Present, Half-Present, or False Presence?

October 11, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Exodus 32:1-14                      Philippians 4:1-9                   Matthew 22:1-14

Have you seen the television commercials for car insurance that has a salesman that travels with a partner that is an emu?  In one of those commercials, the salesman recalls having a conversation, about insurance naturally, with a guy on an elevator who was listening to the radio with earbuds and was never even aware that the salesman had been talking to him.

It’s (a little) funny.  But has that ever happened to you?

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and, after talking to them for a while, turned and discovered that they had left the room and you had been talking to no one?  Or, have you had a conversation with one of your children, or your spouse, or a co-worker, and discovered, at some point, that they were so distracted by something else, that they had no idea what you had been saying, or perhaps even been aware that you had been talking to them?  It’s a but like talking to a wall.

As odd as it may seem, scripture tells us that God has these same kinds of interactions with his people, times when we simply aren’t present, and others when we’re only half there.  But God doesn’t want followers who… well, maybe if we listen to this story from Exodus 32:1-14, we might understand better.

32:1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us godswho will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

“I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

The people of Israel started coming unglued as soon as they thought Moses was overdue in coming back down the mountain.  For them, Moses had come to represent God.  They were, in effect, following Moses instead of God.  If Moses had gone missing then, by their reasoning, so was God.  The people depended on the presence of Moses rather than on the presence of God.  And so, rather than fall to their knees and pray, or to seek out God’s presence in some other way, they created a false god and a false presence to take God’s place.  And that, as you know, did not go well.  Our God is a jealous God and does not permit dual loyalties or a people who are not fully present.  God does not share his presence with other gods, nor with people who do not follow him, nor does he allow his followers to split their presence, or their loyalties, with other gods.

And just in case we are tempted to say that this somehow exclusive to the Old Testament, we see exactly the same thing in Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew 22:1-14 where we hear these words:

22:1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

In Jesus’ parable, the King, whom we know is God, prepares a wedding banquet for his son and invites his most favored subjects to attend.  Remember, that in that day, and even somewhat in the twenty-first century, the invitation of the king is much like a command performance.  An invitation from the king is not really something that can, or should, be refused or ignored.  But still, they refuse to come.  And so the king sends even more servants proclaiming how awesome the food will be at the banquet, but some were not present, they ignored the servants and they ignored the invitation, and others were openly hostile and murdered the servants in an attempt to silence the invitation.  And the king was so angry, at both groups, that he sent his army to destroy them all and burn their city to the ground.

But the story doesn’t end there.  After the king wipes away all those who ignored his invitation, he invites the uncommon people, the unfavored subjects, the people who are ordinarily ignored and forgotten.  Since the movers and shakers and most favored subjects wouldn’t come to his banquet, the king invites the people of the streets, the poor, the ordinary, the street sweepers, laborers, criminals, and anyone else that they could find.  And, most likely, since they were the people without much money, the king offered them clothes worthy of a king’s banquet for them to wear.  And they wore them.  At least they all wore them except for one man who tried to have things both ways.  He was half-present.  He physically came to the banquet, but he refused to wear the wedding clothes that the king provided.  He was trying to be both a part of the king’s banquet and yet still clinging to a part of his ordinariness.  He was, in other words, lukewarm in his support of the king.

And that didn’t go well either.  The king had him tied up and thrown out of the palace into the darkness because, as we have already seen, he was a jealous king who does not permit dual loyalties or a people who are not fully present. 

And that brings us to a situation that we find in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi.  In Philippians 4:1-9, we read these words:

4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Paul describes Euodia and Syntyche using words like “companion,” “at my side,” and “co-workers.”  These women were truly present for Paul and present as servants of God.  Paul urges the people of the church to be present through their gentleness (because you just can’t be “virtually” gentle), to be present with God through requests, prayer, petition, and thanksgiving and, in exchange, God will be present in their lives by pouring out peace and by guarding their hearts and minds.  Paul says that if we focus our thoughts on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy, and if we put into practice the things that we have learned from our teachers, then we will truly be living lives that are present with God.  Simply put, whenever we act, or think, like Jesus, we are present with God.  And, by doing so, we will discover that God is present with us.

We worship a jealous God.

God will not talk to the wall.

We cannot be absent.

We cannot fake our presence.

We cannot be half-present or have divided loyalties.

We must live lives that are truly, and fully, present with God.


 

 

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/VUwBkvSYvYA

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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.

I Am the Greatest

“I Am the Greatest”

October 04, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Matthew 21:33-46                 Philippians 3:4b-14 

             

People who always think that they are right can be annoying but sometimes we need them.  Although we’re likely to call them egotists, there are situations where it is good to think that you’re always right.  Officers in combat don’t have the luxury of doubting themselves.  They must be decisive. 

General George Patton once said that, “All very successful commanders are prima donnas and must be so treated.”  Patton himself was often accused of not only being a prima donna but of being egotistical and overconfident.  He was so sure of himself that he once said, “I am a soldier, I fight where I am told, and I win where I fight.” 

