By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
April 19, 2020
John 20:19–31 (ESV)
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” 24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Last week we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. This is the most controversial event in human history. Some are out there saying that it never happened, while others are saying that it did. I want us to really consider our stance on this event. I know that this seems like a weird statement, but I want us to really think about it. If we say that “He is Risen!” do we actually live as if he does?
When the three disciples went to the tomb last week, they ran they did not walk. They rushed to get the information that they sought. They entered that tomb to find the cloths laying there but no body to be seen. Peter stood there in confusion, and we were told that the other disciple believed. What exactly did he believe? If we are to look at his actions and listen to the witness of the Gospel writer, that he did not believe that Jesus was risen at that time. In fact if we were to look at the story, this man who ran the fastest to the tomb hearing that that the stone was moved away went away that Easter morning believing that he was in danger, that his hope was lost, and that his death was near.
I say this because Peter and the other disciple walked away from the tomb and went back to the house while Mary remained in place. Mary stayed out in the open, ready to face whatever the world might throw at her, while the men went to a room and locked the doors.
They went to the house. They locked the door. They remained there until the evening. Why? For fear of the Jews. When John, the gospel writer is not telling us that Jews are bad, he is referring to the the religious leadership. These were the religious leaders that convinced the Roman governor to execute an innocent man. These leaders where able to manipulate the people to act according to their whims and desires. And the disciples knew that if they were willing to kill Jesus, they would be next because they were the friends of Jesus. These men were afraid because they knew the way the world worked. They knew how politics worked and they knew that they stood on what appeared to be the wrong side. They chose Jesus and Jesus had been crucified. They chose Jesus and the passion of the people had chosen Barabbas. They choice opposed the will of the world and now they sat afraid, because even the body of their king was gone.
Mary stood at the tomb weeping, we can understand Mary, we understand how and why she embraced the emotions she exhibited. We struggle with the men. This is partly because we have made heroes out to these men. We hold them up as pillars of faith and we want to believe that they could do no wrong, but the reality is that these men were very human. They had followed Jesus with their whole being. Peter and Andrew dropped their nets right on the beach and followed. James and John, looked at their dad and their employees and they jumped out of the boat without looking back. Matthew was sitting at this tax collection table, with stacks of coins setting there, and when Jesus called out to him he walked away without even securing the money. Each one of these disciples had listened to Jesus, had been inspired and walked away from the lives that they knew and embraced the life they hoped for.
They embraced a different life, but Jesus died. The world came crashing down on them and they locked the door. They had heard and saw yet the world’s weight was heavy on their shoulders. And they locked the doors. They had three years of teaching and experience yet they sat sealed in a room, why?
This is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. This is the difference between belief and faith. This is the difference between ideology and life. They had seen many things in the past three years. They had seen Jesus turn water to wine, feed five thousand with a simple sack lunch, they had seen him cleanse the lepers and give sight to the blind. They had even participated in these things, they themselves had provided freedom to others from the bondage of demon grasps. They knew the power of God that Jesus controlled. But when the world came cashing in with their populous manipulating powers, where are the disciples that once claimed that they would walk to death with their lord?
Mary remained at the tomb, and the disciples we cherish so much were locked behind closed doors. These men were human, just like us. They did not know what to expect and they were confused and afraid. I think we all can identify a bit with these men. We have spent a month at home sheltering in place from a pathogen that seems to strike at random. One might even go as far as saying it is like a thief in the night, taking one while leaving another working in the fields. One is considered essential and another is not. One is on hold with the unemployment office and the other is afraid of getting sick at work. We know the fear that these men may have had. The world is crashing in on us, we are gripped in fear, confused, and ingnorant as to what to do next. Do I get another package of toilet paper or do I plan for future expenses?
We know what those disciples felt. They had knowledge, they even believed but that did not move them out of that room. Mary, though, was not in the room with them that morning. Mary was at the tomb, she was waiting in that place she last knew her lord was. She did not move away but she remained at that place until she her belief moved into something greater, hope.
Some of us are at the tomb and some of us are have already walked to the house and closed the door. Both have ignorance of the future, but there are two different approaches. One does not care what the world might think where the other withdraws from the world. Which are you?
Mary was in a position where she was open to the lord’s leading, she was the first to experience the risen Lord, and she became the first witness of this amazing event. Mary Magdalene is actually the first apostle, the first to be sent out to share the message of the greatest hope, Jesus Christ is alive.
