Mission Impossible

Mission Impossible

February 23, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18          Matthew 5:38-48         1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

 

For those of us old enough to remember the original Mission Impossible television show starring Peter Graves, Martin Landau, and Barbara Bain, or if you’re young enough to only remember the more recent Tom Cruise movies, we can probably hum the theme song to ourselves and some of us have occasionally done that as we merged into traffic on the freeway or imagined that we were embarking on some new daring adventure.

The general theme, or plot, of these adventures is, of course, that the IMF, the Impossible Mission Force, was occasionally offered tasks that, by all outward appearances, were so crazily difficult that they seemed, to anyone else, to be completely impossible.  And in every opening segment, we would hear a recording that essentially said, “Good evening Mr. Phelps.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” followed by a description of something that sounded impossible but which, the team always managed to accomplish by using technology, deception, wit, and trickery. 

But, if we’re honest, sometimes the things that God seems to ask us to do, seem no less difficult than some of the tasks given to the Impossible Mission Force.  With that in mind, let’s look at some of those “impossible” missions that we’ve been given, and think about what they mean to us ordinary people without the resources of an entire secret agency behind us.  We begin in Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 where God explains the mission of his followers to Moses.

19:1 The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.

 

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

11 “‘Do not steal.

“‘Do not lie.

“‘Do not deceive one another.

12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.

13 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.

“‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.

14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.

15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people.

“‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.

17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.

18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

 

 

God describes his impossible mission for the church in the first sentence: Be holy.  The rest of the passage is nothing more than an explanation of what God means by “be holy.”  And while some of the things that God commands us to do are reasonable, some of them are harder than others, and doing all these things, all the time seems to be almost humanly impossible. 

 

Remembering to set aside a part of our income for the poor is difficult, but easy to forget.  You would think that not stealing is easier, but statistically 75% of us have stolen office supplies or other things from our employers, and if you include coming in late, leaving early, or overstaying our breaks as theft, then I think that number is probably already pretty close to 100 percent.  Lying or deception creeps into our lives far too easily, showing favoritism toward the poor or toward the wealthy and powerful is a great cultural temptation, holding a grudge is easier than it should be, and actually loving our neighbors is much harder than we ever expected it to be.

 

Keeping one of these commands would consume a lot of time and attention, but keeping all of them, at the same time, suddenly becomes improbable.

 

And if that wasn’t hard enough, in Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus adds more layers of instruction on top of that and makes it even harder.

 

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

 

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good; and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 

Jesus says that we should not resist an evil person and turn the other cheek, but for most of us who have been taught to be independent adults, it is flat out hard, if not impossible, to not stand up for ourselves and fight back.  And even harder to not stand up for our loved ones.  But Jesus’ warning reminds us that the danger of resisting evil is that, in doing so, we risk committing, or even becoming, evil ourselves.  And after that, Jesus says that we’re supposed to love our enemies?  How hard is that?  And pray for those who persecute you?  Folks, if I am being persecuted, there are a lot of things that I might want to do to the person responsible for my persecution, but praying for them is certainly not the first thing that comes to mind.  But Jesus’ whole point here is that in order to be holy and be the kind of perfect person that God wants us to become, we must be loving, and the kind of love that God wants us to have is hard.  Real love isn’t just love for the people who can do things for you, or for people who are like you, or just for the people who can love you back. 

 

Real love is loving, even to the people who hate you and persecute you.  Real love is loving the people who are too poor, or too young, or too old, or too powerless, to do anything for you in return.  If we want to be the people that God created us to be, if we want to be more like Jesus, then we need to love the way that Jesus loved.  In fact, not only is real love hard, Jesus says that if love is easy, then it may not be real love at all.

 

So, why is our mission impossible?  Why are the commands of God and Jesus so incredibly difficult? First, it’s because God, being perfect, cannot tolerate imperfection and wants us to become perfect as well.  But there’s more to it than that, as Paul explains to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 where he says:

 

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

 

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

 

You and I, and all the followers of Jesus Christ, are building on a foundation laid by Jesus and a foundation which Paul says, is Jesus.  But what we are building on that foundation is more than just a life, it is, we are, God’s temple and, in the eyes of God, God’s temple is sacred and holy.  Together, we are God’s temple.  It isn’t this building that we are sitting in, or some building past, present, or future in Jerusalem, we are God’s temple.  And God intends for his temple to be holy, pure, and perfect.

 

So how does that help us to understand our impossible mission?

 

It helps us to understand because it establishes the goal.

 

In football, gaining a few yards against incredible opposition is good, but it must be in the right direction, and everyone understands that a ninety-nine-yard gain still doesn’t count if you can’t cross the goal line.  It makes a difference, as a runner, if you are just going outside to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine or if your goal is to run, and complete, a half-marathon.  Football players, runners, choirs, bands, artists, and athletes understand that getting stronger requires that we push ourselves and a big part of that is knowing what the goal is.  We don’t get stronger, or faster, or increase our agility and stamina if we only do the things that we can already do easily.  In order to get better than we already are, we must strive toward a goal that is unreachable at our current level of skill and fitness.

