Weekly Bulletin

 

Sunday morning’s reflection below….
 

THIS WEEK (Forty-Seven)+ of pandemic restrictions


WED Feb 3      —Prayer Soup supper, 5:30 PM @ parsonage
                           –Monthly Meeting for Business, 7:00 PM via Zoom
                           —No chiming choir or Sunday School Zoom meetings
SUN Feb 7          Meeting for Worship-Sharing, 10:00 AM, both in person
                                  at the meetinghouse and online via Zoom
 
MON Feb 8        Fiction book discussion group, 7:30 PM by Zoom
TUE Feb 9         USFW meeting by Zoom, 7:00 PM      
 
BULLETIN BOARD for JANUARY 31, 2021
 
FEBRUARY’s MONTHLY MEETING FOR BUSINESS will be held online by Zoom at 7:00 PM this Wednesday February 3.  A Zoom invitation will be emailed on Wednesday.
 
NEWS ITEMS OR ANNOUNCEMENTS for a February-March Friendly  Reminder newsletter are needed in the church office early this week.
 
The FICTION BOOK DISCUSSION GROUP will meet by Zoom at 7:30 PM on Monday February 8 to share learnings from the first section of the Quaker historical novel The Peaceable Kingdom by Jan de Hartog.  A copy or two of the book may be available in the church office. 
 
CHARITABLE CONTRIBUTION STATEMENTS for Friends’ 2020 tax records have been prepared by the church treasurer.  If you have questions or don’t receive yours soon, please let the church office know.
 
READ THROUGH THE BIBLE IN 2021:  This week’s chapters are Exodus 14-37.  The full year’s daily schedule is available on the southwest parlor table.
 
PANDEMIC GATHERING:  For Friends’ health and safety, combined in-person and online Meetings for Worship-Sharing (utilizing Zoom video/phone conferencing) will be held at 10:00 AM each Sunday until further notice.  If COVID-19 cases in this area increase, M&O may at any time instruct returning to online-only Sunday services.  Friends gathering in person are expected to arrive no earlier than 9:30 AM, and to honor hand sanitizing, facemask wearing, and physical distancing to help prevent COVID infection.  If you feel unwell or are experiencing any COVID symptoms (fever, persistent cough, shortness of breath, recent loss of taste or smell), please participate online or by phone.  To connect by telephone, dial 1-301-715-8592, then key in the meeting ID (249 900 7533) and meeting password  (162473).
 
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Winchester Friends Church           765-584-8276
124 E. Washington St.      Winchester, IN  47394
www.winchesterfriendschurch.org
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January 31, 2021 Reflection for Sunday Morning Worship Sharing on Zoom and in the Meetinghouse-
 
 
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…. I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin…. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed…. I am the way and the truth and the life.”   (John 8:31,32,36;  14:6)
 
Let My People Go
 
Seventy years ago, a 30 year-old Oklahoman named Bill Bright who had moved to southern California for graduate school founded Campus Crusade International as a vehicle for Christian ministry with students at UCLA.  After five years of evangelistic efforts with hundreds of college kids, and undoubtedly inspired by the popular work and example of Billy Graham (three years older than Bright), Bill published a tract in 1956 called The Four Spiritual Laws.  He wrote it as a simple four-step guide to give to students who expressed interest in developing a personal relationship with Christ.  By the late 1960s or early 1970s, Bright’s tract had been distributed in multiple languages and used in evangelistic crusades all over the world.  I remember Friends Youth lessons about The Four Spiritual Laws as a Kansas teenager.  When we arrived in Winchester in 1998, one of the things on the office bookshelf was a stack of those tracts that had been adapted by Billy Graham’s organization.  They were left over from meetings held by one of Graham’s associate evangelists in the fieldhouse here a few years earlier.
 
Moses’ Birth   I thought about that tract’s first spiritual law (“God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”) as I read the early chapters of Exodus this week and pondered the life of its main character Moses.  He was born in Egypt’s Nile River Delta in 1526 BC, about 350 years after Jacob and his family had migrated to Egypt due to the famine detailed in Genesis 41-50.  By the time of Moses, the current Egyptian pharaoh and his people had long forgotten about Joseph, his essential role in Egypt’s survival of the famine, and the favor shown to his family as a result.  As the Hebrews prospered and multiplied, the Egyptians saw them as a threat and enslaved them.  When that didn’t slow their growth (Ex. 1:12), the pharaoh ordered the infanticide of Hebrew male newborns.  At the time of Moses’ birth, the mandated method was to throw the baby into the Nile River.  Moses’ parents were Levite Hebrew slaves who, when he was born, obeyed the letter of the law but defied its spirit.  They did put their baby into the Nile — but in a “floating basinet” placed in a thicket of reeds close to the riverbank, watched over by his sister.  Moses was discovered there, “rescued” by the pharaoh’s daughter (2:5-9), and taken to be raised in the royal palace.  In an example of God’s humorous irony, Moses’ sister offered their mother’s wet-nurse services for the baby, enabling her to get paid for nursing her own son who was supposed to be killed!
 
