Six Boxes of Chalk and One Ream of Paper

“Six boxes of chalk and one ream of paper.”

One short sentence, spoken by the man who, functionally, was the principal of the local public school, summed up the problem with education in Liberia and one of the reasons that our mission is here. While, officially, the governemnt of Liberia provides free public education, that doesn’t mean that what is provided bears any resemblance to public eduction in the United States.

In Liberia, public education means the “government school,” which is a school, and it has teachers that are paid by the government, but any similarity to schools that we are used to in the United States ends there. The teachers, here in Harriburg, are paid by the government… except when they’re not. During the Ebola crisis, all of the teachers were furloghed, without pay, because the government was trying to limit public gatherings. A year or two later, the government just stopped paying their teachers altogether for four or five months, but, passionate professionals that they are, they soldiered on… for free. This year, the teachers’ paychecks have been cut in half. No explanation has been offered, but the teachers still come.

If these dedicated souls don’t sound heroic yet, then you should also know that these four government employees teach 350 plus children in grades K-9. A few years ago, when the government lauched its effort to rebuild the nearby hyroelectric plant, the influx of families seeking jobs caused the student population to more than quintuple (from 65 to 365) in a single year, but the number of teachers stayed the same. So dire was the situation, that the local PTA recruited nine volunteer teachers to help out.

Imagine.

Three hundred and sixty five children, with four teachers and nine volunteers, in grades K-9, in a school building without heat, air conditioning, running water, or windows, only six or eight classrooms, and so desperately poor that they can’t even afford blackboards or paint for the walls. Many children don’t get any education at all because their parents, in a country where the average income is $35 per month, cannot afford to buy a school uniform or basic school supplies. There are no computers, no office staff, no copy machines, only one or two textbooks per class, and most years there is no curriculum. The sum total of the government support for the school, other than the understaffed, sometimes unpaid, teachers, is…

…”six boxes of chalk and one ream of paper.”

Not per classroom. Not per teacher. Six boxes of chalk and one ream of paper… for the entire school.

That’s why they need our help.

And that’s why we come.

Alive But Dead

“Alive but Dead”

April 02, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Ezekiel 37:1-14                      John 11:1-45                          Romans 8:6-11

 

As the new United States waged its war for independence with England, Captain John Paul Jones set sail in 1777 with orders to harass, disrupt, and create havoc with British shipping wherever he could.  And so in 1779, sailing a repurposed cargo ship, the Bonhomme Richard, off the coast of Scotland Jones encountered a merchant convoy guarded by two well-armed, and well-trained, British naval vessels.  Jones’ ships were not purpose built fighting ships and his crews were thrown together volunteers from America, France, and many other nations while the British crews were professionals with far superior training.  In the first pass between the Bonhomme Richard and the British frigate Serapis, the American ship was raked with cannon fire, a great many crewmen immediately killed, fires were started all over the deck and below deck.  By all outward appearances, it was already time for Captain Jones to surrender.

 

But when he was asked if he cared to do so, Captain Jones instead proclaimed, “I have not yet begun to fight.”

 

And fight he did.

 

Although Captain Jones’ ship, the Bonhomme Richard, was so badly damaged that it sank and he had to climb aboard another ship, and despite being outgunned, out trained, and out manned, the fire from her guns was so fierce that the crews aboard the Serapis could not and would not venture above deck.  So fearful had the crew of the Serapis become by the end of the battle, that her commander, Captain Pearson, could not persuade a single one of her crew to strike her flag in surrender, and he was forced to climb the mast and do it himself.

 

The Americans were presumed dead, asked to surrender, and persisted with ferocity until they won.

 

This remains one of the most humiliating defeats in British naval history.

 

And all because the Americans had a leader that could see the possibilities beyond surrender and defeat.

 

In Ezekiel 37:1-14, we find a similar story with a different twist.  Here, the people of Israel have been captured and taken into captivity in Babylon.  They are without hope.  They feel as if their God has abandoned them.  They are ready to give up and die.  And in that moment, God comes to the prophet Ezekiel.