 

Our spiritual growth is no different.

 

God wants us to know what the goal is so that we know what direction in which to travel and to push us to work toward that goal.  A runner that begins to train for a half-marathon might not be able to reach that goal, but you can bet that they’re going to become a better runner than they were before they started.  As Christians, if our only goal is “pretty good” or “good enough” then we aren’t likely to ever challenge ourselves enough to change.  It is only by striving toward the goal of perfection that challenges us enough for God to genuinely transform us into something better than we were before.

 

So yes, doing all the things that God wants us to do, and following all the teachings of Jesus are going to be incredibly difficult and almost completely impossible.  But it is only by attempting the impossible that we can become more like Jesus.

 

You can almost hear the message on that tiny tape recorder:

 

“Good evening Mr. Phelps.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is… to become perfect.”

 

I know that it’s going to be difficult.  And I don’t know if I will ever get there.

 

But I’m going to try.

 

How about you?

 

 

 

 


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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.

We’re Going AGAIN, and we want YOU to come with us!

New school under construction in Harrisburg, Liberia.

From (approximately) July 21st – August 4th, Patti and I will be returning to Harrisburg, Liberia with our Farmer to Farmer mission. We are already putting together a team and YOU are invited.

I have just updated my “Mission Trip to Liberia” blog page so check it out and start planning to come with us. We’d LOVE to have you meet all our Liberian friends.

Click Here to read all about it!  (Clicky)

The Unloving Jesus

The Unloving Jesus

February 16, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Deuteronomy 30:15-20                     Matthew 5:21-37                   1 Corinthians 3:1-9

 

What are the things that you hear people say about God?

Got is great, God is Good, God is love?  Occasionally people try to draw some kind of line between an “Old Testament God” and a “New Testament God” because the God of the Old Testament sometimes sounds mean and vindictive and we have a hard time connecting God’s actions in the Old Testament, with the God that we see in the New Testament.  The problem is that we can’t separate the two and so we are compelled to struggle with our understanding of God so that both things are true.

But the same thing happens with Jesus.

What are the things that you hear people say about Jesus?

They say that Jesus was loving, and caring, and inviting.  Jesus cared for people that the church had forgotten or had thrown out or cast aside.  Jesus welcomed the outsiders and the strangers and all kinds of other people.  And all those things are true.  But it is also important to remember that Jesus was disliked, and even hated by many people of his own time.  In the first century, as well as our twenty-first century, Jesus’ own words sometime sound hurtful, hateful, unloving, unbending, inflexible, and radically conservative.

These words of Jesus can be so difficult to understand, that they are often just set aside or unread because we have a hard time making them “fit” with the Jesus that was loving and compassionate.  But, like God, both of these things are true, and if we want to be honest, we need to wrestle with them and try to understand the whole person of Jesus and not some caricature of Jesus that fits some narrative that we desperately want to be true.

That’s a lot to digest, but I hope these things will become a little clearer as we study together.

Let’s begin this morning by reading the choice that God sets in front of the nation of Israel as Moses (now 120 years old) prepared to hand over his leadership to Joshua.  (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

 

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

 

While at first glance, this might sound harsh, God is giving the people the freedom to choose.  Everyone is welcome to choose for themselves whether or not they want to follow God but, God also makes it clear that there is a cost associated with choosing to walk away from him.  Choosing God is the same as choosing life and choosing to walk away is the same as choosing death and destruction.  God doesn’t threaten that he will destroy them, but simply explains that without his protection they would certainly be destroyed.  With that knowledge, the people were free to choose, and we remain free to make that same choice today.  It isn’t unloving to tell the truth.  It’s the same as when we tell children who can’t swim, not to go in the deep end of the pool.  Without Mom, or Dad, or another strong swimmer, going in the deep end alone will not end well.  And that is the core of what God is saying.  It isn’t mean, it’s just the truth.

 

And that’s the same thing that is going on in Matthew 5:21-37 as Jesus interprets scripture as it applies to several common cultural standards and everyday human interactions.  Jesus said,

 

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

 

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

 

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

 

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

 

The things that he said here, are the kind of things that made the Pharisees, the Sadducees and other leaders of Israel want Jesus to go away… forever.  Jesus starts with something that everyone can agree on, “anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.”  That isn’t the least bit controversial, but then Jesus says that if you call someone a fool, or use an Aramaic term of contempt like “Raca” which, in English could be understood as something like when Yosemite Sam calls Bugs Bunny an “Idjit” and is certainly similar to many of the insults that we see online being traded between Democrats and Republicans, then Jesus says that using these terms to insult people puts us in danger of condemnation and hell.  This matter is so serious that Jesus recommends meeting with your friends and reconciling with them before you walk into church and make an offering to God and settle your disputes before they go to court.

