What Happens When We Die?

Note: I have often asked our church youth and adults to ask me any questions that they had about faith, the church, or life in general and I would answer them.  Often that happened at youth group meetings.  This one came from a friend.


Question: A friend is asking a good question on Facebook and I think you would have a good answer. “Do you believe that when we as Christians die, we go immediately to be with Lord in Heaven, or do we sleep until He comes back for all of us and reunite with everyone who has passed?

 

My best answer is… maybe.

In theological discussions there are plenty of people, and denominations, on both sides of this issue and many of them are way smarter than I am.  But, that said, I think that we do, and we will, and there are several good reasons to think so.

First, there are several verses that may lead us to believe that we fall into some sort of “soul sleep” until the return of Jesus Christ, our resurrection. the final Judgement.  One of these, which is commonly read at funerals (I have used it a great many times) is 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, which says:

51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

Paul’s use of the word “sleep” might make us think that we will be sleeping between our death and resurrection, but we need to remember that Paul, and other writers, often used the word sleep as a kinder, gentler, way of saying die, death, or dead.  If we read that verse again with that in mind, Paul is simply saying that at the time of the last trumpet, not everyone will be dead.

On the other hand, many people use Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:8 as proof that we do not sleep, but that passage is problematic too.  It says,

8:1 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

In some translations (such as the New American Standard) it is rendered as “…to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”  But that passage, alone, doesn’t confirm anything definitively.  In that passage, Paul is talking about looking forward to wearing his new body, which many believe that we won’t get until after the judgement.

Confused yet?

So far, what we have is ambiguous and more than a little confusing.  It isn’t hard to see why even theologians argue about such things.  But remember that I said this passage… alone… doesn’t confirm anything definitively?  The thing is, this passage isn’t alone.  While this may not be a profound theological argument, there are a couple of other verses that come to mine when I think about this.  The first is Revelation 6:9-11 which says:

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

Here, before the judgement, under the altar of God, are the souls of the martyrs who are waiting for justice and judgement.  If we all sleep, then how did these folks get here?  Are we to believe that only the martyrs see God before the judgment?  It seems arbitrary and a little cruel that they would be singled out as the only ones who are awake, who are watching the events of the earth, and who must suffer and wait for justice.  It seems more likely that everyone is awake, but the martyrs get “front row” seats.

And then in

 

 

Hebrews 12:1 after an extensive list of the saints and heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 we hear this:

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

The implication of this verse following immediately by a deliberate listing of the saints and heroes of God is that these people are alive, and aware, and watching the things that we are doing.  Similarly, Jesus often referred to Abraham, and others, in the present tense and not in the past or future tense.  Jesus was deliberate in saying that Abraham worships God… at this present moment.

And remember that moment when Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-3 where we hear:

17:1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter, James, and John watch and stand witness as Moses and Elijah appear in front of them and minister to Jesus.  Are we supposed to understand that God woke them from their sleep just for this one moment, that they somehow understood who Jesus was and what was going on, did what they had to do, and then fell back asleep?  Or, isn’t it easier to understand that they have been awake the entire time, carefully watching the unfolding spectacle of time, the birth of the Messiah and the entire Gospel story, and then answered the call of God to enter back into our story?  The second one makes a lot more sense to me.

There are many more passages like this.

So, yeah, while not everyone agrees about this, I think that when we die, our trip to God’s side is immediate and there is no “sleeping” in between.

 

 


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Do We Need a Catholic Order of Methodists?

Would you burn down your house because the furnace needed repairs?  Obviously not.  But the current disagreement, discussion, and proposed remedies over the issue of human sexuality within The United Methodist Church seems to be following that line of logic.  When applied anywhere else, it seems obvious.  If your engine is misfiring, you don’t rebuild the transmission.  If your bicycle has a flat tire, you don’t disassemble it and sell its parts.   Unfortunately, that seems to be how most everyone has been approaching the disagreement within our church.

But maybe there’s another solution that doesn’t involve burning down the house.

