Popular? Or Faithful?

Popular? Or Faithful?

June 23, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Kings 18:20-39                   Luke 7:1-10                Galatians 1:1-12

 

Martin Luther had seen rampant abuse in the way that the church raised money and preached that both the church and the pope had claimed powers that were not to be found anywhere in scripture.  Threatened with excommunication and imprisonment, Luther was tried for heresy against the church for the things that he had written and preached regarding the corruption of the church and the powers wielded by the pope.  He stood trial and defended himself on April 16 – 17, 1521 and on the 17th famously concluded his arguments by saying, “Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or by manifest evidence…I cannot and will not retract, for we must never act contrary to our conscience… Here I stand. God help me! Amen!”

In 1932, in a rigged election, key positions in the German Lutheran Church were won by Nazi supporters and, shortly afterwards, official church rules were changed in order to remove all pastors and church officials of Jewish descent.  As a result, many pastors left the church and joined together in opposition of the Nazified church in what would be known as the “Confessing Church” which was increasingly persecuted by the growing Nazi regime.  One of those Lutheran pastors, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, stood with those in the confessing church because, having lived and taught alongside the poor in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, Bonhoeffer believed that the church, and its people, had to stand against social injustice.  Ultimately, Bonhoeffer’s participation in the Confessing Church and his opposition to the Nazis and the Hitler cult brought about his arrest, imprisonment, torture, and execution.

Today, the pressures that we face are not likely to be nearly so life threatening, but we struggle all the same.  Every day, the church and its people are tempted to agree with government policies, elected officials, and partisan party platforms that stand in opposition to the teaching of scripture.  And, as the followers of Jesus Christ, we are compelled to choose whether we want to risk disagreeing with our friends, family members, fellow union members, or with political parties that we have identified with for decades or if we will stand up for what we know to be right.

This is deep stuff so, before we dive into that dark water, let’s go back and look at some of our history.  Let’s begin in 1 Kings 18:20-39, where we find Elijah standing alone against the King of Israel, all the people, and four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal whose worship was officially encouraged (if not required), and which had become the predominant religion of Israel.

20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing.

22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”

Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”

25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.

Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.

27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs [about 24 pounds] of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”

34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.

“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.

36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”

King Ahab and his queen, Jezebel, were worshippers of the god Baal and they both encouraged, and enforced, Baal worship among the people of Israel.  Under their rule, the priests and prophets of the God of Israel were hunted down and killed.  Even Elijah had lived in hiding for many years in fear of the king and his armies.  But now was a time for a showdown.  And in that showdown, God demonstrates, in an inescapably obvious way, that there is only one God in Israel.  In answer to Elijah’s simple prayer, fire falls from the sky and consumes the sacrifice, the wood, twelve large jars full of water, the rocks, and even the dirt under the altar.

Clearly God wins.

But what about Elijah?  We remember this story not only because of the great power that God displayed on that day, but because of the courage that we witness in Elijah.  Not only was it unpopular to stand against Ahab and Jezebel, it was dangerous and positively life-threatening.  By this time, Elijah believes that he is the only prophet left in all of Israel (although we learn that God has hidden others as well), and he is afraid for his life, but he still stands up for his God, for his faith, and for what is right regardless of the risks.

And we see something similar, on both sides, in the story of a Roman centurion who had a sick servant in Luke 7:1-10.

7:1 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

The elders of the Jews recommended that Jesus meet with the centurion because he had come to love Israel and had provided the funds to build a synagogue.  It seems that he had become sympathetic to the Jewish faith though I suspect that he did not become a convert to Judaism.  It was probably not popular for a Roman to be so friendly with the Jews.  It seems likely that his Roman countrymen would look down on this kind of fraternizing, and just being a Roman would make you unpopular among most Jews.  Jesus would have faced this same criticism among the Jews for meeting with a Roman, but he consents to go anyway.  Likewise, I’m sure that there was criticism for healing a Roman servant, but Jesus not only did so, he praises the centurion by saying that he had never seen anyone, in all of Israel, Jewish or not, that had such great faith.

Doing such things, and saying such things, did not make Jesus popular.

In Galatians 1:1-12, Paul explains it this way:

1:1 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers and sisters with me,

To the churches in Galatia:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

I completely understand why we do what we do.  We really aren’t that different than the Israelites in the time of Elijah and King Ahab.

We all want people to like us.  We want to be safe.

But being popular has never been the goal of a follower of God or a believer in Jesus Christ.

As Paul said, we aren’t trying to win the approval of human beings, we should be seeking the approval of God.

We must stand up for what is right and stand against what is wrong even when it’s “our” political party, our friends, or our family that’s wrong. 

