By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
April 5, 2020
Philippians 2:5–11 (ESV)
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This is the third week that we have not been able to meet for worship, together. And as thankful as I am for the great technical advancements that have allowed us to continue to stay connected through live streaming on YouTube, Facebook, and zoom, I am beginning to feel the loss of being together. I am sure I am not the only one. Some of us have introverted personalities while others among us thrive in a group, but every one of us need contact. We are social beings; we do not function to our greatest capacity without other human beings around. I mention this because we are all anxious. We are beginning to get tired of our living rooms. We are beginning to run out of canned goods and will need to go to the store. We are wanting to get out.
I want to get out. I want to sing hymns together. I want to eat a potluck. I want to sit in bible study and laugh with the students. I want to get back to normal.
Today I encourage you to consider your feelings. Often in Christian circles we try to discredit our emotions, which often leaves our faith cold and dry. Then there are other expressions that focus on emotions to a great degree, to the point that any negative emotions are unholy. Well right not it is safe to say our emotions are negative. We are tired of being cooped up. We have completed the little tasks at home that we have put off, we have watched about as much Netflix as we can handle, we have put together every puzzle in our house, and played enough solitaire that the print is wearing off of the cards. I know that this is the case because we have sold more carpet cleaners at my store than I have ever seen in a one-month period.
I want us to consider our emotions, because God gave them to us for a reason. We have emotions so we can respond to the world around us. But how are we responding?
Today is Palm Sunday. Today we celebrate Jesus the king. Today we get caught up in the joy and celebration of the people of God as they remember God’s provision in history and excitedly claim Christ the king. Jesus sent two of his disciples into the city to bring a donkey back to him. They retrieved this beast of burden, and those around Jesus began to remove their coats, laying them on the and on the ground before Jesus. When they ran out of coats, they began to cut leaves off trees, and they jubilantly placed these on the ground as well. I have participated in enough Palm Sunday celebrations that I cannot fully grasp what is going on. Today we wave the branches around in the air as we sing and parade around the worship space (and I really hope that those of you with children are coloring palm branches and waving them around the living room). Yes, this was a celebration, but I think we do not fully grasp the image. We wave the branches, but instead of imagining that, think of the flower girl at a wedding.
The flower girl is more than your favorite young relative, this person in the wedding party is the one that is honoring the bride the most. This is the one person that is making sure the queen of the day has something clean and beautiful to walk on so that the dress is not soiled but honored. Jesus is coming into David’s royal city riding on a donkey and the people are laying out their coats and carpeting the pathway before him with palm branches, not just to celebrate but to honor the king. They are recognizing Jesus as being something greater than mere humanity, they see him as the anointed or chosen one of God.
Not too long ago many throughout the world watched as one of the Princes of the United Kingdom was married. We remember seeing the great excitement, the beautiful decorations, the amazing dress of the future princess. The amount of effort that was invested in that wedding is a picture of how humanity treated those we regard as royal. But Israel was not a kingdom like that of the UK. Israel was not free. They were ruled by another, but they longed to have a king of their own, they looked at the prophecies of old and held on to the hope that out of the linage of David their once great king, they would again see a free Israel.
Every year, the people of Israel would travel to the City of David, Jerusalem. They would go there to remember how God provided for them, they would remember their history, and see that they still had something to grasp on to. They had a grand temple, a temple whose splendor was the envy of the empire and they had nationalistic pride. They had this pride, but they were a divided people. There we those of the city and those that lived outside Jerusalem. Those in the city had the wealth, and those outside the city lived a life of subsistence. They did not have the red carpets that we would us for the famous today, but they celebrated with what they had. And they honored the peasant king by putting down their coats and branches of trees as their king rode into the city not on a war horse, but a donkey.
There is a great deal of imagery in the palm parade. The excitement of the populous and the poverty of their king who rode triumphant on a borrowed burro. This era of quarantine does give us a different perspective to this day than many of us had before. We do not have the luxury of great arrangements of palms that we can trim and wave. We do not have the luxury because we are at home. This year we, like the common people of Israel, must make do with what we have.