In combat, leaders have to believe that they are making good decisions so that they aren’t paralyzed by doubt.  But, at the same time, if someone cannot recognize and admit when they were wrong, they become unable to learn, adapt, and move forward.  We see many of those same characteristics in the Apostle Paul, but first, let’s begin with a parable that Jesus told in Matthew 21:33-46, about a powerful landowner and his relationship with the people who rented it from him.  Jesus said…

33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, people who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

Jesus told this parable at least in part because the church leaders of his day, the chief priests and the Pharisees, were in the audience and his description could easily be understood to be a story about how Israel had treated God’s prophets as well as pointing to himself as God’s own son and how they would, ultimately treat him as well.  But the point of the story was to tell the people, the leaders, the nation, and the church that God expects us to not only care for the things that he has given to us, but to give credit to him for giving us the gift, and to use them to produce fruit for the kingdom and not just to enrich ourselves.  If we don’t use what we have been given to grow God’s kingdom then, Jesus says, God can easily take away the gifts that he has given to us, and give them to someone else that will.

That’s harsh.  The chief priests and the Pharisees knew exactly what Jesus was talking about, and they knew that he was talking about them.  And they didn’t like it one bit.

In contrast, we can look at the Apostle Paul who, at one time, counted himself as one of the Pharisees and leaders of Israel.  But, with God’s help, Paul had a change of heart and the explains what that change meant in Philippians 3:4b-14 where he says…

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith inChrist—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Do you remember the phrase, “Float like a butterfly sting like a Bee?”  Muhammad Ali was known for his style of trash talk and self-promotion and Paul begins by using that same style of self-promotion.  When Paul says, “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more,” he is saying the same thing that Ali did when he would say, “I am the greatest.”  Paul is using that same style of self-promotion and the same egotistical, self-confidence that we saw in General Patton and other leaders, but with an important exception.  Paul not only says why he is the greatest, he explains why.  He explains that he was born in the right family, went to the right schools, had the best teachers, did all the right rituals, and he did them perfectly. 

But he discovered that he was wrong.

On the road to Damascus, on one of his journeys to find arrest and torture, if necessary, Jews who had been deceived into following Jesus, Paul is confronted, and blinded by, the risen Jesus.  And after that, Paul says, everything in which he once took pride, his pedigree, his education, his position, his importance, the rituals, and even his perfection, he now sees as being worth nothing… unless they are used to promote the cause of Jesus Christ and to grow God’s kingdom.  Paul casts aside everything that he once thought was valuable, everything that he once intended for himself, and everything that he once built his life upon, because he is now pursuing something new, better, and truly perfect.  He says that he has surrendered all the prizes that his old life once offered and now pursues only the prize that God intends for him.

Although Paul still has the same kind of egotism and self-confidence that he always had, he has taken to heart Jesus’ parable of the rich landowner.  Paul realized that he was wrong, learned, adapted, and is now moving forward by working for God instead of against him.  Paul realizes that the prize that God intends for his life must be far better, and far greater, than any prize that he might have ever intended for himself.

But will we learn the same lesson?

Are we willing to give up on our dreams, let go of the personal goals to which we have held so tightly, so that we can grab hold of the dreams and goals that God intends for us?  Are we willing, as individuals, and as a church, to use what we have been given to grow God’s kingdom?

Or will we hold too tightly to the control, the power, the influence, the dreams, and the goals that we had in mind for ourselves, and risk that God will take it all away and give our gifts to someone else?

May we instead, forget what is behind us, strain toward what is ahead, and press on toward the prize for which God has called us through his Son Jesus Christ.

 


 

 

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/4Umcv0D_pW4

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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.

The Death of “Normal”

“I can’t wait for things to get back to normal.”

You’ve all heard it.  Sometimes it seems as if we hear someone say it every day.    But you know what?  The old “normal” is dead and it isn’t coming back.  I’ll explain what I mean in a minute, but while the death of normal makes me a little sad, it also gives me hope.

For most of us, getting back to “normal” means that everything returns to the way that it was before COVID-19 turned our lives upside-own and sideways.  But so much has changed and, if we’re honest, we have changed, that there’s no way for us to go back to the way that they were before.  And, if we’re brutally realistic, some things are still going to get worse before they get better.  So, how is any of that hopeful?

First, let me explain why we can’t go back as if this year was a children’s playground “do over.”  Some things have changed that simply can’t be erased.  People we love have died and we can’t get them back.  Businesses have closed that won’t reopen, and more are likely to do so before this is over.  Movie theaters and other businesses are starting to close as the pandemic drags on and while some of them may have enough money to try again when things get better, most of them are gone forever as are the jobs that they created.  But, after six months, our behavior is changing too and, by the time COVID-19 burns itself out or we develop a vaccine, our habits and patterns of life will have changed as well.  People who never used the drive thru at the bank or the pharmacy will be used to it, and many of us will like it enough to keep using it.  Many of us have discovered the convenience of Zoom meetings and, while we might not meet that way all the time, some of our meetings will remain on Zoom and other electronic platforms.  People who didn’t cook at home a lot are learning how, and some of them are getting pretty good at it and are discovering that it’s a lot cheaper (and healthier) than eating out.  Families are spending more time together and more time outdoors.  And every one of those changes, from small ones to big ones, changes how we do business and how we live our lives.

Churches are discovering the same thing.  Churches have had to completely change the way that we fund our operations.  Obviously, there isn’t a weekly offering plate if there is no weekly in-person worship service.  So, with essentially no notice, churches had to find ways of either collecting a weekly offering by mail or doing so electronically.  Christ Church has been blessed to have a congregation that navigated that pivot well, thanks to your adaptability and thanks to finance and computer literate members who had the building blocks in place long before we needed to rely on them.  But some churches haven’t navigated that transition nearly as well, and many of those churches may not survive.  All of us have seen those changes in our Cub Scout pack, our weekly Community Dinner, our collections for the hungry and the homeless, our online worship, and a hundred other ways.