37:1 
The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

 

God declares to Ezekiel and to the people of Israel that he holds power over life and death.  Even though Jerusalem lay in ruins and the people had been dragged into slavery in a foreign country, God proclaimed that life would return to their dry bones and that Israel would live again because he would put his Spirit in them.  It was the Spirit of God that made the difference between life and death.  And while this all seems very figurative and philosophical, when we read the story of Lazarus in John 11:1-45, we find that the scriptures are very clear that Jesus, quite literally, has power over life and death.

 

11:1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light.10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”

11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

 

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

 

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

 

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

 

Clearly, Lazarus was dead.  He had been buried, and sealed in his tomb, for four days.  And yet, when Jesus calls to him, Lazarus stands up and walks out of the tomb.

 

What made the difference?

 

How was it that one moment Lazarus was dead and alive the next?

 

We find the answer to that in Romans 8:6-11 where we hear this:

 

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

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

 

The people of Israel thought that they were dead but through his prophet Ezekiel, God assured them that by putting his Spirit in them, he could return life to the dead.  Lazarus was certifiably dead and had been buried for four days and Jesus commanded him to get up and live again.  And here, Paul explains that living, in order to satisfy the desires of the flesh, is death but living, governed by the Spirit of God, is filled with life and peace.  Paul admits that we all live in a world of flesh, but we can live in the world of the Spirit of God if we belong to Jesus Christ.  The difference between life and death has always been the Spirit of God.  God’s Spirit is what made the difference between dry bones and a living nation of Israel.  God’s Spirit was the difference between a rotting corpse and a living Lazarus.  And God’s Spirit is what makes the difference between life and death today.  There is a difference between appearing alive, and actually being filled with life.  Many of the people who walk the earth are walking corpses.  They appear to be alive, but are, in reality, quite dead.  But those people who have accepted Jesus Christ are filled with his Spirit and already live in the world of the Spirit of God.

 

If you have accepted Jesus, then you have already begun to live forever.

 

We must all choose.

 

Will we live our lives as dry bones?  Or will we answer the call of Jesus as Lazarus did?

 

We are invited to put our full faith and hope in Jesus, be filled with the Spirit of God, throw open our graves, cast aside the clothing of death, and walk free.

 

Lazarus answered and walked with Jesus.

 

Won’t you?

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, 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 may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

Eulogies and Obituary for Alan Keller

Memories and Eulogies Shared

Trinity United Methodist Church

January 21, 2017

Pastor Julia Wertz

TIME OF REMEMBRANCE  

 

Bryan Corrie    System Engineer IT Dept 870 Delta Air Lines

Alan and I started our careers together back in the early eighties at Delta Air Lines as IT engineers. We were in the same training class in Atlanta. We both moved to Jacksonville Florida on March 15th 1984 with our belongings in the same moving truck. He, I and my wife Linda became very good friends. Alan and I worked side by side and never had a single disagreement. Alan moved to Orlando then FT Myers but we continued to be in the same department and still worked together often. He was not a practicing Christian but you wouldn’t know it by his actions. He always respected and loved his fellow man and lived the life like a Christian. He always did the right thing. One of his last ditch efforts at a cure for his cancer was a visit to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. My wife took him there. They pretty much said there was nothing they could do for him. When he got in the car to leave my wife asked him “Where do you want to go?” His answer was HEAVEN. He was a Very Very Special Person and friend and will be dearly missed.

