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We Have Work to Do

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

June 14, 2020

 

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Matthew 9:35–10:23 (ESV)Harvest

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” 1 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. 2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. 16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

As the weather continues to warm up my mind moves from hockey to baseball and harvest. While I was growing up harvest was the most important time of the year. It was the time of year that the most important time of our business cycle. Every portion of an economy has a form of harvest. For those in the accounting industry, tax season is harvest. In retail the fourth quarter is harvest, because that is when the greatest gathering holidays are. There are always cycles. Life is filled with cycles and understanding those cycles gives us a greater understanding of the world around us, and when those cycles are disrupted there is usually catastrophe.

In today’s passage Jesus speaks of a harvest. He goes out into the cities and village, he teaches in their places of Meeting while proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and while healing disease and affliction. He looks out at the crowd. He has compassion for them, because they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. This story is one that speaks of a disrupted cycle.

Cycles are often disrupted. Disruptions come from many different sources. When rain comes too soon or too late the plant cycles get disrupted resulted in something less than ideal. Many of us are facing a disruption in our traditional cycles and our lives seem to be disrupted. Schedules are off, school has not been in session since March, and our jobs and home cycles have also been a bit off. The results I am certain we have all felt: Irritability, fatigue, depression, and a strong desire to get out of the house.

Jesus looks at the crowd, and he sees that there is something not quite right, but the potential is there. He said that the crowd was harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd after he had already healed disease and affliction and then he said that the harvest is plentiful. This caused me to pause as I was studying, because in my mind the healing of disease and affliction would be the harvest. But even after Jesus had brought the immediate needs under control the people remained harassed and helpless.

There are always signs that indicate need. When a plant needs water, we can see it. At first the leaves may droop slightly, and the surface of the leaves may begin to look dusty. The dusty look is because the pores on the leaves are closing to maintain the moisture and the drooping leaves are because cells within the plant have less water, so it is like a deflated balloon. If we do not react when we see the signs of distress, eventually leaves will sacrificed, and if we still do not remedy the situation the plant will die. I mention plants mainly because I have a degree in crop science, I know plants. That is just one system, there are multiple signs on a plant that will tell us many things, discoloration will indicate nutrient deficiencies, and can even indicate disease. And at times plants will emit a different odor when they are distressed. If we learn to read the signs, we can act. I know plants. Before I became a pastor, my job was to maintain landscapes around the community. The yards I managed looked amazing, and the trees and shrubs could have been featured in magazines. I know plants, but my own yard was not something spectacular and I cannot seem to keep a house plant alive if my life depended on it. I can see the signs in others but often I overlook what is right in front of me.

Jesus looked out at the crowd, and he had compassion for them. These were not people across the ocean in some mission field, they were people from the very district of Israel he lived. He saw the crowds around him, after he had healed every disease and affliction and he had compassion because there was more work to do. And if that work would be completed, then the change within the community would be like a harvest of record proportion.

Jesus turns from the crowd and he looks at his disciples and he says, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” I imagine they are looked at Jesus in confusion. These men understood the concept of agriculture, but they did not have skills to manage the harvest. They were fisherman, tax collectors, and one is even known as a zealot which is basically a gang member. He looked at this group of unlikely leaders and he gave them authority over unclean spirits, and to heals every disease and every affliction. Imagine that scene. It is about the must unlikely group imaginable. To make it even better, from the outside their leader is a construction contractor. And Jesus says, “Yep, this place is in sad shape, look at those harassed and helpless people. The harvest is plentiful, and we do not have enough people to do the work, but I am going to give you guys authority to cast out demons, and to heal every disease and affliction. Now Go!”

