Brotherhood and Betrayal

Brotherhood and Betrayal

August 09, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

  

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28            Romans 10:5-15                     Matthew 14:22-33

  

The news makes me sad.

Whether I watch the evening news on television or read it on my computer, in recent months the news just makes me sad.

While our news has almost always been dominated by bad news rather than good news, it seems that, lately, the news stories that we see, and read, are either reporting on, or contributing to, a sense of division within our nation.  We seem to be increasingly divided between white and black, between Christian and non-Christian, religious and non-religious, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, (and whatever else), Conservative and Liberal, masks and no-masks, face-to-face school and distance learning, and on and on it goes.  Things have gotten so bad that it seems like our only options for peace are to only associate with the shrinking number of people who agree with us on everything, or to become media hermits that just start to tune the world out and increasingly retreat into a tiny, quiet world of our own creation.

But are those our only options?

What should we, as individuals and as a church, be doing?

Does God want us to retreat from the world?  Or are we called to do something else entirely?

Let’s begin by returning to the story of Jacob, which has now leapt ahead in time as we hear the story of Jacob’s twelfth son, Joseph. (Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28)

37:1 Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.

This is the account of Jacob’s family line.

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate[a] robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

 12 Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 13 and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied.

14 So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.

When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

16 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

17 “They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”

So, Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— 24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver [about 8 ounces, about $195 at this week’s spot price] to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

Joseph was obviously Jacob’s favorite.  He was, by far, the youngest child and was born to Jacob’s favorite wife, and Jacob gave Joseph a special robe of some kind.  This has been translated as a “coat of many colors” and in this reading it was translated as an “ornate” robe, but the truth is, the word that is rendered as “ornate” or “of many colors” is a word that is otherwise unknown to our modern Hebrew experts.  We don’t know what that word is, exactly, but whatever it is, the coat that Jacob gave to Joseph was special, it stood out, it marked him as the favorite, and it inspired and focused the pettiness, envy, and jealousy of his brothers to the point that they were willing to consider murdering him.  Reuben, the oldest, tries to calm his brothers enough to spare Joseph’s life and throw him into a cistern rather than kill him, and plans to return for him later.  But before he can, the rest of Joseph’s brothers decide to sell him to a caravan of merchants in their way to sell spices and other goods in Egypt.

Clearly, the bonds of brotherhood were betrayed and broken.

But, if you know anything at all about the story of Joseph in Egypt, this story in no way glamorizes that betrayal or the behavior of Joseph’s brothers.  Their actions are surprising, shocking, and become a cautionary tale to the world about the sins of hatred, betrayal, envy, and jealousy and the lifetime of danger, regret, and sorrow that flow from their actions.

In contrast, we can look at any number of stories from the life of Jesus but, for today, let’s look at Matthew 14:22-33, where Jesus and the disciples moving on after the execution of John the Baptist and Jesus’ feeding of fifteen thousand people (which is often called the “feeding of the five thousand.”  Remember that in that story, Jesus was trying to get away from the people to spend some time alone with God, and so after the people are fed, and finally go home, probably as evening and darkness approach, Jesus still wants to spend some time alone with God in prayer.

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

While, at first, this might not sound anything at all like the story about Joseph and his brothers, I want to think about the ways in which Jesus treats the people in this story, and in the story of the Jesus feeding the people who had come to hear him preach.  In every instance, Jesus treats the people in these stories with compassion, sympathy, and love even when the difficulties that the people found themselves in were caused by their own choices.  The people were hungry because they had traveled a considerable distance to see Jesus, stayed longer than they intended and, except for one young boy, did not bring anything with them to eat.  Peter was the one who stepped out of the boat, and it was Peter’s fear and lack of faith that caused him to sink, and yet, Jesus feeds the hungry people and he reaches out his hand and lifts Peter back into the boat.  The disciples, event the fishermen, are all afraid when they think that they see a ghost walking on the water, but Jesus soothes them and calls for them to take courage.  And, because of Jesus miracles, as well as his compassion, concern, and love for them, the disciples know that he must be the Son of God.

But how do we connect these dots?  What do either of these stories have to do with us, particularly in the twenty-first century, in the middle of a global pandemic, and a remarkably divisive culture war?

To connect those dots with today, I want to look at what Paul wrote to the church in Rome in Romans 10:5-15.  The church in Rome was a mixed-race church.  There were not only people who had come from all over the Roman Empire, there were a mixture of men and women, slaves, and free persons, as well as Jews and Gentiles who sometimes struggled to get along and find space for one another without the wrestling with the same kinds of jealousy and envy that Joseph’s brothers had felt.  And one of the things that they wrestled with, was how they should understand the laws of Moses and the writings of the prophets (what we call the Old Testament) and how the law applied to their lives in light of the ministry and teaching of Jesus Christ.  Paul says:

Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Paul explains that the shift from the prophets of old, to the teachings of Jesus Christ, was a shift in the way in which we seek righteousness.  Before, the pursuit of righteousness was an academic one.  We had to remember what all the rules were and how to follow them correctly.  But with the coming of Jesus, our pursuit of righteousness became an issue of the heart.  The word of God now lives in our hearts in such a way that we are saved by faith and express that faith by sharing it with others.  There is no longer a difference between Jews and Gentiles and, because Jesus saves everyone who puts their trust in him, neither group has an advantage over the other.

But Paul’s advice to those fighting against division wasn’t for them to take sides, or for them to retreat from the world, but to send them out into the chaos of the world to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with anyone and everyone who hadn’t yet heard it.

In a world filled with division, strained relationship, envy, arrogance, and chaos, the church, then and now, cannot retreat.  We must, as never before, move forward and share the good news.

Who do you know that needs to hear it?

 

 

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/gwzpTdJV0JU

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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.

Church Can’t Save You

Church Can’t Save You

August 02, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 Genesis 32:22-31                   Romans 9:1-5             Matthew 14:13-21

 

It seems like everyone is always looking for the easy way out.

You can’t blame us.  Easy always seems better than hard.  But often, the only way to get from “worse” to “better” is to travel down the hard road.  If you want to be an accountant, an engineer, or a nurse, there’s no easy way that doesn’t involve going to college.  And, if you want to be a doctor, then the only path that gets you there goes through medical school and some grueling years as an intern and a resident.

But that doesn’t stop us from trying.

As we do battle with the Coronavirus, we know that developing a new vaccine from scratch typically takes five to ten years.  We also know that there has never been a successful vaccine against any of the other viruses in the coronavirus family.  But a vaccine is the “easiest” path forward that most of us can see, so we’re going to spend a lot of time, money, and effort in hopes that our best doctors and scientists can do what’s never been done before.  And others are pinning their hopes on a variety of unproven drug therapies that might work, that might not work, or that might be more dangerous than the virus they’re trying to fight.

