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The Pathway Through the Wilderness

By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
December 5, 2021

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Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Today like every day we wait in anticipation. Today we hope to see the glory of God. Today like every day we look forward to the day of the Lord. Yet, like most days we are left seemingly in the same place we have always been.

This is what life with God is like. There are moments where we have great hope, and then there are moments where God is like a figment of our imagination. We want to believe but what is the use?

This is why this season is so important. This is why I actually take the time to take the approach that is a bit nontraditional among Friends to remember the church calendar. I think it is important for us to recognize the seasons, to feel the emotions, to join with ancient history and the universal confessional church in remembrance of the life of Jesus.

The church calendar was developed in a time of history where bibles were not readily available and even if they were available very few people could read the words inside. Yet during this time the church grew. There was not fancy PowerPoint presentations, there were not church bands, there were not programs for the students and adults to deepen their understanding of scripture. There were just lives lived and people telling the story.

They told the story in many ways. Some were gifted with artistic abilities so they would paint pictures on the walls of their meeting places. These icons of worship were more than decoration they were carefully devised depictions of the story, and these icons were used to aid in the teaching of those with the inability to read. Even to this day there are people that have dedicated their lives to this special art form, even though they are painting a picture the process is called writing. These Icon Writers prayerfully consider the story of the person or event and they incorporate as much of the complete story in the symbolic representation they are painting. As the art form has evolved over the past two thousand years we can see common themes. For instance, the perspective is usually off. The hands are small and the heads are larger. They do this because when viewing an icon they want us to know we are looking into a different perspective or a different realm then our own. In our world things that are at a distance appear smaller and they appear larger as they are moved closer. In an Icon the perspective is reversed, the deeper into the painting the larger things appear and the closer they are to the viewer the smaller they appear. 

Why do I say this? Why do I even care? These works of art connect us to the mind and the thoughts of people throughout the ages. We can see how they considered things and what their hopes were. But we are living in an age where Scripture is widely available, and most of us can read. We even have scripture available in multiple languages, and even several translations within one language to give us a greater understanding of what those inspired writers intended on saying. And every year as people study we gain even more understanding. You would think after studying for two thousand years we would know all we need to know, but the reality is that we have forgotten our history and at times our perspectives have been misplaced. 

This does not change the core message of scripture. From the very first book to the last there is an expressed longing for the restoration of what was lost. When we first open the pages of scripture we have a story of God creating. We are told that God created everything from the light, the water, the soil, the various animals that inhabit the regions of the earth, and finally humanity. When this process is complete God says it is very good. 

Our first parents were placed in a garden, called Eden, they were given a commission to go into all the earth, naming the animals, and bringing the earth into submission. Basically they were to become stewards of the earth so that the whole world would become like Eden. But soon after they were given this commission spiritual beings that were created to assist God, much like humanity, deceived our first parents into thinking that God was not giving them all the information they needed to perform their duties. Our first parents desired to do their job well, so they listened to these deceptive beings and they sought the knowledge that they were neglected from. Sin enters the world. In a moment we no longer had trust in God, we even lost trust of ourselves. We went from doing everything for the honor and glory of God, to vain striving where we can only trust our own observations. Adam could only trust himself, Eve could only trust herself. They might be working together but they were not able to fully trust anyone else because no one can know the inner mind of another without the other person revealing their mind. And it is difficult to reveal your mind if you do not know how the other people will react. In our desire to gain the knowledge we cut ourselves off from relationships and we allow fear to reign in us.

The sin of our first parents is more than breaking a rule. Sin is misplaced trust, sin is the lack of trust, sin is allowing fear to rule our lives instead of entrusting what we have to the will of our creator. We lack trust and yet we have this longing to be known. It is one of our greatest desires. One could say that it is an expression of our animalistic desires to propagate our genetic material, but it is more than that. We need companionship. This goes beyond a mere mate. We need friendships, we need community.

We divide into groups. Sometimes these groups are based on common heritage, at other times the groupings are based on similar ideologies. We have formed these communities on our own ideas and concepts. We have developed nations or people groups. We have developed ideologies and stereotypes to distinguish the differences between various groups and communities. And from these ideologies we have developed defenses, yet deep within each of these communities is a primeval desire of unity. We want the entire world to be like our group. This is a skewed view of that original commission given to our first parents.