And he sent them out, with the instruction to stay in Israel. This also caused me to pause. The harassed and helpless people were their own people. The sad bunch that cause Jesus to have compassion was not the pagan Romans, or even the misguided Samaritans but Israel. The people of God were the ones that were helpless like a sheep without a shepherd. Israel at this time had an amazing Temple complex. It could be argued that at this moment the religious industry of Israel was at its peak performance. People from around the empire were coming to this frontier province just to look at the structure that gave this nation pride. And the value within the treasury was the envy of those that sought power. This efficient and effective religious monument held power that was beyond the population it represented. Israel was small, but influential. I have always been small but influential. Yet it was these people that Jesus called harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

He sent the disciples out to their own countrymen. Advising them to go without gathering money, without packing for the journey, and to live off the hospitality of those within the community. He told them to enter a house and to stay there. Make that house the center of their ministry operations within the community. They are not advised to go from house to house. Which I find interesting. There are sent with authority to heal and to liberate, yet they are encouraged to remain in one place. You would think that moving around would be better, going out to find the people, and adding as many stats to the healing roster as possible, but that is not direction Jesus gave. Jesus sent these disciples out to heal, but that was not their main mission, the healing was to ease the symptoms of a greater distress. He sent them to one house within a community to become a place of strength and unity as they taught about the kingdom and challenged those that were causing the harassment and helplessness. They were advised to remain in one place so that they could work to affect a change within the very heart of the community.

Jesus sent them with authority, but he sent them to live with and among the people. He sends them with the authority to ease affliction, but their mission is to show a different perspective of life. He sent them knowing full well that many within those communities would be so consumed and distracted from God that they would not be able to bear an alternate perspective, and Jesus encouraged them to not worry about it. To shake the dust off their feet and to move on to the next house and to try again. Remember again that these communities that Jesus is sending them to, are communities of good people of Israel. The chosen people of God, they are the people that God chose to reveal Himself through for the world to see. Their very own people might reject what they have to say even though they are healing diseases and giving freedom from spiritual bondage. And Jesus says that it would be more bearable on the day of Judgement for Sodom and Gomorrah than for those communities that would reject the disciples of Jesus.

I want us to take a step back before we dwell in Sodom and consider the shaking of dust off their feet, because this I believe will give us an insight into what exactly the tone is. This practice was a condemnation of the land. As I was studying, I read that this was a custom performed by of the people of Israel that were wanting to enter the Holy Land from areas deemed pagan. They did not want to contaminate the scared soils of Israel with the dirt so to speak. Jesus sent the disciples into communities within Israel, their own people. And he was commanding them to shake the dust off their feet before their own countrymen to illustrate that their land was contaminated and that the disciples would not carry that dust into sacred space.

I want us to think of this for a moment. Jesus says to shake the dust from your feet in communities that reject the gospel, and that those communities are worse than Sodom and Gomorrah. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah can be found in the book of Genesis, and these communities were deemed so sinful that God in his righteous judgment destroyed them with burning sulfur, which in my mind I imagine they were covered with lava and ash like Pompeii.   There are a few theories about the cause of this harsh judgement, and I will allow you just consider that on your own. Jesus is telling his disciples that the rejection of their ministry within a community is even worse than whatever caused God to wipe out Sodom. What could possibly be that bad?

Jesus traveled through the cities and villages, healing every disease and every affliction, and he looked at the crowds and had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Harassment and helplessness are what sparked Jesus’s compassion. There were institutions within the community that took advantage of people. Institutions that installed barriers and restrictions that caused hindrances within the population. And these hindrances caused disruptions within the various systems and cycles within the community that prevented healthy growth and an abundant harvest.

Today if we are to look across our nation, we can see signs of dis-ease. There are protests in city centers, and in some areas these protests have turned violent. We can condemn the violence, but violence occurs when communication is no longer effective. We have violence because somewhere along the line we as communities failed to see the signs that were causing the disruptions, or we in our efforts to fix problems constructed institutions that harass and leave people helpless and hopeless. Am I calling for war within our communities? Absolutely not. I am encouraging us to take a step back and listen.

