Why I Am a Quaker: Following Jesus, Encouraged by Friends by Deborah Suess

Spokane Friends, thank you for inviting Tim and me to be among you. It has been a gift on so many levels:

* It’s been an opportunity to re-connect with so many we haven’t seen for a long time…        * as well as an incredible joy to meet the many of you who have become part of this                 beloved community in  recent years.

It’s so clear that the Spirit is at work among you … and I am thankful.

It has also been a huge blessing to learn from and journey with Paul Blankenship. He is not only a teacher  who can invite us into theological reflection – but he also has the spiritual gift of “shepherd” or “pastor” – encouraging us while also challenging us to follow Jesus in the ways of grace, love, discipleship and compassion.

Paul [interim part-time pastor] and I had a chance to share  over coffee last week. We talked about many things including what we each thought were some of the unique gifts that Friends can offer the world today. That conversation inspired me to think more deeply about why – as I seek to follow Jesus – I choose to remain among Friends. After all, we know that Quakerism has its “issues”. We know that there have been ugly fights and squabbles among the wider body of Friends. We know that Quakers do not have any corner on God or truth or peace-making.  Yet … here we are, right?

My guess is that each of you probably could name your own reasons for being a Friend today. To stimulate that conversation, I’d like to share with you some of my reasons. Borrowing Gregg Koskela’s creative format – I give you the Top Ten Reasons Why I Am a Quaker Today.

#10.  I love the Quaker emphasis on the inward experience of the Divine. When I was 14 years old, I was water baptized by a lovely Jewish-Christian-Baptist minister in the cold waters of Lake Michigan. My baptism was (and continues to be) a very meaningful experience. And when I worship in other faith traditions, I love taking communion with the outward symbols of wine and bread. At the same time, I am deeply appreciative of our Quaker witness that the outward signs are not necessary to have an inward experience of the Holy. And I believe it’s important that the Religious Society of Friends offers a place where outward rituals are not required, nor expected. So #10 – I am a Quaker because of the emphasis on the inward experience of the Living Christ.

#9 –  All Christian denominations emphasize living out one’s faith.  As Friends,  we talk about it in terms of Testimonies rather than creeds, dogmas or rules of behavior. As the saying goes: we are called to “Let our Life Speak.” That means I am challenged:

*to consider what it means to live simply

*to become (in the words of Jesus) a peace-maker,

*to act with integrity even and especially when it’s hard,

*to cherish the gift of community – again, even and especially when it’s hard. (And being part of authentic community is naturally going to be hard at times…)

*And finally as a Friend I am asked to: work for the equal treatment of all peoples. So our traditional testimonies are: simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality. In recent years – we’ve also added stewardship of our beloved earth which is desperately needed today.  #9 – I am a Quaker because the testimonies challenge me to walk my talk…

#8  Sometimes Quaker Meeting for business drives me nuts; it can be slow, difficult, and on occasion it can get hijacked. I also believe it is incredibly powerful when done in the spirit of love, grace and worship. While voting certainly gets things done much more quickly, voting can also leave us with “winners and losers”. Ideally in our Meetings for Worship for the Purpose of Business – we are listening for the Holy Spirit to speak to us as we are carefully listening to one another. As a result, I’ve often seen Friends do gracious work together. Sometimes the outcome is a surprise because as we have waited in worship, a third way has arisen.

Let me also add a caveat.  Our business process simply drives some people (maybe some here) crazy. Trust me: You can still be a Friend, active in Meeting, and you can skip the business meeting. But it’s good to first give it a try. So #8 I am a Quaker because I appreciate our prayerful process for conducting business.

#7. In the words of one of our founders George Fox:  “There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition.” In other words, we can each have a direct experience with the Divine. No intermediary needed.

And since we each can hear the voice of Christ, #6: all of us are ministers. That theology (what Martin Luther called the universal priesthood of all believers)  is obviously not unique to Friends – but I love how Quakers live that out through our recording process. We don’t ordain our ministers …rather we simply record individuals’ gifts for public ministry. So for instance, pastors have no more authority than anyone else in the room; a pastor is simply a “released minister”. Released, because by paying a salary, ministers are freed up (whether that be full or part time) to focus on ministry.  And that’s why as Quaker pastors, we don’t go by Reverend, most holy one (smile) or any other title.

#5  I am Quaker because we take the Bible very seriously but not always literally, for we do not want to make an idol out of Scripture.  Instead we acknowledge that Scripture can simply be words on a page until we read it in the Spirit with which it was given. And then – and then – the Bible becomes the Living Word – powerful and active among us.  I imagine many of you might relate to a time when a biblical passage (thanks to the Holy Spirit) suddenly became alive and formative for you.

#4 One of the primary reasons I am a Friend is because silence does NOT come easily or naturally for me. And yet it is in the stillness, in the quiet of waiting worship where Christ often speaks to me, heals my wounds, and calls me forward. It makes all the sense in the world to me, that if I want to hear the Voice of God, it is helpful to first quiet myself and listen. #4 – I am a Quaker because this extrovert needs help practicing stillness, and prayerful listening.

#3 Friends take seriously Jesus’ words that the Kingdom of God has drawn near … that the kingdom is both here and yet not fully here. It’s a paradox, right? So as Friends we don’t spend a lot of time focusing on Jesus’ “next coming” but rather we acknowledge that Christ is present and active among us right here and right now– calling us to do the work and witness of Christ’s love and justice.

#2  I am grateful that Friends, along with many other faith traditions, affirm continuing revelation. Or (borrowing from our UCC friends) I quote Gracie Allen:  “Never put a period where God has put a comma.”

For instance, in the early 1800’s because God was still speaking and because people within the church were still listening, many Christians (including Friends) led the abolitionist movement, and later some of these same faith groups also joined the suffrage movement. Continuing revelation. While some churches still aren’t quite there – most today now encourage women to not only speak in the church but to lead as well. Same thing for those who have experienced a divorce – which is another change in the wider church world. Continuing revelation.

Because God is still speaking and because we are still listening – we now understand addiction issues differently rather than simply naming them as “sin.” And we are now seeking to be good stewards of the earth rather than having “dominion” over it.  And in the last number of years we have been seeking to welcome the LGBTQ community into the life of the church in new and loving ways. And I could go on … but my #2 reason I am a Friend is because we seek to keep listening with open hearts and minds to what the Spirit is saying to the church today.

#1: I am a Quaker because I believe there is that of God in every person.  Sometimes that seed of Christ is incredibly well hidden/ but it is there. And if I truly believe that, it impacts how I speak about others, how I treat and pray for others. It’s a beautiful, powerful, and incredibly challenging truth —  one that thankfully calls me to see the world through a lens of enduring faith, hope and love.

So while Friends are only one small voice in the larger community of faith,  it is the particular place I call home. And yes, the  Religious Society of Friends can be incredibly messy and flawed. But that’s also what makes Quakerism a rather perfect home for messy, flawed and very imperfect people like me.

And Friends, I believe that in this moment in time, the Spirit continues to call Spokane Friends to be a voice and a witness in this community. So as Jesus taught us: may you all continue to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  And may you Love your neighbor (right here in this room and beyond) just as you are also called to Love yourself.  Amen.

Query: what does being a Friend means to you?

This message was given at Spokane Friends Church on Sunday, September 22, 2019, by Deborah Suess.




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