We desire a greater community. We want the whole world to be united and yet in this desire for unity we have instituted more and greater violence. We trust only our group, those outsiders we hold in suspicion. Why, because they are not like us. They may not have the same goals and desires as we have. They might not have the same political leanings. They might not give me what I want. The cycles continue. And yet we desire the restoration.

This is advent. This season of holy anxiety allows us to recognize this desire for restoration, while we also recognize that if left to our own devices we can deeper into rebellion. The fall of humanity happened early in the Genesis, but the interesting thing is God did not give up. Even though Cain brought in violence, God used the children of Cain for his purposes just as much as he used the children of Seth. It was through Cain that the concepts of civilization were brought about. Cain’s lineage had the technology, and these ideas influenced even righteous. heirs of Seth. To the point that when Noah was called to build the ark, he was the only righteous man left. 

Cain shows us the heritage of humanity’s striving. We can develop wonderful societies, massive cities, outstanding technologies, but what is the cost? There is constant mistrust. There is fear that someone may not care enough about me. Cain’s punishment was to live after he killed his brother Abel. Cain lived but he carried a mark, we are not told what this mark actually was. There are some pretty interesting concepts that have been brought about throughout history, but in reality not a single one stands to scrutiny. I personally think the mark is not something tangible. I think the mark of Cain is suspicion. Cain did not trust, he was afraid that everyone was out to kill him so he withdrew and only let in people that he came to trust. The mark of Cain resides on us all, because we are all suspicious people. This suspicion is what drives our civilization, this suspicion is why we have nations, racism, and  politics. 

God uses this to build his restoration. Even after the flood sin was not abolished and Eden was not restored. Civilizations were once again established and God scattered them. This scattering only deepened our suspicious nature. Wars began to be fought and empires were formed. This continues even to this day. Yet there was one group that was called out of all the nations to follow a different path.

God the Most High, the creator of all things visible and invisible, in his desire to restore his creation left all the people to their own devises but he called one old man, Abraham. And through this one man He revealed the truth. There is one coming that will provide the way to restoration, and through Him God will restore all things. 

For most of history, the idea of restoration was similar to the rest of the nations. We will establish a kingdom, a nation of land with boarders and will expand our influence in that manner. Israel obtained their promised land, and they lost their promised land due to their own rebellion. This tells us something about God and land. His dominion is greater than our concepts, yet he will use our concepts to teach us something greater. They had land, just as they were promised, but land can be lost and gained in war. 

Even when God had no physical nation, no land he still had influence. Even when his people were in exile he still ruled. Yet the people longed for a land. We need a place to call home, we need our garden of Eden. The place we feel safe, secure, accepted and known. Through the language of longing and restoration of the nation we get some insight into this anticipation of hope. 

Malachi 3:1–4 (ESV)
1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Then in the second temple period they began to listen to the writings of Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch and he said:
Baruch 5:1–9 (NRSV)
1 Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. 2 Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting; 3 for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven. 4 For God will give you evermore the name, “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.” 5 Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them. 6 For they went out from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne. 7 For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. 8 The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command. 9 For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.

Then as the people became established once again in the land they continued to have a longing the father of John the Baptist is recorded as saying:

Luke 1:68–79 (ESV)
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; 72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

They have their nation, they have been delivered from their enemies yet there is still a deeper longing.  “To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The restoration of humanity is more than a nation, but it is a change of perspective. It is turning away from the manners and methods of men and taking on a redeemed lifestyle. Not just for Israel but for all flesh.

Luke 3:1–6 (ESV)
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

What do we make of these words? His paths straight, every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways? Is God about to make the entire earth as flat as the prairies of Kansas? No, these are illustrations telling us that the struggles we face under the mark of Cain, the suspicious nature of humanity will no longer be what motivate and divide us. The things once thought to be impossible can be done because of the influence of God. Mountain ranges and river valleys are the natural boundaries we use in determining boarders. Mexico is south of a river and the United States is north and Canada is on the other side of the great lakes. Missouri is on the Eastern bank of the Missouri River and Kansas is on the west. And the original western boarder the Kansas territory went all the way to the Rocky Mountains. 