But, as is often the case, the easy way, may not be the best way.  In fact, the easy way, may not get us anywhere near our intended destination.

And the same is true in the spiritual world.  The easy road may not lead us to the place we had hoped.

But before we get to that, let’s go back to the story of Jacob, and rejoin his story as he prepared to meet his long-estranged brother Esau, from whom he stole his father’s birthright. (Genesis 32:22-31)

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, [Israel means “struggles with God”] because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face [Penial means “face of God”], and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.

 God appears to Jacob in human form (which, in theological language, is called a theophany).  All night long, Jacob wrestles with God and, in the morning, demands a blessing from him.  Because of our understanding of the events of the New Testament, the name that we usually use for God in human flesh, is Jesus.  So, if you want to bend your understanding of time and space a little bit, we might think that Jacob spends the night wrestling with Jesus.  And, if you think that’s impossible, consider John 8:56-59 where Jesus argued with the leaders of his church saying:

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

 In any case, Jacob wrestles with God, receives God’s blessing, and is given the name, Israel, or wrestles with God, that will remain with his family for thousands of years.  Then, in Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus performs miracles as a sign that he is the fulfillment of that blessing, and the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, and one of those is the spectacular moment when Jesus feeds ten to fifteen thousand people, possibly more, with the contents of one small boy’s sack lunch.  This story begins immediately after the execution of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist.

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

In the gospel stories of his miracles, Jesus demonstrates his command and authority over time and space, over the wind, rain and weather, over disease, demons, and death, and, in this story, over the laws of matter itself.  The contents of a small boy’s lunch, five small loaves of bread (probably small flat breads like a pita) and two fish are multiplied to feed five thousand men, and all the women and children that had come with them.

And so, as we come to church, we often arrive at the belief that everyone who believes the story of Jesus, is adopted into the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and, like the people of Israel, we inherit the blessings of God.

Not so fast.

Let’s not be too hasty.

It was exactly that line of thinking, in the time of the disciples, that led the Apostle Paul to weep over the Jewish people of Israel.  In Romans 9:1-5, we hear him explain it this way:

9:1 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

Paul says that he weeps over the people of his own race, the people of Israel, who are, as we know, the genetic and philosophical descendants of Jacob and the inheritors of his blessing.  But Paul’s grief was that the people believed that this was all that was necessary.  They believed that being the heirs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was enough. 

But it wasn’t. 

Even though Paul was the ultimate Jew, who was born into the right family, who followed all the right rituals, who went to all the right schools, and had all the best teachers, Paul knew that his genetic lineage was not enough.  Paul knew that the Jews of his day were excluding themselves from God’s kingdom and from God’s blessing by their failure to believe, and to follow, Jesus Christ.  As evidence, Paul points to Isaac’s half-brother Ishmael and, by inference, to Jacob’s twin brother Esau.  Even though they were genetically connected to Abraham and to Isaac, the blessing of God did not automatically flow to them.  Even though Ishmael and Esau believed in God, they did not follow God in the way that Isaac and Jacob did, and so, God’s blessing did not come to them, or to their families, in the same way.  And Paul says that this same rule applies to all the Jews when it comes to their belief in Jesus.  Paul’s message is that the promise of God does not come to us because of our family ties, or our genetics, or our church membership, but only to those who choose to accept the gift, follow God, and live a life patterned after that belief.

In more modern language, we need look no further than Billy Sunday, a professional baseball player and internationally known evangelist of the early 20th century, who said,

 “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.”

Just as Ishmael and Esau walked away from God’s blessing, Paul wept as he watched his own Jewish race, whom he loved more than life itself, walk away from the blessings of God because of their failure to accept, and follow, Jesus.

And Paul’s message for us is pretty much the same.  We aren’t saved because our family was saved.  We aren’t saved because we believe in God, or because we go to a Bible believing church, or because we believe that Jesus was a real person, or because we believe that the stories in the New Testament actually happened.  We are saved, and we receive the blessings of God, because we have put our full faith and trust in Jesus, and allow that faith to change the way that we live our lives, as we pattern our lives, our behavior, and our actions after the life and the teaching of Jesus.

So yes, church is important.  And yes, I am convinced that every person who believes in Jesus must belong to a fellowship of Christian believers (whether you call that a church or not).  But going to church is not the easy way out.  Going to church will not save you no more that going to a garage will make you an automobile.

Each person must put their full faith, and trust in Jesus, and then live a life that reveals Jesus to the world around them.

That is not always going to be the easiest path.  But it’s the only path that leads to the destination that matters.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/vElLkqp1aZ0

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.

Investing, Fraud, and Weakness

Investing, Fraud, and Weakness

July 26, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

 

Genesis 29:15-28                   Romans 8:26-39                     Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

 

Have you ever been ripped off?

Have you ever gotten home before you figured out that someone gave you the wrong change?

Have you paid for something that turned out to be a lot less than what was advertised?

But what if you spent seven years of your life investing in your future, and suddenly discovered that your broker had taken your money?  Or of you bought a house and, after you took out a mortgage, and the closing was signed, they gave you the keys to different house?  Or, the car dealer gave you an uglier car than the one you paid for?  You get the idea.  This fraudulent tactic has been used so often over the years that it has a name, bait and switch, and is specifically illegal in most states.

And this only gives us a taste of the anger and betrayal that Jacob must have felt when his uncle, a beloved family member, robbed him of seven years of his life.  We read that story of love and betrayal in Genesis 29:15-28.

After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, 15 Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”

16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”

19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.

21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”

22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.

25 When morning came, there was Leah! So, Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”

26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”

28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29 Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. 30 Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.

Jacob invested seven years of his life working, and waiting, for the love of his life.  He loved Rachael so much that seven years of his life seemed to fly past.  Can you imagine?  Most people today can barely imagine an engagement that lasts for more than six months.  I’ve known a few people who waited a year or two so that they could wait in line for the specific venue that they wanted for their perfect storybook wedding, but can you imagine waiting, and investing seven years’ worth of your labor, for the woman of your dreams?  And then, on the day after your wedding, discovering that the woman you married, isn’t the woman that you wanted?  And to make matters worse, even though you finally get the one you want, you end up working another seven years to pay for the wedding.