We must choose Jesus.  Even when it’s unpopular.  Even when it’s dangerous.  Even when it’s life-threatening.

Do what’s right.

Keep the faith.

Do the things that God has called us to do.

Always.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Wisdom, Truth… Hope

Wisdom, Truth… Hope

June 16, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31                        John 16:12-15                        Romans 5:1-5

 

It seems that our world is increasingly without hope. 

We regularly meet people in our schools, in our workplaces, and in our communities that are struggling.  And certainly, the people in our churches are not immune.

Hope seems to be in increasingly short supply.

We see it on the news almost every day.  People are wondering why the world seems so filled with disaster, hate, mayhem, hunger, fear, and hopelessness.  Even at our church’s Annual Conference this week, as we worked to elect a slate of delegates to next year’s General Conference, amid our denomination’s divisive debate over homosexuality, there were many discussions about the future.  We discussed what the future might look like, and even whether our denomination, or any denomination, has a future at all.

But despite some discussions of what might appear to be dark or grim possibilities, our discussions were also often filled with hope.

Hope.

Hope is something that seems to be in short supply in the world but remains abundant in the church. 

Why is that?

Let’s begin at the beginning.

In Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Solomon speaks about the creation and the beginning of time in this way:

Does not wisdom call out?
    Does not understanding raise her voice?
At the highest point along the way,
    where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
    at the entrance, she cries aloud:
“To you, O people, I call out;
    I raise my voice to all mankind.

22 “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
    before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago,
    at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
    when there were no springs overflowing with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place,
    before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the world or its fields
    or any of the dust of the earth.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
    when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above
    and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary
    so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30     Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
    rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
    and delighting in mankind.

Solomon speaks of wisdom as the first creation of God. Wisdom was there before the mountains and the oceans.  Wisdom has been, and is, the constant companion of God in all that he does.  And it is wisdom that stands at the gates of the city and cries out to all of humanity… if we will only listen.

But wisdom isn’t the only voice that is trying to speak into our lives.  In John 16:12-15, Jesus speaks with his disciples and prepares them for a time when he will soon depart with these words:

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

Jesus says that after he returns to heaven, he will send the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.  The Spirit of God will carry the words of Jesus to us and guide us into the future.

But because we know the story of Jesus, we also know that listening to the Spirit and doing the will of God doesn’t shelter us from suffering.  Just as Jesus suffered because of his faith, we may also endure times of suffering because of our faith.  But our high calling is to always hear the voice of wisdom, to stand up for the truth, and to follow God wherever he leads us.  In Romans 5:1-5, Paul shares this wisdom:

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.

This short passage is often quoted because, as short as it is, it is also filled with great power.  We know that life isn’t perfect.  We know that life is filled with suffering.  But we are encouraged as we remember that suffering produces perseverance.  Perseverance produces character, and character produces… hope.  But don’t forget that last part either.  Hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our lives, through the Holy Spirit that has been sent to us by Jesus Christ.   Not only are we being built up, day by day, through our faith in Jesus Christ, and through our daily suffering, but we are also, through the Spirit that lives within us, being filled with the love of God.  Daily, we should be growing in love and compassion for our families, for our friends, for our community, the world, and for everyone around us.

Our life of faith is a group project, a work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Since before the beginning of time, the wisdom of God has cried out to all of creation and to all of humanity if only we would take the time to listen.

And every day, the Spirit of God pours the love of God into our lives and speaks the words of Jesus into our hearts and minds in order to guide us to the truth.

And, as we persist in our faith, and endure the sufferings of this life, we grow daily in character and are filled…

…with hope.

In a world that is increasingly without hope, where we see a rise in opioids, despair, and suicide, we, the people of God, must be bold in proclaiming the truth so that the people around us can discover the great gift that we have received through the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We must share with the world the gift…

            …of hope.

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Ministry of Wow

The Ministry of Wow

June 09, 2019*

(Pentecost)

By Pastor John Partridge

John 14:8-17, 25-27               Acts 2:1-21                 Romans 8:14-17

 

Have you ever watched the fireworks on the fourth of July?

Have you ever opened the newspaper and seen the mayor and a bunch of city officials at an important ribbon cutting or groundbreaking?

Have you ever seen the evening news report on a new freeway, tax cuts, or some other big news story about our local, state, or federal government?

Sure, you have.  Occasionally, our government does something that is very public and splashy.  But most of the time, day in, and day out, most of our government’s employees, whether they are employed by the federal, state, or local governments, toil away at computer monitors, check in on endangered children, teach school, clean streets, repair streets, fix leaks, and make sure that many things that we take for granted are so regular and reliable that we can take them for granted.  You rarely see stories in the newspaper or on television about the people who showed up and did their jobs, every day, for thirty or forty years doing ordinary things.

