By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
January 24, 2021
Mark 1:14–20 (ESV)
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” 16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
Again, we meet Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. The beginning of his revelation to us. He is just beginning to reveal the mystery of who he is and why he is here. Can you imagine what that might have been like? The people all around you eager for something to happen. There are some that are waiting for the warrior king who will come to push back the forces of Rome so that Israel will emerge once again as an independent nation. Then there are the people that are not necessarily opposed to Roman rule but are eagerly waiting for the Priest that will guide the people of God back to the spiritual fold of God. And some just want to hear the voice of God through a Prophet like the days of old. Prophet, priest, or king. Israel is eagerly waiting for something to happen, yet they are unsure of what it might be.
Some of the people remember stories that their parents had talked about the strange things that happened when they were younger. They remember the stories of that priest that had been visited by an angel when he was serving in the temple and was unable to speak until his formally barren wife gave birth and the name of John was given. They remember hearing about the magi from Persia coming into their little province, speaking about a star that they had seen in the sky and how they were there to find the King of the Jews. They know people who had experienced the sociopathic fit of Herod when he sent the troops out to Bethlehem and slaughtered the innocents. They remember how their relatives mourned when they looked back at that day. They remember the stories, but those stories happened a lifetime ago. Their parents were excited for the Messiah, but thirty years have gone by. Nothing has changed, they traded the cruel rule of Herod for governors sent from Rome. The tension is pulling tighter, and the people seem to be dividing even more.
Then something changes. There is a man preaching on the banks of the Jordan. He is wearing the garments of a prophet and he is crying out to everyone to repent. Crowds are gathering and this lunatic of a preacher is making the religious leaders nervous. And he is making the political authorities nervous as well. The excitement that your parents once had is beginning to build again. Could it be the one? Could this be the messiah? Could this really be happening?
The excitement is again building around the nation. This preacher cries out in the wilderness, and some ask are you the one we have been waiting for? He stops what he is saying as the question is asked and he stares out at the crowd. There is a hush, there is a holy anxiety that is building among all present and they listen even closer. And they hear the preacher laugh. Everyone looks at him in confusion, he had just called the religious leaders a brood of vipers, he had told the roman soldiers and the tax collectors to stop exploiting the people, he had basically told everyone listening that they were not worthy of the name Israel. And when people ask if he is the messiah he laughs, and he says “No, there is one coming. One who even I am unworthy to touch his shoes. I baptize with water; he will baptize with the spirit and fire.”
Everyone again begins to experience this righteous anticipation and anxiety. If they believe John, and believe him to be a prophet, and even he is unworthy of the one to come where do they stand? This goes on for days, maybe even months. Scripture does not give us a clear picture of how long John was out preaching in the wilderness, but we know that he was there long enough to attract the attention of all the wrong people if he was hoping to live a long and healthy life. But at some point, John began to direct his attention to something. A man would walk by and John would stop talking for a moment and just gaze at this man in wonder. Those that had become disciples of John, followed their teacher’s eyes and they saw the man. They recognized him as one of the laborers that had come into the area to do some work. Maybe he had been called to this area to work on the synagogue in Capernaum that a God-fearing soldier had donated renovation funds to. Some of them had conversations with this man. Some had even followed him to see where he lived. Because every time this man walked by John’s posture changed, and some of the disciples that had been closest to John had heard John mutter behold the lamb of God.
I want us to just imagine what that scene might have been like. Imagine the tension that might have been felt in and around Jerusalem. Imagine the years of anticipation, the heart ache, the arguing among the various factions within the religious community. And imagine the oddity of a carpenter or stone mason, causing a hush to come over a fire and brimstone preacher in the wilderness.
The mystery of Christ is layered. He was not someone that would attract attention, yet he attracted attention. He was common, and yet those that spoke to him were drawn deeper. The people of Israel had a righteous anxiety building. They were listening to John, and then all at once it was over, he was arrested. He was taken into a cell where his voice could be silenced and the threat, he posed to the ruling class could be minimized. You had put your faith in a man and it did not pan out. What do you do?
For thirty years the people of Israel had experienced a revival of sorts. And every time they began to get their hopes up life crashed down around them again. What will they do? They go back to what they know.
We all do this for various reasons. For some the stress of life has been weighing them down so they stop what they are doing, they step down from positions and they seek out a simpler lifestyle. I have done this a few times. I have moved up in the hierarchy of businesses and have realized that I had moved too fast and I was not ready for the struggles I was facing, so I step out. It is not always a bad thing. But then there are times we turn our backs on life. We get into a mindset that the world is stacked against you and instead of facing the challenges, we walk away. We walk away because of ignorance or maybe defeat. We step back not to examine a path forward, but we step out to avoid the unpleasantness of life.