But, at the same time, not all those changes are bad.  Some of us are discovering how easy that donating electronically can be, and we might just like it.  Our move to online worship may have lost a few of our regular attenders but, at the same time, we’ve added a few new “faces” in worship.  Each week there are several people who are “liking,” commenting, and sharing our services online that we haven’t yet met in person.  People are “visiting” our church, and our worship services, that likely would not have physically walked in the door before we were forced to change.  And some of the people we’ve known for years have discovered that our online worship, newsletters, and “Newsy Notes” have allowed them to stay connected even when they are working weekends, sick, travelling, or retire out of state.  The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to shift our perspective.  As much as we love our church building, it’s possible that we are less likely to think of “church” as a building when we are prevented from spending so much time in it.  It might just be easier for us to think about “being Jesus” to the people around us when we don’t physically see the Outreach Committee at church every Sunday and expect them (or the pastor) to be Jesus for us. 

And if those changes help us to meet new people, share the gospel with new friends, reach out to our neighbors, get to know their names and their problems, to love them, and be Jesus to them, that’s certainly not a bad thing and it’s not something that I want to give up when this is over.

It’s time for us to accept that the old “normal” isn’t ever coming back.  But while this pandemic is still a long way from being over, now is a great time for us to think about what our “new normal” will look like when it finally is.  Church in the “new normal” is almost certainly going to remain online in addition to “in-person.”  Some of our meetings are likely to remain on Zoom simply because it’s convenient as well as easier for some of our member who don’t like to drive after dark during the winter months.  Some of us will continue to use the option of giving online. 

But how will we, as the people of God, be changed?  Will we be more loving?  Will we be more compassionate?  Will we be more aware of our neighbors, coworkers, and other people around us?  Will we be transformed by this natural disaster, and by God, into people who are more like Jesus, who love like Jesus, than we were before?  Will our church become known, even more than we were, as a church who cares about our neighborhood and about our community?  Will we, more than ever, act as if we are the ambassadors of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God?

I hope so.  I see it happening in bits and pieces and it’s growing.  We are, every day, taking baby steps in a new direction.  And, if that new direction carries us closer to Jesus, I don’t ever want to go back to the old “normal.”

I urge you to keep praying for Christ Church, for our church family, for the new names and new faces that we are reaching in new ways, for our neighborhood, our community, our nation, and for the world. 

The old “normal” isn’t coming back. 

Feel free to grieve its loss.

But there is hope.

We will, eventually, pass through this trial and arrive on the shores of a new “normal.”

Let us pray that when we arrive, each one of us, and our church, is more like Jesus than ever before.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Whining About Winning

 

 

Whining About Winning

September 20, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Exodus 16:2-15          Philippians 1:21-30               Matthew 20:1-16

 

Do you like horses?  Many of us do. 

John Wayne once said that the best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse.

But even if we don’t keep horses, or ride horses, or even if we don’t like horses very much, we often talk about them because horses have been partners with humanity for so long that they have become ingrained in in our language.

Most of us are familiar with some older phrases in English that grew out of our pre-industrial history.  We say things like “biting the hand that feed you,” (which is pretty self-explanatory), or say that something, or someone is “long in the tooth.”   That phrase, “long in the tooth” became a part of our language because horses’ teeth continue to grow as long as they live, so older horses, naturally, have longer teeth.  And that brings us to the phrase “looking a gift-horse in the mouth.”  Because a horse’s teeth can tell you a lot about how old it is, and what kind of care it has been given, it was, and is, standard practice to look in a horse’s mouth before you bought one.  But if someone was giving you a horse as a gift, it was bad form, or even rude, to look in the mouth of a horse for which you paid nothing.  After all, why would you complain about something that you were getting for free?

But throughout scripture, and in our present generation, the people of God have a bad habit of doing exactly that.  Human beings seem to make a habit of complaining, and that complaining, grumbling, whining, often continues even when God answers our prayers, gives us everything that we wanted, and even pours out blessings for which we hadn’t even hoped.  We begin in Exodus 16:2-15 where we find the people of Israel who, after four hundred years of slavery and captivity in Egypt, had been were finally free, and who had witnesses God’s protection as he destroyed the Egyptian army that had been pursuing them.

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”

Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”

10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.

11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning, you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning, there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

For four hundred and thirty years, the people of Israel pray that God would rescue them and, eventually, he does.  Then they pray that God would rescue them from the Egyptian army that is charging after them to kill them or return them to their slavery.  And they watch, as God parts the Red Sea, saves all of Israel, and destroys the chariots and horses that had been pursuing them.  And then… they complain and grumble that God doesn’t love them enough, that there isn’t enough food to eat, they maybe they ought to just return to Egypt on their own because at least when they were slaves, they had enough food.

Let me say that again.  They were rescued from slavery, given their freedom, watched as God destroyed the most powerful military machine on the planet, and then complained that God didn’t love them enough and maybe they should just give up and go back because slavery was better than freedom.  It sounds ridiculous, but this is not an exception.  Human beings do this sort of thing far more often than we care to admit.  In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells an entirely believable parable about a landowner who needed to hire workers to harvest the grapes in his vineyard.

20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denariusfor the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

So, let’s review.  There were a bunch of people who needed work and gathered in the town square to meet people who would hire them.  The landowner needed people to help with his harvest and offered them work.  He offered them the common wage for a day’s labor, in advance, and they accepted.  Several times, throughout the day, he hired more people and offered to pay them “whatever is right.”  And then, at the end of the day, he paid them the agreed upon wage, or more, and… they complained.  Because the landowner was generous, and paid everyone well, the people who had been hired first grumbled that they should have been paid more, even though they agreed that the wage he offered was fair before he hired them.