 

That’s hard.  And like us, the people who heard it had a hard time accepting it.  Surely God was more forgiving, loving, and tolerant than that, wasn’t he?  But then, rather than backing off, Jesus turns up the hear another notch by talking about adultery.  Jesus says that just looking at a person of the opposite sex lustfully qualifies as adultery and earns the condemnation of God.  Worse yet, Jesus continues to throw coal on the fire by taking up the issue of divorce.  At the time, much like today, divorce was relatively common.  We know, historically, that the rabbis of the day accepted that divorce was normal but argued between themselves over what offense was needed to justify it.  All agreed that infidelity qualified, but virtually all of them said that offenses far less serious were enough and some rabbis taught that something as minor as burning breakfast was enough to qualify.  But Jesus’s evaluation was far stricter than any of the rabbis of the day.  When Jesus steps into the middle of this argument, he says that nothing short of infidelity was acceptable.  That meant that Jesus was labelling nearly everyone who had been divorced, or who had married a divorced person, which had to be a sizable percentage of the population, including some of the church leadership, as adulterers. 

 

This didn’t win Jesus any friends, and it was language like this that made the leaders of the church want Jesus dead.  In our twenty-first century world, the people on social media would be screaming that Jesus was an inflexible, unloving, unforgiving, ultra-conservative hater.

 

Except that we know he wasn’t.  So how are we to make sense of all that?

 

Ultimately, it’s the same as what we saw in Deuteronomy.

 

Jesus doesn’t warn us about God’s condemnation because he is mean, or unloving but because he knows how high God’s standards and expectations really are.  He doesn’t speak this way because he hates us, but because he, of all people, understands the truth.  It’s just like a lifeguard telling us that there are dangerous riptides and it isn’t safe to go in the water.  The lifeguard doesn’t hate you.  He is aware that you travelled a long distance to be there and had high hopes for a pleasant swim in the ocean.  But he hopes that despite your disappointment in not being able to swim at the beach, the truth will save your life. 

 

The truth might hurt, but it isn’t meant to be hurtful.

 

People got upset when Jesus said that they were murderers, adulterers and sinners.  They were hurt and angry, and some of them decided that they wanted him dead.  But Jesus didn’t say those things to hurt them.  Jesus said those things to save them and hoped that, rather than watering down the word of God and deciding that sin wasn’t really sin, if people were equipped with a better understanding of God’s high standards, they also understand their need for forgiveness and their need for a savior.

 

Jesus says that we should be so dedicated to the truth, that we should not ever need to swear an oath by God, or by heaven, or on the Bible, or on your mother, or even on the hair of your own head.  You should be so committed to the truth that everyone knows that ‘yes’ means yes and ‘no’ mean no.

 

But we aren’t just called to tell the truth, we are called to be mature disciples of the truth and that means something about how we tell the truth.  In Ephesians 4:15, Paul says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”  While we are called to be disciples of, and bearers of, God’s truth, as mature disciples, we must learn to communicate that truth as lovingly as we possibly can.  Not only is that one of the great challenges of Christianity in the twenty-first century, it is often something that Christians are often bad at doing.  In fact, I think that is one of the principle things that has led to the current division in our United Methodist denomination.  Although many of us disagree on what the truth is, I don’t think that’s the problem.  The church has survived disagreements for millennia.  The problem is that somewhere along the line, both sides seem to have abandoned any attempt to speak the truth in a truly loving way.  Regardless of our interpretation of scripture, if we abandon love, no one will ever listen to the message of truth that we carry.

 

No matter how hard it was to hear, and no matter how angry it might have made some of his listeners, Jesus never abandoned the truth, and he never stopped telling the truth to the people around him.  No matter how upset people might get, the lifeguard is not going to stop warning people about the riptides that can kill them.  Jesus knew how dangerous sin really is, and he never stopped warning people about their need for forgiveness.  But, at the same time, Jesus never stopped showing genuine love and concern for the people around him. 

 

Jesus always told the truth, but he told the truth as lovingly as possible.

 

And we must do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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 God Doesn’t See You

Why God Doesn’t See You

February 09, 2020*

(Scout Sunday)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 58:1-9a                        Matthew 5:13-16                   1 Corinthians 2:1-6

Have you ever felt like you were invisible to the people around you? You raise your hand in class and no one seems to notice.  You share your opinion in a meeting with your co-workers and no one seems to hear.  But then five minutes later another co-worker says exactly what you said, and everyone thinks that it’s a great idea.  We call, or write, or email our elected officials and we don’t get anything in return, or we get a preprinted form letter or postcard that has nothing at all to do with our original message.  And it happens in church too.  Sometimes we feel like we come to church for years and no one knows our name or acknowledges that we have skills that we can contribute. 

It’s frustrating, even infuriating, to feel invisible when we desperately want to be known and appreciated.