Jacob had to have been beside himself with fury, anger, and frustration.  Sure, Laban tried to explain it all away by saying that it was customary to marry the eldest daughter first.  But regardless, this still must be one of the most well-known cases of bait and switch in the history of fraud and bad deals.  Not surprisingly, after this moment, despite being his father-in-law, Laban is no longer a beloved member of Jacob’s extended family.  After this, Jacob begins to plan his departure as well as how he will take as much of Laban’s wealth with him as he can when he leaves.

Clearly, this is a story about fraud, betrayal, and bad investing (although, in the end, Jacob did get to marry the woman of his dreams).  But it serves as a contrast to the investments that we make in the kingdom of God.  In Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Jesus tells several parables that all connect to the value of faith, and the value of investing in God’s kingdom, along with a warning or two.

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

 47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.

“Yes,” they replied.

52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

Jesus explains that joining the kingdom can be thought of in a transactional sense.  We are buying into the philosophy, understanding, habits, and values of the people of God and when we buy in, we spend ourselves, we spend our time and effort in new ways and in new places that are, or at least should be, less focused on self, and focused instead on the good of the kingdom.  But that investment brings returns.  Jesus compares it to planting a mustard seed, which is tiny and not much bigger than a grain of table salt.  But that tiny seed grows into a plant that can be the size of a tree.  If you’ve ever baked bread, you know that it doesn’t take much yeast to bake a lot of bread.  But while only a little bit of yeast is needed for many pounds of flour and other ingredients, those ingredients won’t make bread without it.  Some treasure, Jesus says, is so valuable, that even if we sell all that we possess to buy it, we still come out far ahead of where we were before.  Imagine selling everything you had to buy a million-dollar home, because you knew that there was a hundred-million-dollar treasure buried underneath.  That’s the picture that Jesus paints for us as we struggle to understand the value of our membership and participation in the kingdom of God.

But there’s a warning in this message as well.  Jesus says that just as fishermen sort through their catch to save the good and valuable fish, and throw back the worthless ones, this same sort of thing will happen in God’s kingdom.  At the end of time, the people of the earth will be sorted.  The good and valuable people will be saved, and the worthless and evil ones will be thrown into the fire.

But, while that all makes sense on one level, on another level when we hear stories about judgement we begin to worry that we’re going to spend our entire lives trying to get things right, and trying to invest in the right things, and trying to follow the teachings of Jesus, and still get it wrong and end up on the wrong side of the judgement.  But our fears on that account are unfounded because that’s not the way that it works.  As long as we are genuine in our faith, and are trying our best and are not just selfishly ignoring God’s instructions whenever it is inconvenient, then God will not only walk with us on our journey, but will help us to make better decisions and support us when our human strength fails.  This is how Paul explains it in Romans 8:26-39:

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

When we feel beaten down, emotionally, and physically worn out, destroyed, drained, and helpless, Paul reminds us that a part of the package that came with our investment in the kingdom of God is that we are never alone.  We are never alone with our grief, never alone with our pain, or our fear, our suffering, our struggles, or our weakness.  When we struggle, or when we are weak, worn down, and exhausted, whenever we reach the end of ourselves, the Spirit of God is there to help us.  Even when we are distraught, confused, and in such emotional turmoil that we can’t even express ourselves in words, our groans, our weeping, and our tears, are translated by the Spirit and lifted to God as prayers for us and those we love.  We may not have the words, but God hears our cries, and understands.

But not only does God understand our pain, God is constantly working for the good of his people.  God has not only called us to follow him, but he is shaping us, and molding us, into the image of his Son, Jesus so that we might become like him.  No matter what enemy, beast, bully, person, pandemic, power, or politician stand against us, God is on our side.  And if God is on your side, there is nothing else that you need to worry about.  No matter what accusations might be thrown against us, God is the final judge.  It is God who, through his Son, Jesus Christ, redeemed the world, and it is Jesus who speaks to God on our behalf.  No one, no trouble, no hardship, no persecution, famine, poverty, danger, or violence can ever separate us from the love of Jesus Christ.  No one.

No matter what we face, because we stand with God, we are conquerors through him, and through his love for us.

Our bargain with God is not the fraudulent kind of bait and switch deal that Laban made with Jacob. 

We needn’t worry that we will spend decades investing in our eternal future only to have God betray us and pull the rug out from under us.

Jesus’ parables help us to understand that even if we choose to see our relationship in a transactional sense, and it is far more than that, that transaction is an incredible bargain.  What we get, in exchange for “buying in” to the philosophy, understanding, habits, and values of the people of God, is far more that we could ever ask, or imagine.  Our return on investment, if you will, is many hundreds, thousands, or millions of times greater than anything we could ever do, or spend, in return.

God is always for us.

God is always with us.

God is always working toward what is best for us.

God is always shaping us to become more than we are, and more like Jesus.

And because we are justified by God, through his son Jesus Christ, we have no fear of fraud or bait and switch and no fear of God’s judgment.  We need not even fear our own weakness.

Because of our investment in the kingdom of God, we are more than conquerors.

And nothing in all of creation, can separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


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

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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.

Blessings, Weeds, and Suffering

Blessings, Weeds, and Suffering

July 19, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

 Genesis 28:10-19a                 Romans 8:12-25                     Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

If we can’t have church, how can we be the church?

If I am a member of the church, is there something that I should be doing for the church?

Can my faith in Jesus help me to understand, or even just to cope, with the craziness and suffering that is going on because of the Coronavirus (or anything else)?

In the middle of the chaos caused by the Coronavirus, some of the questions that gets kicked around revolve around the church.  What should the church be doing?  What should its members be doing?  Does our faith in Jesus Christ make any difference in how we ought to respond to the world, to the news, or to our leadership?  And, while I certainly don’t have all the answers, and we surely won’t have time to talk about all of the possibilities, or all of the relevant scriptures, today’s lectionary passages are enough to give us plenty to think about.  We begin in Genesis 28:10-19a, where Jacob has an encounter with the God of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham and in which God reiterates a blessing that he had promised to Abraham, and by doing so reemphasizes that the promise had not only been passed down to him, but that it would continue pass through his descendants.

10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel.

God meets Jacob and he promises that he will give the land, upon which he sleeps, to Jacob and to his descendants.  But more than that, God promises that those descendants would multiply, spread out in all directions, and become so numerous that God’s blessing would flow through them and into the entire world.  Of course, as Christians, we believe that not only has this prophecy been fulfilled by the growth and expansion of the Jewish nation, but also specifically through Jacob’s descendant Jesus.  And therefore, from our perspective, the blessing of God flows through Jacob, down to Jesus, and through Jesus, flows into the world of today… through us.

