I’m so glad to be with you again…
The very first thing I want to tell you today is that God loves you. More than you can imagine, more than you would ever think possible – God loves you. No matter how you name God in your life, or even if you don’t, I am here to tell you that the Divine, the Creator, Christ Jesus, the Spirit, God, loves you. How can I say that? How do I know this? This I know from my experience of God about myself, about you, about all of life. If you can’t believe that God loves you, I will hold it for you until you can. And if you doubt it, you can always say, “I’m not sure that God loves me, but Ruthie is, and she told me so. She’s holding on to that for me.” And I will be.
‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.’ John 3:16-17
God so loved the world. God so loves you. God so loves me. God loves us all so much.
When was Jesus in Jerusalem? How many times? The first time was when he was eight days old… Scripture tells us that “when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”. [Luke 2:21-22]
And for Passover? Every year! “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.” [Luke 2:41-42]
This Sunday, as we gather in Meeting for Worship, I wonder what Jesus would have been thinking about so long ago on this very day. Perhaps he would be anticipating Passover. It starts at sunset this coming Saturday evening.
God with us – Emmanuel – came to live among us many years ago, after centuries of speaking directly to and through us, doing God’s slow work of salvation through various people, *patriarchs, judges, kings, prophets, and then through the life and ministry of Jesus, whose name literally means ‘to save’. When Hebrew people heard his name – as Mary heard it from Gabriel – it wasn’t ‘Jesus’ they heard, but ‘Yeshua’… like ‘Joshua’ to us, and it means ‘salvation’.
Jesus loves us. Jesus saves us.
Jesus’ ministry was his second career. He had grown up in Nazareth, working in the family business – his dad’s shop. Like a lot of his friends, he would have learned his father’s trade and taken it over as his dad aged out, becoming the carpenter his father once was. Joseph would have taught Jesus how to build very simple pieces – a shelf, a bench, a box, and steadily brought him more and more challenging work to do – first with him and then on his own. We’re not told much at all about his life, but this young man didn’t strike out on his own until his early 30’s. And then, it was to do something that had been lingering in his heart and mind since he was a young boy. How do we know this? Because Jesus ran away.
Well, lots of kids run away. Our son Matt ran away at a shopping mall in Iowa City when he was three, and the clerks found him giggling under a round rack of clothes at JC Penney’s. Jesus ‘ran away’ by staying put at the Temple, talking to the rabbis, while his parents went on their way home after Passover. And what was it he said to his mother when Mary found him there? “Wow mom – where else would I be?” Remember – he wasn’t a little boy anymore – he was twelve, middle school age, and by then, pretty independent and probably figured his folks would know what he was up to. Some kids like screen time, some hang out with their friends, some head to the ball field. “Didn’t you know I’d be at the Temple?” That must have been quite a trip back home.
When Jesus left home, he moved from the family business to his Father’s business – his second career. Ministry – preaching, healing teaching. His cousin, the Baptizer, blessed him. God ordained him with the sign of the dove, and he began the torture and testing of seminary in the desert! And then…
Jesus didn’t begin his ministry to teach us how to make real life stop. Christ, the Rabbi, ministered among us to teach us how to live! To transform our lives – to save our lives from indifference and to live in pursuit of purpose, with heart, soul, mind, and strength governed by love. Lives filled with love – everlasting, never ending, always available, love. This life is not an easy life to live, nor is it an easy life to choose, and Jesus knew it. He preached it, taught it, and lived it out.
Jesus had seen the example of this life as a little boy in Joseph’s carpenter shop. An inert piece of wood became a table leg. A table leg became a part of a table. A table became a serving place. A serving place became a gathering place. A gathering place became a space for the exchange of ideas. Ideas became action. Action brought change.
That piece of wood, that table leg, had been carved, shaped, and fit for a purpose. That table had been moved across many a room, perhaps many a mile. That table had served many meals, many gatherings. It had been pounded on, argued over, dreamed, and caressed over, spilled over. Ideas had been drawn out on that table. Plans had been made. Decisions had been reached on that table. That piece of wood did not stop being a piece of wood. But by being transformed into something beyond only a piece of wood, it became something much more than one might expect.
This is the power of a transformed life. We don’t stop being who we are. We become more than we had ever imagined. Our lives are saved from indifference and instead, we are changed into people with purpose. How does this happen? Through the power of God in us. The same power that was in Jesus, lives in us – is alive in us – and transforms us.
This is the power of God in a twelve-year old boy, who twenty years later returned to Jerusalem for yet another Passover that meant his death. Where was God in that? A dead Jesus can’t save anyone. Where was God’s power in that? It was God who raised Jesus from the dead. [Romans 10:9-10] Not Moses, Not Elijah, not his mother, or his disciples. Not Mary Magdalene at the tomb. It was God. The power of God. And that same power lives in us – is alive in us – and transforms us.
This is what we believe as Friends… that the power of God, the Spirit of God, lives in us just as it did in Christ during his ministry so many years ago… And, the same power of God that changed peoples lives then changes our lives now. That message and power transforms us, and through the power of God in us, God changes the world.
There are a lot of people, a lot of Christians who don’t believe this. They think they must die in order to see God, and experience God. That change will eventually come. That their work now is to be saved – to become, as it were, the leg of a table – but they remain unattached, ready for the transformation of life with God only in heaven. That is not the Quaker way of experiencing God!
The experience of God is present and active in the life of Friends. God is with us now, loving us, lighting our way, empowering us, urging us on, in the living of our lives, both in inward devotion and in outward action. We believe and hope to live into our testimony as Friends that ‘every person is enlightened by the divine light of Christ.’ [Barclay’s Apology, 1676]. Not just the chosen, the perfect, the rich, the blessed, but everyone. What was it Jesus said? ‘The poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind, the bruised….
Who are these people? What is God asking us to do? Do we wait until we see God in heaven to work out our salvation? Or do we rise up, remembering that the power of God is within us – both as individuals and corporately. Do we challenge ourselves to be what Jesus called the Kingdom of God at hand?
Just imagine the power of God unleashed in our world today! The power of love. The power of life. The power of life over death. The power of transformation. This was God’s intention, and I believe God meant it to happen through the power of God’s Spirit in us.
O Lord, thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
This message was given by Ruthie Tippin to Spokane Friends via Zoom on Sunday, March 21, 2021.
References: Cooper, The Gospel According to Friends, Friends United Press, Richmond, IN 1986
Morrison, The Way of the Cross, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #260, 1985