Let me explain.

The way that I see it, there are two principal disagreements within the church regarding human sexuality.  First, those persons who feel that sex outside of a monogamous, heterosexual relationship is sinful believe that they cannot, in good conscience, formalize or bless such a relationship.  And second, those same persons have difficulty belonging to a church that would ordain pastors and bishops who are in such relationships. 

Oddly, while both are disagreements over the role and membership of clergy, the solutions being proposed to the next General Conference in 2020 is to split up the church by forcing the laity to vote.  But if we are having a disagreement over the role and membership of the clergy, why isn’t anyone offering a solution that divides the clergy instead of dividing the laity?

Although this may seem strange, I think we might find a solution in the Catholic Church.  While my knowledge of the intricacies of the Catholic Church is admittedly weak, I know that within that structure there are at least three different orders who, to me, seem to be orders of priests and not laity, Dominicans, Jesuits, and Benedictines.  Without worrying about how these orders work within the Catholic system, this division, I think, points to a solution for United Methodists.

Rather than dividing churches and laity over a disagreement over the role of the clergy, why not simply divide the clergy?  I think a division of clergy solves our immediate problem, without dividing the laity or the church, better than the solutions that I’ve seen proposed to date. 

Here’s what I’m suggesting:  Under the existing United Methodist structure, we create a new order of clergy, the name doesn’t matter.  But those clergy that choose to belong to the new order, in line with their conscience, would be prohibited from performing LGBT weddings or officiating in the ordination of such persons.  Local churches, under such a system, would not choose whether to leave the denomination, but would vote, as a congregation, on two things.  First, would that congregation accept a pastor that only belonged to the new order, would they only accept a pastor that did not belong to the order, or would they accept a pastor from either the order.  Second, the church would vote whether they would be willing to allow same sex unions to be conducted in their building.  Churches could, therefore, accept a pastor from the new order while still allowing same sex marriages to be officiated in their church if there were an officiant (not the church pastor) willing to do so.

While there would be some significant logistical issues with such a system, rather than forcing local churches to vote on its denominational affiliation, bishops (and their cabinets) would be responsible to match churches with pastors (much as they already do) with some, admittedly, new and complicating differentiation.  Two obvious consequences would be that it would complicate the appointment process, and that it would likely necessitate the elimination of guaranteed appointment for ordained elders.  The second simply because, in many cases, there would be a significant disparity between the number of available clergy (of one type or the other) and the number of churches willing to accept them.

The advantage of such a system, of course, is that while the clergy would be divided, the church would remain whole.

Maybe we can take a hint from the Catholic Church.

Why burn down the house if you can fix the furnace?

 

 

 

 


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Pastor’s Report – 2019

Pastor’s Report – 2019

Note:  Each year I write a Pastor’s Report for our annual Charge Conference.  The following is my report for this year:


As I reflect on the past year, there are several things that I remember.  While there are no single, earth-shattering, monumental achievement to report, there are many small, sometimes incremental, changes that are building a sense of excitement and hope for the future.  Some of these are things that Christ Church has been doing for a long time but sometimes in a new way, others are new altogether, some are growing, and some are happening again after a long absence.

A class of confirmands graduated and joined the church and there have been two new member classes that have, so far, resulted in two new members, in addition to those from confirmation and transfer.  Among these were also two baptisms and a wedding.  We have trained and certified several of our members for the UMVIM Early Response Team disaster response mission opportunities that may arise in the future.  And several of our Sunday school classes have been discussing the call of scripture, and the command of Jesus Christ, to be invitational as well as how we can overcome our fear of inviting others to meet Jesus.

Our United Methodist Women continue to be a strong, positive, and missional influence on our church, our community, and beyond as they reach out in many ways and in many places with the love of Jesus.  Not least of these efforts is their continuing Cooking for the Soul mission, in which they are teaching the women of our community the basics on how to cook at home and save money by cooking from scratch instead of buying prepared foods.  These classes continue to be filled to capacity and often have a waiting list to get in.  It is my hope that, with a little encouragement, these classes might be expanded to include other subjects such as basic sewing, or home/auto maintenance and repair.