And although God often works the same way, daily caring for our wounds, watching over us, and being so ordinary and predictable that we allow ourselves to take his presence for granted or forget about him entirely, he isn’t always so invisible.  Occasionally, God does something splashy and noticeable.  Sometimes God heals the incurable, moves mountains, or raises the dead.  Sometimes God does things that make us say, “Wow.” 

Pentecost was one of those moments.

Some time before his crucifixion, Jesus spoke with his disciples and explained that after he returned to his father, he would send the Spirit of God to be with them.  That gift… would change everything. (John 14:8-17, 25-27)

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Jesus told his disciples that the words that he said, and the miracles that he performed, were being done because of the father that lived in him and was doing his work through him.  And then he goes on to say that because he is returning to his father, anyone who believes in him will do the same kinds of works that Jesus was doing, and even greater things.  Because Jesus was returning to his father, and because he was sending God’s Spirit to be with us, and live with us, we would do these things, and God would be glorified.  And, not only would the followers of Jesus Christ do these amazing works, but because of the presence of the Spirit of God living in us, we would also receive the gift of peace.

Fast forward to a few weeks after the crucifixion to the day of Pentecost and we find this story from the book of Acts 2:1-21.

2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Remember that I said sometimes God does splashy things?

This isn’t only a splashy thing, but a whole pile of splashy things.

A sound like a violent wind comes down from heaven, tongues of fire pour into the room where the followers of Jesus have gathered to pray, the fire separates and come to rest on each and every one of them, and then, speaking all the languages of the known world, these men and women go out into the streets and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The people in the streets either heard the sound of the wind or the sound of so many people speaking different languages, but whatever they heard, people came from all over the see what was going on.

Those that came were shocked because the people who were speaking foreign languages were Galileans and, you may recall that Galileans were thought of as uneducated, country hicks.  Remember that even one of the disciples, when he first heard about Jesus, said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  Not only that, but remember that just a few days earlier, these same people were meeting in locked rooms with the windows bolted shut, because they were afraid that the Pharisees would have them arrested because of their association with Jesus.  Not long ago, Peter had been so emotionally destroyed that he went back to his fishing boats and was beating himself up over his public denials of Jesus. 

But no longer.

Suddenly, their fear and doubt are gone.  Suddenly they are speaking languages that they had never learned.  Suddenly, instead of hiding behind locked doors, they were speaking in public and Peter raises his voice and lectures everyone on the meaning of the scriptures.

This moment is entirely unexpected, exceptionally public and splashy, and totally transformational for both the disciples and for us.  In that moment, the disciples were changed.  Their fear was gone, they were filled with an urgency to tell the world about what they had seen and heard, and they went out into the streets to do it.  And, as they went, God, through the power of the Holy Spirit that now lived within them, began to do exactly what Jesus had described.  Suddenly they were doing something miraculous.  Suddenly they were doing the work that Jesus had been doings, and even things that were more surprising and unexpected than some of the things that Jesus had done.

But if all of this was not enough, Paul’s letter to the church in Rome describes yet another amazing gift that the church received at Pentecost. (Romans 8:14-17)

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.

Paul says that the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost was also the symbol of our adoption by God and because we have been adopted, then we are heirs, co-heirs with Jesus so that we will share in both his suffering and in his ministry to all of the world.

Not only was Pentecost a splashy, headline news moment, the effects were not something that wore off and were forgotten.  Instead, the gifts that God gave to the church at Pentecost, were gifts that were passed on from generation to generation.  God’s spirit entered into the followers of Jesus as tongues of fire at Pentecost, but today still enter into each one of us as we are baptized into the service of Jesus Christ.  Two thousand years later we still receive the gift of adoption, and fearlessness, and still we are empowered by God, through the Spirit that lives within us, to do the work of Jesus Christ in the world around us.  Sometimes that work is ordinary and almost invisible, but all of us, working together, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, are doing amazing things as we answer his call on our lives.

Let us continue, with God’s help, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, speak for the voiceless, stand up for the oppressed, comfort the afflicted, heal the sick, and all of the other things that Jesus did, and calls us to do.

This was the call of the church two thousand years ago and it remains the call of the church today.

And we press on…

…with God’s help…

…through the power of the Spirit that lives within us.

Sometimes we are called to the ordinary, but sometimes, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are witness to the ministry… of Wow.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Slaves, Felons, and the Church

Slaves, Felons, and the Church

June 02, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 17:20-26            Acts 16:16-34           

 

Here’s a weird question: Is it important to be respectable?

