Cool things Quakers do part 1 — the Queries

Sermon at Sandcreek-Azalia Friends Meeting:
Readings:
II Corinthians 13:1-10
Joshua 7
Luke 14:28-33
Reflection Questions:

1. Spiritual Growth-Do you strive for the constant realization of God’s presence in your life? Are you sensitive and obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit? Do you endeavor to advance your spiritual growth by the prayerful study of the Bible and other devotional literature?
3. Christian Fellowship-Do you love one another as becomes the followers of Christ? Are you careful of the reputation of others? When differences arise, do you make earnest effort to end them speedily?
4. Home and Family-Do you practice the daily reading of the Scriptures in your families, giving time for reverent meditation? Do you make your home a place of hospitality, friendliness, peace, and Christian fellowship? Do you promote the moral and spiritual life of your children through careful supervision of their education, recreation, and friendships?

(Western Yearly Meeting)

How will you make God part of your life today?
In what ways will you show love to others this week?
How will you bring Christ into your homes?
How will you maintain an awareness of Christ’s presence?

Sermon:
When I last came here, the adult Sunday school lesson was on Joshua 6 – what we heard in Joshua 7 is the rest of the story – but, as is often the case, it is necessary to move backwards and see what has happened yesterday that we may better understand what happened today.

In Joshua 6, the people of Israel came to Jericho, a great fortified city – walled so that it would resist armies, and supplied with water so that it could hold out against siege warfare much longer than Israel could blockade the city. Israel spied out the the city, and learned that it nothing short of a miracle could overthrow this city – the city was greater than this nation wanderers.

But, as we read, in the following chapter – after the great victory at Jericho, the armies of Israel fall to the city of Ai. In the story, we see that Israel has broken faith, and there is sin in their camp – God promises nothing but failure until they cleanse themselves – Israel is forced to examine themselves and see where they broke faith.

Friends, let us examine Israel, and see where they broke faith! I know, the passage tells us that they broke faith by letting sin into the camp – but that is only a start! Yes Achan stole some of the riches from Jericho that were devoted to God, directly disobeying God – but, the whole story is about people putting their faith outside of God.

Achan put his faith in riches – he trusted in the wealth he saw before his eyes, and placed wealth above God’s commandments. Are we not like that sometimes?

Joshua sent out spies, and they saw that Ai was weak. Before when they spied out Jericho, they prayed to God and put their faith in God. Because they saw Ai was small, and they could easily handle it on their own – they put their faith in themselves. Joshua’s faith at this point was in armies, and not in God, and when it came to facing the enemy alone, even a weak enemy was too much! Do we not our faith in our own strength, only seeking God at times of desperation?

Anyways, Israel put their faith outside of God, and nothing short of humiliation could catch their attention. It takes work to stop and examine ourselves – if left to our own choices, we will simply keep going the same direction until we are so utterly lost that it takes a miracle to find the highway again. Fortunately God is a God of miracles, and God takes us, as God took Israel and places us back on the path.

In Chapter 8 – Joshua prays to God, and God gives the battle plan… needless to say it is successful. Desperation brought Joshua to do what he should have done in the first place – to trust God instead of putting his initial faith in his armies.

Just as Israel had to put their faith in God, and examine themselves to see where they fell short of living by faith, the Church is also called to do the same. Jesus places the call to examine ourselves all the way back to asking if we want to follow Him in the first place.

Of course it is easier for us to be a Christian than it was for that cloud of witnesses that came before us. When Jesus told the disciples and the crowds to count the costs, following Jesus was sure to bring a person to the cross not only figuratively, but literally. Of the disciples, all but one died violently, and none of them left worldly wealth as an inheritance. Jesus called people to examine themselves to see if they were willing to lay down everything they had – knowing that the world they lived in would make this call on Christians everywhere.

Then again, perhaps it was easier then. These days, in America, the challenge of being a Christian is that many who call ourselves Christians have no more place for Christ in our lives than if we were agnostic. We are not willing to lay aside riches. We are not willing to suffer for Christ’s name, we are not willing to give of ourselves to show love for our neighbor. One pastor, Gary Getting, told us in a sermon that we want a pound of Jesus in a bag – just enough to save us from hell, but not enough to change our lives. When the state killed Christians – there was no option of “a pound of God”, people had to give their whole lives to Jesus, and trust that Jesus would be with them when they suffered and died for His name.

