September 06, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
Now that schools are starting again, despite the unusual differences in procedure due to the Coronavirus, most of us are happy to have left that chapter of our lives behind us. While we might look back fondly on our school friendships, or on our school activities, few, if any, of us really enjoyed taking tests. And, although as adults, they come to us less frequently, we still don’t like tests. And maybe that’s one of the things that we like about church. We can still develop close friendships, participate in many enjoyable activities, learn new things, study what we want and when we want, show compassion for others, and a host of other things, but, and this is important… we don’t have tests.
Or do we?
There are, repeatedly, throughout scripture, quizzes, tests, plumb lines, measuring sticks, or whatever you want to call them, that we can hold up as we look at ourselves in the mirror. Most often, these are the tools that we use to check ourselves, and to measure our progress, as followers of God and as followers of Jesus Christ. These are the ways that we measure how we are doing, and how well we are progressing on our journey to be more like Jesus and the people that God created us to be. But sometimes these tests are not only for our personal use but are important measures that God intends for wider use in our homes, businesses, and communities as well as how God may evaluate our progress.
The first of these we will examine this morning is found in Exodus 12:1-14, as the people of Israel prepares for their liberation from 400 years of slavery in Egypt:
12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 2 “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. 3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lambfor his family, one for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. 5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. 8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. 9 Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.
12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.
God commands his people to prepare a meal as a visible sign to themselves, and to all the people around them, in a way that was different from ordinary meals. Everything about this Passover meal is designed to imply speed and haste. The animals are cooked over the fire nearly whole, with the organs still inside, without bothering with pots of boiling water or separating the meat from the fat. Bread is made without yeast to save time waiting for it to rise, leftovers are burnt rather than trying to save them, and the people eating are dressed as if they are to immediately depart on a journey with their cloak tucked into their belts, sandals on their feet, and a walking stick in their hands. Today’s version of this might be a command to eat with your raincoat tied around your waist, your running shoes or hiking boots on your feet, and your car keys in your hand. The picture is not only one of a people ready to leave at a moment’s notice, but one that was different from the ordinary and one that any observer would be certain to notice. Sure, we might be dressed that way as we grabbed some carryout from McDonalds, but that isn’t how we’d typically eat at home or at a church dinner.
God not only commands the people to do these things for the night of their liberation, but for them to celebrate that liberation every year forever. And the Jewish people have done so… for the thirty-five hundred years. This Passover celebration then becomes measuring stick. It is an outward and visible sign of obedience to God that is different from the world around them as well one that can be seen by everyone.
And if you are tempted to think that such things are limited to the Old Testament, look at the difficult measuring stick that Jesus left for us in Matthew 18:15-20 where he says:
15 “If your brother or sistersins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will bebound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will beloosed in heaven.
19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Jesus tells his followers that correcting one another is not only normal, it should be expected, and that it is the task of every person, as well as the task of the entire gathered church body, to see to it that we all follow Jesus with diligence and that we all get along with one another. This is a difficult teaching for us. We don’t like confrontation, but Jesus commands us to confront one another with our sins, as a visible sign of obedience, so that the followers of Jesus will be visibly, and increasingly, different than the people around us. Long before the term was attributed to modern efforts at quality assurance, the followers of Jesus Christ were called to subscribe to a regular cycle of continuous improvement.
And that cycle of improvement isn’t just something that we should do casually, but as a serious occupation of our minds. In Romans 13:8-14, Paul says:
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.
11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
Paul reaffirms Jesus’ instructions for his followers to settle the differences between them so that we can build bonds of love and trust between the members of the church and between other believers. Once again, these things are visible signs of obedience to God. Our efforts to settle the differences among us, correct one another when we stray, and our love for one another should all be visible signs to the people around us that our relationship with Jesus Christ makes our community of faith different from the rest of the world. These things are to be active practices within the body of Christ.
It is as if they are a test, or a measuring stick, for us individually and as the church.
Paul says that it is time for us to “wake up” from our slumber and take action because the return of Jesus Christ is nearer now than it ever has been. We cannot sleep our way through the Christian life, but we are called to action, to “clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” For the followers of Jesus, these things are to be like the annual Jewish Passover celebration. We are called to be different. We are commanded to practice outwardly visible signs of our obedience in ways that make us stand out as different from the rest of the world. We are to be united in our faith, argue less, love one another, and love others more than the people around us.
As much as we worried about taking tests in school, we really should worry about this.
After all, whether individually, or collectively, the last thing we want to do, is to fail at being the church.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/3CuJTJZEkl4
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.