This has been where my mind has been this past week. As the quarantine extends, I begin to long for something more. I long for the days we can once again listen to our voices lifted in praise. I long to hear the scripture read aloud in English and Swahili. I long for the little bit of the kingdom of God that I call home, I long for the communion of the saints. This is the celebration we will participate in when this stay at home order is lifted. This is the celebration that we look forward to in heaven when the saints are gathered at the wedding feast of the lamb. But for now, we are here. We are isolated, separated from the people of God. Many say that we are not required to gather, and they are not wrong, but the gathering of the church is very important it reminds us of who and why we do the things we do. We are part of something greater, we are part of a family, a community and a kingdom.
Paul encourages us, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
This passage is a mystery. It speaks of Jesus as God and man. It speaks of Christ as being God from which all blessings flow, and a servant from which all work is extracted. And Paul says have this mind among yourselves. I read these words and as much as I want to say I understand, I can’t. We cannot fully understand because it is an image of extremes. God, the creator of heaven and earth and everything there in, holds the rightful title to everything in the entire universe, because it is His. He made it. Throughout history, God has been honored by the very best. While the children of Israel wondered in the desert, they gave all their gold, their best fabrics, and they commissioned their greatest artists to adorn the tent of meeting. As they entered the land of Promise and became an established nation, again they commissioned the very best to honor the God who owned everything.
The greatness of God is something that we cannot understand. When people try, they say things like the heavenly city is so spectacular that the pavement is gold, and the gates hewed from a single pearl. This is beyond imagination. It is beyond reality. We can imagine gold, but gold in such abundance that we would cover pathways with it. We can imagine a pearl, but a single pearl large enough to carve a gate in. We cannot grasp the greatness of God, it is impossible because once we begin to close in on some understanding something even greater emerges, and God is still beyond that.
Yet, Jesus is in the form of God, meaning he possesses that designation, or he is of that essence, but he knows that we cannot understand that, so he emptied himself and took on the form of a servant. Again, we are shrouded in mystery. We know servants. They are the ones that bring food to our tables or did bring food to our tables. The servants are the ones at the grocery store. They are the nurse, the maid, the taxi or uber driver, the postal carrier, or the teacher. We know servants because they are the ones that do the various things that we need, but they are also the ones that we often treat as expendable. I say this because a couple of months ago these people were the ones that were laid off when corporations needed to provide greater financial reports for stockholders, but today when we are faced with danger and illness. When we are all facing want and need, we label these people with the title essential.
I want this to sink in for a moment. Has the need for the servants, the common laborers changed in the past two months? No there is the same amount of need, but when the perspective changes and we realize that we may not be able to get what we need unless those common laborers show up, suddenly they become back bone of our society.
“Have this mind among yourselves,” Paul says, “Which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God as a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” This pandemic has opened our eyes to a great deal. It has reminded us that those individuals that are often neglected are the very ones that will keep us alive. It is the nurses at the hospital, the doctors that treat the sick. It is the gas station attendant and the people stocking the grocery shelves. It is the people that deliver the pizza, and the ones that fix the internet, it is the artists that make music or writes a book that will get us through these dark days. What Paul is telling us is Jesus had everything, He was God, yet we could not grasp that we could not understand that, we could not join him on that plain of reality because we are not what he is. So, God became like us. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
There is something deeper in this passage though. What goes through your mind when you hear the word grasp? For me, since I am trying to pass knowledge from one to another, when I think of grasp, I often think of understanding. For others grasp might take a form of conquest, something that was earned, or a reward brought into your possession. Those are both right, but I want us to think of it in as entitlement. When someone is entitled, they expect special treatment. In our American culture, we have developed the idea that the customer is always right. Because of this concept, as a customer I am entitled to whatever I want, because I am the customer. The reality is that the customer is not entitled to anything beyond what they are paying for. And let’s be honest if you are a customer you are not paying for much. But because of the intense competition for customers many businesses will do what ever they can to secure a sale, so we have trained our culture to believe that they are entitled to more than they are paying for. If God is the creator of all things, which is what I believe, what is God entitled to? Everything, because it is all God’s. But we do not live in the same perspective as God, from our perspective we earned what we have, and we are entitled to it. We gasp what we perceive to be ours, and so does God. In this, we become enemies of God because we are laying claim to the same things. We are both entitled.