Last week in John’s gospel account we saw Peter and Andrew, as well as Philip and Nathanial interacting with Jesus prior to him starting his ministry. Andrew follows Jesus to where he was staying, and Philip walked with Jesus on his way to another town. Jesus met them where they were, and he encouraged them in that place. Today we do not see these people in the same place they once were. John the Baptist had been arrested and with that arrest the excitement began to wane. The fishermen go back to their boats.
But something strange happened. This man that caused the Baptist to pause began to pick up at the place John left off. He picked up the message but there was a twist. John said that the time was near, but this man says, the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand.
The first words of Jesus’s ministry excite me. “The time is fulfilled…” What comes to mind when you hear those words? For me I get a sense of anticipation. The time is fulfilled… something is about to happen, everything is in place, and whatever we were waiting for is about to start.
Then the second phrase, “and the kingdom of God is at hand.” Time is fulfilled, and the kingdom is right within our grasp. Jesus is not saying that there is something coming, he is saying, the thing you have been waiting for is right here and right now. I think we often miss this as we read through scripture. We as followers of Christ, often regard the kingdom as something off in the future, but Jesus is saying the exact opposite. What we desire the most is right here, we simply must reach out and it is not off in the future, but it is right now.
He goes on to say something like John, he calls for those that are listening, to repent, or to turn around. To repent is to stop what you are currently doing. Stop moving along the path you are currently on, turn, and take a different route. Repent and believe.
Believe. We miss the depth of this word. Often when we think of the word believe we assume that it means knowledge, but it is more than knowledge. It is trust. Jesus is calling us to turn, to stop looking off in a future realm because time is fulfilled and the kingdom is all around us, and to trust. We struggle with this form of belief. We are perfectly fine with the concept of knowledge, but to trust is much deeper than many of us are comfortable with.
Trust the gospel. John the Baptist has just been arrested, and Jesus steps up and says these words. John focused on the one to come, and Jesus is telling those that will listen to stop and look around us. What is going on around us?
There are plenty of things going on. Disease and riots. Divisions that threaten to rip our communities apart. We cry out to God to come and take us out of this deepening world of sin and vice, but do we trust? When we look at what is all around us are, we seeing what God sees?
Jesus speaks these words, and he walks away. His first sermon is one run on sentence, that directs our attention to the present work to be done. Why those words at that time?
Jesus leaves those words of trust hanging on the edge of the cliff. We do not know who was listening to this first sermon, but it challenges them. In what or in whom are we putting our trust in? Are we putting all our trust in the works and the minds of mankind, or are we trusting that God will lead us to where we should be? This is a difficult thing to consider. Because there are many factors involved. Should we fully disregard the things that mankind has developed? Or should we use the knowledge that we have to move forward in the future?
Jesus just leaves us to wrestle with this. He walks away. And we find him not on the banks of the Jordan, instead he is walking along the shore of the sea. And as he walks, he sees some of those people who were once devoted to the message of John. These men had gone back to what they had known before, they are out on the boat casting a net.
Once they are finished with what they were doing, and come into shore, Jesus speaks to them. He speaks in the vernacular of the fisherman. He says, “follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” I want us each to rest on this statement.
The kingdom of God is at hand, time is fulfilled, and fishers of men. Why is Jesus using such cryptic language? The concept of hooks and nets in the old testament is negative. It speaks of trapping and ensnaring people, and those that are caught are destroyed. But there are other types of nets, like a safety net for the performers at a circus. These nets are not there to destroy but to save.
The time is here, the kingdom is around us, and God is urging us to turn and trust. And he is telling us who and what we should be looking at. John cried out in the wilderness proclaiming that Israel was not worthy because of their sin, and Jesus is urging us to engage the world, engage the world so that we can lead people away from destruction and toward a relationship with God with us. Jesus is telling those first disciples, if you follow me you will see a shift of focus and that shift will change the way we see and act.
