You can find the livestream of this service here: https://youtu.be/NPJQzZy3N9U
Some thoughts on how the followers of Jesus should have conversations about politics and other difficult (and divisive) subjects can be found in this special video short of today’s benediction:
Missing the Point
January 30, 2022*
By Pastor John Partridge
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
To find an example for this morning’s message, I opened my search engine and entered, “People who missed the point” and I was not disappointed. I was instantly directed to an article on Buzzfeed with a title that almost exactly matched my search, and while some of the illustrations are too visual to explain here there were still plenty of examples to make you smile… and groan a little. There was the photo a handicap “accessible” bathroom that was at the top of two stairs, a person using the blade of a Swiss army knife to open a wine bottle while the corkscrew was plainly in view a fraction of an inch from their thumb, a photo of a CNN “Breaking News” bulletin that the Titanic had sunk 102 years ago, a “connect the dots” coloring book in which the printed dots were already connected, a company named “Just Wireless” that was selling computer cable wires, a restaurant that offered a veggie burger with bacon, and Crest mouthwash that advertised 24-hour protection with instructions to use twice per day.
Sometimes people seem to completely miss the point… and sometimes it’s funny when they do. We probably all do it from time to time. But sometimes missing the point isn’t funny at all, and sometimes the results of missing the point can be downright tragic. We begin in Jeremiah 1:4-10 where we hear God cautioning a very young Jeremiah, possibly only 12 years old, that he should not miss the point.
4 The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knewyou,
before you were born, I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
6 “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
9 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
God tells Jeremiah that he has known everything about him, about his life, about his purpose, and about his calling to mission and ministry since before he was even conceived by his parents. But Jeremiah is certain that God has made a mistake, misses the point, and argues with God because he is certain that God cannot use a twelve-year-old to bring a message to the leaders, priests, royalty, and the king of Israel. But, again, Jeremiah misses the point and God says something that amounts to, “What part of I set you apart,” or “I appointed you” did you not understand? God says that the point is not that Jeremiah is young and will, almost certainly, be disrespected by the elders of Israel because of his age, the point is that God, the creator of the universe, is sending him, is going with him, and promises to rescue him from whatever happens. And to make that point even clearer, God touches Jeremiah and says that he has put the words of God into his mouth and gives him the authority to uproot, tear down, destroy, overthrow, build, or to plant entire nations and kingdoms.
That’s the point.
And, as we rejoin the story of Jesus that we began last week (The Power of Systems Integration), we discover that the people of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth missed the point quite spectacularly in Luke 4:21-30 after Jesus read from the Isaiah scroll and announced the fulfillment of scripture.
21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosyin the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
Jesus announces that the people in the synagogue are witnesses as he begins the fulfillment of some of the messianic prophecies found in the writings of Isaiah, and the response of the people is “Who does this guy think he is? We know him. We’ve known him his entire life. We grew up with his parents. Obviously, the Jesus we know cannot be the Messiah.” Jesus replies by pointing out that their attitude was expected. Prophets throughout history were commonly misunderstood and completely disrespected in their hometowns for the same reasons that the people of Nazareth misunderstood Jesus. And it was for that reason that Elijah performed a miracle for an outcast, outsider, and foreigner and why Elisha healed the leprosy of the commander of an enemy army rather than any of the people of Israel.
Jeremiah and the people of Nazareth made the same mistake. They assumed that the focus was on them when God repeatedly tells us that the work of the kingdom is not about us. It’s about God. And when Jesus reminded them that they weren’t the center of attention, that Israel’s greatest prophets revealed God’s power to outsiders, and that he simply isn’t going to perform miracles on command, they got so angry that they transformed into a mob that tried to kill him. And that’s when the miracle happens. The synagogue mob tries to throw Jesus off a cliff… and he walks right through the crowd and goes on his way. There seems to be only two possibilities. Either Jesus simply faces down the mob and they suddenly have a change of heart, or some other miracle happened such that they were stunned, or Jesus became invisible, or something. But from what we know about mobs, and how intense they are when they become violent, it seems obvious that God miraculously intervened at this moment so that Jesus just walks away and goes on about his business.
The people in the synagogue in Nazareth completely missed the point.
But how often are we guilty of the same thing?
In 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Paul writes to the church and cautions them not to miss the point saying:
13:1 If I speak in the tonguesof men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Paul says that the whole point of ministry in the kingdom of God, is to be loving while we’re doing it. The point is that everything eventually ends. Prophecies end, languages end, voices end, childhood ends, people end, knowledge ends, everything eventually ends. The only exceptions to the rule, the only things that last forever, are faith, hope, and love. And love is the greatest of the three.
Too often we, even in the church, miss the point. Too often, like Jeremiah, we think that ministry is about us. That we can’t witness, that we can’t minister to others, that we can’t participate in God’s mission and ministry because of some limitation that we think we have. We’re too young, we’re too old, we’re too shy, we’re not good with words, we’re not popular enough, or rich enough, or good looking enough, or some other excuse with which we’ve convinced ourselves. But God’s reply to us is the same as it was to Jeremiah. It’s not about us. It’s all about the God who created the universe. And if, and when, God sends us, he goes with us and give us the power to do the thing that he sent us to do.
Too often miss the point like the people in the synagogue of Nazareth. We think that God will perform miracles for us on command. We pray for something that we want and get angry, and even we lose faith, when God doesn’t do what we think God ought to do.
And too often we miss the point like the people of Corinth. We want to do ministry the way that we want to do it. We want things to be the way that we want them. We want the rules to be the way we want them. We want to say whatever we want to say in whatever way we feel like saying it. We want to do whatever we want to do. We do things our way and convince ourselves that we’re doing the work of God. And we do all these things without any regard to how it makes other people feel. But Paul reminds us that we’ve forgotten the point if we forget to be loving. We can’t tell the world about a loving God while we’re hurting them. Mission and ministry are great. God calls all of us to kingdom work. All of us are called to be a part of God’s mission and ministry. But we miss the point if the people around us can’t see that our ministry is filled with faith, hope, and love.
Yes, we need to tell the people of the world about Jesus.
But they can’t, and they won’t, hear about his love if they can’t feel our love first.
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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.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.