But what happens when we feel as if we are invisible to God?  What happens when we cry out to God in prayers or in our frustration, or grief, or anger, and it seems as if God really doesn’t care?  We know that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.  That means that God knows everything, is present everywhere, and knows everything that there is to know.  But sometimes, it seems that if God hears us, and knows us, he must not really care.

But is that true? 

And if it is, how can that be possible?

As we consider those questions, let’s begin by reading Isaiah 58:1-9a, where God explains to the people of Israel what was happening when they felt exactly that way.  They prayed, they worshipped in the Temple, they brought sacrifices, they fasted, they did everything that they thought they were supposed to do to make God happy.  But still, it seemed as if God was ignoring them.  And this was God’s reply:

58:1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

 

In the time of Isaiah, many people were going to the Temple, making sacrifices, studying scripture, praying, fasting, and, by all appearances, trying hard to please God.  But after all their hard work, they end up asking God why he hasn’t noticed them.  Although they knew that God had heard their prayers and seen their worship, they felt like they were invisible. 

 

But God did notice them. 

 

God did see the things that they did.  And God replies that the problem wasn’t with the things that they did, but with the things that they didn’t do.  Yes, they prayed, and they fasted, but while they were trying to show God their devotion, they were also mistreating their employees at the same time.  When they finished their fasting, they argued with one another and started fistfights with fellow believers.  It is as if God says, “Do you want to know why you are invisible?  It’s because this kind of “churchy” stuff that you are doing is not the important stuff that I expect you to do.”  The most important part of following God is not putting on a show by going to church, and praying, and fasting, and looking good to the people around you.  The most important part is living your life the way that God wants you to live and treating others the way that God would treat them by fighting injustice, freeing people who are oppressed by substance abuse, or by governments, or by corporations, or by anyone who is treating them unfairly, by sharing your food with the hungry, offering shelter to the wanderer, clothing the naked, and caring for your family.

 

God says that these are the things that make you truly noticed and visible to him.  It is when we do these things that God hears our prayers and brings healing to our brokenness.  It is when we do the things that are important to God that God watches over our steps, and that is also when the community around you really beings to notice that God is making a difference in your life.

 

And if you want a second opinion, in Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus says pretty much the same thing when he says:

 

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

 

Two thousand years ago, salt was valuable.  If you lived near the ocean, you could evaporate water and make your own, but most of the world can’t do that.  As a result, in the ancient world, salt was sometimes used as a form of currency and Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt.  (Which, incidentally, is how the phrase “worth his salt” came in to being.)  In any case, when salt was collected, or mined, and then transported over long distances, it was sometimes stored in the open where it could get rained on, and the “salty” part of the salt would be lost, leaving behind something that might look like salt, but which was no longer “salty.”  So, what Jesus is saying is that you are intended to be salt.  When we follow the commands of God, and when we live the way that God has called us to live, we change the way that our community “tastes” just like salt changes the flavor of food.  It’s a concept that we understand by experience.  French fries are awesome, but without salt, they’re just kind of “Meh.”  Popcorn is one of my favorite foods, but without salt, it’s just kind of okay. 

 

Jesus says that’s the effect that we are supposed to have on our relationships with other people and in the world around us.  Without us it’s okay, but with us it’s clearly better.  But, if that salt loses its saltiness, then it really isn’t worth anything anymore.  And it is our connection to God that makes us different.  When we do the things that God calls us to do, when we live the way that Jesus taught us to live, it is only then that we become “salty” and can bring God’s flavor to the world.

 

But wait.

 

Many of us don’t to be the center of attention.  We don’t want to be evangelists.  We’re afraid that we’re not good enough.  We’re not good at public speaking.  Won’t being “salty” and bringing God’s flavor to the people around me be hard?  Honestly, as intimidating as it might sound, no.  I know that I’ve said this before, but it’s always worth repeating, God is always the one who does all the hard work.  The Apostle Paul explained it to the church in Corinth this way in 1 Corinthians 2:1-6:

 

2:1 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

 

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.

 

Paul reminds the people of the church that he wasn’t good at public speaking and he wasn’t always very street smart when he was there sharing his story about God.  He arrived in Corinth “in weakness with great fear and trembling.”  But, despite his weaknesses and shortcomings, he lived a life that demonstrated God’s power. 

 

He lived a life that demonstrated God’s power. 

 

What do you suppose that means?

 

Here’s the picture that I have in my head:  In high school, a few weeks before prom, there were one or two guys who got a job working for local tuxedo rental shops.  These guys were usually football players and not experienced or skilled salespeople.  But their “job” was to demonstrate the products of the tux shops.  Every day they would show up to school dressed in a different tuxedo.

 

(pause)

 

That was it.  Just put on the tux and go to school.  Okay, maybe they passed out a flyer or business cards now and then, but they weren’t really offering a sales pitch or anything.

 

And I think that’s exactly the kind of thing that Paul is describing.  Our “job” is to “put on” Jesus and live our lives.  What God wants us to do is to live the way that he has called us to live, and to do the things the he taught us to do, to just “put on” God and live our regular lives.  We don’t need to be eloquent or well-spoken evangelists, we just need to wear God’s tux and let God do the rest.