Well, what does it mean for the church, today to examine ourselves and be sure we are in the faith? One thing that I will tell you, is that Paul was writing to a faith community and not individuals. Paul wrote: “Examine yourselves”, not “examine yourself” – while personal reflection is a good thing, the Church cannot depend on the individual to remain in the faith. While we stand alone with Jesus on judgment day – we stand with our Christian brothers and sisters here today! We need each other – if we find that we need to grow, we need accountability. Honestly, who among us would accomplish anything if there was no one else to see the work which was done? People just don’t don’t grow or produce outside of community – when we are alone, we do not thrive, but merely survive.

It might be wise of us to look back at history and see how the Christian community has examined themselves. Perhaps we can learn from them! The oldest method of examination and accountability was simple confession. James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins to one another. Currently many Christians practice confession – some communities pray a generic prayer together saying something like: “We have not loved as we should, we have done what we should not have done and failed to do the things we should have done.” Others carefully examine their failings, and tell another person of their short comings. One tool developed by the Eastern Orthodox Church to aid in self examination was a list of questions where a person asks questions such as: “Have I honored my parents, have I killed, have I committed adultery, have I stolen, have I born false witness, have I coveted what belongs to others?”

Some time later, another method to check to see if the communiaty was within the faith came up – the Church developed the “Nicene creed” to make sure the faith was not Gnostic or Arian, but Orthodox – (Read creed).

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sits at the Right Hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead. Whose kingdom shall have no end. (I)
And [we believe] in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver-of-Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And [we believe] in one, holy, (II) Catholic and Apostolic Church. We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, [and] we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Of course, believing the right things about God is not enough to be in the faith – even the daemons believe the right things! Creeds invite us into a trap – the trap of thinking that the most important thing is knowing the right things. Right knowledge is useful, but St. Peter is not likely to meet us at the gates, and show us to an exam room – if this were the way it worked we could boast we were saved by knowledge.

Ok, here is a good way to explain it! How many people are in love? Do you know all the wonderful things about the person you love? Can you tell others about it? – If you tell me, then I will know those wonderful things too, but will I also be in love because I know the good things??? no – I will not – maybe I will remember the highlights, but I am not likely to spend much time past the conversation considering these wonderful details. But, when I see the person in love, there are all kinds of signs of this love. The way such a person spends time, and money tells me of love. The topics of conversation tells me of love. Whenever I examine the person, I see this love. When you are in love – it is life changing. Knowledge is helpful, even necessary, but it by itself is not enough to change your life. We can know and believe right things without putting our faith in God.

While asking questions to help in self examination is nothing new, Friends really developed this tool with something that we call the “Queries.” Queries are reflection questions that ask us not only if we are avoiding wrong things, but if we are also doing right things. Our queries have been used somewhat more historically than now. The first few generations of Friends that met at Sandcreek were in the practice of answering the queries in writing at business meetings, and then submitting the answers to the area so that the meeting would be accountable to other meetings. While I do not know the local custom, at one time in Kansas, individual members would answer the queries to a member of the pastoral care committee – either way, the custom was to use the queries not only as a tool for self reflection, but also a tool for accountability.

Why are Christians accountable to one another? I don’t know about you, but I am able to hear a call to reflection, then put it aside and never go to the work of examining myself. Even worse, if I do examine myself honestly, I am able to accept the answer without doing anything to become better. If I speak to another person, I am forced to take the process seriously. There is another person to encourage me in something that is not easy. I know that when we stand in final judgement, we stand alone before God – but, as we struggle to live as Christians, we have the option of standing with one another. In Galatians – Paul tells us to carry one another’s burdens – again and again, scripture calls us to be community. Accountability is one way for us to stand together in a fight that is bigger than any one of us.

I requested that some of Western Yearly Meeting’s queries would be printed in the bulletin – along with a couple reflection questions that I bring. As we approach the quiet time – I would like to invite you to pull out a pen and write out some answers. Look carefully at yourselves, and pray that Christ gives us the strength to live together in His glorious name. Let us prayerfully consider ourselves, and how to grow into maturity.

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One comment on “Cool things Quakers do part 1 — the Queries

  1. […] God’s voice from our own voices. Accountability is vital We all need someone to keep us accountable, whether our ministry is simply living out our personal relationship with God, or it is related to […]

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