The language that the prophet is using is telling us that the things we once used to divide will no longer matter. We will no longer be living under the mark of Cain, but the mark of Christ. Paul says this to the people of Philippi

Philippians 1:3–11 (ESV)
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

The longing of the season is that we seek Jesus in a greater way. That we continue to move toward him. We sit in this period of holy anxiety where we realize that we and those around us continue to governed by the ways of men, yet we long for the days were we can leave our fear behind us and live free in Christ. There is a pathway through the wilderness. There is a trail through the mountains.  Our hope and our God lived among us and his spirit guides us. Who will we listen to, and who will we follow?

If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:

To help support the personal ministry of JWQuaker (Jared Warner) online and in the community click to donate.

The Beginning is Near

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

November 28, 2021

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Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Luke 21:25–36 (ESV)

25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” 29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

We are told that this is the most wonderful time of the year. It has been playing on the radio for a month now and will be for the next month. But what do we really know about this time of the year?

The holiday season is one of the most stress filled times of the year. There are year end deadlines, there is holiday shopping, and for many mandatory overtime. The stress of the season is only increased because the human body is naturally predisposed to be less active during these darkest days of the year. Our human development has had thousands of years where this is the season to chill. Crops are not actively growing, its dark longer than it is light, and there really is not a reason to go out unless you happen to be the parent of a hockey player. Only in the most recent generations has the fourth quarter of the year become something so active.

This festive season is filled with anxiety. This affects us all differently. Some of us have the benefit of having family near by so even though the stress of this season increases they have healthy relationships that allow them to cope with the season. But what about those that live away from home? What about those whose families might live across the state or worse, on the other side of an ocean?

This is what I hope we consider this holiday season, this advent. Advent is the time of year I like to call holy anxiety. I do not know if I like to call it this but I think it is fitting. It is a time of stress and hope. It is a time where many wonder how things will ever work, and a time where we realize that it does. It is necessary for us to consider this season. This season of longing and anticipation, so that we are able to recognize the hope that is available to us all.

The first thing we need to realize is that we live in a world of struggle. I want each of us to look around this room today. What do you see? For those that are only watching online you see me, and maybe those that sit close to the front of our meetinghouse. But for those of us in this room we see several people that look like they are glad to be here. I am certain they are glad to be here, otherwise they would be somewhere else. But why do we come to this place? Why do we come to meet to worship every Sunday? Have we ever really thought about it?

I have been a part of the church my entire life. And there have been times where I do not want to attend. I do not always feel like singing songs of praise. There are times where I do not even want to hear the scripture read or listen to what God is speaking through the people that gather to worship. I do not always want to be here. I say this even as a pastor. Yet it is rare for me to miss worship on a Sunday morning. Even when I am on vacation I am usually worshiping on Sunday.

The reason I am here is not because I have something profound to say. It is not because I am filled with joy all the time. I am here most of the time because I am a mess. I am here because my life is not in order. I am here because I need help.

“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

These are not exactly the words most of us think of as we enter the most wonderful time of the year. Yet this is often what we feel. That is what this season is all about. Jesus spoke these words near the end of his ministry. And I think it is important for us to consider the literary and cultural landscape before we move forward.

Israel was in a unique place. Politically they were being ruled by others, yet religiously they were probably functioning better than they had ever functioned in their entire history. Their temple was profound. It was a wonder within the entire Empire. They were relatively free yet at any moment all that they knew could be laid to waste. Today’s passage was Jesus’s comments about that precarious situation they were in.

We live in a place like this. All across Facebook we are beginning to see memes about the war on Christmas. We get upset about the term happy holidays. And we begin to feel as if there is a something going on. But do we really know what Jesus is speaking about here?

When Jesus says that there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress. What is he saying? These apocalyptic passages are scarry. They are the stuff of nightmares. Movies are filmed and books are published using these story lines. Yet they are meant to be words of encouragement. How encouraged do you feel?

These words insight fear because it speaks of where and in what our faith is in. Sun, moon, and stars are the things that we perceive to be endless. Things that will never fail. What happens when the things we trust do not meet our expectations?