Likewise, the meetings of our church trustees have taken on a new tone as we are no longer just discussing issues of church maintenance and repair, but ways that we can make our church more inviting, friendly, useful, and available to new and emerging ministry opportunities.  Among these discussions are facility upgrades like expanding the areas served by air conditioning, new interior and exterior signage, electronic defibrillators, and upgrades to our electrical service to more easily facilitate our plan to once again prepare and serve over one thousand Thanksgiving dinners to the people of our community (which was a new ministry which we took over from another church last year).

The support of our entire church for mission, of all types, local, national, and international continues to be strong and passionate.  The people of Christ Church are often asking how we can do more and contribute to ongoing projects in unexpected ways without being asked.  We continue to support, both financially and with many volunteer hours, the Alliance Food Pantry, Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, and other community missions, support Red Bird Mission and its outreach centers in Kentucky, provide scholarships to school children in Sierra Leone and Liberia, as well as contribute to the construction of a new high school in Harrisburg, Liberia through our conference Farmer to Farmer mission.  And extensive as it is, this is certainly not a comprehensive list.  Christ Church and its people are doing the work of Jesus Christ in so many places, in so many ways, that it’s often difficult to keep track of them all.

There is an old question that I have heard in various places, from church conferences, to district superintendents, to books, to internet memes that asks, “If your church were to close tomorrow, would anybody notice?”  Christ Church can answer that question with a resounding “YES!”  As I reflect on our activities of the last year, I can say with confidence that we are here, we are active, and that Christ Church is making a difference in Alliance, in Stark County, and around the world.

Roadmap to the Future

Roadmap to the Future

October 27, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Joel 2:23-32                2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18          Luke 18:9-14

 

Have you ever gone on a long car trip as a passenger and, somewhere along the way, fell asleep for a while?  It isn’t bad when you’re going somewhere that you have been before or taking route that is familiar to you.  But if you are going to an unfamiliar place or traveling a road that you haven’t been on before, then the sensation that you have when you wake up can be a little disconcerting.  Upon awakening, you find your self wondering, and even asking, “Where am I?” and “How did we get here?”

But as we go about our daily lives, we sometimes have that same disconcerting feeling and we wonder, spiritually, where we are and how we got here.  And so, although I have preached similar sermons before, and likely will again, our scriptures for today offer us a link from the past to the present, and offer advice and guidance, a roadmap if you will, as we travel toward the future.  Our past, found in the Old Testament and heard through the voices of the prophets, reminds us of where we have been, the promises of God, and the wisdom of the ages.  The Gospels remind us of how those prophecies were fulfilled, and other books of the New Testament, such as Paul’s pastoral letters, offer us advice and guidance on how we might live our lives in a strange and confusing world, in a way that honors God.  These are the three sources that we will visit today as we learn the past, live for today, and plan for the future.  We begin by remembering the words of the prophet Joel as he addresses the nation of Israel in the aftermath of a natural disaster, a famine, that was caused by swarms of locusts that destroyed all of their crops and left both humans and animals hungry, starving, and searching for food.  (Joel 2:23-32)

23 Be glad, people of Zion,
    rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains
    because he is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers,
    both autumn and spring rains, as before.
24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain;
    the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

25 “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,
    and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

28 “And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
30 I will show wonders in the heavens
    and on the earth,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
31 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
32 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
    there will be deliverance,
    as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
    whom the Lord calls.

Joel begins with a reminder to all of us that the rain, and our food, come to us through the blessing and the faithfulness of God.  In Joel’s understanding, the locusts were God’s army and were sent to punish Israel for their unfaithfulness but also as a reminder that God is in control and constantly nearby.  Joel teaches that after a time of repentance, that God would restore Israel’s fortunes, along with her food.  As I read through the first part of this passage, there were two things that struck me.  First, because it is God that sends the rains and causes the crops to grow, our calling is to be thankful when these things are in abundance.  And second, because the restoration of Israel was a promise that had not yet been fulfilled, I also see a call for God’s people to have hope as we endure times of hardship.

