end. We know more about what is going on in our world and yet we do not know our neighbors. And I am guilty of this more than anyone. I have three jobs. I am lucky to eat a meal with my family and often that meal was in the car as we drove to a practice or event. The orders to stay at home, have stopped many of those events and as a result we have eaten together more. We have not been rushing from one event to another but enjoying a board game together. This is good, not just relationally but physically. When our bodies are constantly running on high gear, our brains do not always function to the greatest capacity. We respond without thinking over things, and usually the decisions we make at that moment will have an unintended consequence in the future.
These men went from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They left after the women announced that Jesus had risen, and the tomb was empty. They did not take the time to process the idea or the reality because they were on the move. Your friend dies, you stay for the funeral, but when you hear that the tomb is empty you do not stay, but instead you go for a two-and-a-half-hour walk?
This story causes me to examine my own life. Jesus was right there walking with them. He was even interpreting the scripture with them, yet their minds were so caught up in everything else going on around them that they could not see what God was doing right there in front of them. I am right there. I am that guy. I hate to admit it but at times it is even hard for me to pray. This is why I, for the most part, have stopped watching the news or listening to the radio. People look at me like I am crazy. But it is true. I found that I was getting so worked up about everything that I was losing track of the most important things. I could not go for a drive with my wife for ten minutes before I started complaining about political subjects or worrying about how something would affect us. I realized that my arguments, my opinions in the larger scheme was often driving a wedge between the people I cared about, because I was not taking the time to listen to them. I could drive three hours and never once notice the sun set in front of me, because I was too busy.
Yet where is Jesus? They are focused on the news, they are hurrying to the next town for some reason, maybe fear, maybe they just could not justify staying with the disciples if their leader had been killed so they went back to work. We do not know why they went to Emmaus but something they perceived to be important took them there. They were on their way away from the gathering of the disciples, and where was Jesus?
We do not always know why people are doing the things they do. We do not know unless we walk with them and listen. We do not know what is going on when they get home, we do not know what bills they must pay, we do not even know if they are healthy or not. We may even ask how they are doing, but if we leave it there all we will know is that they are fine. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that nearly half the American population will struggle at some point in their lives with some form of mental illness, we are not fine. But where is Jesus?
Where is God when we are struggling to figure out how we will make rent? Where is God when a loved one is sick? Where is God when an act of violence occurs in our neighborhood? Where is God when people are starving in our communities and restaurants are throwing food in dumpsters? Where is God when we are moving so fast through life we cannot even laugh around the table?
Where was Jesus in this story? He was walking with the men to Emmaus. Let that just sit in your thoughts for a moment. Where was Jesus? There were countless other places where Jesus could have been at that moment. If it were up to me, I would have booked an appearance at the gates of the Temple, or maybe reserved a table to share a meal with the Chief priest and the Governor. But that is not where Jesus was. Jesus, just hours into his new glorified resurrected body decided that the place he needed to be was taking a three hour walk with some friends to Emmaus. It is almost absurd when you think about it.
It is absurd but it is important. Who are we? There are not many people that know who I am. Very few people really know what drives me or inspires me. If I am going to be honest, I would have to say that even my wife does not know what is causing anxiety in my life right now. And if I really want to be totally honest, I do not even know what is causing anxiety in my life. How could I and how could you because each of us is rapidly going from one place to another. We are just insignificant people in a population of billions. I am not influential, I am not famous, people do not even pay to read the things that I write. I am just a simple pastor in a small church, that works two other job to provide for my family.
These two men were not the apostles we read about in the book of Acts; they were not members of the twelve. They were friends, but they were down the list. They were invited to the events Jesus hosted, but it is like a general invitation like the one’s kids give at school. These two men were played a minor role in the ministry of Jesus. Yet, Jesus walked with them from Jerusalem to Emmaus. This shows us something about ourselves and God. It shows us that those that play minor roles are often more important than the ones in the spotlight.
We are each facing struggles in our journey through life. Maybe we are afraid that we might be infected by the virus and we would be the one that the hospital would not have room for. Maybe we are worried about our finances as our retirement savings shrink or our job was deemed non-essential. Maybe our only struggle is our schedule. We struggle through life, the pathways we travel are not easy. But Jesus walked with two minor disciples from Jerusalem to Emmaus, he walks with you as well. He listens as you ramble on about whatever is on your mind and he patiently waits until you are in a place to hear him speak and at that moment, he will reveal the wisdom of God to you. He walks with us through the struggle, he is right there with us even if we do not recognize him.
Everyone around us in on a journey, they are battling through their own personal quest. We do not know what it is, and we may even wonder why they are continue pursuing the life they have chosen. Maybe that person is a close friend, a child, or a coworker and we are looking at their lives as they struggle through wanting to help but not knowing how. Jesus is walking with them and he is walking with you. We do not need to provide an answer to every question they have, we do not need to defend every attack that they might make against us, just walk with them as Jesus walked with his friends. As we walk together, there might be a moment where we can share and they might listen, but that is not the reason we walk, we walk because we care.
These two men did not know who Jesus was as they journeyed down the road. They shared and they listened, and they shared a meal with this stranger that walked with them. It was only when Jesus shared a meal with these men that their eyes were open to the truth that was already before them.
We are called to make disciples. This be many things, but distilling it down to the purest form possible, we are called to walk with others through life showing them the life and lifestyle that Jesus has given and shown to us. We are called to worship with our community, withdraw to pray, and minister to the needs of those around us. We are called to love God, embrace the Holy Spirit and to live the love of Christ with others. How do we do that? We walk, we listen, we share, and we eat. We do all we can to give a bit of rest to those around us caught in the high-octane life of busyness, so that they can catch their breath and reenter their life’s journey with a fresh perspective.
As we enter this time of Holy Expectancy or communion in the manner of Friends, I encourage you to take some time to step away from the busyness you feel, take a break from scrolling through Facebook and reading about news of the world, take a break and just be silent. As you wait you might notice thought racing through your head, let them pass by. You might find yourself focused on one thing as you sit, is it something you fear pray that you will overcome, is it something you see as a need explore that with God. The silence is not just a space of emptiness, it is the place along our journey where we stop and allow Christ to speak as he walks along side us. Join us in this time of silence, listen to what is revealed in it, and then return to your journey. Those two disciples walked to Emmaus that day, they ate with Jesus that evening, and after they had at they ran seven miles back to Jerusalem because Jesus had given them a different journey to travel, they were called to act, they were called to share their story. Let us now embrace the Spirit in prayer so that we can live the love of Christ with those around us throughout this week.