But what about us in the twenty-first century?  After two millennia of following Jesus and studying his teaching, do we have it all together or are we just as prone to whine and moan and look a gift-horse in the mouth?  In Philippians 1:21-30, Paul writes to one of the churches in Greece and says this:

To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guardand to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former, preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

Paul starts out his letter by making it clear that everyone knew that he was in prison because of Jesus.  But, because Paul was in prison, other followers of Jesus became fearless in proclaiming and sharing the gospel message.  Different groups had different reasons, but the response to Paul’s imprisonment by the community of faith was to preach louder and more often.  And so, even though Paul was suffering, he rejoiced because he knew that good things had resulted from his pain and discomfort.

Paul believes that eventually, he will be released from prison and continue preaching.  But he knows that if he dies, he looks forward to an eternity with Jesus.  And so he tells the church that no matter what happens, they should conduct themselves in a manner worthy of Jesus Christ, work together as one to promote the gospel message, and do so without fear by those who would oppose them.  For in the end, we have been given the gifts of both believing and of suffering.  Because, as Paul explained, our suffering in the name of Jesus, is still a part of God’s plan, and good can still grow out of it.

The people of Israel were whining about winning.  They got everything that they had wanted for more than four hundred years.  They were witnesses to God’s power in ways that no one had ever seen before.  And still they complained.

The people in Jesus’ parable were paid everything that they had agreed to, and more, and still they complained that they thought they deserved more.

But Paul rejoiced while he was suffering in prison and encouraged the church to do the same thing.

The difference was that Paul remembered to look at the big picture and remembered that God had a plan for the world. 

So, what will we do?

Do we look a gift-horse in the mouth?

Do we complain because we can’t see the plan? 

Do we think that we should be paid more?

Are we angry when God blesses someone else, or bitter that others are given more than we think is fair?

Do we think that the blessings that we have received aren’t enough?

Or do we remember to look for the big picture?  Do we remember the many blessings that we have already been given and the untold prayers that have already been answered? 

Rather than complain, in the middle of our pain and suffering, let us strive together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who might oppose us.  Let us remember that both our belief in Jesus, and our suffering in his name are blessings from God.  May we be like Paul, so that our time of trial and hardship, through the blessing of Jesus Christ, can become our greatest time of victory and growth.

 

 


 

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/h_g-ICMSbrA

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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.

3 Stages of Trust

 

3 Stages of Trust

September 13, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Exodus 14:19-31        Romans 14:1-12                     Matthew 18:21-35

Have you ever ranked your friends by how much you trust them?

There are friends that you trust will show up to have a good time, but there’s completely different, and much smaller, group of friends that will show up to help you move.  There are friends that you trust with a few dollars for lunch until payday, but a completely different, and again, much smaller, group of friends to whom you might consider loaning a few hundred, or a few thousand dollars.  There are friends that you trust enough to chaperone your kids for a few hours on a field trip, and a very select few, maybe only a tiny handful, that you would trust with your children for a few weeks in the event of an emergency.

Last week, we remembered how much we don’t like taking tests.  But this week, we find God pushing us to trust him, and his pushing feels a lot like a test.  God isn’t just asking “Do you trust me?”  God, is asking “How much do you trust me?”  We begin this morning in Exodus 14:19-31, where we find Moses leading the people of Israel as they escape from their slavery in Egypt but with Pharaoh’s armies and chariots pursuing and threatening them from the rear.

19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so, neither went near the other all night long.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward[c] it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.

29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

The situation didn’t look good.  The people had followed Moses out of Egypt and marched toward freedom, but suddenly they were trapped between the swords and chariots of Egypt and the sea.  And in that place, they watched as God intervened, stood between them and the soldiers of Egypt, separated the sea to the right and to the left, led them to freedom, and then destroyed Pharaoh’s chariots and horsemen.  The people saw God’s power, and because of what they had seen, they began to trust.  At first, they trusted God enough to follow, but now they might be ready for more.

The Disciples of Jesus had already left their homes and families behind to follow him, but Jesus wanted them to move to another level.  In Matthew 18:21-35, Peter struggles with forgiveness.  The disciples know that God has commanded them to forgive, but who should be forgiven, and what limits were there?

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of goldwas brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt, and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

“Ten thousand bags of gold” is often translated as ten thousand talents, can be calculated as about 200,000 years of income.  So, since the median income in the United States this year (2020) is $33,706, ten thousand talents would be about $6.7 billion (yes, billion with a ‘B’).  This was, and is, an astronomical sum of money that a laborer, or even a supervisory white-collar worker, would have no hope of ever paying, let alone working for pennies per hour in prison.  The contrast between the two debts is obviously deliberate.  The second man owes the unforgiving servant a hundred silver coins or, a hundred denarii, which is the pay for one hundred days work or, about three to four months wages.  To most of us, three months wages would feel like a substantial amount of money, probably about eight or ten thousand dollars, but nothing compared to 6 billion dollars.  Jesus’ point is that what God has already forgiven in each one of us is so incredibly, outstandingly, magnificent that we have no hope of ever paying it back.  But in return, God asks us to trust him enough to forgive others.