I have read several opinions that say that the ministry of the church started to come off the rails and lost its ability to do the work of the kingdom when it became respectable.  Maybe it was in the third century when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, maybe it was every time that the church was endorsed by royalty, maybe it was when the church became the empire, maybe it was when John Wesley’s followers advanced socially and instead of being coal miners, laborers, and street people, the church was filled with storekeepers, doctors, and bankers, and maybe it was when each of us became more worried about how respectable we looked than we were about doing the work of the kingdom.  And, maybe it was all those things. 

But it wasn’t always that way.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus prays for his disciples and for everyone who has put their faith in him.  Jesus knows that following him and doing the things that he taught them to do, wouldn’t be an easy thing.  It would be easy to compromise.  It would be easy to be distracted by the world and by the cultures of wealth, greed, lust, comfort and pleasure that surround us.  And so, Jesus prays for them, for us, that God would hold them close so that they would persist, hang on, and endure in their mission until the day that they could meet face to face at the throne of God.  In John 17:20-26, Jesus said,

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Jesus prays that all of those who follow him, and all of those who would come to faith in him through their message, would find unity and become one in their faith.  Then Jesus prays that all these followers would endure until the end so that they could be with him in heaven and see his glory.  But Jesus also prays that because he has made himself known to us, that he would continue to make God known in the world, through us, so that the love of God might be in us, and that Jesus might live within us. 

You might notice that respectability is never a consideration on the part of Jesus.  What Jesus wants for us is to be united together in our faith, that our faith would endure, and that we would make the love of God, through his son Jesus, known throughout the world.  But before I belabor that point, I want to read the story of one Paul’s missionary journeys found in Acts 16:16-34.

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally, Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

There is a lot going on in this short passage and many sermons have been written about it in a great variety of themes, but there are a few things that I want to point out that coincide with the title of today’s message.  First, as Paul and Silas and their team preach, they are followed by a slave girl who can foretell the future because of a spirit, or a demon, that inhabits her.  She, and her demon, are well aware of who Paul and Silas are, and whom they represent.  One can only imagine that, although she was telling the truth, it became difficult for Paul and Silas to approach anyone and have sincere conversations about Jesus with this girl constantly shouting to the community around them.  And, at some point in his frustration, Paul orders the demon out of the girl, but doing so has some unintended consequences.  Once the slave girl’s owners discover that her demon, her gift of fortunetelling, and their profits are gone, they press charges against Paul and Silas and stir up the crowd until the judges of the town have them arrested, beaten, and thrown in jail.

Paul and Silas are now outsiders, foreigners, rabble rousers, and felons.  But never once do they stop telling the people around them who they are or why they are there.  During the night they pray and sing praises to God and even though an earthquake shakes open the doors to the prison, neither Paul, nor Silas, nor anyone else, make any attempt to escape.  But, because he knows that allowing a prisoner to escape is punishable by execution, the jailer is prepared to take his own life rather than be tortured to death.  But Paul hears him draw his sword and saves him from himself simply by declaring that everyone is still there. 

Having confirmed that this is true, the jailer understands that what has happened is supernatural.  Earthquakes open door and jam doors shut, but they do not open locks and loosen chains.  Earthquakes do not compel a prison full of felons to remain in place despite having been freed from their chains.  And realizing that this was a supernatural event, and remembering that Paul and Silas had been preaching a message of repentance, forgiveness, rescue and salvation, the jailer immediately wants to hear that message again and know how he, and his entire family, can know the love of Jesus Christ and be saved.

We don’t know whether the jailer had heard Paul and Silas preach in town, or if he had heard the stories about the slave girl, or (most likely) if Paul and Silas had kept on preaching in the prison as well as praying and singing.  But somewhere the jailer had heard that these two foreigners, miscreants, and felons were representatives of a powerful god and were telling others how they could be saved from death.

And he, and his entire household, were saved.

Being respectable was never a part of the story. 

Respectability, or upward mobility, or fitting in with the “right” social circles, was never a concern for Paul, or Silas, or their team.  And although we might be tempted to think that respectability might have improved their witness, that wasn’t what the jailer was looking for either.  The jailer sought out the witness of Paul and Silas because he recognized the truth.  He could see that even though these men were foreigners, strangers, rabble rousers, and felons, they were just as obviously the representatives of a powerful god and carried with them a message of great importance.

The followers of Jesus were never intended to carry a message of respectability.

Our calling has always been to carry a message of truth and love from a God who was willing to send his own son to be born in poverty, be disrespected, and die in humiliation, so that we could be rescued from our own crimes against God, be forgiven, and live with him forever.

The story of Jesus was never respectable.

The story of Jesus’ disciples was never about respectability.

The very real danger is that when we attempt to be respectable, that we will water down the real message or misplace its importance altogether.

Jesus never prayed that God would make us respectable.

Jesus prayed that we would find unity and become one in our faith.