God looks at what is his, and he sees what we are doing to it. Jesus, God the Son, emptied himself he let go of his claim, or his entitlement, and he became a servant, or one of us. We often hear of the entitled millennials and how they are ruining the world. I want us to think about that for a moment. The reason we often look at others in disdain is because we perceive that they are not giving us what we believe we deserve. God deserves honor and praise, but he did not count equality with God as something deserved or to be entitled to. Jesus worked. He did not sit behind a desk or appoint executives to manage things for him, he joined us in the labor. He showed us how to live a true Godly life and lifestyle. He emptied himself to the point that he would take death upon himself for the sake of what was already his own.
I have reflected on this for the past few weeks. We see glimpses of this in our culture. We thank veterans for their service, because we are aware that they sacrificed their lives for the sake of our nation. We thank those in law enforcement for their service, because we know that they sacrifice their lives every day for the safety of our communities. We thank nurses and doctors when we are sick because they have put themselves out in harm’s way not only for their own gain but because they care for those around them. And the past few weeks we have begun thanking so many other essential workers that so often go unnoticed.
Paul is telling us to live like this every day, because that is how Jesus lived. None of us are entitled to anything because someone else has always helped us along the way. And if God is willing to give his own life for us, shouldn’t we be willing to do the same for our communities.
Today we celebrate Jesus our King. Our king was not a king like the kings of the world. Our king is a peasant king, one of us. He lived thirty years as a handy man, working in wood and stone to serve his customers. He made it his custom to worship with his community, with full knowledge that that worship was not enough to truly express the greatness of God. He withdrew often to pray and embrace personal communion with God. And he served others. Our king is great because our king emptied himself. And if we claim to be part of his church, his kingdom we should have the same mind. Honor him with what you have. Serve him with what you have. Minister to his creation with what and who you are, and do it not for what can be grasped, but for the glory of God.
Let us not enter this time of centered worship and consider our lives in this dark time. Have we become entitled in our lives? Are we realizing that those essential workers we have often forgotten are more important than we once thought? Are we becoming aware of the importance of the people within our communities in ways that we have often overlooked? If God has opened something up to you be obedient to his leading and respond. Thank a nurse, thank a janitor, thank the teachers of our schools, and tip the pizza delivery driver. And as we continue to endure the effects of a virus, pray that we will become better through this and become a greater reflection of the God we claim.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
March 29, 2020
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John 11:1–45 (ESV)
1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” 28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” 38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” 45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him,
This week I have, like most everyone else, been stuck to the news. I am not necessarily watching in fear, but curiosity. I want to know what to look for, what to expect, what I can do to help those in need. I have seen people doing so much during this time of crisis. I have seen nurses that I am friends with go to New York to assist in the medical crisis there. I have seen a steady stream of Shipt Shoppers, coming through my store gathering groceries for people to deliver, I have even seen customers adapting to changing policies that happen without any real warning without any argument. Everyone is worried, everyone is in a state of anxiety and ignorance, yet for the most part we are in it together.
As the news of this pandemic began to hit, and as pretty much everything we used to do began to change, I found myself looking at scripture a little bit differently. I began to wonder why Jesus was so busy healing people. It is like every page of scripture we are reading that Jesus provided healing to the people of the villages around Judea. Then I began to wonder how many people really lived in that area. The truth is that Judea really did not have major cities. There were a few centers of population, like Jerusalem yet most of Judea was rural. The economy was agrarian, people raised livestock and crops. Or they process or sold items that were used in the food preparation, food consumption, or making fabrics out of the fibers produced on the farms. Yet Jesus went to these communities, villages and towns that the study of history will tell us were small, so small that if you lived in the town you would probably have known everyone living there.