But so, what?  Why does that matter?  What difference does it make if we are numbered among the descendants of God’s blessing to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?  It matters, and it makes a difference, because the world is also full of weeds.  What do I mean by weeds?  Listen to what Jesus had to say in the parable found in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43:

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time, I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

 36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven, in other words, the world in which we live, is like a field that has been planted.  The good seed is the people of the kingdom of God and that seed was planted by Jesus.  The weeds are the people who are controlled, or manipulated, or deceived, by the evil one, the enemy of God.  In the fields, and in the world, and even in the church, it can be almost impossible to tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat.  But as the plants mature, it becomes obvious what kind of fruit they will bear.  This is a story about God’s judgement at the end of time.  Jesus says that the angels will know which people are bearing good fruit and which are weeds and that the weeds will be pulled out, sorted, and separated from the good fruit, and burned in the fire.  As we have seen in other passages, when we become mature, we will be known, and judged, by what kind of fruit we produce.

But what does that have to do with being the descendants of Jacob, and the followers of Jesus?

The “So what” question is answered by Paul in Romans 8 and there he also explains what our faith matters in times when life is difficult, during pandemics, or worse. (Romans 8:12-25)

12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Paul says that, as the church, we do not have an obligation to live well or to pursue comfort and the satisfaction of our fleshly desires.  But we do have an obligation to live according to the Spirit, to live as if our faith really mattered, to do the things that Jesus taught, be the kind of people that Jesus has called us to be, and to do the work that that Jesus has called us to do.  Paul reminds us that we are God’s children.  We are the adopted sons and daughters of the family of God.  We are the heirs, the inheritors, of God’s blessing, and co-heirs with Jesus.  But being heirs with Jesus means that we not only share in God’s riches and glory, but that we also share in the suffering of Jesus.

The present suffering of this world, our present suffering in this world, no matter how bad things get (and Paul was absolutely, intimately, familiar with just how bad things could get), simply do not compare to the glory that we will see as our reward and as our inheritance.  But for the present, we live in a creation that is the frustrated, tangled, twisted, perverted, and corrupted reality of the creator’s perfect creation.  Yes, we are enduring the chaos caused by the Coronavirus.  Yes, our culture is in turmoil.  Yes, our own denomination is tearing itself apart.  Yes, there is unemployment, and suffering.  Yes, our lives are chaotic, unsettled, and uncertain.  But Paul, and the people of his time, and his world, knew chaos and suffering too.  We live in this present, but like Paul and the church that he knew, we live with the hope that creation will one day be redeemed, rescued, and liberated from its bondage to decay.  We look forward to the day when, not only the world, but we too will be redeemed and made perfect.

Through Jesus, we are the descendants of Jacob, and the inheritors of God’s blessing.  And while we live in a world that is filled with weeds, enemies, frustrations, disasters, bad governments, and outright evil, we look forward to something so much better that we are able to look past the suffering of the present and into a future filled with glory and light.  But while we are here, in this present time, we have an obligation to be and to do.  We are called to live according to the Spirit of God, to be the kind of people that Jesus called us to be, to live the way that Jesus lived, and to do the work that Jesus did.  We are called to live lives that look like Jesus, lives that reveal Jesus to the people around us, to love the people around us like Jesus did, and to do the work that Jesus did.  Yes, the fields are full of weeds, but until the time comes for the harvesters to separate the weeds from the wheat, our calling is to nurture the seeds that have been scattered.  Those seeds surround us in our families, in our community, in our places of employment, and everywhere we go.  Many of those seeds can still be saved.

Although we aren’t meeting together in a church building, we have never stopped being the church.  Every day, whenever, and wherever we can, we must look for opportunities to be Jesus to the world.  We must do what we can to relieve the suffering that we see; and help the people around us who are struggling in any way that we can.

Despite the chaos that surrounds us, we must keep moving forward. 

This week look for ways that you can help.  Send a card, call, donate food, mow someone’s grass, buy groceries for an unemployed neighbor, maybe even pay somebody’s rent.  In big ways or small ways, let us answer the call to show the love of Jesus to those around us.

And let us keep our eyes…

…on hope.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/Y8cHcw79Uuo

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.

Trading Treasure for Soup

Trading Treasure for Soup

July 12, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 25:19-34                Romans 8:1-11           Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

 

In the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack is on his way to the market to sell the family cow, and on the way, he is persuaded to trade the cow for a handful of magic beans instead.  If this were not a fairy tale, anyone who hears the story would be shocked at his foolishness and could easily understand that he has just doomed his entire family to starvation.  But the story is memorable because of his foolishness.  In the real world, even a child would have understood the seriousness of the situation and no one would ever agree to trade an entire cow for a handful of beans.

Or would they?

On May 24, 1626, Peter Minuit purchased the island of Manhattan for the equivalent of $24 worth of beads and trinkets.  But both sides thought the other was stupid.  The Dutch couldn’t imagine that the Indians would sell the land for so little, and the Indians, who believed that land belonged to everyone, couldn’t imagine that the Dutch would give them stuff for something that couldn’t be owned.

On April 30, 1803, The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed in Paris.  With that signing, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France at a price of $15 million, or approximately four cents an acre.  I’m sure that seemed like a lot of money in 1803, but it doesn’t seem like much today when there are individual buildings, even private residences, that sell for that much.

Likewise, the United States Secretary of State William Seward was widely mocked for what the headlines called “Seward’s Folly” when he purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million, on March 30, 1867.  But today, between the oil fields on the North Slope and the incredible natural beauty of Alaska, by today’s standards I don’t think you could find anyone who doesn’t think we got a pretty good deal.

All those stories end up turning out pretty good for the folks who are buying.  Even Jack wins in the end when he brings home the goose that laid golden eggs.  But most of us know that in real life, foolishness doesn’t always turn out well.  And scripture tells us that the people of the ancient world had learned that lesson just the same as we have.  One of the places where they learned it, and retold it to one another, and to us, is in the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25:19-34 where we hear this story:

19 This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.

Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram [northwest Mesopotamia] and sister of Laban the Aramean.

21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So, she went to inquire of the Lord.

23 The Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
    and the older will serve the younger.”

24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. [which means hairy] 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.[which means “grasps the heel” or culturally it meant “he deceives”] Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.

27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom [which means red].)

31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So, he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

So, Esau despised his birthright.

Esau, like many people, was short-sighted.  He wanted what he wanted for today.  His birthright, this inheritance of two-thirds of his father’s wealth, as well as eventually becoming the caretaker of all his father’s dependents, was too far away.  Planning for a future that was decades away was too difficult, too intangible, too fuzzy, too nebulous.  Today he was hungry.  What did he care about an inheritance he wouldn’t get, and responsibilities that he didn’t really want, that he wouldn’t even see for twenty or thirty years?