The second half of this passage should have sounded familiar to most of us, because, beginning with “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” these are the exact words that we hear quoted by the Apostle Peter as he speaks to the crowd on the day of Pentecost.  Peter announces that the promise of the prophet Joel is being fulfilled on that day, even still today and, as we understand it, will be completed the end of time.  Joel and Peter declare that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” and this becomes the work, not only of Jesus Christ, but also of his church on earth until his return.

I think that Joel emphasizes thankfulness in times of abundance because our temptation to cry out to God when things are bad, but forget him when we are living in abundance, is real, ancient, and common.  In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector who were in the temple to offer prayers to God.  But while the average listener would have expected the Pharisee to be the hero (because they were  perceived as being godly), and the tax collector as the villain (because they were seen as traitors), we are instead surprised to find that the man who appears to be blessed by God is actually distant from him, and the man who appears to be distant, is much closer than we might have imagined.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

And so, the message for anyone who would follow Jesus is clear, if we have real faith, and if we desire the real blessings of God, then we have to walk the walk.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, we must see our place in the world with humility and see the people around us the way that God sees them.  Just because we are living in abundance doesn’t mean that we should take any credit for the blessings that we have been given.  Likewise, just because others may not seem to have the things that our culture values, position, power, fame, glory, popularity, money, and so on, doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love them or that they are not, in fact, much closer to God, and his blessings, than we are.

But what about the future?  If we struggle to see people the way that God sees them, then what difference will it make?  What purpose will it give our lives?  And for at least one glimpse into the future, we can look to the end of Paul’s life as he is imprisoned in Rome and facing eventual execution, and there he writes his second letter to his young protégé Timothy. (2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18) 

Paul says,For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. 17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed, and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Paul writes that he can almost feel his life flowing out of him as he rots in prison and waits for his execution.  But even as he approaches the end of his life, he knows that he did well with the life that he had, he fought a good fight, and pressed hard all the way to the finish line.  Paul knows that the rewards of God are waiting for him and will be awarded to him, and to everyone who looks forward to the second coming of Jesus, on the day of Judgement.

But even at the end of Paul’s life, even as he sat in prison, even as he was abandoned by his friends and  faced trials, God continued to give him strength so that he could accomplish his mission and continue the mission that we all share as followers of Jesus and members of his church.  Paul’s mission, and ours, is to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ so that everyone, including the outsiders, the tax collectors, the sinners, and everyone else that we are tempted to dismiss and discount, might have the opportunity to hear it.

Paul’s message to Timothy is largely biographical but is also instructional.  We are called to dedicate our lives, even at the end, even when we are faced with insurmountable trials, we are called to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the people around us.  For Paul, that meant, as he sat in prison and appeared in court, he was sharing the story of Jesus with inmates, guards, administrators, lawyers, and anyone else that he encountered, possibly even Caesar himself.

The witness of Joel, Jesus, and Paul remind us that following Jesus is not something that we do once during a church revival, or at the altar of the church, and assume that we’re done with it.  It isn’t a box that we can check and say that we’ve finished.  Following Jesus is a totally transformational lifestyle, a roadmap for life, that keeps us involved in the world around us and on mission, all the way to the end of our time here on earth. 

Joel calls us to live well in thankfulness and humility whether we are living in hardship or in abundance.  Jesus calls us to walk the walk every day, to remember that it is God who has blessed us, and to see the people around us the way that God sees them.  And Paul call us to rely on God for strength so that we can stay on mission, even in times of great hardship, even at the end of our lives, and finish well.

May we all, no matter where we find ourselves on life’s journey, be transformed into the lifestyle of Jesus, and follow his roadmap for our lives.