At times, we are in a position where we are right were God needs us to be to respond to ministry and service. We might be sitting at a table next to someone that has begun to choke and we can quickly spring to action. We might have access to funds that can be used to encourage other in their life’s journey. We might be a friend that happened to notice when someone’s response was just a bit off and were able to step up and help them avoid a suicide attempt, or could counsel them through a major life event. We might be like Mary in the right place at the right time, but all to often we are somewhere else.
Often we are like the other disciples, we are like the disciples that have the knowledge that the tomb is empty and we walked away and gather in a building, away from the world. I am often this disciple. I like the building, it gives me something tangible. There is safety, security, there are people that will not think I am crazy for having certain ideas. I love the places the church meets, and assembles. Even the name church, which is a gathering, implies that we should come together and withdraw from the world into this group of like minded people to fellowship and encourage one another.
The gathering is important, but we need to recognize the danger that might also be there. The disciples gathered together which is great, but they gathered together, locked the door, out of fear. They were not engaging in ministry, they were not even in a position to begin to minister. They were locked away in fear. They were there talking amongst themselves, and the fear was multiplying. Each of us have stayed home, we have limited contact to those around us, we have limited knowledge as to what is going on outside our dwellings. We are living with only partial knowledge, and how can we move forward?
The disciples knew that the body was missing, but that is all they knew. They sat in that room with only part of the story, and they were afraid. But there is hope, Jesus met Mary by the tomb as she wept and Jesus meets the disciples as they lock themselves away in fear.
The one thing that the COVID19 stay at home orders have shown us is that church and ministry can take on various different roles. Many of us once only viewed our church as being a building in one community, but as these worship services have been moved to an online format, people join with us in worship, in some manner, from anywhere. This is opening our eyes to something greater.
Jesus met the disciples in that room and he showed them that there was something greater than fear, hope. The greatest fear in humanity is the fear of death, because that is the greatest mystery of all. We do not know what lies beyond death. Is it the end? Is there a constant chain of reincarnation? Is their a different form of life? Every person that lives has a theory of death, and as a result it often dictates their life. What happens when the fear of death is removed?
The other fears are often connected to the first fear. In an article called “The (Only) 5 Fears We All Share” from Psychology today, they list off these various fears. The first they say is extinction, which is basically the fear of death. I could also be connected to the fear of things we perceive to cause death. The second is fear of having our bodies mutilated or invaded, this includes the anxiety we have about animals because we perceive them as causing us bodily harm. Next is the loss of autonomy, separation, and finally the fear of humiliation or loss of our self identity.
We fear death so we live our lives to protect ourselves as much as we can from that. The disciples were afraid of the Jewish leaders, and they were in fear because those leaders had just killed their lord. Jesus joined them in their fear. He joined them in that room in the midst of their fear, and he removed that base fear from them. If Jesus is alive, if the grave could not hold him why exactly are they sitting in that locked room?
Jesus met them in the midst of their fear, but he does something more. He says to them, “Peace be with you.” Have we ever really thought about this statement? It is a peace blessing. It is in essence a peace treaty. Jesus meets them in their state of fear and he declares peace. He offers to them an opportunity to move out of the life of conflict that they are experiencing at that time. He is offering to take away the fear and replace it with courage.
This peace treaty is forgiveness of sins. He shows him his hands and his side, and he breaths on them and says, “Peace be with you, as the Father sent me so I send you.” He then breaths on them. In this very act Jesus is telling them, your hierarchy of fear has been shattered. Every fear we have from the loss of self identity, separation, autonomy, mutilation, and death have all been taken on Jesus himself. Everything that keeps us from pursuing the life God has called us to, has been carried by Jesus. And he is breathing life back onto and into us saying peace, its forgiven, chose to live. God the Father sent him, now he is showing us through his hands and side we have been released from our fear to pursue life more abundantly.
Jesus met these disciples in their fear, he offered them a life relieved of the hierarchy of fear, and he then sent them into that new life with the assurance of his own life renewed. And he gave them a ministry to live. Mary remained at the tomb and became the first apostle sent out to share the message of our risen Lord, and the disciples that cowered in fear were given a freedom from the grip of fear with the offer of a divine peace treaty. And he said, to go out and share this, go out to forgive. He is telling them to extend the same blessing of peace to those around them. And they begin this mission with one of their own, Thomas.
Thomas is probably the most underappreciated disciple. We tend to look down at him because of his doubt. I would even venture to say that we respect Judas more than Thomas because he at least stood for something even though he was the betrayer. But Thomas will forever be the disciple that doubted. Peter, the one that we regard as the leader of the apostles denied Jesus, he rejected Jesus when people confronted him about his association. He even swore that he did not know him. Yet he is given a place of respect where Thomas doubted, and will remain that disciple.