Scott Feucht Field Service Engineer

Uncle Alan was a guy who wanted to make you laugh. Growing up, this was usually by tickling you to death. As we got older, it turned into witty one liners and funny jokes. Alan’s laugh was contagious. He always wanted to bring the best out of a person and to see them truly happy. Going to Uncle Alan’s place in Florida for family vacations was always a highlight I looked forward to growing up. Going to Walt Disney World, the Everglades, and the amazing beaches. Alan lived his life to the fullest. Never one for drama or stressing over things. As long as he had his Pepsi and cigarette, he had a smile on his face. I love you Uncle Alan. Always keep that smile on your face and keep making everyone around you laugh. Also…. Do me a favor… Send Gma my love and tell her that her money is in the bank

Pamela Berger RN/CHPN

HI!My name is Pam and I was the nurse who took care of Alan in his home in Florida. I wanted to share with you how privileged I was to have been his nurse. Alan was a year younger than I am so I guess it always makes me realize my mortality when I have young patients. Maybe that’s why I identified with him.  He was funny. He was soft spoken and sweet. He had all the reasons in the world to be bitter and angry but he wasn’t! I asked him one day why he did not pursue a lawsuit pertaining to his (lack of ) care and his reply was “What ‘s the point?” Exactly…. What would have been the point of him spending his last days on earth angry and negative? He chose to be happy and content with what he had left.

He was a loyal friend and his friends were fiercely loyal to him. They drove hours to check on him. They took turns visiting just to make sure he was doing okay. They honored his wishes and let him have his time alone when he needed it. They loved him so much!

Alan chose to have his sister and father at his side when he left this world. They took care of his every need. They stopped everything in their lives to be with him and surrounded him with their love. I can’t think of a better definition of “family”.

Every once an a while I get to be a small part of the end of a special  person’s story. I want to thank Alan for letting me be a part of his. I have been blessed to know him.

Wayne Moss  Director – IT Field Operations

My remembrances of Alan are:

Alan loved to laugh, and he enjoyed making others laugh.  In fact, he wasn’t satisfied until he had people around him laughing and smiling.

I would say that Alan was “Quickly Witty”.   He could easily verbalize an accurate response to whatever was being discussed.  Most often, his responses generated smiles and laughter.

 

Alan had a keen ability to find a happy way to cope with a challenge.

 

He didn’t complain, as least not to me…   He treasured his Delta Family and his customers.   He was much more than a co-worker.   He was Family.

 

It has hurt me deeply, to know even slightly, the enormous pain and difficulty he has endured.

 

1 Corinthians 13The Message (MSG)The Way of Love

13 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

8-10 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

11 When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

 

Meditation/Eulogy    “FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE….THE GREATEST OF THESE IS LOVE

I believe that the understanding of ALAN’S LIFE  is expressed very well in today’s SCRIPTURE READING FROM I CORINTHIANS 13 demonstrating how ALAN GAVE AND RECEIVED THE GIFT OF LOVE DURING HIS LIFE’S JOUNEY.   

ALAN ENJOYED loving and receiving love as being part of God’s creation where there is a time for everything. We are given the gift of human life by God and at the end of this earthly life there is yet another gift from God—the gift of eternal life. In the gospel of John we hear that if we have faith in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven, then we will also enjoy eternal life with Jesus.

Alan L. Keller was born on May 29, 1960 in Massillon to Arvine Keller and the late Dorothy (Yatsko) Keller. Alan was a graduate of Perry High School, Akron University and Embry-Riddle University.

Alan loved to be the life of the party. He was kind, thoughtful, generous and caring. He had never met a stranger. He thought of life as an adventure and loved to live it. He worked as a Technology Specialist for Delta Airlines for thirty – four years.  LOVED PETS…KITTY CLEO 20 YR

 

written BY ALAN 2 weeks before his passing:


Hey folks, this will probably be the last post from me as I continue to get weaker and everything becomes much harder to do.

It has shocked me to find out over the last few months how many caring and sincere friends I have accumulated over the years. Sure, we all collect a few good friends, but I was so flabbergasted that there were so many cut from the finest material and would do anything to help me. Taking time from their lives, their work and their families. You folks are the reason that my life has been such a blast and I could never thank you all enough.