Moses’ Crime   The biblical narrative then jumps forward forty years (2:11ff) to 1486 BC, when Moses was a young adult and fully aware of his heritage.  When the adopted grandson of the pharaoh witnessed an Egyptian beating a fellow-Hebrew, Moses intervened, killed the Egyptian, and buried the body in the desert.  Word of the incident got back to his grandfather, and Moses’ days of privilege were over.  He had to flee for his life as a fugitive into the Sinai Desert to Midian.  There he found a wife, went to work for her father Jethro as a shepherd over the next forty years, and had at least two sons. 
 
Moses’ Calling   Exodus 3 tells of the day in 1446 BC when 80 year-old Moses was tending Jethro’s livestock near Mt. Sinai and saw a bush on fire that appeared not to be consumed by the flames.  Curious as to how that could be, Moses moved closer to the bush and heard God calling his name from within the bush.  Moses replied, and he was told to keep his distance and to remove his sandals because he was standing on holy ground.  When the voice identified itself as Yahweh, the God of Moses’ Hebrew ancestors, Moses hid his face.  Then he heard the voice say “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” 
 
OK, not really, but it ended up being a lot like that.  God told Moses he had heard the cry of his enslaved, mistreated people in Egypt, felt compassion for them, and had decided to rescue them from bondage and deliver them back to the land of Canaan which he had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  And, God added, since Moses’ grandfather the pharaoh was now dead, he was sending Moses – an 80 year-old fugitive killer turned husband, father, and shepherd who figured his life was mostly over with — to persuade the new pharaoh to let the Hebrews go so he could lead them back to Canaan where God would resume his covenant of blessing the whole world through them. 
 
Moses’ Resistance   As one might expect, Moses was skeptical.  “Who am I to do this job?” was his first question, to which God answered “I will be with you.”  Then Moses wanted to know how to answer the Israelites who would ask the name of the God who supposedly sent him.  “Tell them I AM has sent you,” was God’s reply.  Scholars point out that the few Hebrews who knew their spiritual history would remember that Jacob’s name for God was El Shaddai, the God of all might.  Now Moses was being given a new, fuller revelation of God’s identity – Yahweh, the LORD, the ground of eternal being – which should be sufficient to persuade both the Israelites and the Egyptians that they should cooperate. 
 
Moses still wasn’t convinced and asked, “What if they don’t believe you have sent me?” God responded (Ex. 4) by equipping Moses with some physical miracles to demonstrate God’s presence with him — a walking stick that miraculously turned into a snake, then back into a stick; that same stick that also could convert Nile water into blood; and Moses’ hand that became leprous and then returned to normal.  Those signs should have convinced Moses that God would assure his mission’s success, but he came up with another objection.  “Lord, I am not good at public speaking.  I’m ‘slow of speech and tongue.’  You’d better send someone else.”  The narrative indicates (4:14) that God was angered by Moses’ continued reluctance, but he proposed the solution of having Moses’ older brother Aaron join the leadership team as spokesperson.  Finally, Moses accepted the assignment, loaded his wife and sons onto donkeys, and headed for Egypt.
 
Preparing to Exit    At God’s prompting, Aaron traveled into the desert to meet Moses and his family and escort them into Egypt.  They first gathered the Israelite elders, told them of God’s concern and intentions, showed them the miraculous signs, and won their approval.  When they went to seek the pharaoh’s cooperation, however, all they got was scorn and harsher treatment of the Israelites, which quickly turned them against Moses.  God sent Aaron and Moses back to see Pharaoh to again insist that the Israelites be allowed to retreat to the desert to worship their God.  They showed Pharaoh the stick that became a snake, a trick then matched by Pharaoh’s magicians (except that Aaron’s staff ate all of theirs) — but Pharaoh was unmoved.  Over the next period of days and weeks, there ensued at God’s direction a series of ten plagues on Egypt and its people (Ex. 7-11):  the Nile turned to blood; the land covered with frogs; the air filled with gnats, then flies; a deadly disease on Egyptians’ livestock; painful boils on the livestock and people; a destructive hailstorm; swarms of grasshoppers that destroyed whatever vegetation was left; three days of total, paralyzing darkness; and finally, the deaths of all firstborn Egyptian livestock and people.  After at least four of the plagues began, Pharaoh relented and told Moses the Israelites could leave to worship, then quickly reneged.  Only after the final plague were the Israelites able hastily to eat the Passover meal and depart en masse towards the Sinai Desert (Ex. 12), headed for what they thought would be a few weeks’ hike to the land of milk and honey.  (And all the while, Moses no doubt kept reminding himself that “God loves me and has a wonderful plan for the final third of my life.”)
 