We see many of our friends and family members do similar things.  Students sometimes have difficulty focusing on today’s test for a grade that they won’t see for fifteen weeks, or on classes they don’t like that are needed for a diploma they won’t see for two or three years. We know people who choose to make payments on expensive cars instead of driving cheaper ones and save for their retirement.  People who choose to live above their means and live well, rather than live modestly and prepare for their future.  And there are whole industries to help people cash out of long-term settlements so that they can spend next year’s money today.  And all of us have struggled with eating what’s good for us, and getting enough exercise, for a healthy future when the goodies on the menu look so tasty and tempting.  It’s hard to give up what we want today in exchange for something that we can’t have for two, three, or even four decades in the future.

And so, Esau sells his inheritance to his brother Jacob for a bowl of soup.

In our daily lives, we make decisions like that every day.  Of all people, farmers probably live with that reality more than most.  Planting is a lot of work, and the results won’t be seen for many months.  Likewise, during the winter, farmers must busy themselves maintain, repairing, and replacing machines, tools, and other equipment that won’t be needed until the spring, because in the spring, they will have many other things that need to be done.  Jesus knew that and he uses that understanding as the basis for the parable that he taught in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.

13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

 18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Jesus knows that the harvest is months away.  He knows that it’s hard work.  He knows that many of the seeds that are planted either won’t grow or won’t produce.  He knows that all that failure makes it even harder to focus on the future.  But he reminds us that despite all the failures, there will be successes.  And the seeds that grow, the successes that are seen, will more than make up for the seeds that fail.  Even though much of our effort will seem wasted, and even though we may not see the results for a long time, our successes will make all the effort worthwhile.

And not only does that speak to us about our work as evangelists and sharers of the Good News of Jesus Christ, it also speaks to us about the way that we live our lives.  In Romans 8:1-11, Paul reminds us that while there are great rewards for following Jesus, because some of those rewards do not come to us in our present lives, it can be all too easy to lose our focus and think too much about the present.

8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Much like our retirement savings, or planting seeds in the spring for the fall harvest, we must keep our focus on the future and live today as if the future matters.  Yes, there is and exchange being made.  We are making a deposit on a future that we cannot see.  But we are not buying a handful of magic beans.  Instead, Paul says, we live according to the Spirit so that we do the things that God wants us to do rather than live only according to the things that we think feel good.  There are many tempting goodies on the menu that aren’t healthy for us or for our future.  It is important, for our health, for our retirement, and for our eternity, to stay focused on the things that are really important, even when those things are so far in the future that they are hard to see.

The last thing we want to do, is to sell our inheritance in exchange for a bowl of soup.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/2Bsf-OzlAtM

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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.

Escape from “Try-Fail-Repeat”

Escape From “Try-Fail-Repeat”

July 05, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” – Japanese proverb

 

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67   

Romans 7:15-25a                  

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

 

If you do a search online for quotes about falling down, or about failure, you will be bombarded with results and it isn’t difficult to understand why.  Failure is as common to the human condition as breathing.  We learn to stand, and to walk, by falling down and pushing ourselves back up again.

And often repeated, and likely ancient, Japanese proverb says, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

But sometimes simply trying again isn’t enough.  As much as we might want to win an Olympic gold medal, most of us will never win one.  For couples struggling with infertility, simply trying again may never be enough.  And those of us in the church, who have spent years, even decades, trying to follow the teaching and the example of Jesus Christ have sometimes despaired over our repeated inability to get it right.

So, what should we do?

Are we doomed to continually repeat our mistakes?

Will we ever be good enough?

Is there any hope for us?

Of course, there is.  But first, let’s begin by remembering the story of how Abraham sent one of his servants on a quest to find a wife for his son Isaac.  Knowing that the Canaanite people, among whom he lived, worshipped different gods than he did, and had different values than he did, Abraham sent his servant back to Ur, among the Chaldean people, to Abraham’s own extended family to search for a wife for his son.  And when the servant arrived there, he described his mission this way in Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67.

34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. 36 My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. 37 And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, 38 but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’

 42 “When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘Lord, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. 43 See, I am standing beside this spring. If a young woman comes out to draw water and I say to her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar,” 44 and if she says to me, “Drink, and I’ll draw water for your camels too,” let her be the one the Lord has chosen for my master’s son.’

45 “Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’

46 “She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too.’ So, I drank, and she watered the camels also.

47 “I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’

“She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milkah bore to him.’

 And when her family had heard the story 58 …they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?”

“I will go,” she said.

Why is that important?  Simply because the odds against success of Abraham’s servant were astronomical.  Without GPS, or maps, or telephones, or mail, or photographs, or even a good sketch, the difficulty of even finding Abraham’s family was overwhelming and the chance that a woman there would be suitable, and available, and that both she, and her family, would be agreeable for her to leave them forever and marry a man she had never met, in a country none of them had ever been to, was almost completely impossible.

Failure was almost inevitable.

But Abraham trusted God.

And Abraham’s faith was so obvious, and evident in his daily life, that his servant understood the power of Abraham’s God and the power of an earnest prayer to that same God.  And so, Abraham’s servant prayed… with an almost impossible set of conditions… and God answered.

And, at the end of the day, the family asked Rebekah if she trusted that the servant really was who he said that he was.  Did she trust that her grandfather’s brother really did have a son that was her age?  Did she trust that Isaac was a man to whom she could tolerate being married?  All those things are built into the question when her family asks her, “Will you go with this man?”

And Rebekah trusts God, and says, “I will go.”

The odds of failure were astronomical.

But God.

When the God that created the universe by speaking it into existence is a part of the equation, the odds don’t matter.

And then, with the coming of Jesus, the world begins to understand better how God chooses to use his power and how much God cares for the people of his creation.  In Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, Jesus says:

16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 “‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

 25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus says that the people of his generation acted like the children who played in the marketplaces.  The children weren’t happy because the adults wouldn’t play their games or sing their songs, and the adults weren’t happy because John the Baptist and Jesus wouldn’t play by the rules of their games either.  Much like we often see in our culture today, their critics wanted things both ways and spoke ill of them no matter what they did.  John didn’t drink or socialize, and they said he was a demon.  Jesus drank and socialized, and they said he was a drunkard and a friend of the wrong kind of people.   But Jesus ignores the criticism and invites the world to find comfort and rest by following him. 

Are you tired of trying to live up to everyone’s expectations?  Are you tired of all the arguing?  Are you tired of the Coronavirus?  Are you tired of politics?  Are you tired of the burdens and expectations that government and culture pile on you?  Are just tired of being tired?