Jerusalem in Jesus’s day was thought by the religious as an everlasting place. If they continued to zealously follow God, God would protect them. They trusted their faith, and they had every right to do so. The feast of dedication that is recorded in scriptures is the feast we know as Hanukkah or the festival of lights. It is a celebration that was dedicated to the faithfulness of God, who preserved the oil in the lamps, keeping them burning within the temple while they priests worked to rededicate it to God after the abomination that caused desecration.  God provided for them, so God had returned and honored them. They had spent generations in exile, they had suffered and they persevered. They believed that God would continue to honor them as long as they honored God in their worship. Yet Jesus is saying these words to the people within the city.

They were putting their faith in the temple, not in the God whose footstool stood within that temple.

We can get distracted at times. We can get comfortable in life as we have known it. Then seemingly all at once something changes. Someone kneels at a football game instead of standing for the national anthem and we go nuts. Suddenly our world begins to shake.

I took an Art History class when I was in school. I love art. I cannot make art myself, but I love watching art being created. I like talking with artist about what they have done, and I enjoy watching people as they look at art. When I took this class, my teacher loved the art of ancient Egypt. And he said something interesting about Egypt when I was in this class, according to the art there was never a bad pharaoh of Egypt. Even when the rest of history might say something contrary to what is depicted in those ancient tombs, every pharaoh was great. These artists knew that some pharaohs were not great, some of these pharaohs had not even lived long enough to even have a chance to be bad let alone great, yet their art said they were great. Why, because they wanted it to be true. If the artists were to tell the truth, then their entire society would come crumbling down around them. Their faith was in their pharaoh. And their society would not allow the artists to speak the truth because they did not know what might happen if they did not believe that their pharaoh was perfect.

Our world shakes at times. Truth does not change that. The truth is that companies fail when poor decisions are made. The truth is that governments at times make poor decisions and their people suffer because of it. The truth is even religious organizations can get distracted from what is most important, and we sense a shaking in the foundation of who we thought we were. Our world seems to shake because we have put our trust in things that should not bear that weight.

Jesus is telling the people of Jerusalem in this section of the gospel that their city will fall. He is telling them that the very temple you have put so much cultic devotion into and towards will fall. Everything they trust, everything they believe, everything they hold as important to who they are, will only last a short time. History shows us this time and time again. Jerusalem did fall within a generation of Jesus’s ministry. Many of the people that listened to these words being spoken were alive to see its demise, and many were probably within the walls of Masada during their last stand. But there is something that remains even after the dust of war settles, people.

“Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Jesus tells them the absolute worst story to be told and then he tells them to lift their heads up. It sounds ridiculous. And he would have received the exact same response by us in this room today as he received in Jerusalem then. When Jesus told Peter that he was going to be killed in Jerusalem Peter told him to shut up. He did not believe a word Jesus was saying. In his mind it would never happen. Jesus told Peter that day, get behind me Satan. The people of Jerusalem had the same feelings. Our city would never fall, we will prevent it. We will do whatever we can to defend the honor of our people. And yet Jerusalem fell.

Jesus tells them exactly what to do. He does not tell them to take up arms against Rome. He does not tell them to withdraw into the wilderness or to burn the fields. He tells them to straighten up and raise their heads. He tells them this because our faith should not be in the works of men, but in God. Our faith should be in the God that created the entire world out of his great love. Our faith should be in the God that did not give up even when his creation, both spiritual and physical, rebelled against him. The God who preserved humanity through one family when the entire rest of the world chased after other gods. The God that continued to love humanity enough to call Abraham out of Ur, to bring about a nation for himself. God never gave up. Even when this nation, his nation, rebelled against him, he preserved a remnant so that through them He could redeem all humanity, and all of creation. Jesus tells them to lift up your heads and stand up straight because our hope is not in the things of men.

He continues, “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place you know that the kingdom of God is near.”

Growing up on a farm, I know the signs of spring. It is a rhythm of life for us. We slow down as the days shorten, but we do not stop. During those dark days we are still at work making repairs on the equipment that we will need in the future. Every day there is work to do so that when that day comes, we are ready. When I first moved here to Kansas City, I worked for a lawn care company. We would start early in the morning and would often work till the sun went down. Making sure that the grass would be green in our city. But when winter came, 2/3rds of my coworkers were laid off. The other third spent the winter repairing all the trucks. We tore every truck apart completely; we tore down every pump and replaced every part we could. We did this because soon spring would come. For those that were laid off it was a dark time. For those that continued to work it was an anxious time. The entire year’s wages depended on the ability to get back out there when the sun shined again.