Jesus prayed that we could endure until the end, be with him in heaven, and see him in his glory.

Jesus prayed that, just as he made God known to us, that we would make the love of God, and his son Jesus Christ, known to others.

It is by sharing the love of Jesus with others that we discover the love of God in ourselves and the way that Jesus come to live within us.

Don’t worry about being respectable.

Just focus on the mission.

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Path to Peace

The Path to Peace

May 26, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 14:23-29            Acts 16:9-15               Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5

 

Let’s begin with an easy question that turns out to be more difficult than we expected.

What is peace?

While at first a part of us wants to think that defining peace ought to be easy, the more we think about it, the harder it gets.

When most of us begin thinking about peace, we probably thing about the violence between nations.  In that case, peace is simply the absence of war and violence.  That’s probably the kind of peace that we’re thinking of when we talk about “world peace” or when hippies say things like “peace, man” or “peace out.”  But then there’s the kind of peace that Mom is looking for when she says that she just wants “a little peace and quiet.”  Of course, that means the end of sibling violence, but in this case, she also means a lack of worry and the ability to find a moment of rest.  If we extend those few moments of quiet rest, maybe that’s what we mean when we say that we are “at peace” or when we are searching for “inner peace,” or maybe that’s what the Eagles mean when they sing about that “peaceful, easy feeling.”  And, of course, there is the religious wish that is common to Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, when we express our wishes for Salaam, Shalom, or “peace be unto you.”

But as much and as hard as we might search for, seek out, strive toward, or wish for peace, it may well be that our human efforts will always fall short if we do not include God as a part of, and as a participant in, our search for peace.  In John 14:23-29, Jesus tells the disciples that peace is a gift that he is giving to them, and to us, if only we will truly love him.

23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away, and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

Jesus says that if we will only obey his teaching, God will love us, and both he and Jesus will make their home with us, and a part of what comes with that, is Jesus’ gift of peace.  Moreover, Jesus helps us to define what he means by peace, in this case, by saying that we should not let our hearts be troubled nor should be we afraid.  But peace can be hard.  We are often plagued by doubts about the future, and questions about where we ought to go and what we ought to be doing.  We ask ourselves, “Should I study this or that,” take this job offer or that one, is God in this, or not, is this better or worse than that, or more generally, “Just what does God want from me?”  And in asking those questions, we struggle, and we sometimes lose our sense of peace.  But as we read the stories about how God has called others to do his work, we can learn something about how God might call us.  In Acts 16:9-15 we remember the way that God called Paul to ministry in Philippi.

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia [central Turkey], having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia [western Turkey], they tried to enter Bithynia [northern Turkey], but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas [northeast coast of Turkey]. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia [across the Aegean Sea and north of Greece] standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace [Aegean island], and the next day we went on to Neapolis [eastern Greece]. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony [and a bit inland] and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira [a Greek city in eastern modern Turkey, near Mysia, where Paul had just been] named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

Now, if all of that wasn’t confusing enough, if you were trying to follow along this journey on ancient maps, one of the things that you’d probably notice is that the woman that Paul meets, and in whose house they end up staying, Lydia, comes from the city of Thyatira, which is in the nation of… Lydia.  Anyway, after all of that, what I wanted to point out was that Paul was struggling to find peace with what he was doing, where he was going, and what God wanted him to do.  He kept trying to do different things, and go different directions, and things were not going his way.  He wanted to do ministry in Asia, or as we understand it, in eastern Turkey, but felt that the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to do so.  We don’t know if that was an unsettled feeling, or an inability to sleep, or just physical or political barriers, but clearly something kept Paul and his team from going where they wanted to go.  But one night, Paul has a vision of a man in Macedonia, a nation to the north of Greece, begging them to come there and preach.  And so, that’s where they go, and once there, they meet a wealthy businesswoman, who specializes in the manufacture and distribution of rare purple cloth, she comes to faith in Jesus Christ, is baptized, and all of them are persuaded to stay with her in her estate.

All of that may sound like a rabbit trail, but I include it here to make a point.  Even though Paul’s journeys were long and difficult, even though his direction was not always certain, even though his travels often seemed to include arrest and torture, Paul had the peace of knowing that he was where God wanted him to be and he was doing what God had called him to do.  Certainly, while being arrested and beaten does not sound peaceful, Paul had inner peace, the peace of knowing that he was where he was supposed to be.  But Paul also knew that the peace that we so desperately seem to pursue cannot often be found in this life.  Paul knew that a greater peace awaited him as a reward for his faithfulness.  John writes about that in Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5 where we hear these words:

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Believe it or not, as odd as some of this language sounds, many of its visual images are all about safety and peace.  Because darkness in the ancient world, and to a lesser extent today, was associated with danger, John notes that in the new Jerusalem, it never gets dark.  The light of God and the protection of God, shines on everyone constantly.  Both nations and their kings come to live under the light and under the protection and justice of God and that, finally, after thousands of years of history, sounds like a government that we can trust.  And then John says that the gates of the city are never shut.  For those of us who live in the twenty-first century, far removed from a time when it was necessary, or even possible, to live inside of walled cities, it might be easy to miss the importance of what John is saying.  But, at a time when walls meant safety, remember that the gates were closed at night to keep out robbers, spies, and enemies.  If an enemy army approached, the gates would be shut.  If danger was suspected, the gates were there as a last measure of protection.  But John says that here, the gates are never closed because there is never any danger.  There are no thieves, bandits, spies, there is are no armies, and there is no danger.  There is no impurity, there is no hunger or thirst, and leaves of the trees, as common as they are, provide for the healing of any wounds that we carry in with us.  The curses that God laid upon humanity after the failure and fall of Adam and Eve are all removed.  We will serve God only, and we will see him face to face.

In every way, by every definition, there will be peace.

Let’s put that all together.

Jesus said that his gift to us was a gift of peace.  Some of that we can have now, and the rest is promised to us after the judgement at the end of time.  But, if we follow Jesus, if we listen for his voice, and are obedient to him, then we can find peace in knowing that we are where we need to be and doing what God has called us to do.  And even when our call brings difficulty into our lives, or when the chaos of our world erupts around us, we can trust that when we reach our eternal destination, we will finally, and forever, by every possible definition, be at peace.

There is a roadmap and a path that will lead us to peace.

The great question of humanity is not “How do I achieve peace?” 

The question is, “Am I willing to trust the one who has shown me the path?”

 

 

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Not THOSE People!

Not THOSE People!

May 19, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Acts 11:1-18                          

 

How many of you have friends that are so close that they have become family and are included in almost everything that your family does?   Or, how many of you with children, have some of their friends that are so close, that they can show up at your house at almost any time of the day or night, just walk in without knocking, help themselves to whatever is in the refrigerator, plop down on the couch next to you, as you’re watching television, and just look over and say, “Hey.  What’s up?”  Many families have friends like that, but if push comes to shove, we would all have to admit that – legally – they aren’t really family.  In order to legally be a member of the family you must either be born into the family, or you must be legally adopted through a very particular and well-defined legal process.

Church membership is a little like that.  Anyone can attend church here, and if you come for a while everyone will know that you belong here, but in order to “legally” become a member, there is a process that must be followed.  Some churches make the process super easy; others make it harder than it needs to be, and ours is just designed so that you understand how our system of church governance works and are familiar with some of our theology and ways of doing things.

But Jesus’ church was a little of both of those things.  The people of Israel, as the descendants of Abraham, were both a family and a church.  And, after thousands of years of history there were systems and processes in place for everything.  While you might be free to move there from another place, you couldn’t just show up one day and declare that you were a citizen of Israel or announce that you were now Jewish.  It just didn’t work that way.  Either you were born into the family, or you had to follow a particular, and specific, path of education, ritual, and even surgery, in order to become a Jew.  And even then, you, and your family, would probably remain on the outside of much of the culture for generations to come.  Taken together, it was hard to even think about becoming a follower of Israel’s God.  That was not what God had in mind, and one of the things that Jesus came to do, was to fix that.  But changing that culture, and that way of thinking, even among Jesus’ own disciples, was not easy as we see in the story that Luke shares with us in Acts 11:1-18.

11:1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance, I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’

“I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’

“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.

11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

In this story, the followers of Jesus hear a rumor that non-Jews, Gentiles, had heard, and accepted, the message of Jesus Christ and that Peter had been the one who had told them.  And so, when Peter returns to town and re-enters the community of believers, they get in his face and criticize him for doing so.  “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”  How dare you have contact with people like that?  How could you?  Good people simply don’t share hospitality and friendship with those people!  It surprises us a little, but the followers of Jesus were so much a part of their culture that they couldn’t separate what they had been taught by their culture from the things that were taught in scripture and by Jesus.  They had been so indoctrinated by their culture, and by their leaders, that they believed what they had learned, even when scripture taught that these things were entirely wrong.  This hits us hard, because we are often guilty of exactly the same misunderstanding.

Peter explains how God called him to do what he had done, but in retelling of his story, we notice how even Peter was stuck in the same cultural pattern.  Peter was desperately trying to be a good Jew and he refused God’s direct command two times, before, on the third repetition, he was finally convinced to break from a lifetime of training, teaching, and practice.