There is a different way.

Jesus says, “Come to me” and “I will give you rest.”  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

But how does that work when I seem to keep repeating the same mistakes?

How does that work when I can’t ever seem to be good enough?

Friends, you are not alone.  This is not a new a new question.  In Romans 7:15-25a, the Apostle Paul admitted to wrestling with the same frustrations, inadequacies, and failures and he explains it this way:

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Paul says that as hard as he intends to do good, and as hard as he tries to do good, he cannot manage to do the good things that he wants to do.  And, at the same time, as hard as her intends not to do evil, and has hard as he tries not to sin, he cannot manage to stop sinning.  Paul’s understanding is that human beings are not inherently good, that good does not live, at least exclusively, within us because we are consumed by our sinful nature.  As much as we want to do good, as hard as we try to do good, our lives become an inescapable, rotating carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat.  Paul says that the rules and laws that we know in our mind are at war with the sin that is at work within us.

But as disastrous as this might sound, this is exactly where the story turns around.

There is rescue.

There is an escape.

Our rescue from the repeating carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat is found in Jesus Christ who rescues us from ourselves and the sinful nature that lives within us.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from trying to live up to everyone’s expectations.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from all the arguing.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from the fear of the Coronavirus.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from the drone of politics.

And it is Jesus who can rescue us from the burdens and expectations that government and culture piles on you.

Are just tired of being tired?

Abraham trusted God and sent his servant on an impossible mission.

Abraham’s servant trusted that God could lead him to the woman that God had chosen.

Rebekah trusted that God had brought Abraham’s servant to her and said, “I will go.”

Jesus asks us to do the same.

Jesus says, “Come to me” and “I will give you rest.” 

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

It’s time to get off the carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat.

Come to Jesus.  Trust him.  And discover how good it feels to finally…

               …rest.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 


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

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.

Slavery and Sacrifice

Slavery and Sacrifice

June 28, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 22:1-14                        Romans 6:12-23

 

There is an old joke that says, “Many people want to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity.”

We’re good at telling God what we think that he should be doing and how he should be doing it rather than accepting the God is God and we are not.  We get stuck in our understanding of scripture, and in our interpretation of modern culture, all because we expect God to do, and to say, what we think God ought to be saying rather than conforming our lives to the things that God actually said.  But as discouraging as that might be, we are comforted, at least a little, by knowing that we are not the first people to do that.

In the story of Genesis, more than once, Abraham trusted God in a limited capacity.  What I mean is, despite God’s promises to care for, and protect Abraham and Sarah, on several occasions, not least of which was when he made a baby with his servant, Abraham tried to use his own resources and ingenuity to fix God’s problems rather than fully trusting that God would fulfill his promises.  And although God is omniscient, which means all-knowing, perhaps it is this habit of “helping God out” and not fully trusting that makes God test Abraham’s faith in Genesis 22:1-14.

22:1 Sometime later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

For most of his life, God has asked Abraham to trust him and we remember Abraham because of his great faith and trust, except that despite his trust in God, too often Abraham tried to stack the deck and help God out.  But now, God wants to know, maybe God wants Abraham to know, or God wants future generations, us, to know that Abraham has finally put his whole faith and trust in God… without holding back.  God asks Abraham to sacrifice the one son that he has left, the one son that would be the father of God’s people, the son of Sarah, who was now even five or six years older than she was when Isaac was born.  In asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God is really asking him to sacrifice everything.  Every hope, every promise, everything.  We can only imagine what was going through Abraham’s mind.  It was against God’s own law to sacrifice another human being.  Sarah was now older than she was when we knew that she was old and “far past the age of childbearing” and Abraham was probably now over one hundred years old.  How was God going to keep his promises if Isaac was dead?  How could Isaac become the father of God’s people?  None of it made any sense.

But Abraham trusted.

Abraham did what God told him to do and God worked it all out.  And in the end, the thing that Abraham sacrificed on that mountain wasn’t Isaac, but it was his own, last, tight grip on control.  Abraham finally let go of himself, his need to be sure, and his need to have a backup plan.  Abraham sacrificed an offering of self, and finally put his whole faith and trust in God.

If we’re honest, we will admit that we’re like Abraham.  We like to be sure.  Trusting God is unsettling because there is too much that we don’t know.  But that’s kind of the point of trust, isn’t it?  But the thing is, human beings always seem to want to put their faith in something and trust in something, even if that something isn’t God.  And it is that habit of ours that makes the story of Abraham real and relevant to us three thousand years later.  In Romans 6:12-23, Paul explains it this way:

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We all have a choice.

Paul says that every human being eventually chooses to enslave themselves to someone or to something and our natural desires, given free reign over us, will drive us into slavery to our own selfishness, greed, pleasure, and wickedness.  But, like Abraham, God is asking us to make a sacrifice, to offer ourselves, to offer our desires, dreams, hopes, our everything, to him in exchange for our rescue from death, our second chance, and the new life that we have been given.  Rather than choosing to be slaves to greed, or slaves to selfishness, or slaves to greed, money, and pleasure, God calls us to choose different kind of slavery altogether.  God calls us to give ourselves to him, to put our whole faith and our whole trust in him, so that we become slaves to righteousness, slaves to doing what is right, rather than slaves to wickedness and sin.

The sacrifice in the Genesis story was never really about Isaac.  It was all about Abraham’s stubborn grip on control.

We are all confronted with the same question that confronted Abraham.  Like Abraham, God is asking each of us where our ultimate allegiance lies.  Is our allegiance on self-reliance and control?  Do we swear our allegiance to the security of our bank and investment balances?  Have we put our faith and trust in politicians, political parties, nations, and powerful armies, and overwhelming weaponry?  Will we enslave ourselves to selfishness and sin?  Will we keep our grip on control and hold too tightly to our doubts?

Or will we trust God?

Completely.

May God grant us the grace, and the courage, to surrender ourselves and become slaves to doing right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/epselMx9Ao4

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.

Free to be Unfriended

Free to be Unfriended

June 21, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 21:8-21           Matthew 10:24-39                 Romans 6:1b-11

 

There is a meme circulating on social media that says, “I was asked if I was willing to lose friends over politics and I said, I’m willing to lose friends over morals.  Big difference.”  At the same time, I have had a number of friends who occasionally comment that they have been unfriended, or have unfriended others, because of their particular views regarding the upcoming election, or the Coronavirus, or over the national struggle with discrimination and hatred, or some other thing.  It is difficult for many of us to disconnect ourselves from people who have been friends in real life, or even who have become friends virtually, and it is just as hard when they feel the need to disconnect from us.  As human beings, we yearn for a connection with others and that makes enduring the separation caused by the pandemic even harder.  Something inside of us yearns for connection and want to be liked.  It is almost as hard for us as adults as it was for us on the playground when one of our playmates turned their backs on us and said, “I don’t want to be friends with you anymore.”