 

 

 

 


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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  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Cutting the Baby in Half

solomon

When two women argued over the custody of a baby, King Solomon famously threatened to cut the baby in two and give half of the corpse to each woman.  In that story, the biological mother of the living baby offers to give the baby away if only the king will spare its life.  In this way, the true parent was revealed, custody was granted, and the baby’s life was saved.  But as I watch the ongoing dispute within the United Methodist Church, it seems that factions on both sides seem ready to cut the baby (church) in half.

While many seem to think that cutting the baby in half will simply result in two (or more) smaller babies, I suspect that the result of dividing the church will be more akin to the result of cutting a living baby in pieces.  That opinion won’t make me popular but let me explain my thinking.

As I watched the balloting to elect delegates from our East Ohio Conference for the upcoming United Methodist General Conference in 2020, I was struck by how evenly we were divided.  Both laity and clergy were so nearly divided, that it was difficult for us to find the required majority in order to elect our delegation.  In the end, the clergy ballot slightly favored the progressive delegates while the laity ballot favored conservative delegates.  The tension felt during that balloting reminded me that the division within our denomination, at least in the United States, is not a division between states, but is a division that flows deeply through the Annual Conferences, districts, and into each local church. And that is why I wonder, as we prepare for the 2020 General Conference, if we are watching the death of the United Methodist Church.

First, I want to be clear about what I am not saying.  I am not saying that one faction will “win” or “lose” the right to call themselves United Methodist.  Although that scenario seems likely, what I mean, is that no matter who “wins” or who “loses” the church will, quite likely, cease to exist, at least in its present form, because the actions of the General Conference will almost certainly set off an unavoidable cascade of unintended consequences.  While it is possible for a solution to arise that avoids the end of our denomination, this outcome, as much as it worries me, is what I see as the likely result.

From the reports that I have seen, several proposals will be presented at General Conference to broker the disagreements within the denomination over issues of sexuality, specifically, the ordination of LGBTQ+ persons.  All these proposals, in one form or another, ultimately ask Annual Conferences, districts, and/or local churches to vote on which new denomination they wish to belong.  In a perfect world, the church would then divide 50/50, or 60/40, and two, or three, new denominations would be born out of the ashes of the old one.

But we don’t live in a perfect world.

Real life is messier than that, and this division will be no exception.

In conferences like East Ohio, a 50/50 split will mean that our entire organizational structure will collapse.  We will no longer have enough churches in each of the new denominational conferences to sustain a conference office or the people that staff it.  We hope that new conferences will arise within the new denominations, perhaps representing a larger geographic area, that will employ similar staffs and provide similar services.

And that might be a reasonable expectation… if we weren’t so deeply divided.

Because the membership of each local church is often just as divided as our Annual Conference, any “vote” by the local church to join one of the new denominations means that the membership will not be 100 percent in favor of any of the options.  That, in turn, means that some percentage of the membership will be unhappy with the results of the vote.  What happens to a congregation that is divided 50/50?  Or even 60/40?  Or, for that matter, 80/20?  By requiring a congregational vote of any kind, we are requiring that churches deliberately declare that some of their friends are unwelcome.  Intentional or not, that in turn will mean that within nearly every local church, some percentage of the membership will feel disaffected, choose to leave the church, or more likely, simply choose to stop attending.

And that, is the death of the church.

I have heard it said, and I have witnessed in my own career, that many small membership churches are only “four funerals away” from closing their doors.  Meaning, if four regular donors suddenly stopped giving, because they died, or because of a denominational rift, those churches would no longer have enough funds to maintain their ministry.  But almost no church could afford to lose 50 percent of its members, and few, without an endowment, could lose 20 percent (or even 10) without becoming financially insolvent.

Maybe other Annual Conferences more uniformly favor one side, or the other, and maybe other local churches are not as divided as the ones with which I am familiar.  But what I anticipate, is that asking/requiring local churches to “vote” to join a new denomination, or choose between two denominational options, will not “split” the United Methodist Church, it will destroy it.