As we approach this week, I encourage us to pray that we will see the world through new eyes. That we will see with the potential of God, instead of the weakness of our bodies. Let us trust that God will do work in our communities through us if we are willing to turn.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
January 17, 2021
John 1:43–51 (ESV)
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
We are currently in the season of Epiphany in the church calendar. I know that Friends do not traditionally follow the liturgical church year, but I do find it to be helpful in my personal spiritual life. I like to walk with Jesus and his disciples through Jesus’s life and ministry, and the church year helps me do that. There is something profound when the seasons all around us, at least in the northern hemisphere, speak to the conditions of our own hearts. During the darkest days of winter, we celebrate the birth of Christ the light of the world that overcomes the darkness. When spring comes, we celebrate Easter, just as the world begins to bloom, we are reminded of the resurrected and glorified life of Christ. But this is usually where the free or non-liturgical churches stop. We forget about the long and hot days of summer and how they speak of the trials within our spiritual life which is the longest season of the year also known as ordinary time. Its ordinary because that is where most of the work is done, in pre-industrial societies it was during the summer when the when crops were tended and animals were led out to graze. And in the church, it is during the summer where we are reminded of the long processes of living the disciplined life and expanding influence of the church.
But there are a couple of other seasons not yet mentioned, the transition season. During the fall we have the gradual decline of the weather meteorologically, and this is highlighted in the church calendar with the ending of the ordinary time and the beginning of advent. The despair and longing for the coming messiah. Then as the days first being to get longer we have the season of Lent where we prepare ourselves for new life. Those are the major seasons of the church, but there are a few others. Some that last only a short time like Pentecost, which is the season between spring and summer which reminds us of the emerging church as we begin to get back outside to enjoy the warmer weather. And then there is this season of Epiphany what do we make of it?
Epiphany is hard. It is the time just after the joy of Christmas. The beauty of the holiday has past, the winter is set in and we do not want to get out. We start the new year during the season of Christmas, and when the new year comes, we are filled with great ambition. We set goals for ourselves. Things like: “I’m going to eat healthier,” or “I am going to read through the bible this year,” or maybe “I am going to finally kick some bad habit that I have been struggling with.” We set these goal or resolutions and in just a few short weeks, we have already forgotten them. That is the struggle of this season. The season of Epiphany focuses on the time of Jesus’ life that we do not really know a great deal about. We have great stories surrounding the birth of Christ, but we do not get much after that until he is approximately thirty years old. We get a few glimpses into what went on, like Jesus going to the temple and staying there when his family leaves, and the presents that the Magi bring when he was around two years old. But what else is there? We do not know. Jesus obviously lived a full life; we just do not see it in the pages of scripture. But we know that Jesus was still Jesus during that time. He lived within a family and community. He worked and he grew. He learned and he participated in the teaching and encouragement of those within the community. We know this because it was during this time Jesus developed his lifestyle that became the rhythm of the life we see in the pages of scripture.
Epiphany is the season of discipleship and discipline. It is the season of learning and testing. It is the season where we begin to see who Jesus is as a man and as God with us. It is during this season where the word of God is revealed. Because that is what Epiphany means, it is revelation and insight. We get to know God with us during this season. We begin to see and hear what Jesus is about, and we begin to take that walk with him. It is during this season that our journey begins.
Our passage today is early in Jesus’s ministry. Really, we could say that it is before Jesus begins his ministry. In the verses prior to today’s passage, we have John the Baptist’s ministry and testimony of Jesus. And we have the first invitation to the disciples. It is interesting to read these passages because we get a glimpse of the humility of Jesus. John is out on the banks of the Jordan screaming for Israel to repent and Jesus just walks by minding his own business and the screaming preacher stops talking for a moment and says almost in a hush, behold the lamb of God. And as Jesus is walking, he finds a couple of John’s disciples tagging along behind him. He walks and looks back and there they are. He walks some more and looks back again and they are still there. He finally asks them what they want, and they have this amazingly profound answer, “Rabbi where are you staying?”
At this point in time, Jesus, as far as anyone knew, was just an ordinary construction worker. He had not yet begun his ministry. He was just a man that was working with his relatives as a skilled craftsman as he had done for the past seventeen years. John called him the lamb of God, and these two guys just decided to follow him because if this man could silence John, he must be impressive.
But the invitation is interesting. He does not preach to them. He does not give them some formula to become his student. There is not an application processes, where they must meet certain requirements. They want to know where he is staying and Jesus simply tells them, “come and see.”
The next day, Jesus does not go back down to the Jordan where John is at, instead he travels north into Galilee. While he walks, he meets a man named Philip. We do not know how long they walked and talked with each other. We only know that Philip was from the same town as Andrew and Peter. And that Andrew and Peter had spoken with Jesus the previous night. What we do know is Philip, according to John’s gospel, was the first to be officially called to become Jesus’s disciple. Andrew and Peter were invited to come and you will see, but during the conversation that Philip had with Jesus, Jesus invited Philip to, “Follow me.”