And, at the moment Peter surrendered to the will of God, three men arrive and ask him to go with them.  Gathering six other believers, Peter travels to the home of these Gentiles, preaches the good news of Jesus Christ, the Gentiles believe, repent of their sins, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  But there is something that we skipped past a moment ago.  As Peter prepares to leave his house and travel to the home of the Gentiles, he gathers six other believers to go with him, specifically six other men.  And although this may appear to be sexist, there is a cultural, and legal, reason for his doing so.  First, Peter, plus six others, is seven, and seven is the number of perfection, and that may have had some connotations for good luck or for the blessing of God, but there is something else.  Under Jewish law, the testimony, or witness, of three men is required to establish something as true and factual.  So, when Peter takes six men with him, he is preparing for the possibility that he might have to testify about what happens there, whether that something is an act of God or the commission of a crime of some kind we don’t know.  But in either case, when Peter returns to Jerusalem, and is criticized by the other disciples, Peter testifies to what happens with seven witnesses, one more than twice the number needed to ascertain the legal facts, so that there can be no doubt about what happened in that place.

God is truly at work, and those people have surely been invited into God’s family.

Of course, “those people” are us, the Gentiles, the non-Jewish believers.

If you’ve been in church for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that Paul is the one who we generally associate with missionary outreach to the Gentiles, and although that’s true, it is here, that Peter really begins ministry outside of what had been the “normal” outreach to other Jews up to that time.  Although Peter’s calling isn’t to become a missionary to the Gentiles, it was Peter and his six witnesses who proved to the disciples and the gathered church in Jerusalem that reaching out to the Gentiles with the good news of Jesus Christ was something that God was doing and something that God intended for the church to do.  Can you imagine how difficult it would have been, just a few years later, to convince this same group of people that God was calling Paul to carry the message of Jesus Christ into Greece, and Rome, and to nations full of what were thought of as pagan unbelievers if it had not been for the witness of Peter and his six friends?

What Peter discovered was revolutionary and hard to accept, but it was obvious to every witness that God was reaching out to “those people” as well as to the Jews.  It wasn’t just about Israel or the family of Abraham anymore, the boundaries that divide human beings are broken and erased for good.  God isn’t just calling the Jews, or the insiders, but anyone who hungers and thirsts for God and for what is right.

And that all sounds fine… right up until we remember that those words are supposed to speak to us in the twenty first century just as they did in the first century.  The mission of Jesus Christ hasn’t changed and neither has the mission of his church.  These were words that the early church wrestled with and they are words that we are still wrestling with two thousand years later.

Why?

Because no matter how far we’ve come, we still seem to find ways to divide people between insiders and outsiders.  Maybe “those people” are no longer the Gentiles, but we still find ways of labeling them as “hopeless,” as “outsiders,” “lost causes,” and yes, “those people.”

So, think about who “those people” might be for us.  Who are the outsiders, the outcasts, and the unwelcome?  And once we have an idea of who that might be, let’s find ways of reaching out them and inviting them in.

Because that’s exactly what Jesus has called us to do.

 

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Last Five Percent (Part 2)

The Last Five Percent

(Part 2: Peter)

May 12, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 21:1-19

What does it take to finish the last five percent of a project?

I know that there are several people in our church who run.  They have run 5K and 10K races, half marathons and full marathons.  I have officially run in exactly two 5K’s and one, half marathon.  But once you have set such a thing as a goal, barring any accidents or injuries, there are two huge obstacles to be overcome.  The first is just the daily and weekly grind of getting out several days each week and putting in the miles that it takes to get in shape.  I was able to get through that a couple years ago because I had set a big goal, a half marathon.  I didn’t know if I could do it, but I knew that for me to stay motivated, I needed a big goal in front of me.  But once you’ve found a way to stay motivated, and you put in the miles, and you are really starting to know your body and get in shape, towards the end of your training cycle, as you approach the date that you set for your big race, your practice distances start to get harder.  For weeks, even months, each week wasn’t much different from the last, but as you approach the big day, your training starts to get harder.  While your early training regimen is designed to increase your speed and build up your heart and lungs, the latter part of your training ramps up to build endurance.  On paper, or in casual discussion, it seems obvious.  You can’t run a long distance if you haven’t prepared to do it.  And so, in the weeks approaching the race, your training runs start to get longer. Each week’s long run becomes five to ten percent longer than the week before.  Where your Saturday run used to take a half an hour to an hour, suddenly you discover that you are now investing two hours for your run, it’s hard, and you begin to wonder just how committed you really are to accomplishing this goal.

But by this point, you’ve already come 95 percent of the way.  You’ve already pounded out hundreds of miles on the road or on the trail.

You need to find a way to stay motivated.

How could you possibly quit now, just because it’s hard?