 

The most important part of following God is not putting on a show by going to church and looking good to the people around you.  The most important part is living your life is to be “salty”, to live and to love the way that God wants, to treat others the way that God would treat them, by fighting injustice, freeing people who are oppressed, by sharing your food with the hungry, offering shelter to the wanderer, clothing the naked, and caring for your family.

 

God doesn’t require us to be brilliant.

 

He just wants us to be faithful.

 

 

 

 


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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 God of Fools

The God of Fools

February 02, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Micah 6:1-8                            Matthew 5:1-12                                 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

 

 

Do you believe in Global Warming?

 

I’m not looking to start an argument, but this is a common sort of discussion going on in our culture that can help us to understand a biblical principle, as well as one of the more difficult teachings of the Apostle Paul. 

 

Let me explain.  If a person is unconvinced that Global Warming, or Global Climate Change, or at least Anthropogenic Global Warming (which is the belief that not only is the climate changing, but that human activity is primarily at fault) then that unconvinced person looks at all the hysteria and handwringing by those who are convinced, and he (or she) believes that they are all fools.  Conversely, those who have been convinced that these ideas are true, believes that anyone who remains unconvinced, or skeptical, is a “climate denier” or, in other words, a fool.

 

It is this modern blindness to the opinion of others that helps us to understand that same principle applied in the world of theology.  But, before we get to that, let’s begin by looking at a lawsuit brought by God, against the people of God who claim to be his worshippers and followers.  We find this language of lawsuits, witnesses, and courtrooms in Micah 6:1-8, where we hear these words:

 

6:1 Listen to what the Lord says:

“Stand up, plead my case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say.

“Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth.
For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel.

“My people, what have I done to you?
    How have I burdened you? Answer me.
I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.
My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered.
Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

 

Using legal language that would have been familiar to the people of the ancient world, God declares that he is taking them to court to lodge charges against them.  In that accusation, God presents examples and evidence of his faithfulness to his people and in doing so, suggests that he is charging them with unfaithfulness.  But, if God believes that his people are disobedient and unfaithful, even when they appear to be following the laws of Moses, bringing sacrifices, and worshipping in the Temple in Jerusalem, then what is it that God wants from them?  In fact, Micah, speaking for God, asks that question three times saying, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?” and then later asking, “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?” and finally wondering, “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

 

But in the end, the answer is simple.  Micah says, God “has shown you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

 

Although the people of Israel were going through the motions of worship, and although from outward appearances they seemed to keep the commands of God, they had forgotten the underlying principles of justice, mercy, and humility and those were the things that God really wanted from them, and what he had modelled for them, in the first place.

 

And, seven hundred or so years later, when Jesus stands up to preach a sermon that we now remember as the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12, we hear that same message of justice, mercy, and humility.

 

5:1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

 

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

Here, we run into the same problem that the people of the Old Testament had.  While the principle that we heard in Micah, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” sounds entirely reasonable, the application, as described by Jesus, is a lot more difficult.  If Jesus is to be believed, and since we are his followers and name ourselves after him, we certainly should, then we really need to wrestle with some of this teaching.

 

Blessed are those who mourn, sounds wonderful, but from there on, they get harder.  In the world in which Jesus lived, and in ours twenty centuries later, the meek don’t typically inherit anything.  The humble and the meek usually get run over by the bold selfish narcissists.  In the business world, the people who hunger and thirst for righteousness seem to get trampled by the people who hunger and thirst for money, pleasure, and power.   While our culture gives lip service to mercy, we can rarely find it in politics or commerce, and acts of mercy get handed off to institutions of charity and religion.  And, while peacemakers can occasionally get some good press, it is the warmongers who are more commonly found in the halls of government, wield all the influence, and make all the money.  And by golly, you would be hard pressed to find anyone at all who would welcome persecution, insults, or false accusations, let alone rejoice in them.

 

In the end, what Jesus is preaching, and what God wants from us, is to live a life that is entirely contradictory to conventional worldly wisdom.  And that, leads us to what Paul is trying to communicate as he writes to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, where he says:

 

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

 

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

 

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

 

26Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

 

In an age of enlightenment and widespread higher education, and in a world where people of faith are regularly accused of being “anti-science” or even “anti-education,” passages like this can be frustratingly difficult to understand.  What are we supposed to think when we hear phrases like “the message of the cross is foolishness” and “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate”?  Are we supposed to understand that God really wants his followers to be foolish and stupid?

 

Of course not.