Granted, it probably won’t happen overnight.  But where we are currently closing four or five churches in our Annual Conference each year, I expect that number to be far greater, perhaps by an order of magnitude.  We might start by splitting 50/50, or 60/40, or even 80/20, but what will we do if, within five years (or even ten) of our split, fifty, or even eighty, percent of the divided churches are closed?  Not only will the services of our Annual Conference offices be compromised, but nearly all the General Conference offices, and their services, will similarly become unsupportable.

It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion.  You know it isn’t going to end well, and you know there is nothing you can do to stop it.  But you can’t look away.

Still, once convened, General Conference can reject all these proposals and propose something entirely different.  And of course, we worship a God of miracles and anything can happen.

I hope that I’m wrong.

But I don’t think I am.

We seem to be prepared to cut the baby in half.  Just as they would be for a biological baby, the results, I think, are predictably bad.

Just how bad, remains to be seen.

What Does God Want?

What Does God Want?

October 06, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Acts 26:27-31             Galatians 5:22-24                 

 

If you’ve been in church for very long, you’ve heard the message before, and in fact we’ve heard it here over the last few weeks.  We’ve heard messages like “be content with what you have,” “money is a root of all kinds of evil,” and, “…people who are eager for money have wandered from the faith.”  We heard last week that the values of our culture and the values of God are often at odds with one another. 

So, what is it that God wants?

What is it that we should do with out lives, with our time, and with our money?  What is it that God wants us to do?  How should we manage the things that we have been given?  How should we manage our lives, our time, and our money?

And, as odd as it may seem, there is word for that.  There is a word that encompasses and describes that exact sort of management.  How we manage our lives, our time, and our money, in ways that honor and please God, is called stewardship.  Stewardship recognizes that all that we have been given, our lives, our time, and our money, have been given to us by God.  God owns them all.  God owned them before we were born, and God will own them after we die, but for now, God has given them to us and has entrusted us to care for them and to mange them.  And that, is stewardship.

So, while, in one way, this is a message about stewardship, in another way, it isn’t.

For the next few weeks, during our stewardship campaign, you will hear someone (other than me) offer a few minutes of reflection as a “stewardship moment” during our morning worship service.  Each of those reflections will guide you to think about different aspects of how we might honor God and the gifts that we have been given.  But what I want to talk about is bigger than that, and it builds on the same things that we’ve already been talking about for several weeks.

What is it that God wants from us?

And, as a part of answering that question, I want to remember the story of the Apostle Paul in the book of Acts.  In that story, Paul had been visiting the Temple in Jerusalem when some of the Jews there started a riot over some of the things that he had been preaching in other cities.  During the riot, some of these people attempted to beat Paul to death, but he was rescued by the Roman soldiers in the Fortress Antonia.  Several more times, the people who were plotting to kill Paul planned to murder him while he was being transferred from one place to another, but each time Paul was rescued.  But a part of Paul’s defense was that the accusations against him were religious in nature, and were not, under Roman law, a criminal offense worthy of punishment or imprisonment.  Ultimately, Paul would use his rights as a Roman citizen to carry the message of Jesus Christ all the way to Rome and to Caesar himself, but in Acts 26, Paul tells King Agrippa, who was the king of the whole area around Israel, the story of his life, his pursuit and persecution of Christians, his trip to Damascus to hunt for, and arrest, more of Jesus’ followers, and ultimately his encounter with Jesus on the road, his conversion, and his new mission as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  At the end of that story, Paul, knowing that Agrippa was a follower of God and a man who knew the stories of scripture, asks the king if he believed the stories of the prophets that he knew and had studied.  (Acts 26:27-31)

27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

30 The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. 31 After they left the room, they began saying to one another, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”

Just as we learned in recent weeks, Paul used his Roman citizenship, and everything else that he had, to save his life and to bring him, and his message, into audiences with the Governor and with the king.  And in those audiences, Paul not only defends himself, he preaches the good news of Jesus Christ to anyone that he can whether they are Jewish citizens, Roman guards, or the king himself.  And then, even though King Agrippa and others who heard his case were willing to dismiss Paul’s case and release him, Paul appeals his case to Rome and to Caesar himself (as was his right as a Roman citizen).  And in Rome, Paul would continue to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone, and to anyone, that would listen until his death.