Jesus says that communities will resist the change that Jesus encourages. They accept with open arms the acts of healing and the deliverance from the influence of evil, but they resist change. And those that seek to change the direction often face harsh treatment. Jesus says, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the didst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.”

I always struggle with the concept of being wise as serpents and innocent as doves. This is probably because of my irrational fear of snakes. But snakes are very aware of their surroundings, they are constantly flicking their tongues out to test the air and when they get the proper sense they silently wait until the proper moment to act. Doves on the other hand are out where everyone can see them joyfully flying causing no harm, and at times they seem as if they are unaware of what is going on around them. We need to be both, ready to act, and when we act only causing no harm. But we have work to do. We cannot just sit back and allow our communities and the communities around us to remain harassed and helpless. We will be opposed by governing bodies and religious institutions, we will be challenged by family and those that wield authority’s power, but we have been given power over diseases, afflictions and spirits that cause bondage and we are commissioned to use that power to promote the abundant life of Christ and prevent harassment and empower those that were once helpless.

This is the purpose of the church in the world. We are here to respect that of God in all people. We are to be stewards of God’s creation. We are to be instruments of healing and change in disease and affliction. We are called to be compassionate and be willing to give ourselves so that others can experience the hope that we have in Christ. We are called to use every aspect of our lives to encourage and empower our communities to become part of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

As we enter open worship and participate in the communion of Friends, I want us to consider our communities and where we are in them. We all have opinions and ideas that we see as being the right way to live. As we sit in silence, I encourage us all to consider those ideas and the positions others might have. Are we promoting the compassion of Christ or are we participating in the harassment and helplessness that infuriated Christ? Lord, forgive us and help us in our unbelief. Amen!

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On the Go!

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

June 7, 2020

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Matthew 28:16–20 (ESV)walking

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The year is rushing on past. When we began this shelter in place discipline it was still hockey season and now it is hitting ninety degrees outside. It seems as if we missed spring entirely. And unfortunately, we are not out of the woods yet. Yes, the pandemic is not in the news as much, but the reality is in Missouri it is still very real, the new cases of Covid are continuing to increase in our city. But that is not the only concern, our communities are still struggling with unemployment that has reached the highest point in our nation’s history. And that is not even all the concerns facing us. For the past week there has been civil unrest throughout our nation, unrest that began as a protest bringing awareness to injustices that are occurring within our neighborhoods, especially within the neighborhoods populated primarily by minority groups. These issues and our opinions on them threaten to divide us, but it can also unite us. The events that lead to the death of George Floyd and so many others should never be acceptable because it denies the rights that our nation champions throughout the world.

My heart has been heavy this past week. I like many posted things on the internet that sparked controversy. I do not want the controversy. I love my community, I love my country, I love the heritage that has given hope to so many people. A hope that I was taught was for all people.

There is much uncertainty in our world today. There is a great deal of fear coursing throughout our thoughts and in our streets. But we have been in these places before. Lucretia Mott, one of the great Quaker ministers that stood for liberty, the abolition of slavery, and for women’s rights once said, “If our principles are right, why should we be cowards?” Let those words resonate in your mind. If our principles are right, why should we be cowards?

Equality is one of the core beliefs within the Friends Church, or the religious society of Friends. From the very beginning of our history we have encouraged the ministry of women and men. And during the colonial period of our nation’s history, the Friends tried their hardest to treat the indigenous people with respect and even though the king of England gave William Penn the land that would become Pennsylvania, Penn was lead in his spirit to not take into his possession the land without first securing the rights with the Native Americans living there. The early Friends believed in equality, they believed that every human being should be treated with respect because they bear the image of God. This has been our belief, and we have paid for our beliefs.