So much of the religious community is focused on the distractions of the world. We are focused on the things of politics instead of what is most important. Does it really matter if people say happy holidays or Merry Christmas? No. We should instead be focused on something greater. Spring is coming. The Kingdom is near. And what does Jesus say about the kingdom? It is not of this world.

What remains after the war? What remains after the stock market crash? What remains when a company closes? People; your friends and coworkers. The neighbor down the street. The teacher in you child’s classroom, and the children on your daughter’s soccer team. The people that do not have the means to move remain even when the world crashes down around them. This is what Jesus wants us to focus on. These are the ones that Jesus called blessed in his sermons.

The kingdom of God is not of this world even though it works within this world. The kingdom of God is all around us because it resides within the people who believe. We so often think of kingdoms as nations with borders, but kingdoms are a scope of influence. God’s kingdom expands not by might of armies, but by the lives lived with others.

We live in anxious times. The things we once revered as unshakeable show signs of weakness and we fear. People we once regarded as great have their humanity revealed, and we are afraid that our world is about to collapse. The news reports earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, pandemic variants, and civil unrest and we think that the end is near. Jesus is looking at us and telling us to stand up straight, raise our heads, and roll up our sleeves because we have work to do.

Our ancestors might not have done things right in the past, that is the truth and we cannot change it by denying it or covering it up. What matters is how we live now. The things men have placed their trust in are shaking and they are looking at us, will we show them where our hope comes from? There are marginalized portions of our population that have been systematically pushed out of participation in society, will we offer them hope?  The darkness closes in and we might not feel like singing, but we are here. We are here because our hope is not in the things of men. Our hope is in God, and we know that when we come together as a community we are renewed. When we gather, we tell the world that our hope is not in the governments. Our hope is not in the economies driven by consumption. But our hope is in God. Our God left his throne in heaven and was born of the virgin. Our God lived within a family, grew, and worked alongside them in their business. Our God grew in the knowledge and wisdom of God and men and taught us how to live within that wisdom daily. Our incarnate God was unjustly tried and executed, suffering the very worst humanity could offer. He was buried and on the third day our God rose from the grave. After forty day our God ascended back to his throne and the spirit of God came to dwell in us. We are the temple of God. We are His kingdom. And when the powers of the world fail, we remain.  

This season can be filled with hope and despair. It can be filled with joy and depression. Some within our community might be struggling, and others might be having the best days of their lives. We come together so that we can share. We come together so that those that struggle will know that this is only for a season, spring will come. For those that rejoice we rejoice with you, and we remind you that this too is only a season. We come because we need each other. We come because we are all a mess in our own way, and together we cry out to the lord for our redemption. And Jesus tells us, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” When the dust settles around us, we will rebuild with what we have. When the world trembles look at the fig tree, and all the trees and let us be found preparing for the spring. The beginning is near and we have work to do.

If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:


To help support the personal ministry of JWQuaker (Jared Warner) online and in the community click to donate.

The Butterfly Effect

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

November 21, 2021

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Click to read in Swahili

Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

John 18:33–38 (ESV)

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.

The past few weeks we have focused on the priesthood of Jesus. This week we move back from the letters written to encourage those early believers that followed Christ, and again look at that period of time during Jesus’ ministry.

I often stop and consider the timeframes surrounding Jesus’ life. As we approach the season we traditionally call Christmas, we are reminded of the story of Jesus’ birth. In America we somewhat get all this backwards. We sing Christmas songs basically from thanksgiving until December 25th and then we abruptly stop. According to the church calendar Christmas begins on December 25th and it continues for twelve days. The season prior, what retailers call the Christmas season is Advent. There is a difference.

Next Sunday we will enter the Advent season. I guess I just want to start it early, mainly because I am the type of person that loves the major holidays. I could sing Christmas Carols year-round, and I remember a few times when coworkers of mine had walked into the office in the middle of summer while I was jamming to the carol of the bells. It is ok I am at one with my own weirdness. I can also sit gazing at the Christmas tree shining with lights, while singing “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” in my mind.