Maybe Philip was just walking to the same village that Jesus was going to visit and just happened to be on the same path. We do not really know. But the conversation that they had inspired Philip to such a degree that once Jesus got to the place he was heading, Philip left for a brief amount of time to find his friend Nathanael. And He excitedly approached his friend and said, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
Nathanael was just minding his own business when his friend come to him. If we look at his response, we can almost sense that he might be a bit annoyed with his friend for bothering him. You would think that with the news that was just given would have excited him, but Nathanael is skeptical. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” I like his response. I am like that. If you know me well you know that I do not get overly excited about very much. I need to see, observe, and study things for a bit before I begin to get excited. At times this makes people upset. They think that I do not take them seriously or that I do not recognize the seriousness of the situation. I am engaged, I just want to keep my eyes open to see what else is happening.
Nathanael seems skeptical but he is being rational. Nazareth did not really have the best reputation. It was not a center of culture. It was an area that was known for its narrowminded views on things. The people of Nazareth were rural, common, and simple. It was not a place that scholars emerged from, but it had its fair share of ideological rebels that seemed to stir up trouble. When Nathanael says, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” He is being practical. He wonders if his friend is getting caught up in some conspiracy theory. Philip understands his friend’s skepticism and does not argue or engage in a debate. He simply replies, “come and see.”
I like this. It shows us something remarkable. Philip told his friend the exciting thing happening, but his friend was not buying it. His friend even tried to pick a fight with him, yet Philip did not argue. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from Philip in this age of social media. All the debates we seem to find ourselves entering on Facebook and twitter are not changing the minds of those we are talking to; it is just giving more fuel to their preconceived ideas. And are driving wedges in the relationships we have with them. For me personally, there are some friends and family members do not even want to talk to because everything I say will start another round of misunderstanding and pointless debate. Philip does not enter a debate. He does not add fuel to Nathanael’s prejudice, he simply offers an invitation to come and see for himself.
When I read this, it seems as if Philip’s response surprises Nathanael. It was not exactly the response he expected. It was obviously out of character for his friend. It intrigued him, so he followed his friend to meet Jesus.
Jesus sees them coming, and he greets Nathanael. “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” I have always thought his is an interesting greeting. And as I sat praying this week over this passage, that sentence is where my mind rested. I thought about the wording and the history of Israel.
Israel is more than the name of a nation; it is a name of a person. It was the name given to the son of Isaac, Jacob, the prior to Jacob’s reunion with his brother Esau. It is important to remember this story because Jacob’s name has meaning like most names in scripture. Jacob means to follow, or to be behind but also to supplant, circumvent, assail, or overreach. In scripture Jacob lived out his name. He became known as a schemer and a trickster. He found a way to convince his brother to transfer the greater inheritance to him, and to get his father’s blessing. He also devised a scheme to increase his wealth while he lived with his uncle. But over the years all his schemes weighed on him. And when he approached the land of his brother, he was convinced that his brother would try to kill him. Jacob struggled with this in his mind, and one night, after he had sent his family into the land before him and he was alone on the border, he was visited by a stranger. For some reason Jacob wrestled and fought with this stranger though the entire night until the next morning. And at the end of this struggle, he came to the realization that he was struggling with God, and God gave him a new name. He was no longer Jacob, but Israel. And this new name means wrestles with God.
This story is seen in the greeting Jesus makes to Nathanael. Behold an Israelite indeed. This alludes to where Nathanael is spiritually. He is struggling, wrestling, not taking things at face value but looking deeper, he is seeking the truth. And like Jacob, he has a desire to put his previous life behind him yet does not really know how to move forward. Jesus reveals himself to Nathanael by revealing Nathanael himself.
The invitation that Jesus gives to each of us is like these first disciples. Jesus asks us each to come and see, and to follow. For some of us we simply listen and respond, and for others we the process takes a bit more time, and we must see it before we believe. This is the Epiphany. God will reveal himself to us in the way that we need when we need it. It shows us how we should approach life with each other, and how we should encourage those around us. It is not about having all the right words, but it is reflecting Jesus in our lives. I want us to think about this as we enter this time of open worship.