This week is also the anniversary of the hanging of Mary Dyer in Boston. Mary came to the new world like so many, with hope and dreams. She and her family left England because they sought fortune and adventure, but they also left because they wanted to live their faith freely. Mary was a minister, and her husband was not. Her husband, while attempting to provide for his family and survive in the wilderness, encouraged Mary to minister. And she boldly taught and preached in the colonies of New England. But in many of these areas there were laws against these sorts of things. She was a Quaker, and being a Quaker was illegal in the colonies surrounding Massachusetts. She was told to keep quiet and to leave, but she, with the support of her husband, would not be quiet and she proceeded to preach. This angered the leaders, and she was executed. We might not think too much of this, but her death was what caused many to question their principles. Her death in many ways promoted the colonies to recognize the human right to practice their faith in whatever way they saw fit. The death of Mary ensured our freedom to worship.

If our principles are right why should we be cowards? Jesus took his disciples out to a mountain. They followed him to this mountain, but they did not fully understand what this journey would entail. They had spent three years following Jesus. They walked where he walked, they ate what and where he ate. They listened to his teachings, and they watched as he performed miracles that were beyond their wildest imagination. They followed Jesus for three years. They watched as Jesus challenged the authorities. As Jesus taught, he challenged beliefs that they had held their entire lives, but he did not simply teach these things he lived them out.

Often when we think of Jesus, we do not always see the whole picture. Jesus was born, he grew up within a community just like every other child. He went to school in his local synagogue. Synagogues were more than places of worship; they were centers of education and community enrichment. Like every young boy Jesus went to learn, he learned to read the scrolls of scripture. He listened as the Rabbis taught their interpretations of what they read. And when he became a man, he entered the family business. He worked from the age of thirteen along side his cousins, Joseph, and his uncles. He lived like this for thirty years.

The community he lived was not a large town. It was extremely small. Everyone knew everyone. So, people knew who Jesus was. When he began his ministry, it was in a small community. We do not really know how Jesus went from living in Nazareth to Capernaum but maybe he was hired to help build the synagogue. Because we are told that one of the people involved in a healing performed by Jesus was a God fearing Roman, that had financed construction to Capernaum’s place of worship.

Jesus was known by those within that community, and he began his ministry within his own community. These people listened to his teaching and they responded because Jesus lived it out before their eyes. He worshiped with them, he withdrew to isolated places to pray, and he would minister to the needs that he saw. There was no hypocrisy in his word and action. Yet at times his words challenged them.

The disciples followed Jesus, listening to those words for three years. They watched as he lived his message out before them, and the participated when he encouraged them. But eventually the authorities did not like what they saw. They were afraid that they would lose some of their privilege if Jesus a common carpenter continued to attract attention. Their fear caused division. Their divisions caused hardening of stances and more ridged adherence to their favorite interpretation. They were annoyed by Jesus, they wanted to force him to choose a side, or force him to say something that would discredit his standing within the community. Jesus saw around their power plays. And he challenged them to a greater degree. Then someone with a disability entered the place of worship on the sabbath, Jesus healed that man. And the leaders began to unite against Jesus. He continued to teach, and the crowds continued to come. But sabbath after sabbath people were being healed. Jesus seemingly sought to find people on the sabbath to heal just to cause greater trouble. But when Jesus invited a crippled woman into the place of worship and healed her, the religious leaders had had enough. She was not accepted in that area of the sacred space, and Jesus healed her. Two transgressions to their interpretation of the law.

The disciples watched, listened, and followed. They were there when the authorities unjustly arrested Jesus on trumped up charges. And they watched as the governmental officials judged him not guilty but crucified him anyway. They had just a few weeks earlier proclaimed Jesus to be their king, and the only one that had the words of life, and they then locked themselves in a room out of fear.