As I pass to the next stage, the biggest worry that I have is that our children are losing their innocence, their childhood if you will. Childhood was such fun for me and I wish it could stay that way for all kids, but with the shootings, killings and like of viagras and other commercials, their innocence is gone

I’ve been pretty much a no drama person and if I had one line of wisdom to leave folks, it would be before you start or continue an argument, ask yourself one question: A week from now or a month from now, will this argument really matter? Almost every time you’ll realize it’s about something trivial that won’t have any affect on the future except to cause hash words and bad feelings until both people realize this. So forget the argument and go do something enjoyable and life will improve instantly. Even a quarter pounder with cheese beats a two hour fight.

I’ve been blessed with terrific friends and a family that has been second to none. Maybe you look at it as I had a good hand dealt to me? Well, you can take a bad hand with a good attitude and turn it into something enjoyable. It’s just up to you.

Thank you and good bye.  Smile every day, take care and I’ll see you on the other side.

TO CHERISH ALAN’S MEMORY ARE HIS father. his sister, Cheryl (Richard) Feucht; three nephews, Scott (Revital) Feucht, Cory (Maggie) Feucht and Drew Feucht; and two grand-nephews, Camden and Owen

Alan has requested that his friends and family should show love for your fellow man, give generously to those in need and live life to the fullest.

FOOT PRINTS IN THE SAND

LAST night I had a dream.  I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.  Across the sky flashed scenes from my life.  For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonged to me, the other to the Lord.

 AFTER the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand.  I noticed that at many times along the path of my life, especially at the very lowest and saddest times, there was only one set of footprints.

THIS really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.  “Lord, you said  once I decided to follow you, You’d walk with me all the way.  But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints.  I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

THE Lord replied, “My son, my precious child, I love you and I would never leave you.  During your times of suffering, when you could see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

 

______________________

 

tim2bkeller2b2528not2bmy2bfuneral2529Obituary

Alan Lee Keller


May 29, 1960 – January 13, 2017 
Resided in North Fort Myers, FL

Alan L. Keller, 56, passed away at home in North Fort Myers, FL, surrounded by his family on January 13, 2017.

He was born on May 29, 1960 in Massillon to Arvine Keller and the late Dorothy (Yatsko) Keller.  Alan was a graduate of Perry High School, Akron University and Embry-Riddle University.

Alan loved to be the life of the party. He was kind, thoughtful, generous and caring. He had never met a stranger.  He thought of life as an adventure and loved to live it. He worked as a Technology Specialist for Delta Airlines for thirty – four years.

In addition to his father he is also survived by his sister, Cheryl (Richard) Feucht; three nephews, Scott (Revital) Feucht, Cory (Maggie) Feucht and Drew Feucht; and two grand-nephews, Camden and Owen.

Friends may call on Saturday, January 21, 2017 from 10:00am-11:00am at Trinity United Methodist Church where a funeral service will be held at 11:00am, Rev. Julia Wertz, officiating.  Burial will be in Union Lawn Cemetery.

Messages of condolence may be sent to the family atwww.arnoldlynch.com

Alan has requested in-lieu of flowers that his friends and family should show love for your fellow man, give generously to those in need and live life to the fullest.

Justice, Power, Gentleness

“Justice, Power, Gentleness”

January 08, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 42:1-9                                      Matthew 3:13-17                                           Acts 10:34-43

 How much do you know about Elon Musk and his rocket company, SpaceX?

I know that most of you have heard of Dr. Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon.

What you may not know, is that these two very different men, from different generations, and entirely different backgrounds have a dream for humanity that is surprisingly similar.

Buzz Aldrin has been a tireless advocate for the support of manned spaceflight and Elon Musk has made it his goal to make spaceflight cheaper by several orders of magnitude.  Okay, I know I lost a few of you with that comment.  I’m an engineer and a math geek so that language is natural to me, but for those of you who have never been especially friendly with math, an “order of magnitude” means something that is divided or multiplied by ten so that when describing it you are moving the decimal by one place.  For example, if something costs $1000, reducing the cost by one order of magnitude would make the price $100 and two orders of magnitude would reduce it to only $10.  So what Elon Musk is attempting, is to reduce the cost of a rocket launch from something like $100 million per launch to $10 million or even $1 million per launch.  That’s a really big deal.