Thomas was not with the others. Think about that. Thomas was not locked in that room in fear. Where was Thomas that evening? Maybe Thomas heard, what Mary had said and instead of sitting in the room Thomas ran out to the tomb to seek Jesus there as well. Maybe Thomas was out among the people already promoting the teachings of Jesus, because he had seen the life that those teachings had given. Maybe, just maybe, Thomas was already living a life freed from fear. Of course there is the very real possibility that Thomas had given up and walked away completely. All we know is Thomas was not with the others. He was not aware of the peace that Jesus offered to the others. And because he had not seen the lord he would not believe.
I like Thomas. I embrace Thomas because he is a skeptic. I am one that does not like to be naive, or ignorant. I want to know what I know and live that out. I like reality and proof, because I identify as someone grounded in science. Some people might scoff at that. I am a pastor, I preach faith, and yet I love science. I am a pastor in the Show-Me State, Missouri. I mean Thomas should be my guy and he is. I understand Thomas. Do not just tell me something show me.
Thomas said unless I see I will not believe. The amazing thing is that Jesus met Thomas in that place as well. The other disciples offered Thomas the peace treaty that Jesus gave them, they forgave his lack of unity with them, and that next week, the day we celebrate this Sunday. Thomas experienced the risen Lord.
Jesus met Mary in the flowing emotions at the tomb, he met the disciples in that room filled with the smell of fear, and he met Thomas in his skepticism. Jesus restored Mary’s hope, he released the disciples from the grip of fear, and Thomas moved from ignorance into true entrusting belief as he said, “My Lord, and My God!”
It is Thomas that at that moment opened the eyes of every disciple there that day. Jesus was not just a man, a prophet, a priest, or a king. Jesus was God incarnate. Jesus revealed to them all as he stretched out his hands everything that binds us. The fear of humiliation was right there in the puncture wounds around his brow. The fear of separation still evident from the denials the disciples had voiced. The loss of autonomy evident in the stripes on his back. And his hands show the mutilation while the pierce in his side was testimony to reality of his death. Jesus stood there before them all looking Thomas in the eyes and saying to him, put your hand here. And Thomas saw in that moment that this was more than just a man. This is God with us, and God taking what holds us back and breaking those bonds to give us the opportunity to live a life restored to our proper place.
From the moment of Adam’s betrayal in the Eden’s garden to the moment of Mary’s encounter with the supposed gardener at the tomb, humanity had lived in enmity with God. We lived with this idea that God was out there trying to keep us from pleasure, or wanting to smite us if we transgressed. We lived in constant fear of God either in respect or wrath, but never fully love. Every trial we faced, was judgment from God. Every benefit we experienced blessing. Always at war, trying to please or trying to avoid, rarely companionship. Then Thomas look in Jesus’s eyes and saw God reaching his hand out to him saying, peace.
Everything that you fear was taken into God’s hands and he is looking at you today saying, “Peace be with you.” He is saying to you there is a different life and lifestyle available to you. And you can become a person joining him in removing life’s fears or perpetuating them. Those scarred hands are welcoming you home, and the scarred and humiliated brow is placed against your forehead breathing new life into your lungs. And he is asking you join him, in becoming people loosening the bonds of fear and shining the light of hope.
Let us enter into this time of Holy Expectancy, knowing that Our Lord and our God has defeated for us all our fears. And let us join each other in a lifestyle loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
April 12, 2020
John 20:1–18 (ESV)
1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept, she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
This is an Easter unlike any others that I have ever experienced. A couple of years ago I said something similar, but in that instance, it was because there was snow on Easter morning, so our annual egg hunt had to happen inside instead of outside. This year though is different, mainly because I am the only one in the Meeting House.
Easter has always been one of my favorite times of the year. Yes, part of that is because I am a pastor, but it has always been important. Where I grew up our community always had, and still has, a community Easter Sunrise pageant. Every church in the community participated in this, it did not matter if you were Quaker, Methodist, Baptist, or Catholic we all participated. It took place on with a unique rock bluff in the background, which made a natural amphitheater of sorts. Every Easter morning, I would participate in this pageant. When I was younger, I put on a bathrobe and shouted Hosanna while waving a palm branch, only to turn around to cry crucify him the next. I would yell and shout, and I would watch as my friends, classmates, and respected members of my community would whip, and act as if they would nail one of our own to a cross. As I got older, I would be one of the disciples.
I watched my dad being forced to carry the cross up the hill as he played Simon. I watched as one of the quietest and most good-natured men in our meeting play the role of one of the thieves being crucified alongside of Jesus. I watched my brother lifted my uncle up on the cross as the sun rose in the background. I listened to people crying, real tears as they participated in this dramatic representation. And after being away from the community for nearly twenty years, I still remember each scene.