Lessons for the 21st Century    Despite the fact that this is an ancient story, there are principles imbedded in it that remain relevant today.  These are some that speak to me this year. 
            1)  Just as the pharaohs had forgotten Joseph’s rescue of Egypt from famine, there is little evidence in Exodus that the Israelites or Moses remembered the faith stories or had much spiritual inclination left from the covenant-driven lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They were in bondage due to spiritual emptiness as well as physical slavery.  It had been many generations since any of the Hebrews had held hope of returning to Canaan. We live in a similar time of spiritual emptiness now, when too few people know the history and stories of Christian faith — and their meaning.  Part of our calling to help “set free the captives” (Luke 4:18) is to keep that history alive by faithfully teaching them.
            2)  God’s “wonderful plan for Moses’ life” did not end with his murder of an Egyptian, nor with his exile to the life of a herdsman in a desert, nor on some arbitrary birthday.  God always looks on the heart, and always has a long view.  He saw in 80 year-old Moses a leader ready to listen to spiritual direction and obey it.  Moses was one who could accomplish the task of returning God’s people to the location he had promised them, where God desired to complete his plan for redeeming all of humankind through them.  Criminal past, social status, and age did not exclude then, nor do they now.  God needs and accepts every one of us who will genuinely obey and serve him.
            3)  The real miracle of Exodus 3 was not a fireproof shrub, but that the fire of God’s life was present and speaking within that bush, and seeking to draw Moses into right relationship with God after a life spent without that.  Our friend Stan Thornburg often spoke about people’s tendency nowadays to revere the bush (or other vehicle) through which God gets our attention, rather than revering the living God who is speaking.  The next thing you know, we’re teaching everyone to look for “miracle bush” externals rather than inward stillness and focus to experience the Spirit’s presence.  In this age of marketing, visuals, and externals, eternal freedom is found by looking within. 
            4)  God’s response to Moses’ question “who am I to do this job?” should encourage us all as we seek to help liberate 21st century friends to know the truth of Christ that sets people free.  When God told Moses “I will be with you,” he gave Moses the most important credential of all.  To do the work of his Kingdom, God is not looking for earthly accomplishments nor credentials nor great skills.  He made it clear that he needs people who will welcome and nurture his presence in their souls and allow him to work through their earthly lives. 
           5)  Pharaoh’s example of agreeing to God’s wishes, then soon reneging, is typical of current day people who live by calculation for personal gain rather than by faith and costly obedience.  He was what James (1:8) called a “double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”  It was defiant to God then.  It still is today.
           6)  After years of reading and pondering Exodus 12, I am no closer to being able to explain how the loving Father of Jesus, the one who “so loved the world,” would cause the deaths of all the firstborn Egyptians on the night of the Passover.  It is one of those mysteries I must live with until I get to ask the Lord about it face to face, I suppose.  Until then, I will draw my understanding of what God is like from Jesus, “the exact representation of God’s being” (Heb 1:3), try to pattern my life after his, and accept by faith that God knows what he is doing.
 
People all around us every day are not free, living instead in bondage to all manner of selfishness, material things, addictions, emotions, and passions.  They, like the Hebrews in Egypt, groan in their distress.  They are waiting for us, like Moses, to hear God’s call and respond in compassion to help them find freedom in the Lord.  God promises to be with us. 
 
–Ron Ferguson, 31 January ‘21
 
 
Queries for Reflection and Worship-Sharing
 
1)  What are some modern day “bushes” that convey the Lord to people and end up getting revered instead of God?
2)  What was it that made the area around that burning bush “holy ground?”  What makes something now “holy ground?”
3)  How does Moses’ life encourage you to be open to new possibilities for Christian ministry in your own life?
4)  Where is the most unexpected or unusual place where you have experienced a profound sense of Christ’s presence?
5)  What causes people to fall into Pharaoh’s pattern of agreeing with God, then reneging, agreeing, then reneging….?