Jesus went to these villages, towns that today might not even get put on the map, and it is said that he healed everyone. Which makes me wonder why so many needed healing? In a town of a hundred people how many did he heal? If anyone that is listening or reading this sermon knows the answer I would really like to know if there was a major pandemic in Judea during the first century. I wonder this because that is the perspective that we all have right now. We cannot help ourselves from bringing our current situations into our interpretation of scripture. We cannot help but bringing our personal perspective, because that is what is on our minds. When we read the verses before us we see the words and the emotions that we are feeling. We carry our own baggage in and hopefully we can leave it there and walk away a bit lighter.
This happens a great deal with literature of any type, but it happens even more when we look at scripture. When their times are a bit more stressful, the verses and passages that speak of apocalyptic events seem to jump out to us, and we begin to think this is it we are about to see the end of the age. When we are in those beginning stages of a relationship, the passages of love speak so loudly it is hard to believe that scripture speaks of anything else. When we are anxious the words of comfort and peace, draw us into their rest. Scripture is often seen as a living book not because the words change, but the people reading the words change. We as different questions, we deal with different issues and stresses, yet scripture always speaks. This book was written by farmers, fishermen, small town tax collectors, ancient professors, and even doctors. It was written by people who rarely left their own community and had no idea that there was land beyond the great sea. Yet the words they wrote still speak to us thousands of years later in communities where more people live within a square mile than lived in their entire province.
As I have sat with the scripture this week, I came to realize that for thirty years I have made assumptions about things and in the course of one week I ask a different question and suddenly I am sitting in wonder yet again.
In today’s passage we find Jesus near the end of his ministry. He is traveling through the various villages in the north and word comes to him that one of his closest friends has fallen ill. We do not know for sure how old Lazarus was. Was he a young man or someone of advanced years? Were his sisters looking to be married or were they widows whose husbands’ family were not able to care for? Was Israel at that time in a situation like ours?
The sisters knew Jesus, and they sent word to him informing their friend that their brother, the man whom Jesus loved was ill. That third verse is one of those verses that grabs hold of me. “So the sister sent to him saying, ‘Lord he whom you love is ill.’” Maybe we are too familiar with the story, but how many of us really think about what they are saying. They begin by saying Lord.
We do not live in a culture where people go around saying the word Lord. But to use that word indicates that they believe something about the one they are addressing. They believe that this person has power and authority. They call Jesus, Lord, yet they boldly approach. They believe that Jesus has power and authority, and they address him with respect, yet they do not tremble before him. They believe that God will bend to the demands of this man, yet they have no fear boldly asking this man to come see their brother.
Have you ever really considered that relationship? These women sent servants to the person they believed to be the king sent by God, and they demanded that he come near to help their brother. I do not know if we fully grasp the oddness of this. This is something that is out of character to the social structures of the ancient world. These women were bold, demanding, and unafraid. There is awe and intimacy in this exchange, and it is powerful.
Do we approach people like this? Do we approach God like this? Do we think that the issues that we face are something important enough to petition those in authority? Or do we simply think that everything that happens to us is fate that we must endure? Jesus listened to the message from these two women. And his response was, “this illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God my be glorified through it.” The servant took this response to the women. Imagine what a relief they would have felt at those words. But Jesus did not come, he stayed two days longer.
Imagine the anxiety Martha and Mary must have felt as they ministered to their brother’s needs as his illness progressed. Imagine them sitting at his bedside, wiping his brow with a wet cloth as a fever gripped him. They had sent for Jesus, and for two days they waited after the messengers returned yet nothing happened, nothing changed, and Lazarus their beloved brother slipped deeper into the illness. They sat there with the promise that this illness does not lead to death, yet they watched as the hand of death pulled their life from this man who had been their provider.
These women had faith that I could only dream of having. So often today people will say if you just have faith God will heal, or that it is God’s will that you will be healed. If faith was the measure of blessing, these women’s account was abundant. They even had the word of promise that the Son of God would be glorified through the outcome of this man’s illness. Yet they watched their brother slip beyond the veil of life.