These pageants resonate with us, because it our community. The people there are our friends and our relatives. Playing out in front of our eyes we are seeing a cousin wiping Jesus. We are seeing our best friend betraying Jesus. We are seeing our own uncle being lifted on a cross as you cheer. It might be a dramatic representation but its real. We are all part of the world, and scripture said that Christ died for the sins of the world. Our sin is joined with the Romans sins of not standing up for the injustice occurring around them, the sins of the disciples who betrayed and denied Jesus, and the religious leaders who demanded the execution for their own personal gain. We nailed him to that tree.
As I thought about all the things that are missing from this Easter Sunday, I am reminded of the community. In today’s passage we see the community that Jesus brought together in a unique way. The first-person mention is Mary Magdalene. Who is this woman? There are many theories about her, some say she was a prostitute that Jesus freed, some say she was Jesus’s wife, some of these ideas make sense and others have no real foundation in any history. What we do know is that she was a woman whose life was filled with brokenness, and Jesus brought healing into her life. Jesus did not just heal this one woman, but he brought healing to the entire family because Mary and her siblings were considered some of the closest friends to Jesus.
Mary was broken. Scripture indicates that she may have been possessed by demons, which could mean many things. She like so many today struggled with forces within her life that cannot be seen on the outside. According to Mental Health First Aid, in an essay published in February of last year, almost half of American will experience mental illness in their lifetime, and of those that have suffered these struggles less than half of them will seek help. This tells me something. It tells me that we might understand Mary a bit more that we realize. She was broken, she was a wreck, and it did not only affect her, but it affected everyone in her family just like mental illness affects us today.
Mary was broken, but she found hope and was released from the grip of her demons. But she still faced struggles. Her sister thought she was lazy. And her brother died. Scripture is filled with things that many of us can identify with. It is saturated with humanity and our condition. Scripture is filled with war, famine, illness, and most of all it is filled with hope.
A few weeks ago, we met Mary while she was mourning the death of her brother. In that story, we saw the deepness of Jesus’s friendship with this family. Jesus came to them, and Jesus wept with Mary. Jesus is with us in our struggles, he understands our loss, our suffering, and our weakness. But he does not leave us alone in those dark places. Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus and had them remove the stone from the entrance of the cave. He, with tears still streaking down his face, lifted his eyes to heaven and prayed, and then he restored hope to Mary and her sister’s life because their brother was raised to life again.
Just a few weeks after one of the most remarkable events in human history, we meet Mary again in tears. The man that moved her own brother from the darkness of the tomb to new life, was now laying wrapped in death clothes sealed behind a stone. Mary’s hope died.
Many of us often feel like Mary. We look at the world around us, and it appears that everything is shrouded in darkness. We might feel this to a greater degree this year as we are sitting in our houses in self isolation as we try to flatten the curve of a pandemic. Everything we once knew seems to have faded and was replaced with survival.
Mary knew her hope, she knew his name, she sat at his feet and ate at the same table. Mary knew hope. And when her hope died, she embraced it. She moved forward through the darkness. She walked to the tomb to honor the one she loved.
That walk in the dark was probably the hardest path Mary had ever had to travel, but she took the steps. She made that journey. Mary was once a broken woman. That brokenness once defined her life, but Jesus brought her out of that, he gave her a new identity. Jesus brought her back to life. And yet life was still a struggle. And when Jesus died, Mary faced her fear. She knew who she was before she encountered Jesus, and she knows who she has become since. She knows that Jesus brought that change in her life, and now Jesus was buried. He is buried yet Mary, this once broken woman, walks in through the darkness and fear to the tomb.
Imagine that journey. Maybe you have made a similar journey. Maybe you have seen great loss, redemption, and more struggle. Maybe you feel as if the end is near. Mary made that journey; she faced the crushing loss of Good Friday. She sat for a day in the isolation of Holy Saturday. And as the Sabbat ended, she got up, got dress, and she faced the darkness to honor the one that gave her a reason to live.
As I have journeyed through my life of faith, I have come to apricate Mary. She was a disciple that did not hide behind closed doors, but one that boldly approached the one she loved, even in death. She walked through a life of suffering even though she did not know what might come to pass. She moved forward seeking to do the one thing she knew she could do, honor the dead. She did not know what to do, she did not know how to cope with the life that seemed to loom before her, but she did one thing, she walked forward into the darkness to do the one thing she knew she could do.