I can almost hear you thinking, “But, I’m not Paul.”  Indeed, most of us are not Paul.  We weren’t born into the best of families, or trained under the best teachers, or hung out, and worked for, and with, the powerful movers and shakers.  We don’t speak, or write, like Paul, so how can we learn how to manage our lives from him?  Simply this: Just as we’ve heard in recent weeks, Paul used what he had, whether that was much, or whether it was little, in order to advance the cause of Jesus Christ.  And, with that in mind, let’s remember some of the things that we have been given as the followers of Jesus.  And this list, incidentally, is also from Paul, in his letter to the church in Galatia (Galatians 5:22-24).

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

As the followers of Jesus, we have been filled by the Spirit of God, and that spirit develops within us, fruit that God uses to grow his kingdom.  We may not show all these fruits at the same time, but as we mature in Jesus Christ, we should see them grow within us.  And as we do, we should use them, steward them, manage them, however you choose to describe it, so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is spread, so that people come to faith in Jesus, and so that his church, both on earth, and in heaven, grows as well.

What does God want?

God wants disciples who are committed.  God wants us to be intentional about using the things that he has given to us, to focus on something bigger than the ordinary everyday things that occupy our time.  God wants each one of us to use the gifts that he has given to us, life, liberty, freedom, time, money, talent, rights of citizenship, the fruits of the spirit, and anything else that we have at our disposal, so that we can be a blessing to God, to his Son Jesus, and to his kingdom.

Are you ready to be committed disciples?

Let us not just thank God for what he has given to us.

Let us use those gifts as a gift to God.

That, my friends, is stewardship.

 

 

 

 


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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  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Finding Hope in a Doomed Culture

Finding Hope in a Doomed Culture

September 29, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15                     1 Timothy 6:6-19                   Luke 16:19-31

 

It’s often obvious.

All we have to do is turn on the television or radio, open a newspaper, or go to the movies.

It seems as if Hollywood and the people who entertain us, are always finding ways to push the boundaries of what is acceptable.  Language that used to get a movie banned from theaters is now heard during primetime in our living rooms.  Where television programs once required that married couples be shown sleeping in single beds, we now see the stars of today’s shows hopping from bed to bed as if marriage vows and morality meant nothing.  But while we watch the boundaries of moral acceptability being pushed back in our own culture, we should also remember that none of this is new.

With few exceptions, nearly every culture on earth has, on one way or another, taken a stand against the instructions, commands, and desires of God.  When scripture points generically at cities like Rome, Sodom, and Babylon, it focuses on cultures that are fundamentally at odds with how God has called his people to live.  Whenever God’s people, then or now, become so entangled with that culture, they are drawn away from God’s will for their lives, and inexorably pulled away from God himself.  And, while God isn’t calling us to withdraw from the world to the degree that we see the Amish community doing, we are called to stand up to our culture and plant a flag to designate a different way of life.  Likewise, there is no need for us to despair that our culture is leading us all into condemnation, destruction, and hell.

There is hope.

That is exactly the message that God sends to the people of Judah through the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15Here, although Jeremiah has prophesied about the destruction of the city and everyone is beginning to realize that the Babylonian army will soon break down the gates of the city, and although people are beginning to despair for their future, God also sends a message of hope for the future.

32:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. The army of the king of Babylon was then besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was confined in the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace of Judah.

Now Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him there, saying, “Why do you prophesy as you do?

Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.’

“Then, just as the Lord had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.’

“I knew that this was the word of the Lord; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales. 11 I took the deed of purchase—the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed copy— 12 and I gave this deed to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard.