Using this parable, Jesus says to his disciples, and to us, “Yes, I know that you have enough trust to follow, but do you trust me enough to forgive?  And, if that weren’t enough, Paul piles on with yet another question.  In Romans 14:1-12, he writes to a church that is filled with people from different points of view.  Men, women, Jews, Greeks, and people from many different nations, backgrounds, and who had come to faith in Jesus from many different religions.  And to that culturally mixed church, Paul asks why the people condemn one another for being different.  Paul says,

14:1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
    every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

This is even harder than Jesus’ parable about forgiveness.  Paul recognizes that in a diverse church with people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds, people are going to be different and those differences will inevitably lead to different opinions.  And some of those differences of opinion are going to be about how we practice our faith.  But while our opinions about the practice of our faith are important, our differences should not give us reason to despise one another or hold others in contempt.  While the practice of our faith is, and should be, important to us, we are not responsible for how others practice theirs.

In Rome, the church was arguing about whether or not certain foods should be eaten, or which day of the week they should worship or celebrate a holy day, but each of those who were arguing were, to the best of their ability, trying to honor God.  Paul’s assessment of these arguments was that they were reasonably disputable, that faithful people, considering the same information and the same scriptures, could reasonably come to different conclusions.  But once they reached their conclusion, Paul says, then they must each live as faithfully as they could but not judge others for having reasoned differently.  Those who felt that Christians should not eat meat should not judge those who did, and people who wanted to worship on Saturday, or celebrate Christmas in December should not have contempt for people who worship on Sunday or celebrate Christmas in January.

For us in the twenty-first century, we argue about whether we should be Catholic of Protestant, whether there should be baptism for infants, how we should celebrate communion, whether we should ordain pastors who have been divorced, and over a whole host of issues related to sexual orientation.  But today, like in Paul’s church, these issues are reasonably disputable.  Faithful followers of Jesus Christ examine the same facts, and the same scriptures, and arrive at different conclusions.  But despite having reasoned differently, we must each live as faithfully as we can without judging others.  All of us will be judged.  Each of us will give an account of ourselves before God.  But none of us will be judged for the actions and choices of someone else.  Whatever our differences, our calling is to trust God enough to accept one another and to accept and honor our differences.  We must not hold others in contempt for thinking differently.  We cannot judge others for reasoning, or living, differently than we do.  “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

God isn’t just asking us if we trust him.  God is asking us how much we trust him.

Do we trust God enough to follow?

Having been forgiven a great debt by God, do we trust him enough to forgive others?

And do we trust God enough to accept other believers that do not think, or believe the same way that we do?

We will all give an account of ourselves before God.

Will we trust God enough to love the people around us?

 

 


 

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/ZtrQw5u4chk

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

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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.

Failing Church

 

Failing Church

September 06, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Exodus 12:1-14          Romans 13:8-14                     Matthew 18:15-20

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, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. 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. 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. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. 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. 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. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. 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:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 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

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

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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.

I Have Seen; I Am Sending

I Have Seen; I Am Sending

August 30, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Exodus 3:1-15            Romans 12:9-21                     Matthew 16:21-28

Where do you come from?

Many of you have heard me tell stories about my family.  My grandfather fought for Germany in World War I, my father was in the Navy during World War II, my father-in-law was in the Army, stationed in Germany, during the Korean Conflict, my oldest brother was drafted into the Army during Vietnam, and served in the Army Reserves during the 1980’s and 1990’s.  And, of course, our son Noah enlisted in the Marine Corps and this week our son Jonah was commissioned as an armor officer in the United States Army.  The military isn’t all that we are however, and none of us, as yet, have made it a career, but our service is a part of our history and knowing our story, as a family, helps us to understand who we are.

The same is true for us as members of God’s family.  Knowing where we came from and understanding the service and the mission of our historical family members helps us to better understand our service and our mission in this generation.  We begin this morning, as we often do, in the Old Testament as we rejoin Moses as he tends sheep in Midian, forty years after he murdered a man and fled Egypt. (Exodus 3:1-15)

3:1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, youwill worship God on this mountain.”

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.”

First, since I began by talking about military service, it is important to note that Moses was drafted.  Moses had no reason to return to Egypt, he had no desire to return to Egypt, and in fact, since he was wanted for murder in that place, he had every reason not to return to Egypt.

But God had other plans.

After all the persuasion and arguing, God sends Moses to the enslaved people of Israel in Egypt with a message of physical and spiritual freedom.

And then, in Matthew 16:21-28,

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their lifewill lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Several times we are told that Jesus didn’t really want to go to Jerusalem because he knew that he would suffer and die when he did.  But, like Moses, Jesus knew that going to Jerusalem, and suffering many things, was all a part of God’s plan.  Jesus even rebukes Peter for encouraging a selfishness that would choose safety over obedience to God.  Jesus knew that God was sending him to fulfill the promises of scripture and turning away from that responsibility would be the same as open rebellion against God.

So, what does any of that have to do with us?

The stories of Moses and Jesus both point to our need for obedience to God and to the mission and ministry that God has given to the church, and to us, today.  In Romans 12:9-21, Paul explains, in part, this way:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

If we boil it down, in Exodus, God said to the people of Israel, “I am sending Moses.”  In Matthew, God said to the world, “I am sending Jesus.”  And to everyone, everywhere, following the resurrection and Jesus’ return to heaven, God said, “I am sending my church.”  To us, God says, “I am sending you.”

Moses was sent to bring freedom to the captive people of Israel.

Jesus was sent to bring freedom from sin and death to the world.

And we are being sent to share the Good News, to tell the world the story of freedom, and to continue the work that Jesus began.  To heal the sick, bring freedom to the captives, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, cling to what is good, be devoted to one another in love, live lives of humility, joy, hope, patience, and faithfulness, bless those who persecute you, rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn, and live in peace with everyone.