Jesus loved this family, yet he stayed where he was for two more days. The disciples knew that Jesus loved this family and they assumed that they stayed in the northern region because the Jews were threatening to kill their teacher. Then all at once after two days of knowing about the illness of their dear friend, Jesus say, “alright boys let’s go to Judea.” They are floored by this statement. Why go now? We have been here two days, and now you want to go. And Jesus says something that confused them, and to be honest me. “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
This is strange, but it goes with the ideas of light and darkness, ignorance and wisdom, fear and hope. Jesus told the sisters that the Son of God will be glorified through this illness. That is the light. Yet the disciples, the sisters, and even Lazarus are not focused on the light. They are focused on the fear, they are gripped by their own lack of knowledge and they lose hope. They begin to wonder if maybe they made a wrong turn somewhere.
The promise was that, “this illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” That is a great promise. That is the one I am looking for in my stressful situations. But the reality that was facing them, was that the illness did lead to death, and Lazarus was bound in death’s clothes for four days and sealed behind a stone.
How many of us have been in that place? We had the hope and assurance that God was going to provide, yet things did not turn out the way that we had anticipated. Every day you praised God in the storm, in the illness yet your business failed, someone close that was ill continued to get worse, your spouse left, or your child made a choice that led them down a path of darkness. You had faith but the promise seemed to fall away.
The disciples were confused, Martha and Mary were mourning the loss of their brother, and we are often right there with them.
As Jesus approached the village of Bethany Martha and Mary both came out to him. They both cried, “If only you were here.” If only you were here, yet they knew that Jesus could have commanded that Lazarus could have been healed wherever he was, and he would have been healed. They had seen it happen with others, yet this man who was loved deeply by Jesus, still died.
As I read these verses the raw emotion always grips my heart. Often my breath catches when I read the words, “Jesus wept.” Jesus had the very same emotions that we have. Martha and Mary were confused, they knew that Jesus could heal their brother, they had faith, but they did not understand why he would not do what he did for others for the one he loved. And Jesus did not negate their emotions, he did not tell them to get a grip and keep a stiff upper lip, Jesus wept right along with them.
The promise is that God and the Son will be glorified through our lives. The reality is often life just sucks. I have been fired from jobs even as I knew that I was doing the will of God. I drove home wondering why this happened to me, when God knew full well that I would not be able to survive if I did not have a job. Yet, in that moment, my sister told me, “God gave you space because he knew you needed it.” At that time, I was working two jobs and getting my master’s degree. I was reading till three am and waking up to work at six. I was nearing a breakdown and I did not know it. In my mind something terrible happened but the truth was that I was stumbling in the darkness, and I could only see the light again when I could no longer rely on myself.
We are stumbling in the darkness right now. We are all wondering what is going on. Many of us are afraid. I ask what is God showing you during this time of darkness we are experiencing? The promise given to those women who boldly approached Jesus, was that this illness will not lead to death, but God will be glorified.” Are we living our life in this situation to bring glory to God, or are we stumbling in the darkness? If you are stumbling pray that you will be able to see God’s glory. If you are not stumbling give thanksgiving that God is with you through the storm. If you are just getting by pray that you will have the strength to keep going. And if you do not know what to think or where to turn, rest in the arms of God. As we pray, praise, move forward, and rest let us always remember the promise, and the reality that even in our darkness, Jesus wept. And in the end, God will be glorified. Because God will call out to those he loves, and we will rise and embrace him.
As we some time this day to sit in holy expectancy, I encourage you to consider Mary and Martha, consider the emotions and the loss. Consider the joy and celebration and consider our own lives. Lazarus was dead for four days, buried in a tomb and the community knew that. And Lazarus lived again. There is more going on than we are aware of, and God is going to use this dark time for his glory, will you join him?
Walk as Children of Light:
Sermon Was Presented on March 22, 2020
CCLI # 1863824 CCLI Streaming # 20222278
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