But from the time we were on that grade school playground until now, many of us have learned several truths about friends.  First, not everyone wants to be our friend.  Second, not every friend wants what is best for you.  Third, sometimes we find that our lives are going in such dramatically different directions that we either leave some friends behind, or they leave us.  When that happens, as it has from childhood, we find that the experience can be painful, but still sometimes necessary if our lives are to continue moving in the direction that we have chosen.

But what does any of that have to do with the scripture, with church, or with our life of faith?  Quite a bit.  As we read the stories of God’s people, it doesn’t take long to find many examples of times when they had to leave behind their friend or families so that they could follow God in a new direction.  We begin this morning in Genesis 21:8-21 where we find Abraham unable to overcome the animosity that has grown between the two mothers of his two sons.

The child grew and was weaned, and on the day, Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So, she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

Abraham made a mistake.  Although he was trusting that God would fulfill his promise to give him children and make him the father of nations, because God seemed to be taking too long, Abraham decided to help God out and make a baby with one of his servants.  Then, later, when God fulfills his promise through his elderly wife Sarah, the two birthmothers do not get along.  Abraham is the father of both children, but he cannot control the jealousy, envy, fear, anger, and hatred that are boiling between the two of them.  Abraham wants to protect both of his sons but cannot find a way for both to live in the same household.  But while he is worrying, God promises that he will care for, and protect, Hagar’s son so that he too will become the father of a great nation.  And so, with what I imagine is great reluctance, Abraham sends Hagar and his firstborn son, away from their encampment and out into the desert wilderness.  If we were to consider this without God’s promise of protection, we would be outraged at Abraham’s cruelty.  And even so, it is difficult to imagine the wrenching emotions that were experienced by everyone involved as half of the family was sent away into what had to look like certain suffering and death.

But God had called Abraham to travel a road that they could no longer travel together.

And while it is one thing to watch as this happens to Abraham, it is a lot more personal when we hear Jesus warn us to be prepared to do the same thing in Matthew 10:24-39.

24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!

26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36     a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Much like we heard last week, our goal is to become.  Jesus says that the goal is for his followers to become like him.  And, since the world has hated him, and even called him the devil incarnate, then we should not be surprised if, and when, the same thing happens to us.  We are called to live like Jesus and not to be afraid of the consequences of doing so.  We are warned that by following Jesus we have chosen to follow a different, and sometimes difficult path.  Sometimes we will be hated for being like Jesus, and sometimes the path that we follow will carry us away from, and destroy our relationships with, our friends and closest family members.  But despite the risk, the pain, and the loss, we must have the courage to stand up for what is right and follow the path to which we have been called.  Do not be afraid to be associated with Jesus.  Do not be afraid to be unfriended.

But by becoming like Jesus, there is one more thing that we are called to leave behind and doing so might even be harder than leaving behind our relationships or being unfriended.  In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (Romans 6:1b-11) he describes it this way:

6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Because we have chosen to follow Jesus, because he has poured out his grace, mercy, and forgiveness on us, and because we have taken up the goal of becoming like him, we must also leave behind our sin, and the life of sin that we once led.  Let’s face it, although we all sin differently, we each have sins that are familiar and comfortable.  But the call of Jesus Christ is a call to courage.  We must have the courage to leave our old self behind and become something, and someone, new.  We must stop sinning and become as good, and as righteous, as we possibly can.

For many of us, following Jesus sets us on a course that goes in a radically different direction than the one we were headed in our old lives.  But even when the change is less dramatic, we often find that our path is just enough different that we either leave some friends behind, or they leave us.  When that happens, although we find the experience to be painful, it is still necessary if our lives are to continue moving in the direction that we have chosen.  And it may be that the hardest things that we leave behind are our old lives, and the sins that have become comfortable and familiar.

We have been given a great gift.

We have been given a second chance.

Let us have the courage to leave behind whatever, and whoever, we must, so that we can be like Jesus.

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/ep_vM5BP0hY

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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 Anti-Blessings of God

The Anti-Blessings of God

June 14, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 18:1-15                  Matthew 9:35 – 10:23                Romans 5:1-8

 

 How would you feel if you prayed that God would protect you and pour out blessings on you, and what you got was trouble, suffering, and pain?  Would you feel protected and blessed?

What if you prayed, in the middle of your pain, for the suffering to end, and it just kept going, and going?  Would you feel as if God answered your prayers?

And imagine that you spent your entire life praying for God to answer one specific prayer, one that everyone around you seemed to have answered, and after a lifetime of prayer, you gave up simply because the answer to your prayer was no longer even possible.  Would you feel blessed?

Contrary to what we might want, and contrary to what some television preachers might tell you, God isn’t a genie that dispenses wealth and happiness in answer to our prayers like some kind of cosmic vending machine.  God is more complicated than that just as our lives are more complicated than simplistic sayings like “earning a living” and “raising a family.”  Life can be hard, but we worship a God who understands our needs better than we do and who dispenses blessings that are far more complex than those things for which we might have asked.  Rather than giving us things that we think we want; God blesses us with gifts that he knows we will need.  Unfortunately, we often find that these “anti-blessings” are gifts for which we would never have prayed and are gifts that we didn’t want.

In Genesis 18:1-15, we hear the story of how Abraham met God, and was given a gift for which he and Sarah, his wife, had prayed for decades.  But now, as Abraham and Sarah had given up on that prayer, after both were long past the age of having children, God begins the fulfillment of an almost forgotten promise.

18:1 The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs [about 36 pounds] of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

God visits Abraham decades after he changed his name from Abram, which means “father of many,” to Abraham, which means “father of nations.”  By the time of this visit, Abram and Sarah are in their eighties or nineties, or as the passage notes, “already very old, and Sarah was well past the age of childbearing.”  And yet, God honors his promises, and when the visitor returns a year later, the impossible has happened and Sarah, the octogenarian, has given birth to a son named Isaac.  This is amazing, and miraculous, but imagine the pain that the two of them endured for generations.  Imagine introducing yourself as “the father of nations” but having no children.  Why did God allow that to happen?  Isn’t the creation of these circumstances extraordinarily cruel?  What could God possibly have had in mind?

We will come back to that, but now, let’s consider the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples, and the warnings that he gave them, and us, at the same time in Matthew 9:35 – 10:23.