We are called to be agents of mercy, love, and peace to all people regardless of color, nationality, or politics. 

We are called to love our enemies as well as our friends and neighbors.

This world will never be perfect until Jesus returns to make things right, but until then God has sent his people to make the world a better place through the power of forgiveness and love.

This is how you fit into our family history:

Moses didn’t want to go to Egypt, but he went because God sent him.

Jesus didn’t want to go to Jerusalem, but he went because God sent him.

Now, God is sending you.

God is sending each of us into the world to make the world a better place, a more loving place, a more perfect place than it was before.

God is sending you.

What will be your answer?

 

 


 

You can find the video of this worship service here:https://youtu.be/appinGvuNoA

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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.

Crisis Fatigue

Crisis Fatigue

I have compassion fatigue.

Or at least something like it.

For anyone who might be unfamiliar with the term, compassion fatigue is the name given to describe the limited human ability to expend emotional energy.  Simply put, we can’t care about everything.  Ordinarily, you see compassion fatigue in those who work with hurting people to the extent that they seem to become senseless to the pain of others.  We see social workers to whom suffering children and families have just become numbers, or workers at the Social Security or unemployment office who close their eyes to the humanity in front of them. 

Some time ago, I experienced it when Patti and I chaired the church missions committee.  So many letters, cards, videos, and other requests for funds came to us through the church, and through the mail, that we simply couldn’t read them all.  The church had a limited budget and couldn’t give funds to even half of them.  Likewise, we had limited emotional energy, and we didn’t have the capacity to worry about the needs of every single organization that asked for our help.

Something similar is happening now.

We are surrounded by hurting, isolated, people.

The news is filled with an endless parade of crises.

Facebook and other social media outlets are filled with the reports of friends and family that are struggling.

And I find myself tuning out.

To be fair, I’m trying to be selective.

I don’t have the emotional energy to care about everything.  There is so much going on that I don’t have the time to focus on the myriad of legitimate concerns that confront me.  I need to care, but I need to take care of myself and my family at the same time.

But sometimes I feel like I should care more.

There are so many important issues to confront.  Immigration, racial inequality, church finance, unemployment, mourning the loss of church family members, a divisive national election, a divided denomination, and the list just goes on and on.

And the elephant in the room is always COVID-19.  Every day I think about it.  It has changed the way we live, the way we work, the way that we associate with other, and the way that we are… permitted… to care for others.  This virus has changed the way that we do everything.  And, worse than that, it requires that we pay attention to it, to spend some of our emotional energy on it, constantly, every day.  We have to think about how often we go to the store, or how often we leave the house, or how many people we might come in contact with, or whether we have a clean mask to wear, and so on.  All day.  Every day.

And the emotional toll of that constant attention nibbles away at our compassion.

I feel it and I’m sure you do too.

We have a limited amount of emotional energy.  We simply do not have the capacity to care about everything.  And when our concerns, and our necessary attention to this virus is added to the constant parade of important concerns, we find ourselves unable to care about them all.

We just don’t have the time or the energy.

So sometimes I feel like I should be paying more attention to important issues that are facing our society, or our church, and I feel guilty when I don’t study them, and highlight them in my preaching or my writing. 

But I just can’t.

I’m sure that you may have felt something similar.  The Coronavirus is stealing from us.  Its constant demands for attention are stealing our emotional energy and our capacity to care.  But we can’t close ourselves off to the world.  We can’t allow ourselves to shut down emotionally.  We need to be conscious and aware of the emotional toll and take steps to protect ourselves.

Already, I’ve seen otherwise nice people post unkind, uncompassionate, and sometimes downright mean things on social media as they argue about politics, or race, or the coronavirus, or, well, you get the idea.  But in our fatigue, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of becoming so focused on one problem, or one crisis, that we are unable to see how that focus causes us to mistreat others who are battling their way through a host of other crises.

I admit that I’m tired.

Whether you want to call it crisis fatigue, or compassion fatigue, or COVID fatigue, or something else, we need to admit that the continuing bombardment of urgent physical, social, and political disruptions is wearing on us.  And we need to take steps to protect ourselves.

If you have to, turn off the news occasionally.  Or take an extra day off.  Or turn off the internet for a day or two.  But do what you need to do to restore your equilibrium.  Recognize that you don’t have the emotional capacity to worry about everything at the same time.  Leave yourself some emotional space to care about the people closest to you so that you can reach out to your friends, neighbors, or coworkers when they need you. 

Take the time to rest both physically and emotionally.

Don’t feel guilty about taking a step back.  As they say in the airline safety briefings, “You can’t care for someone else, unless you take care of yourself first.” 

We need to care for ourselves so that we don’t lose our sense of compassion entirely.

We need to rest so that we will, as the Apostle Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 3:13, “…never tire of doing what is good.”


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Disconnected

Disconnected

August 23, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Exodus 1:8 – 2:10       Romans 12:1-8                    Matthew 16:13-20

Have you ever watched the news and had to roll your eyes?