For me the entire story is important. Without the birth there would not be an Easter, and without Easter there would be no need for the birth. We need the life of Jesus from birth through his ministry, his suffering, burial, and resurrection. Now here is the kicker, without the entire story of human history from creation to the end of ages there would be no need for the story of Jesus. We are part of that story. Everything that we do today, every decision we make, every conversation we have, every smile we give and argument we participate in is part of this story. You are that important, we are that important. One person’s life can change the course of history, even if we never know their name.

In the scientific and mathematical spheres of life there is something called the chaos theory. Contrary to what the name might imply this theory speaks about how interconnected things are in our world. Within this theory there is an idea called the butterfly effect. This is something that E.N. Lorenz, a mathematician and meteorologist, formulated while he studied weather patterns. He ran his various models trying to gain a greater understanding of weather, particularly tornados, because tornados are one of the most unpredictable forces within weather. Within this model he entered various measurements they had recorded from previous storms into his computer and they began to run a simulation. As the testing went on, they were getting the expected results. Then there was a day where he decided to take a short cut. He instead of typing in the full measurement he left off a few of the decimal places, ran the test, went to get a cup of coffee, and came back. In that amount of time the computer simulated the weather of two months, and the results were staggering. He said this in his book.  

“Instead of a sudden break, I found that the new values at first repeated the old ones, but soon afterward differed by one and then several units in the last decimal place, and then began to differ in the next to the last place and then in the place before that. In fact, the differences more or less steadily doubled in size every four days or so, until all resemblance with the original output disappeared somewhere in the second month. This was enough to tell me what had happened: the numbers that I had typed in were not the exact original numbers, but were the rounded-off values that had appeared in the original printout. The initial round-off errors were the culprits; they were steadily amplifying until they dominated the solution.” (E. N. Lorenz, The Essence of Chaos, U. Washington Press, Seattle (1993), page 134)[7]

We might not think much of this. If we have taken basic arithmetic, we all know that if we change numbers the resulting solution of the math will change. But Lorenz was studying weather, that little change represented a seemingly insignificant change in atmospheric conditions, but that seemingly insignificant change effected the weather of the future. Later Lorenz spoke about a conversation he had with other meteorologists saying, “if the theory is correct the flapping of one seagull’s wings would be enough to alter the course of the weather forever.”

Now that my total knowledge of chaos theory and the butterfly effect has been exhausted, I want us to consider this. Every aspect of our lives is interconnected with the lives of those around us. When we make a decision, even a small insignificant decision, it can become either a blessing or a hardship for someone else. We may never even see the effect we have, because the end result might be felt by someone on the other side of the world and may not even fully be sensed until two or three generations later. But what we do know from the math is that changing one integer changes the result.

This brings us to today’s passage, in some weird way. Maybe I need to stop listening to audio books while I work, but when I think of the conversation Jesus has with Pilate this is what comes to my mind.

One of the things that I began to see more clearly as we read through Hebrews is the interconnectedness of our history and where and why Jesus had to do what he did. Our first parents were in Eden, which was the place where the realm of God and the realm of Earth met. Adam and Eve walked with God, they had full access to God, and God provided them with a job. If we were to read the account there is something that we often miss. We assume that the garden was the entirety of earth, but that is not what it says. There were boarders to the garden which implies that there was something beyond those boarders. The job God gave to our first parents was making the world beyond the boarders like what they experienced within. They were to go into the world and be little agents of God’s goodness throughout the world. God spoke plants into existence and Adam and Eve were to take those plants and spread them. God created animals and our first parents were to run around the world playing hid and seek with those animals while giving them names.

They had a job to do, but there was a resistance. A serpent slithered around in the garden, and this serpent began spreading deceptive words. This outside intelligence, which could be called a shining one or a divine throne guardian, began to sow seeds of doubt within our first parents. Slowly confusion entered, and once confusion began chaos erupted. One seemingly insignificant action changed the course of human history. And God was determined to restore what was lost, one of his own spiritual beings began the problem and only God could correct it.

The incarnation is powerful because the God that set everything in motion around us, stepped into human history. He stepped into human history in a seemingly insignificant manner. Not as a conquering titan like deity, but a zygote. He entered this world just like each of us. The joining of genetic material inside the body of a woman, that become a complete single celled life form. That single cell begins to divide and evolve into an embryo, and the cells begin to differentiate until it forms a fetus, and that fetus after nine months passes into life and take its first breath. And once that breath is taken the lives of the parents are forever changed, because they no longer remember what sleep is.