There is a natural response to share the gospel we know with other, but how are we doing it? We are urged and even commanded to go to Jerusalem, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth making disciples yet how are we doing that? Jesus shows us how. He shows us from the very beginning of his ministry. Build relationships and show a different way to live. Stop debating and listen, stop arguing and have a conversation. Everyone we know is struggling in some way, and Jesus I here with us in that struggle, and Jesus is speaking and offering healing for our condition if we are willing to simply come and see.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
January 10, 2021
Mark 1:4–11 (ESV)
4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Genesis 1:1–5 (ESV)
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
This past week I have been in shock to be honest. I have listened, watch, and read things that I once thought I would never see in my lifetime. What are we doing? I have watched this slowly take hold in our nation and even within our community over the past ten years. I have watched as our friends have divided themselves and forgotten what is important. It makes me ask a question what is important? What is important right now?
This is the one thing that has been coursing through my mind. What is important? The past year has been one of the hardest years I have ever personally face. I have gone to school to learn how to be a pastor. I have had training, I have had lessons, I have learned, and have listened. Yet with all this training nothing prepared me for the year we faced. I have served as a pastor for seventeen years, and ten of those years have been here. I have had to learn to balance life as bi-vocational pastor. I have read books that try to say that this is a bright future for the church, yet the experience I have felt during those years has been struggle. For seventeen years I have worked, encouraged, and prayed. In those years, the church has recognized something that I did not. They saw that I loved the church to such a degree that the church asked me to serve as the elder of the north east area, and later as an elder at large. I am sitting in that seat and I ask this question. I sit as one of the leaders of the Friends Church of Mid America Yearly Meeting and I am questioning why we are even here. I question because I see so many people I have loved and respected divide.
Some of my friends across the country asked how we were going to approach this week. Some had a clear path, and others were like me in a state of shock. I told them that I was going to speak about the baptism of Jesus, others said that they were going to speak on Genesis, and while I sat down to study and pray. I found a void. I felt as if the very voice of God was silent when the world around me was screaming.
The world screams and where is God?
This caused me to stop. It caused me to question a great deal. It scares me because where are we looking for God? Are we looking for him in the kingdom courts? Are we looking for him in the pews of religious organizations? Where is God?
This seems to be the story of human existence. There is struggle. There are questions. There are people wondering around trying to find a path. John the Baptist can be seen in a similar situation.
John lived in a family and religious system that should have provided him with all the answers. Israel rebuilt the temple and had worshipped in that temple for hundreds of years. They should have been hearing the voice of God through the various priests and sacrifices, yet where is John in all of this? He was not in the temple courts but in the wilderness. He was wondering around trying to find a path.
John was wondering through the wilderness. And as he wonders he preaches. He preaches a message that is unique and contrary to his contemporaries. He does not direct people to the temple. He does not direct them to the mountain in Samaria that served as the holy place of the northern tribes. Instead, he directs them to water.
This week I have found myself drawn to the water of this story. I have meditated on the water. Thought about it as I shower and as I heat it on the stove to cook a meal. I have thought about it as I fill a cup after a long day at work. There is something about water.
There is something cleansing and refreshing about water. When we have a stressful day one of the things, we long for is a bath or a shower, those moments in the water seem to wash away the tension for a moment allowing us to relax just enough. And it is water that seeps from our eyes as we mourn or incur an injury and those tears seem to carry just a bit of the pain away from our hearts and after a while, we can catch our breath and face another day. There is something powerful and symbolic about the water, and as a man that grew up on a farm, I know water is life.
John cries out in the wilderness and people come to hear what he has to say. He cries out to them to repent or to turn from the life they have been living and to walk a different direction. And he marks that change in water. Why water?
This is where the creation story comes into play. “In the beginning,” the writer of Genesis says, “God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” How often do we think of this first chapter of scripture and consider what is being said? The earth was without form and void, and the Spirit hovered over face or the surface of the waters. There was nothing, there was emptiness and a void. There was darkness that enveloped the surface of the deep. Listen to the words. Listen to how dreadful they sound: without form, void, darkness, deep.
These are words of despair, words of hopelessness. They are words devoid of life. Words of fear. And the Spirit hovers right there over all of that. The Spirit hovers over the waters. The Spirit hovers over that expanse of fear and chaos. God is there amid the darkness. God is there in the void. God hovers over the face of the water. And God speaks.
God’s first words are spoken over the waters. And at that moment everything changes. There was light the instant the words were uttered. And that light was good. God separated the light from the darkness and called the light day and the darkness night. And there was evening or darkness and there was morning, the first day.