Occasionally, we watch people say things that make us roll our eyes and wonder how they can not know things that most of us would expect to be common knowledge.  We see middle class people who are so accustomed to driving a car, that they have no idea how to ride a city bus, city people who have absolutely no idea where the food in their grocery store actually comes from, elected officials who can’t pronounce “Marine Corps” or “Yosemite,” or who say things that make it abundantly clear that they have absolutely no idea how ordinary people live.  To be fair, we see this a lot in many different places.  The news media often says ridiculous things about people of faith because they have no real background in faith themselves, and it is common, even for people in the church, to misunderstand the lives, and the choices, of people in poverty simply because they have no experience with poverty themselves.  But in today’s scriptures, we see a vivid comparison of the disconnected and the connected, those who don’t understand, or misunderstand, and those who take the time to know the people around them.  We begin in Exodus 1:8 – 2:10, where we see the disconnection of Pharaoh from his slaves, as well as his daughter from her servants.

Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”

11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so, the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

2:1 Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket [the word used for “basket” here can also mean “ark”] for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.

Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

“Yes, go,” she answered. So, the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So, the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”

Pharaoh is fooled into thinking that Hebrew women give birth differently than Egyptian women either because he has no idea what women are like and had never really watched a woman give birth, and certainly because he has no idea that his Hebrew slaves are the same kind of human beings as the Egyptians that he knows.  Saying that Hebrew women give birth differently is silly, but the Pharaoh’s disconnection from the reality of the world around him allows an otherwise ridiculous explanation to pass.  Not long afterwards, we seen a similar disconnection between the Pharaoh’s daughter from the normal life of her people when, rather than wading into the water to retrieve the  basket that she saw at the edge of the river, she simply sends a slave to do it for her.  But at the same time, we see the connectedness of family when Moses’s sister follows his basked down the river, listens in to the conversation of princess as she discovers it, and steps in to ask if she can help to find a wet nurse for the baby.  But faith is about more than a connection to family and in Matthew 16:13-20 Jesus does two things to which we should pay attention.  First, Jesus knows that his disciples know things that he doesn’t and is intentional about staying connected.  Second, rather than criticize him for being different than the other eleven, Jesus praises and blesses the Apostle Peter because he is different.

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hadeswill not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will bebound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will beloosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Jesus is deliberate and intentional in building connection with his disciples by asking them what they think and what they hear about him from others.  While many rabbis and teachers were likely to accept being put on a pedestal and separating themselves from their students, Jesus regularly takes the time to build connection between himself and his followers as well as to encourage that same connection between them.  And then there is Peter.  Throughout the New Testament, Peter is often seen as the person who says what others had the good sense not to say out loud, or to say things without really thinking them through but, in this case, because Peter is the guy who has always been unafraid to speak up, he is the first one who declares, out loud, that Jesus is the Messiah.  And when Jesus praises Peter’s boldness in speaking up, he is also highlighting the need for diversity and differences in the church.  That idea is explained and amplified by Paul in Romans 12:1-8, where he says:

12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with yourfaith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Paul begins by reminding the people that our goal is to live our lives as a sacrifice and an offering, to God and we do that by living lives that are holy and which follow the teachings of Jesus and of scripture rather than following the distractions, fads, and popular behaviors of our culture when those behaviors are contrary to living a holy life.  After that, Paul immediately encourages us to also live a life of humility and connectedness so that we don’t think too much of ourselves, but recognize that we fit together, within the connected community of God, as pieces of a puzzle that fit together as one beautiful whole.  Just as Peter was different, but contributed a boldness that added to their community, each of us have gifts that we bring with us as we join together in community.  We all come from different families, different places, different schools, and have different expertise, we all have different abilities and different gifts, so that no two of us are the same.  But as we come together in community, we all add to the beauty of the connected whole, just as puzzle pieces of different shapes and colors fit together to make a beautiful picture.

The message of Jesus, and the message of scripture, has been a message of connectedness and diversity long before those things became popular cultural buzzwords in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  As we come together in the kingdom of God, we all “fit.”  We all have a place, we all have something to offer, and we are all needed.  No one is unnecessary, no one is unneeded.  All of us are called to be a part of this connected whole and excluding anyone is like finding a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle.  Sometimes those puzzle pieces are oddly shaped, or colored differently, and maybe even a little… weird, but the picture is not complete without them.

Maybe you know someone who is struggling to find a place in the world.  Maybe you have a neighbor, or a friend, or a coworker, who feels as if they don’t “fit” in the world around them.

And maybe that person is you.

But whoever it is, please take the time to tell them this story.  All of us are different.  All of us have our own, unique, set of skills, gifts, and abilities and no matter how others might perceive us as being different, odd, or weird, there is a place for you in the kingdom of God, and in this church.

No matter how different, odd, or weird, we all fit in the jigsaw puzzle mosaic of God’s kingdom and that beautiful picture has an emptiness until you find your place in it.

There is a place for you here.

 

 


 

You can find the video of this worship service here:https://youtu.be/yErm-kDf2Qw

Did you enjoy reading this?

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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.

Finding Meaning in Disaster

Finding Meaning in Disaster

August 16, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Genesis 45:1-15         Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32                     Matthew 15:21-28

Can any good come from the chaos and loss of life caused by the Coronavirus?  Yes.

But, how does a disaster that destroys lives, end up saving lives?

Before we think about today, let’s go back a hundred years or so.  When the HMS Titanic sank on April 15th, 1912, 1500 lives were lost and newspapers around the world carried stories about it under gigantic, bold print headlines that filled most of the space above the fold of the paper.  It was a terrible tragedy and one of the greatest maritime disasters in all of history.  But as bad as it was, that disaster has saved the lives of a great number of people in the hundred years since it happened. 

So, how does a disaster save lives?