 

Remember that scripture has an entire genre that we refer to as the Wisdom books.  Five books of the Old Testament, including Psalms and Proverbs, and two books of the Apocrypha are all parts of the wisdom literature that was handed down to us by the people of Israel.  The writer of Psalms declares that wisdom was present with God at the creation of the universe, and Matthew declares that the wisdom of Jesus was greater than the wisdom of Solomon.  So clearly, God does not intend for his followers to be stupid.  Instead, in the passage that we just read, the point that Paul is trying to make can seen more clearly where he said, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”  Let me repeat that.  “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”  God is so smart, that even if God were to have a “senior moment” or “brain freeze,” or some other moment of stupidity, God’s version of stupid is still smarter than any human intelligence and God’s weakness is still stronger than any human strength.

 

But, with that in mind, if we understand that God is smart, and that God wants us to be smart, and we understand that God is wise, and wants us to be wise, then how are we to make sense of phrases like “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise” and, “the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate”?

 

We make sense of it all by remembering that what Jesus preached on the Mount of Beatitudes.  What God wants from us, is a wisdom that is often contradictory to conventional worldly wisdom.  If we live the way that God wants us to live, our lives will often be lived in ways that are contradictory to conventional worldly wisdom.  That doesn’t mean that education is bad, or that Christians are “anti-science,” or that God prefers uneducated rubes as his followers.

 

We begin to see God’s meaning as we walk through the Beatitudes.  It means that we set aside our inborn selfishness enough to care about the poor and to comfort those who mourn.  It means that we are called to remember mercy when the rest of the world is demanding blood and violence.  It means that we find value in, and expend our efforts toward, seeking purity and virtue instead of the pleasures and vices that the world believes to be normal.  It means that, wherever possible, whether we are on the playground, the battleground, or the corporate boardroom, we seek peace instead of conflict even when peace might come at some personal price to us in dollars, time, or popularity.  And it means that we understand that if we live the way that Jesus has called us to live, that we will often be unpopular, insulted, persecuted, have false rumors, gossip, and other accusations brought against us but we also remember that God’s prophets were always treated this way, and so was Jesus.

 

In the end, if we truly want to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God, then we must accept that God’s wisdom is not the same as the wisdom of the world, that what God wants is not the same as what the world wants, and that what God considers to be good, is not always the same as what the world thinks is good.  If we want to live the way that God wants us to live, we must understand that the world will think of us as foolish and stupid.

 

I’m okay with that.

 

And I hope that you are okay with that.

 

If we are to be fools, may we at least be God’s fools.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

We Shatter Oppression

We Shatter Oppression

January 26, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 9:1-4                            Matthew 4:12-23                               1 Corinthians 1:10-18

 

 

Growing up, many of us watched classic Western’s on television or in the movies and many times there was a tense situation where the good guys were trapped and overwhelmed by the enemy, but just when hope was almost lost, some kind of reinforcements would arrive and rescue them.  So common was this that in the lexicon of American English, we have all come to know what it means when we hear phrases that refer to being rescued by the arrival of the cavalry even when the situation has nothing to do with the American west and when it occurs a hundred years after the military went around on horseback.

 

As we think about scriptures today, I want you to think about how those trapped people might have felt, not just in the American west, but in any number of situations when a very real protagonist appears over the horizon to rescue them.  Imagine how slaves in the American south felt when they were freed by Union soldiers, or how the inmates of German concentration camps felt when Allied soldiers arrived (75 years ago this week), or how today’s victims of human trafficking might feel when law enforcement recognizes who they are and frees them from their captors.

 

Remembering these situations, and thinking about the victims’ feelings, will help us to have a better mental and emotional understanding of what we read in today’s scripture passages such as Isaiah 9:1-4, where we hear these words:

 

9:1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future, he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.

 

Isaiah declares that when the messiah comes, he will end the distress of his people and bring honor to the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali that had once been dishonored.  The transformation would be not only noticeable, but dramatic.  The people who lived in darkness would see a great light, those living in a land of deep darkness would witness the dawn, and those living in captivity and slavery would see the instruments of their oppression torn away and shattered.  Even more than seeing the cavalry ride over the horizon, this is a scene of dramatic rescue as distress is ended, joy returned, and freedom restored. 

 

And it is that same dramatic imagery that is used to connect the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with Isaiah’s prophecy in Matthew 4:12-23 as Jesus begins to call his disciples to follow him.

 

12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
    Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.”

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

 

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

 

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

 

The imagery of recalling the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, and Galilee, and the dramatic transformation of a people living in darkness who see a great light or those living in the shadow of death welcoming the dawn all connects Jesus to the prophecies of Isaiah.  In this way, we are told that Jesus is the messiah that God has promised through the prophets, and it is Jesus that is bringing joy, light, honor, and freedom.  But Matthew immediately shifts from what was, to what is, from the past of Isaiah, to the present Jesus, and he begins to tell the story of how Jesus called his disciples to follow him.