Jesus was born, just like us. He grew within a family. He interacted with those around him, he attended school at the synagogue with all the other children, he worked along side his family as they built homes and potentially even worked on the temple. He became a man and became know as the carpenter within his neighborhood. The fact that the gospel says, “isn’t he the carpenter,” makes me believe that Jesus was good at what he did. He had a good life, a good job, a great community. And then one day Jesus went to the river to see his cousin John, and everything changed.

Each of us has something that triggers our deepest self. For some of us we must create art. We can see a sunset and suddenly everything around us seems to stop until we translate what we are feeling in that moment into a painting or a poem. For others that deep seated self is triggered by perceived injustice around us, and when we hear a story of wrongdoing we are driven to action. Others might have compassion for the sick and when they hear a cough, they are compelled to comfort the suffering. We all have that aspect within us that seed of joy that God planted as we were woven together in our mother’s womb. When we allow that seed to grow, we find who we truly are. Jesus had that too. He was happy as a carpenter but there was something more to him and he knew it. That seed, that spark of fulfilled life, took hold when John dipped him into the water. Suddenly human history snapped into focus, and the reason Jesus was born became clear.

“For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

I want these words to fully saturate each of our minds and let them seep deep into your heart. Jesus was standing before Pilate facing execution, and this is what he says. He was standing in that place because the people within the surrounding community loudly proclaimed that Jesus was their king. This act made the political leaders nervous. He stood there because the religious leaders took advantage of that proclamation and turned him over to their overlords. They did this so they could maintain power within the community. They wanted to preserve a power that was progressively eroding the moment Jesus had lifted his head from the water at his cousin’s side.

“For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world.” He says.  Jesus came into the world to stand before the powers constructed my men. He came to stand before the structures to say that their power is a mere shadow.

Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king. And Jesus does not answer the question. He simply says, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” I find this answer funny. I find it funny because by answering Pilate in this way, Jesus turns the question around and basically asks Pilate the same question he asks Peter and the other Disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” At this moment Pilate is looking Jesus in the eye, he is looking God in the eye and he must answer that very question. And Pilate does not know what to say.

You can almost feel the uncertainty in the words as Pilate answers, “am I a Jew? Your own nation and priest have delivered you over to me, what have you done?” This answer is an evasion. Pilate does not want to answer the question, he may not even understand the question. Am I a Jew? He asks. He has no framework to even begin.

Then Jesus answers the question for him. “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

This is his purpose. He did not come to rule the world in the manner we think of rule. His reign is not like that of a king or a presidential term. His influence does not extend like the might we see on the battlefield. If this is what God wanted to do, who could stop him. We are told in scripture that God, to protect our own future, flooded the entire earth and saved one family. We are told to prevent coordinated destruction he confused the languages and scattered the people. We are told that in a moment of holy justice, God can wipe unrepentant cities off the face of the earth, yet Jesus stands before Pilate and says that is not true power, and that is not my kingdom.

True power is sacrifice. True power is standing for others not yourself. True power is seeing that of God in your neighbor, that seed of joy or spark of life, and encouraging it to grow to its fullness. Jesus’s purpose, the entire reason he was born, is to be the butterfly effect. One action performed by one man, in a seemingly insignificant corner of the world by imperial standards, that will change everything.

With that one action, Jesus began to reverse the chaotic effects that were started by our first parents, and those waves move all around us. The waves of grace and the waves of sin. When we believe in Christ our lives begin to align with the waves of grace. The more we turn to that frequency of life the greater the intensity becomes and the waves begin to affect those around us. And grace spreads. We are also bombarded by the waves of deception and sin. What will we reflect? And what will we do?

Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “a new command I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)

What is your effect? Will you live your life in the power of Christ’s kingdom? Will you stand with Christ before the powers of the world knowing that it will cost you your life? Jesus came, was born, grew in stature and wisdom, became a teacher bearing the words of life. He stood firm even in the face of death, was executed and buried, and rose again. He restores our hope and purpose. And each of us must answer the same question Jesus turned onto Pilate. Will we listen to the words of truth or continue the deception? What is truth, and what effect will you have?

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Meeting Times

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