And that is at the heart of the question Jesus asks Peter after the resurrection in John 21:1-19.  Peter was totally devastated by Jesus’ death, but perhaps even more by his own failure of faith and his denial of Jesus.  Despite Jesus’ resurrection, Peter is plagued by doubt and he repeatedly returns to his fishing boat as if he is giving up and returning to the sea for good.

21:1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So, they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.  9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

 

It is not an accident that this story is almost exactly like the story that we heard in Luke chapter five when Jesus was first calling his disciples to follow him.  In Luke’s story, Jesus tells the fishermen to go back out to the deep water and lower their nets.  Despite having worked all night and caught nothing, they do as Jesus asked and caught so many fish that they needed to call a second boat to help them bring all the fish ashore.  In this story, Jesus calls out from the shore and tells them to throw their nets over the other side of the boat from where they had probably been doing it.  And the result is much the same as in Luke’s story.  John is the first one to put two and two together, to remember what Jesus had done three years earlier, and realizing that the author of this miraculous catch of fish must be the same Jesus. 

Peter, despite his grief and doubt, is so eager to meet Jesus that he jumps into the water and swims ashore to be with him.  But after sharing a meal together, Jesus asks Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”  Do you love me more than these?  From context and sentence structure we are led to believe that Jesus is asking if Peter loved Jesus more than the other disciples, but there is also the possibility that Jesus is also asking Peter about his doubts and whether he would really give up Jesus to return to his fishing boats.  While George Beasley-Murray, the author of the Word Biblical Commentary on the Gospel of John (Second edition, 1999), believes that this was definitely about the other disciples, I wonder if Jesus didn’t intend, and Peter understood, for this to be a double entendre, a deliberate double meaning about both fish and mission.  In either case, Peter cannot help but remember the words that Jesus spoke the first time he performed this miracle, Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”

In the midst of the disciples’ confusion, grief, pain, doubt, and conflicted feelings, Jesus calls them to ministry a second time.

But that isn’t enough for Peter.

Peter is still doubting himself and beating himself up because he knows that when the chips were down, he denied that he even knew Jesus.  He has fallen so far, how can he possibly climb back up that mountain?  How can he ever be a missionary, or preach, and call people to follow Jesus when he has already failed so spectacularly himself?

And so, two more times, Jesus boils it down as far as he possibly can and asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter denied Jesus three times, and three times Jesus makes him declare his love for Jesus out loud.  Certainly, it isn’t that Jesus requires three declarations of love for forgiveness, and certainly Jesus doesn’t need to hear it three times, but Peter needs it. 

I also noticed that the third time, Peter changes the way that he answers the question.  The first two times he says, “Yes, Lord.  You know that I love you.”  But the third time Peter doesn’t say “yes.”  Peter’s answer no longer has anything to do with Peter, and everything to do with Jesus: “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

And I think that, right there, is Peter’s last five percent.

Peter was always headstrong and willful.  He always knew what was right, even when he was wrong.  Peter was always getting into trouble because his ideas of what Jesus should do didn’t always line up with what Jesus was doing.  Remember that it was Peter who swore that even if everyone else failed to follow Jesus, he would stay.  It was Peter that decided that the best way to defend Jesus was with a sword.  It was Peter that rebuked Jesus and told him that he wasn’t allowed to die.  It was Peter who didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet.  And it was Peter who gives up on ministry and goes back to fishing.

Peter loved Jesus, but as much as Peter wanted to what Jesus wanted, Peter was always hanging on to a lot of what Peter wanted.

But at this moment, Peter surrenders his ego.  He abandons the last 5 percent of himself that he’d been hanging on to, and says, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

It wasn’t about Peter anymore.

It was all about Jesus.

It was 100 percent about Jesus.

Last week we talked about how Saul’s last five percent was all about understanding and believing that Jesus was the messiah that he had been looking for all along.  Saul was missing information, understanding, and although he already had faith, he had to steer his faith in a new direction.

Some of us are like that, but far more of us are like Peter.  We know about Jesus, we have faith in Jesus, we claim to follow Jesus, but we’re holding on to that last five percent.  We want Jesus to do the things that we think Jesus ought to do instead of the things that Jesus wants to do.  We think that the church ought to look like what we think it should look like instead of what Jesus wants it to look like.

That’s just where Peter was.

And that’s where a lot of us are.  I need to ask myself, as much as I love Jesus, how often do I want what I want, more than what Jesus wants?

Just like Peter, we need to let go of that last 5 percent.  We need to let go of our ego and let Jesus be Jesus.  We need to let Jesus be who Jesus is, do the things that Jesus intends to do, follow him even when he goes places that we didn’t really want to go. And when he does things differently than we think he should.

We need to ask ourselves, “Am I ready to give up my last five percent and let Jesus… be Jesus.

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.