 

Jesus first calls Peter and Andrew, who we met last week just a few verses earlier in the story, followed by James and John.  All of them were fishing beside the Sea of Galilee when Jesus called them, and all of them walk away from their work, their trade, their families, and their livelihoods at a moment’s notice.  And as soon as they begin to follow, they find them themselves walking with Jesus while he teaches, and preaches, and heals the sick.  There are two more important points to be made here.  First, is that the traditional understanding of the role of a disciple was to not only to follow, but to learn to be like the rabbi that they followed, to pattern and model their lives on the life of the rabbi, and to take upon themselves the mission and purpose of the rabbi that they followed.  The second thing we notice is that by declaring his intention to send them out to “fish for people,” Jesus is making a promise to teach, and to train, his disciples to do what he is doing.  This isn’t an invitation to watch a show, this is an invitation to an education, and an invitation to become like Jesus, and in a sense, to become Jesus by taking upon themselves the mission of Jesus.

 

And, in a letter to the church in Corinth, Paul reminds the church who it is that we follow, and why Jesus sends us out into the world.  In 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Paul says:

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

 

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

 

As we begin taking that apart, particularly as our own denomination seems almost certainly headed for some form of division or fracture, it’s worth noting, in this case, what specific kind of division that Paul is talking about.  Paul says that there should be no division in the church, but then he explains that what the people of Corinth are fighting over are various cults of personality.  Some people are saying that they are followers of Paul or followers of Apollos, or followers of Peter.  But Paul stresses that none of them belong to the church of Peter, or Paul, or the church of anyone except the church of Jesus Christ.  It was Jesus who was crucified, and it was in the name of Jesus that we have all been baptized. 

 

And, as a disciple of Jesus, Paul has been sent on one single mission, and that mission was to preach the gospel.  Paul freely admits that his preaching does sound like the professional orators and speakers that people sometimes heard in the public square.  Instead, Paul’s preaching often seems to lack wisdom and eloquence, but it is in Paul’s shortcomings that the power of Jesus Christ is revealed.  People are not drawn to his preaching, and lives are not transformed because Paul was such an incredibly fabulous public speaker (he admits that he wasn’t).  It was not Paul’s words that drew people in, and it was not Paul that changed their hearts, it was the power of Jesus Christ that had sent him and it was the power of Jesus Christ that was working through him.

 

When we put these ideas together, we remember Isaiah’s prophecy that the messiah would come to bring light into the darkness of our world, to return honor to the people of God, to bring freedom to the captives, and to shatter the instruments of oppression.  As Jesus came, it was revealed that he was that messiah, and that he intended to accomplish the mission Isaiah had written about.  But Jesus had no intention of fulfilling the prophecies of God as a performer puts on a show.  Jesus called his disciples not to be spectators, but to be learners who would model their lives after the life of Jesus and to take up his mission for themselves.

 

And Paul makes it clear that Jesus’ mission didn’t end with the first twelve disciples but has been passed on to the church and to every generation of disciples throughout history.  Despite our divisions between Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants, despite our divisions between Anglican, Baptist, Brethren, Evangelical, Methodist, Presbyterian, Nazarene, and any number of other denominations past, present, or future, we are united in following one Jesus and in carrying out his mission.  As his disciples, we now carry on Jesus’ mission to bring freedom to those who are captive to slavery, captive to sin, captive to hunger, to human trafficking, to drugs, to alcohol, to uncaring governments, corporate cruelty, bureaucracy, school bullies, and to any other kind of oppression that we might encounter.

 

We might not wear tights or capes or think of ourselves as heroes, but if we call ourselves followers of Jesus, then we accept that it is our job to carry out his mission.  We aren’t here to put on a show.  We are here to share the good news, to tell the story of Jesus Christ.  We are here to fight for freedom.  And we are here to shatter oppression wherever we find it. 

 

Every day, men, women, and children are praying that God would send a hero to rescue them from the giants that oppress them.  Those giants may not look like Roman soldiers, or slave ship captains, or Nazi prison guards but those giants are just as real as they have ever been, and their oppression is just as painful.

 

For them, we might just be heroes they’ve been praying for.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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 Expansion

The Expansion

January 19, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 49:1-7                          John 1:29-42                          1 Corinthians 1:1-9

 

How many of you know how to drive a stick shift?

I want to be clear, what I mean by that is, how many of you have driven a stick shift truck or automobile?

I make that clarification because when I first got my driver’s license, I thought I knew how to drive a stick.  I had been in the car with my Dad and with my brothers on countless occasions.  I had a driver’s license, and I understood the principles and the mechanics of how a stick shift operated.  But the first time I tried to put that knowledge into practice, I drove my father’s Mustang into our garage door.  Thankfully, I didn’t do much damage to either the garage or the car, so I wasn’t in a lot of trouble.  But this was a great learning opportunity that reinforced the idea that there’s a big difference between knowing and knowing.  There’s a difference between hearing about something, or knowing about something, and having knowledge that comes from doing that thing.  There’s a difference between knowing how to drive a stick shift and physically driving a stick shift long enough to become skilled in doing it.  In the same way, there’s a difference between knowing about a person, and knowing that person because you’ve spent enough time together to genuinely know them.