She walked out that Sunday morning thinking that she would clean and anoint the body of her friend, but when she approached the tomb, she saw that the stone had been moved. She went out that morning fully prepared to do one thing, and now as she walked forward things changed. Life is always filled with surprises. We start down a path, and there are countless detours interacting with us. We adjust on the fly, just like Mary. She went to anoint the body, now the stone has been moved, now she is running back to the house. She does not know what to do and realizes she needs help. She went to Simon Peter and the other disciple. We traditionally recognized this to be John, but some scholars propose that this might have been her brother Lazarus, that really does not matter, she ran to Jesus’s friends. She went to her friends and asked them to join her.
They run to the tomb, and they find that the body they expected to find is not there. The death cloths are there but the body is missing. We are told that Peter looked at the cloths laying there and that the other disciple looked and believed. We do not know what the other disciple believed because Peter seems to be standing there in utter confusion. They saw, and the went back to their homes. Imagine that walk. Imagine, finding yourself in a situation that you have absolutely no idea how you got there, and due to your ignorance, you have absolutely no idea how to move forward.
The disciples walked home, but Mary stayed. I think we often overlook something here. The men just walk away in confusion and possibly frustration, but the woman remains. We are constantly moving in our world today. That is one of the reasons the suggestions to remain home are such a struggle for many of us. We are used to moving, to sit still is contrary to our nature. But are we missing things because of our mobility? Do we respond to our confusion and ignorance by walking away? Mary remained at that tomb. She remained in her struggle; she yet again embraced the hardship she was given. She came to honor Jesus’s life and now she does not know where his body is, so she remains at the last place she knew he was. We face hardship and we move. Our job is not what we expected so we leave, relationships often are regarded as disposable, not to mentions churches and social organizations. Peter and the other disciple walked, and Mary remained. She did not know what to do yet she stayed and allowed the emotions of the situation to flow, and to subside so that she could take the next steps rationally.
We must engage our emotions, we need to acknowledge and let them pass through us so we can understand what and where they are coming from. She remained weeping because she did not know where the body was and as she remained in that place, she saw two angels and they asked her why she was weeping. She processed the emotions she felt. “I do not know where my lord is!” Then she turns from these angels and she sees a man standing there with her and again she is asked why she is weeping. She gives the same answer. “I do not know where the lord is!”
I often find myself there. I look into a void before me. Everything I once thought seemingly vanishes from before me, and I in confusion wonder, “Where is God? What am I doing? And why do I keep trying?” We have all been there. The computer crashes and we lost the paper we were writing for school. We are furloughed from work and rent is due. Something totally unexpected blindsides us and we are once again broken and wondering what to do once again. Peter and the other disciple faced this by walking away, they gave up. Mary remained and she was visited by God in that place of desolation.
Jesus wept with Mary by the tomb of her brother, and he was with her while she stood weeping and attempting to process life without Jesus walking among her friends. Jesus was with Mary. Jesus was with Mary while she wept. And Jesus spoke to her. He spoke into the situation she was facing and called her by name.
All the disciples were in the same place as Mary. All of them faced loss, confusion, emotions, and a lack of knowledge as to what to do next. Mary remained in a place where she could deal with the emotions where the others walked away and locked themselves in a room. Why did Mary remain? Could it be because she knew how Jesus had brought healing before, so she wanted to stay as near to him as she could? We do not know for sure what kept her in that place while the others left, but because of that choice she was the first witness of the risen lord. She experienced Jesus’s healing touch before, and she remained because that memory still resonated within her. As she faced the uncertainty before her, she remained at that place she last knew her lord to be, and she was in a position to experience hope renewed.
We all face uncertainty. We all face struggles. We all face a future that is often veiled behind a cloud of unknowing. How are we facing that hazy future? As Friends we often sit in silence together. Many might think of this as a place of emptiness, but it is a time of Holy Expectancy. We sit in our uncertainty with the expectation that hope will rise. We sit in our struggle with the expectation that God will reveal a way forward. We in this cloud of unknowing expecting to see our next step along the journey of life to be shown as the Spirit’s wind blows the misty fog. We sit in Holy Expectancy because Jesus lived, died, was buried, and lives again. We sit in Holy Expectancy because we know that Jesus lives and is our ever-present teacher and guide and will speak to our condition, just as he spoke to Mary so long ago. We sit in Holy Expectancy because we know that He lives and knows our name, we sit in Holy Expectancy because we know that his kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven and if we wait in his presence at these uncertain times He will call our name and call us to follow him into the future he has prepared for us.
As we celebrate the living Lord today, and as we face our own uncertain lives let us now join Mary. Let us remain at the empty tomb and let us listen for the voice of our beloved teacher and let us respond like Mary and announce to those around us the things that we have heard and seen.
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.