This first story excites my mind and my spirit. I have a scientific background and even though much of my education tried to tell me that God was not in creation this story excites me. It excites me because all the elements of life scientifically and philosophically are present in this story. For life to begin we need water and light. The ancients in their primitive storytelling speak of things science still tries to understand. Life emerges from the waters because of light. With a simple utterance of a phrase God begins to bring forth something meaningful out of something without purpose. Out of nothing God creates.
God hovers over the formless void, and John wanders in the wilderness. God speaks while hovering over the waters, and John directs those that listen to his cries to the waters.
I contemplated these things this week. I prayed as I heard the news this week. I sat sick to my stomach as I listened to reports and videos. And I was nearly moved to tears as I listen to people speak, not out of pride or hope, I was moved to tears out of despair. I listen to people make claims with words that are completely negated by their actions. And I wonder where is God in all of this?
Storms are raging all around us and darkness is engulfing us. We have become unhinged and unanchored. We are celebrating what should drive us to tears. And I again urge us to shut off the news, turn off the radios, and refocus our attention on what is most important. Where is God?
John did not find God in the glimmering temple courts, but in the wilderness. He did not find God in the hustle and bustle of the city. He did not find God in the seat of the empire. He found what he sought in the wilderness. Out in the margin of society where the chaos was quieted. He left the life he knew. He left the culture and society that promised him greatness. He left so he could find hope. He turned away from all that he knew and he sought a path the world around him had forgotten and he walked.
He walked to the banks of the Jordan, and he cried out. We often look at this as being he began to preach boldly. He yelled his message at the top of his lungs, but what if we look at it from a different perspective. What if we consider the possibility that John just might have been a broken man? What if we consider the possibility that John saw the corruption in is culture, the injustice within his society, and he walked out into the wilderness in despair? What if John was out there thinking that all hope was gone? Maybe John once embraced his role, maybe he plunged himself headlong into his religious studies full of righteous energy. Maybe he spent thirty years preparing to become a high priest to usher in the coming king like everyone thought. Only to find that the temple he served sold their soul to the empire and greed? And with each passing year he died a bit more until he could take it no more and he ran? Maybe he looked at his country and saw nothing but a formless void and darkness. Maybe he went out into the wilderness thinking he was a failure and all was lost.
And he walked out in the wilderness and it was in the wilderness that he finally began to see the truth. It is not about power. It is not about influence. It is not about having the ear of the governing bodies. But it is encouraging the person right next to you that is the most important thing to do. He went out into the wilderness crying and then in the wilderness he gained his voice.
Repent, turn around and go the other direction. Take a different path and return to God. The world is giving us formless chaos. The directions they are giving just lead to more darkness and despair. Ever step we take in the world just leads to more heartache and more pain, and the only end in sight is fear, anger, war, and death. Repent. Turn around, go the other direction, take a different path. Stop running after the things of this world and return to what really matters. Return home.
The crossing of the Jordan was the sign of entering the promised land. The hope of Israel where they would be God’s people and He would be their God. They would be a light to the world, a nation where God would rule, and each person would follow what was right in their heart. The hope was that God would be in the center of their hearts, and that God would direct them. And that is what John was encouraging them to return to. Each person living their lives with one another, encouraging, and helping each other for mutual profit.
John boldly cried on the banks of the Jordan, and people listened. He boldly told them that God was hovering over the void of their lives and over the water was willing to create something new. But he also knew that he was a broken man speaking to broken people. He could dunk them beneath the water until everyone’s fingers were wrinkled like prunes, and as hard as they would try, they would eventually go back to the ways they once had known. He knew that he could not bring life out of the void, so he told them that there would be another. He fully recognized his role, and he became the prophet that was foretold.
And in those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water the heavens were torn open and the Spirit descended on him like a dove and a voice came from heaven. The Spirit hovered again over the waters, and God spoke. And life emerged from the formless void and hope was once again enlightened the darkness.
Where is God in this darkness that envelopes our world? Where is God in the despair we might feel in this moment? God is right where He has always been, hovering over the void. He is hovering within the very things that we fear, he is hovering within the darkness we seem to find ourselves in. He is with us in the brokenness. He is enduring our pain with us. And he is speaking over the water to bring life out of nothing, and restoration to our dehydrated lives. He is speaking in the wilderness crying out to us to repent, to return, to refocus not on the things of the world but on the things of God. He is encouraging us to stop worrying about what is happening thousands of miles away and instead encourage the person next to you, because that person might be trapped in the void, in the darkness needing the light.