But now they are following Jesus to a mountain. Much has changed over the course of a month. Jesus was dead and buried. They were locked in a room, and suddenly Jesus was alive and eating with them again. They did not understand it, and they could hardly believe it, and some even doubted, but Jesus showed them his hands where the nails pierced him, he even told Thomas to put his hand into the wound left by the spear. The doubt left their minds. Jesus was alive, walking and eating with them. And now on the last day that he was with them, they go to this mountain and Jesus give them the mission that will be their life’s work.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [1]

There is much in statement. When Jesus says all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, what comes to mind? Ms. Mott has another interesting quote saying, “Truth for authority, not authority for truth.” Jesus has authority because he is truth, he is the word that was spoken to bring the world into existence. He conquered death, a death that the authority of mankind caused, and he lives. Jesus has authority because Christ lives.

Truth for authority, not authority for truth. Jesus once said, “and do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” The world seeks to impose authority with force, but that will not last. Jesus also says that those that live by the sword will die by the sword. He is alluding to this unending cycle in human existence where empires are striving to grasp and maintain power and influence but every empire throughout history has eventually come to an end. The world’s authority is like dust in the wind and when we build our lives on the truth of force eventually our lives will crumble.

The authority of man is death, they use this effectively because we fear death. Death is one of the five fears that we all share, and it is probably the biggest fear that we have. Death could not hold Jesus. The very worst that mankind could bestow on another could not keep Jesus from taking that which is rightfully his. Jesus said because I live you also will live. The one thing that the kingdoms of men can hold over us is that fear of death, but Jesus takes that fear on himself, and he obliterates it. Death has no power over those in Christ.

Jesus conquered death when he rose. Which leads us to a major question, the question that Pilate himself asked, what is truth? If we build our entire lives on the things of this world, it will all lead to the same end. Our worldly wealth will come to an end. Our property will be fought over by the generation after us. It will all be whittled down to nothing. Unless we invest in something greater.

Jesus claims his authority and he tells his disciples on that last day he spent on earth, to go and make disciples of all nations. Go and make disciples of all nations. What words stick out in that verse? The first that really grabs my attention is all nations. He does not say one nation or people group but all nations. This goes to the very beginning of God’s revelation to humanity. Yes, God chose on family or nation to make the revelation through, but God made a promise to the fathers of Israel that they would be the light to the nations. God has always been for all because all of humanity is created in God’s image. Male and female reflects the beauty of God. Those from the jungles of the Amazon, those from the artic, the deserts and savannahs of Africa, and the billions of Asia are all reflections of God’s great love and recipients of God’s desire.

Jesus commissions the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. The next word that that stands out to me are the verbs, go and make. These words speak of activity, participation, and continuation. When we go, we leave the comforts of where we are and the embrace the unknown beyond the horizon. To go means that we cannot stay where we are, we cannot be stationary but moving.

When we think of the word make there is a sense of activity. When I was in grade school, one of my teachers gave me a recipe for bread. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and I wanted to make bread, because I had never made bread before. I mixed the ingredients and allowed the dough to rise just like the recipe called for. But then the next step was to separate the dough into several balls. There was not any direction in how to do this, so I put my hand in to grab a handful. There was more dough left on my hands than was in the ball I was making. That is the reality of the word make. You are right there getting your hands dirty. Life sticks to you. Sweat rolls off your nose, and at times a trickle of blood might trace its way along a wound. To make something you are not only there you are in with it. And since the activity we are commissioned to participate in is making disciples, we are in with other people, living live with them. If they are struggling, we are standing beside them. If they are excited, we celebrate along with them. When they mourn, we weep too. We reflect the very life of Jesus; worshipping, praying, and serving. Teaching as we work along side them. Helping make sure there is enough to drink at a party. And when someone is sick, we nurture them. We do this not to make converts but to reflect Christ. When they see that abundant life of Christ, they must then answer their own call to go and to make along side us.