As I found out when I drove my dad’s Mustang into the garage door, the difference between these two kinds of knowing can be critically important.  A few years ago, while our son Jonah was shopping for a car, a friend from school wanted to sell him one.  Jonah liked it but, since it was a stick shift, and since he didn’t know how drive a stick, Jonah asked me to test drive it with him.  It looked nice enough and to Jonah, the car seemed great.  But when I got behind the wheel, something about the way the clutch worked and the way that it shifted seemed wrong to me.  I admitted that it had been several years since I had regularly driven a stick, but even aside from my slightly rusty skills, something just didn’t seem right, and my hesitancy caused Jonah to look elsewhere.  There’s a between knowing about and knowing from experience and that difference in knowledge often causes a difference in behavior.

It is this difference in knowing that we see in several of our scriptures this morning.  We begin in Isaiah 49:1-7 where we hear the story of how God called Isaiah to be the prophet of Israel and how God intended to use the nation of Israel, and Israel’s messiah, to call the world to repentance.

49:1 Listen to me, you islands;
    hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
    from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
    and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
    and my reward is with my God.”

And now the Lord says—
    he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
    and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord
    and my God has been my strength—
he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
    to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

This is what the Lord says—
    the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—
to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation,
    to the servant of rulers:
“Kings will see you and stand up,
    princes will see and bow down,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

 

Isaiah says that God called him before he was born, prepared him, and set him aside to be his servant.  But he did the same for Israel.  Israel was called by God before it was born and was set aside to display the splendor and glory of God to the world.  It was God’s intention to restore Israel, and to make that nation, and her messiah, a light to the Gentiles, a people that would go out, extend itself into the world, and expand the kingdom of God so that the kings, and the people, of the world would bow down and bring honor and glory to God.  It was God’s plan for the world to know him because they had known Israel.

 

And, in a much more personal way, we see this same idea play out in John 1:29-42 when two disciples of John the Baptist, Andrew and (probably) John, meet Jesus for the first time.

 

29 The next day, John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

 

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

So, they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

 

As disciples of John the Baptist, Andrew and John would have heard stories and preaching about the messiah that God had promised to the nation of Israel.  They would have been told that the arrival of the messiah was imminent, and that John the Baptist had been called by God to prepare for the arrival of the messiah.  But, at that moment, John makes it plain that Jesus is the one about whom he had been preaching and that Jesus was God’s Chosen One and the Lamb of God.  And immediately, those two disciples had a different kind of knowledge.  Knowing that the messiah was coming was different than knowing that the messiah had arrived.  And then, having met Jesus, and now actually knowing Jesus, something else was required of them.  Now that Andrew genuinely knew Jesus, just knowing wasn’t enough.  Now that Andrew knew Jesus the first thing that he did was to find his brother Simon and tell him that they had found the messiah and the very next thing that he did was to bring Simon to meet Jesus for himself.

 

Knowing the messiah was coming, and even knowing that the messiah had arrived, were different than knowing the messiah.  Once Andrew and John had met Jesus, once they knew him, that knowledge changed their behavior and demanded something from them.  It wasn’t enough to know Jesus.  Knowing Jesus demanded an expansion, knowing Jesus demanded that they tell others about what they knew and introduce others to him.

 

And, just in case we are tempted to say that this was only true for the disciples of John the Baptist, or was only true for the first few disciples, in 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, Paul explains that knowing Jesus changes the rest of us as well.

 

1:1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:

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

 

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Paul says that once we know him, Jesus pours grace into us and enriches our lives by giving us all kinds of speech and knowledge in order to confirm the testimony about Jesus by the changes that are evident among the people of the church.  Once the people came to know him, Jesus poured out gifts of grace, speech, knowledge and, according to Paul, the church receives every spiritual gift as we wait for the return of Jesus Christ.  And just in case we weren’t sure what every spiritual gift means, Paul provides a list later in this same letter in 1st Corinthians chapter 12, where he lists some of these gifts as being wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, spiritual discernment, speaking in tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. 

 

Paul is clear that knowing about Jesus, and genuinely knowing Jesus are different things. 

 

Knowing Jesus changes us.

 

When we meet Jesus and get to know him, when we experience the changes that are evident in his people and in his church, and when we receive the gifts that Jesus gives to his people, we are no longer the same people that we used to be.  Knowing Jesus not only changes us, it calls us, and it demands something from us.  Like Andrew, once we meet Jesus, we are unable to keep that knowledge to ourselves and we are compelled to introduce him to others so that they can know him too.

 

From the beginning, it has always been God’s plan for his people to be a light in a dark world.  God has always intended for his people, for his church, to go out, to extend itself into the world, and expand the kingdom of God so that the people of the world would bow down and bring honor and glory to God.

 

We have met Jesus and we have been changed, transformed, and blessed because of it.

 

And now that we know him, we are called to tell others about him so that they can meet him and know him too.

 

 

 

 


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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.