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

 10:1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town, and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you; it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because he saw people who, like sheep, were lost, aimless, alone, and suffering from a total lack of unity.  To combat that isolation, Jesus sent the disciples into the world to cast out spirits and heal the sick.  And while that sounds a bit like sending gallant knights on a brave quest, this blessing, and these gifts, come with a warning that would turn your hair white.  Jesus warns the disciples, and us, that the world isn’t going to be appreciative or grateful for the message that we carry.  Instead, Jesus frighteningly compares those that carry the message of the kingdom of God to sheep among wolves.  The disciples are warned that they will be arrested, judged, hated, beaten by their own churches, persecuted, and made homeless when they do what he has sent them to do.  But, at the same time, they will be given gifts from God, be accompanied by God, and be used by the Spirit of God.

These anti-blessings are gifts that none of us want.  Jesus isn’t promising that his followers will have wealth, comfort, happiness, and career advancement.  He is promising misery, suffering, pain, and death.  These are not the things that you would find on a recruiting poster, these are the things that wake you in a cold sweat run screaming into the night.

And so again, just as we did with Abraham, we ask ourselves, “What could God possibly have in mind?”

We find some of the answers in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (Romans 5:1-8).

5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Paul explains to the church that the things we find through our relationship with Jesus aren’t wealth, prosperity, and comfort.  What we find in Jesus… is peace with God.  Paul says that if we want to learn perseverance, we learn it through suffering.  If we want to build character, we build it through persevering through suffering.  And if we want to find hope, we find it while we are journeying through suffering and building character.  If you ask someone if they would like to learn patience, most will say yes.  But we all know that the only way to learn patience, is to live through difficult circumstances that require it.  The same is true here.  While everyone wants to have hope, and character, the path we follow as we learn them takes us through dark places that are filled with pain and suffering.

So why did God allow Abraham and Sarah to endure, and suffer, for fifty or seventy years while they waited for God to fulfill his promise?  Perhaps it is because God needed a man and woman with a specific set of skills and gifts to be the parents of Isaac.  Perhaps God needed parents with perseverance, character, and an abundance of hope.  God called Abraham and Sarah to be the parents of his new nation, but first he needed them to become the kind of people that Isaac, Israel, and the world, would need.

The same applies to the disciples and to us.  God calls us as we are, but to do the work that he has called us to do, it is often necessary for us to become the people that he needs.  And the journey from where we are to where God need us to be often passes through pain and suffering so that we can learn perseverance, character, and hope.

So yes, God just might be answering your prayer for his blessing when you are on the receiving end of trouble, suffering and pain.

And yes, when your suffering lasts longer than you had hoped, and even long after you prayed for it to end, God may just be answering your prayer in ways that you hadn’t expected.

While none of us wants these kinds of anti-blessings, God might just be allowing them today so that we can become the people that he needs tomorrow.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/8ywdXlDfGjI

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.

Why Are We Here?

Why Are We Here?

(Trinity Sunday)

June 07, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a       Matthew 28:16-20       2 Corinthians 13:11-13

  

What is the point of going to church?

Why do we belong?

What is our purpose as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we would admit that we’ve probably asked ourselves, and others, these kinds of questions.  And at their core, all of these can be summed up by the question, “Why are we here?”  Why are we attending church?  Why are we following Jesus?  I mean, what’s the point of it all?

And thankfully, the answer is straightforward and not that difficult to find.

Let’s begin our discussion at the very beginning of the discussion, in the first chapter of Genesis, at the very beginning of God’s story (Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a).

1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so, on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created,

First, we note that “In the beginning… God.”  And then we see, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”  And then, if we skip ahead to verse 26, we see, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”  All of these, even from the beginning, indicate that while God is one, God is God and Spirit.  While there is only one God, God is also something more than singular.  But we also see that the intent of our creation was for us to share the image of God.  That doesn’t mean that we were created to be godlike, or to be little gods, or to become like God.  But it does mean that we were intended to share the character of God, to be like him in his generosity, compassion, faithfulness, kindness, and love.  Humanity was created and called to “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wind animals and over all the creatures that move along the ground” with the same nurture, love, care and benevolence that God has for us.  We weren’t called to subdue the earth by domination and destruction, but through gentle care and careful nurture.

And that understanding of our creation still applies as we read about the coming of the Messiah, as we watch and learn from the example of his ministry, as we witness his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection, and as we read about his last moments with his disciples in Matthew 28:16-20 where Jesus offers his last words of instruction as a reminder of their, and our, mission on earth in his absence.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Particularly with today being Trinity Sunday, we are reminded, much as we were as we read from Genesis, that our God is one but, at the same time, is something more than singular.  We do not worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three gods, we worship one God, but acknowledge that, in ways that we cannot fully grasp or understand, God exists in the three persons of the Trinity.  And within the trinity, Jesus declares that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him as he watches over, rules, and sits in judgement of humanity, our planet, and the entire universe.  Our mission, as his followers, and his expectation of us, is that we are to go out into our communities, out into our states, our nations, and into the entire world in order to make disciples, baptize them, and pass on the wisdom, teaching, and commands that Jesus gave to us.

But why?

Why is this our mission?

What is the goal of such a mission?  What is our purpose?  What’s the point?  Why do we need to be the church to get the job done?  Why do we need to work together?  And, despite Paul’s habit of writing incredibly long sentences and intricate explanations, in 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 he offers a remarkably short, succinct summary of why we do what we do when he says…

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.

So, what’s the point?

Restoration is the point.  God’s purpose and goal for his mission on earth, and therefore ours, is to restore the relationship between God and his people.  To restore the relationship between God and us, the people who know him so that we can have the deep, meaningful, loving, and intimate kind of relationship that he intends for us to have, and to restore the relationship between God and those children who have wandered off and  become estranged from him.

So important is this goal, that all three persons of the trinity have a role in working toward it and that mission has been given to us as well.  And in these two bullet points we find the answers to all those questions we asked at the beginning of this message:

What is the point of going to church?

Why do we belong?

What is our purpose as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ?

“Why are we here?” 

All of it.

Number one, we are here so that we can restore our relationship with God to the deep, meaningful, loving, and intimate kind of relationship that he intends for us to have.

And number two, we are here so that we can learn how we can restore the relationship between God and those children who have wandered off and become estranged from him.

Along the way, by gathering in community, we can encourage one another, support one another, and work together to that all of God’s children can live in peace.

And if the chaotic events of the last week tell us anything, it is this:

We have a lot of work to do.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/blhbTcrm2sw

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.