The past few weeks have shown us how very fragile our world is. One microscopic virus has our entire world on its knees. And because we are all struggling fires begin to blaze and the authority of world pushes back. Mott said, “If our principles are right, why should we be cowards?” She lived in a time where there was a nation enslaved by another and she boldly spoke out against it, because it was contrary to Truth. She was so emboldened by this mission she bravely crossed the ocean to speak out against the practice in the capital city of an empire. She did not stay; she was on the go and she lived the truth in all she did. Mary Dyer did not stay but she was also on the go. She boldly proclaimed the message God gave her even under the threat of death and as a rope went around her throat she did not falter because Truth has authority over the authorities of men. We need to be on the go, and we need to participate in the making of disciples of all nations. We need to stand for truth and when we fear we need to withdraw to pray and make sure our principles are right. As we enter this time of open worship, I ask that you reflect on why we might fear today and ask yourself on whose authority you are putting your trust. And as we pray, I encourage you all to pray for all nations, including those among our community.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 28:18–20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Living Water

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

May 31, 2020

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John 7:37–39 (ESV)Pentecost

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. The words of Jesus often cause my soul to relax. And this is just what I need this week, to relax. I know many within our community could also use a pause and a sigh. In the Psalms there is often a word, Selah that we see. After centuries of research in the language we are still unsure exactly what the word means, but it is regarded as a musical or liturgical term that means pause. Take a breath and let the words that were just uttered saturate your mind for a moment.

Selah. I need that pause this week because it has been filled with stress. As the community moves to reopen from the pandemic and readjust to many of the changes, I am in the middle of all those discussions and enforcement. And to be very honest it is not a fun position to be in. I work in retail security when I am not at the meetinghouse, and during this pandemic much of my job is to stand at the doors to be ready to handle customers that might get upset. And Friends, people are upset. Selah. Pause take a breath. Jesus tells us, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”

Jesus said these words on the last day of the feast, the great day scripture tells us. For those of us that do not know the holiday cycles of Israel, the feast referred to in this passage is the feast of Sukkot or Tabernacles. This feast is one of the major feasts that required a pilgrimage to the temple. It celebrated the end of harvest and was to remind the people of Israel of the time spent in the desert. They would celebrate by building tents and sharing their abundance with everyone. If you came by a tent you would be asked to join with those already there in a meal. In our American culture the Thanksgiving holiday is supposed to resemble this feast, and as much as I love Thanksgiving we do not know how to celebrate like the people of Israel. We celebrate for a day, they celebrated for the entire week!

They celebrated the blessing of God. The celebrated the abundant harvest. They celebrated life. But there is a portion of this festival that most of us do not understand, because we have not participated and largely because there is not a temple in Jerusalem. A portion of the celebration was the water pouring. In this celebration the priests would carry water from the pool of Siloam, up the pilgrim road, to the temple where it was poured on the altar in the evening. Why were they sacrificing water we might ask? Water is scarce and necessary. Everything that promotes life requires water. The plants that we eat need water. The animals that provide our meat need water. We need water ourselves for personal hygiene as well as keeping our bodies healthy. Water is life. In urban settings we do not always recognize the scarcity of water because very few of us have had to ration our water usage. But what happens when one a pipe supplying our cities ruptures? The city issues a boil alert and suddenly we come face to face with the reality that clean water is hard to come by.

We look at a globe of the earth and we might say how can water be scarce when most of our planet is covered with water? The waters of the ocean will not sustain life on land. The salt in the water will kill plants, and it will drive animals and people mad from dehydration. Water is one of the most abundant resources on earth but only 0.3% is obtainable for use. Water is scarce. The celebration of water was a celebration of blessing. It was a celebration of the rain, and a cry out to God to continue to bless the world with this life-giving fresh water. It was a plea to God to not withhold the rain.

I grew up on a farm in north central Kansas. When the explorers first traveled through the areas that I called home they gave mixed reviews of the land. When the Spanish wrote about it, they called it lush like the lands of Spain, but when others passed through their maps called it the great desert. This is where I grew up, I lived the cycles of abundance and desert. When we had rain the crops thrived, but when the rain was lacking our community lived in poverty. This week in Kansas City we had much rain, and even though parts of our city was under water, I still find it hard to lift my voice to ask God to stop the rain.