13 “In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: 14 ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. 15 For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’

When the enemy is at the gates, and the people could feel destruction and the judgement of God breathing down their necks, everyone knew that this was the time that people should be getting their affairs in order.  This was a time when people were locked inside the city walls for protection and they were more worried about being able to afford food to eat than how much land they owned.  And so, as an example to everyone, God calls Jeremiah to meet his cousin Hanamel in the city gate and buy the family farm that his Uncle Shallum is trying to sell.  And God’s word to Jeremiah, and to the people of Judah, is that there is a future.  Despite the enemy at the gate, God declares that the nations of Israel and Judah will have a future, that peace will return, that their government will one day be reestablished, and that houses, land, vineyards, and farms will one day be bought and sold again.  And, quite possibly, within the lifetime of Jeremiah and some of the people who were there to stand as witnesses.

In the middle of despair, God delivers hope.

Perhaps one of the greatest disconnects between our culture and the morality of God, is the way in which we view money.  In just about every television show, movie, commercial, magazine, or advertisement we are repeatedly told that being rich is the goal of life.  Nearly every waking moment of our lives we are told that we should aspire to acquire more money, more things, more stuff, more power, and that more is always better no matter what the cost to ourselves, to our families, or to the people around us.  But that isn’t at all what scripture teaches or what God wants.  Last week, we were reminded that we cannot serve both God and money, and Paul expands on that teaching in 1 Timothy 6:6-19, where we hear these words:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

In complete contrast to the messages that we get from all over our culture every day, Paul says that those who want to get rich fall into a trap and into many foolish desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  While money itself is neither good nor evil, it is the love of money that lies at the root of all kinds of evil.  People who are eager for money, and who pursue it recklessly, have wandered away from their faith in God and have been responsible for causing their own grief and pain.

Rather than pursuing money, we are called to pursue what is right and godly, to seek faith, love, endurance and gentleness.  If you have money, don’t allow yourself to be proud of having it, or to put your confidence and hope for the future in the fact that you have it.  Instead, put your hope in the God who gives us everything that we have.  Rather than trusting in your money, use it to do good for others and be willing to share what you have.  It is in using what we have for God and for others that builds the foundation for our life in eternity.

In Jesus’ parable about the rich man and the beggar Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31, we see an example that could easily be teleported to our own culture, and even to our own neighborhood, and still make complete sense.  Most of us could easily change the names in Jesus’ story to the familiar names of modern-day news stories, and everything in it would still make complete sense.

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Imagine the rich man living in what we would now think of as a gated community, or a walled compound, such as those that many of our rich, famous, and powerful entertainers, businesspeople, and politicians live in today.  For months, perhaps for years, the poor man lived outside the gates, but where the rich man could see him and knew about him.  The poor man sat and begged every day, but never once did the rich man share anything that he had, not even the scraps leftover from his dinner table.  But after their deaths, the condemnation that the rich man receives from Abraham is that he had received good things during his life but shared none of them with Lazarus.  So convinced are the rich and the powerful of the rightness, and the moral superiority of their wealth, that Jesus says they cannot be convinced of their error even if the dead came back to life to warn them.

Listening to the call and the teaching of our culture will lead us to pain, suffering, ruin, destruction, and doom.  We are deceived by the siren calls of pleasure, wealth, and power.  But, if we are to find hope in a culture that increasingly filled with desperation, despair, and hopelessness, then we must remember the commands of God. 

We are not to use God and serve money, but rather to use money and serve God.

If we are to find hope, and to share that hope with the world, then we must remember our calling as the people of God and as the followers of Jesus Christ.  We are called to use what we have, to share what we have been given, so that we may draw closer to one another, closer to those around us, and closer to God.  Otherwise, if listen too closely to our culture, if we allow our desires and our selfishness to control us, the money, and the things, that we have, will draw us, bit by bit, away from God and toward a destruction, and doom, of our own creation.

 

 

 

 


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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  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.