In the case of the Titanic, the news was so big, and so bold, that many things changed quickly and many more over a longer period.  First, while radio was only an experiment at the time of the Titanic sinking, and only a few ships were equipped with them.  And, while the USS Californian, which was the closest ship to the Titanic at only 20 miles away, had one of the new wireless transmitters, they only had one radio operator who had gone off-duty and to bed before the Titanic sank. 

Because of the sinking of the Titanic, radio use was regulated so that all ships would have radios and that they would have trained operators around the clock.  Further, the radio act of 1912 required that any ships receiving, or observing, a distress call, immediate attempt to render aid.  The Titanic sinking also led to requirements that life jackets be available for every passenger, that every passenger receive training in what to do and where to go in the event of an emergency, that crews be trained in the use of emergency lifeboats, and that each ship should carry enough lifeboats to carry every passenger and crew.  And those were just the things that happened quickly.  Over the long-term, the designs ships everywhere were changed to make them safer, particularly considering the things that failed to save the Titanic.

And with the story of the Titanic in our minds, rewind history even farther to the story of Joseph in the Old Testament that we find in Genesis 45:1-15.  Although the entire story of Joseph is an incredible tale, and although I am enormously frustrated that our lectionary has skipped from the beginning of the story that we read last week to the very end of the story this week, there is still much to be learned.  To catch us up, after Joseph was sold to Midianite merchants by his brothers, he was taken to Egypt, sold as a slave, falsely accused, imprisoned by that false accusation, and then rose a position second only to the Pharaoh of Egypt when God allowed him to interpret the nightmares that had been sent by God to plague the sleep of the Pharaoh for nights on end.  That dream told of a coming famine that would devastate the land, and Joseph’s interpretation, and his administration, allowed Egypt to store enough food to survive.  And then, during the famine, Joseph own brothers, the same ones who had sold him into slavery, travelled to Egypt to beg for food.  But when they stood in front of the administrator to beg for food, they unknowingly stood in front of their brother Joseph who had been so changed by the passage of time and the culture of Egypt, that none of them recognized him.  And then, after torturing them enough to make them bring his brother Benjamin on a second visit, Joseph reveals himself to them.

45:1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So, there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks, and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”

14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

Considering our present situation, I want to point out that despite the betrayal of his brothers and many years of slavery, abuse, and imprisonment, Joseph doesn’t hold a grudge.  His brothers are understandably terrified that, because Joseph is now the second most powerful person in Egypt, that he will take his revenge upon them.  But he doesn’t.  But despite the terrible things that happened to him, Joseph learned from his experiences.  Second, Joseph’s closeness with God was the one thing that made it possible for him to see what the Egyptians could not.  It was Joseph’s relationship with God that allowed him to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and that, in turn, led to Joseph’s appointment as the overseer of all Egypt, their food production, storage, preparations for, and management of the nation to navigate through seven years of prosperity and seven years of famine.

In an entirely different story found in Matthew 15:21-28, we see a similar vision of the world as Jesus meets a Canaanite woman with a terrible problem.

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So, his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes, it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

This story is unusual because while we often think of Jesus, as we saw in the feeding of the five thousand (or fifteen thousand),  as being always being ready and willing to help people, in this story, Jesus tries really hard, three times, to make this woman go away.  At first, Jesus completely ignores her, but the disciples urge him to send her away because she is being a nuisance.  And so, with their encouragement, Jesus tells the woman that he was sent to care for the Jews who had been lost to God and that taking care of foreigners was not his job.  But even that did not dissuade her, and so Jesus tells her, quite clearly, that she is not his priority because it wouldn’t be right to take something away from God’s people and throw it to the dogs. 

But this is where the woman demonstrates that she sees the world differently than most other people.  Rather than thinking of God, and God’s power, as a finite and limited resource, the Canaanite woman sees God as infinite and that the healing for which she asks is of no more value to God than the crumbs that fall from a rich man’s table.  And it is this understanding, and this faith in God, that leads Jesus to heal give the Canaanite woman what she wanted, and he heals her daughter, from a distance, without ever meeting her.

Both Joseph and the Canaanite woman were blessed by God because they saw the world through a lens of faith in the power of God.  It was the Canaanite woman’s vision and faith that allowed her to see God’s power, and see Jesus, in a different way and that vision, and that faith, was rewarded.  It was Joseph’s vision and faith that allowed him to see what the Egyptians and all their wise men could not.  And it was that vision and faith elevated him to one of the most powerful positions in the ancient world, allowed him to guide Egypt, one of the world’s greatest super powers, through a time of great crisis and, at the same time, rescue family, and God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and his father Jacob, and lay the groundwork for the protection of the future nation of Israel until it had grown enough, eight hundred years later, to survive on its own.

Watching her daughter suffer from an incurable demon possession year in, and year out, must have been incredibly difficult for the Canaanite woman.  Obviously, being betrayed by his own brothers, and enduring years of imprisonment and slavery had to be agonizing.  But it was their vision and faith in God, through those difficult circumstances, that allowed them to receive the blessings of God and overcome those circumstances.

And that brings us to our present, twenty-first century crisis during this global Coronavirus pandemic.  As we are enduring these difficult circumstances, these stories from scripture call us to examine ourselves.  We should be asking ourselves, at least these two questions: 1) Do we have the kind of vision and faith in God that Joseph and the Canaanite woman had?  And, 2) What is God what is God showing us in our present circumstances, what is God calling us to see in the world around us, that the world is missing?  How should we see the world, our community, our neighbors, our friends, and the people around us, that we can only see through the lens of faith in the power of God?

Let us pray that we will see the vision that God is revealing before it is too late.

Have a great week everybody.

 

 


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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.