The people of ancient Israel were by in large people that made their living in the agricultural trades. Their lives were devoted to feeding one another. It is a noble and honorable life, to provide the food that feeds a society. One of the stresses during this pandemic time frame revolves around getting the food to the people. We have meat shortages; we have hand sanitizer shortages. Both products begin in places like the one I spent my childhood. Grain and fiber products are used to make the alcohol that sanitizes our hands and I raised some of those animals that once graced your table. When there is a glitch somewhere along the line of production the product cannot be found, and shortage occurs. The reality is right now we have the meat, we have the grain, but the processors of the products cannot get them in the stores. But often there is a different problem. Often the shortage of a product due to a lack of water. When there is not water, there is suffering. And when there is suffering, fear and anger mounts, and when fear and anger builds, often death follows.

Ancient people recognized this so many ancient religions celebrated rain and water. The ancient Jews did as well. And Jesus celebrated these water rituals with his community. He prayed for God’s blessing of the earth and he danced with the community as the water was drawn. Water is life.

But what happens when there is not rain? What happens when the things that sustain life are not accessible? What happens? Suffering.

Jesus attended the feast of tabernacles, the feast where everyone shared their abundance, but what if there was not an abundance? What if there was a drought and the fruit of the land was not enough? The feast that should be a celebration of prosperity becomes a spotlight revealing our own fragility. It takes great discipline to share when we lack. It takes great faith to celebrate when the budget is tight. Yet Israel was commanded to celebrate and share through thick and thin, during abundance and lack. They were commanded to remember that it was God that brought their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt. It was God that provided for their families as they wondered through the desert those forty years. It was God that lead them to the land of promise. It was God that gave them the victory over their enemies and handed them a land flowing with milk and honey. It was and is God that provides the rain for the just and unjust. God gives and God can take away, how will you respond?

If you are thirsty, Jesus says, come to me and I will give you a drink. Jesus’s statement is one of relief in times of suffering. If we are thirsty it means we lack water. This lack might simply be that we were exerting ourselves to much as we mow the lawn and failed to stay hydrated in the sun, or it might be something even deeper like the infostructure of our community will no longer support our population. No matter the cause, there is a need. It does not matter how we got to that place, if we are thirsty and do not do something about it, we will suffer. And the longer the suffering lasts the greater the harm. Jesus is saying that he is the source that will ease the suffering, and he is calling all that thirst to him.

I want us to let that soak in for a moment, like a slow rain shower soaks into our lawns. If thirst is suffering, Jesus’s mission is to ease the suffering. Over the past few weeks, I have mentioned that if we love Jesus, we will continue his commission or follow his commandments. This means that if we are disciples of Christ, if we are Friends, or if we are just people that claim the name Christian our purpose of being here is to join Jesus in his mission. That means that our mission is to help ease the suffering around us.

How are we doing in that mission? One of my favorite authors is the classic Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, I know it seems odd that I would love the writing of someone from Russia, but his writing is amazing. In one of his books, he says that we are not only responsible for our sin, but we are responsible for everyone’s sins. When I first read that I laughed. I considered it the musing of a lunatic but the though worked its way into my mind and kept drawing me in. What it means is we are responsible for their sin because we allowed the possibility of that sin to occur. Dostoyevsky would say that this is where the church failed. He wrote these words before the Red Revolution, but he did not support the revolutionist movements, because he believed that the church should be the ones to ease suffering. We should ease the suffering of the world, we who call ourselves people of Christ.

Jesus goes on by saying, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”[1] The waters that were drawn during the feast of Tabernacles were considered living waters, or water of creation. It is a weird concept, but it is moving water that is provided by God through nature. A well is not considered this type of water, but only surface water. And surface water is supplied through rain or a spring where the water under ground is so plentiful it flows out of the soil. Living water is fresh, it is constantly being replenished from the source. When water stands still it becomes stale and undrinkable. The concept here is the living and the dammed. Or blessing and the damned, however you want to think of it. Are we letting things flow or are we stopping that flow?

I want us to think of moving undammed water and our responsibility of the world’s sin. It is when we stop the flow that water becomes stale, the same occurs in people. When we stop our involvement in the easing of suffering, we dam up the potential of blessing to flow through us. The result is both stagnation in our lives and the lives of those around us. When we dismiss the concerns of other and focus only on our personal wellbeing, we dam the flow of blessing through us and we no longer quench the thirst of those who might need a drink. When we stop sharing or fail to consider the mutual profit of our community we contribute to the potential sins of the world.

Take a moment and think of what you personally feel are the greatest problems in our world today? Income inequality, abortion, race relations, climate change, unemployment, war, drugs? There is a great list and every day it seems to get worse. What are you going to do about it? When we look at all the problems of our society we can be overwhelmed. I cannot solve the riots in Minneapolis as much as I would like to, but I can listen to those that see the situation from a different perspective. And by listening I can quench the thirst just a bit. I cannot prevent all the abortions from occurring in our nation, even though I would like to, but I can listen and encourage one person that might have to face that decision. We can protest and make laws all we want but it will not change one thing unless we ourselves see that we are responsible. It is my fault because I allowed people to live in fear to the point they snap. It is my fault because I was not willing to assist my neighbor with food. It is my fault because I did not teach my children to respect that of God in all people. But there is hope.

Jesus came into a world that was a mess. He lived in a messed-up community. He suffered injustice when he was whipped and crucified even though he did not commit a crime. Jesus came into a messed-up world, and he said if you are thirsty come to me. He said if you believe out of you will be rivers of living water. Jesus lived in a messed-up world filled with corruption, greed, inequality, prejudice, famine, and disease and he took it all on himself and encourages us to follow him.

Are we able to see it? Are we able to smell the rain, the source of life? Jesus came and made it his custom to worship with his community in the synagogues. Jesus withdrew often to isolated places to pray. And he ministered to the needs within the community. Jesus showed us the holy rhythm of life, he showed us what the true abundant life looks like. And he is calling each of us to join him in that life. The abundant life is the feast of tabernacles. Where people are invited to the table to share in the abundance, or to share in the suffering. The abundant life is not the wealth of the world, but it is the health of our community. It is each of us listening to the call of God and living it with those around us.

I really wish I had all the answers. I wish I could with one word fix the problems we all face. The reality is often my words cause more problems. You see that is the problem, I. So often we only think of I. We cannot get away from it. Even the most socially conscience person is often thinking of I instead of the community. And that is another problem when we are not thinking of I, we are thinking of them and trying our hardest to fix their problems. How about we think of us. Jesus said the greatest commandment is simple, love God and love your neighbor as yourself. It is not about I or them, but us in relation to each other and in relation to God. If there is a problem in the community it is my problem and I need to work to ease the suffering and fear. I need to lead by example and sacrifice myself so that my neighbor can live. I need to love God, embrace the Holy Spirit and live the love of Christ with others. I need to come to Christ to quench my thirst so that I can become a blessing to others. I cannot help them without first taking care of myself and I cannot fully care for myself unless I am thinking of those around me.

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Today we celebrate the Spirit of God with us. Today we celebrate that we are not alone but have a helper with us forever. Today we celebrate because Jesus is glorified, and the Spirit has come and is active even today. Today we can join with Christ in his commission to ease the thirst of our world by embracing the sprit of truth and listening to that call. Will we listen? Will we become rivers of living water, or stagnate pools of damnation? Let us enter this time of open worship in a spirit of honesty, with full knowledge that we contribute to the sins of this world because we often do not listen. And let us repent and turn to Christ so we can go out this week and become the people our world needs us to be.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 7:38). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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