In any case, the vision for humanity that is held by both Buzz Aldrin and Elon Musk is that we, as a species, should attempt, as soon as possible, to land men on Mars and, shortly thereafter, attempt to establish a human colony there.

Not surprisingly, science fiction writers have been thinking about what this would be like for generations.  One thing that is presented as a problem for a moon colony or a Mars colony is that since the gravity of the moon is one-sixth the gravity of Earth, and the gravity of Mars is only one-third that of Earth, when children are eventually born on such a colony, their bones won’t grow the way that our do.  Without a stronger gravity, their bones won’t be as strong as ours and they will likely never be able to come “home” to Earth.

But with that in mind, what I want you to think about is really the opposite.  What if humans were to somehow build a colony on Saturn or Jupiter, or somewhere else where the gravity is much greater than ours?  When those colonists, or their children, returned to Earth, they would be a little bit like Superman.  They would have incredible strength because, to them, the gravity of Earth would affect them the way that the moon’s gravity affected Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and the rest of the Apollo astronauts.  These people would be incredibly strong but would they also remain capable of gentleness and tenderness?  Superman can lift an airplane, but he can still catch Lois Lane without hurting her and Clark Kent can still buy groceries without crushing the eggs in his basket.

I admit that this discussion is a little strange for a Sunday morning, but bear with me because I hope that it will help us to understand a greater truth before we’re done.  We begin this morning once again in Isaiah, this time we are reading from Isaiah 42:1-9, where he continues to look ahead and to describe for the world what the coming messiah will look like.

42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”

Isaiah says that the Spirit of God will be put on the messiah so that he will be able to bring justice to the nations.  But Isaiah also draws for us a dramatic contrast from our natural expectations.  If we are honest with ourselves, whenever we think of someone who is powerful enough to conquer the world and to bring justice to all of the evil and terrible things in the world, whenever we think of a person that is great enough to bring justice to the Adolf Hitlers and Julius Ceasars of the world, and powerful enough to overcome the Roman Empires and the ISIS-es of the world, we almost automatically think of someone who is not only strong and powerful, but also ruthless and perhaps a little wild.

But that is not the picture that Isaiah paints.

The messiah that Isaiah describes is powerful enough to overcome all of the evil in the world, but will not shout, or raise his voice, he will be so tender that he will not break a bruised reed, or snuff out a smoldering wick.  In these two examples, Isaiah describes two things that are more fragile than an eggshell.  If you’ve ever held a candle that was sputtering and drowning in its own wax, you know that one jostle in the wrong direction will smother it.  Likewise, a bruised reed needs only the slightest touch to break it the rest of the way.  And so, what Isaiah describes for us is a messiah that not only has indescribable power, but who is also so self-controlled, so gentle, so caring, and so compassionate, that he will care for even the most fragile among us without breaking them.

Also worth noting is that Isaiah also says that God will make the messiah to be a new covenant for the people and that, while he is sending this incredibly powerful messiah, who will be filled with the Spirit of God, God will not yield his glory to another.  And so, while the messiah is powerful, and filled with God’s Spirit, and is a new covenant for the people of God, he is not someone who is other than God, but perhaps in some way, is God himself.

I am certain that this was a puzzle for everyone who has read this that did not know of Jesus the messiah or who does not believe in what we now call the Trinity.  In this passage, God speaks of himself, of his Spirit, and of his messiah in ways that sound as if they are all somehow separate, and yet are all one God.  And then with the coming of Jesus, we hear these words in Matthew 3:13-17:

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

And again, in that moment, we hear the voice of God, we see the Spirit of God descend, and we also see Jesus who is the object of God’s praise.  And yet again, we remember that God said that he would not yield his glory to another.  And so where does that leave us?  It is a puzzle, but before we’re done let us also consider Peter’s explanation in Acts 10:34-43:

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Peter again emphasizes that Jesus was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and with power and was able to do all the things that he did through the power of God that was with him.  Peter then goes on to say that Jesus died, was raised from the dead, by God, after three days, that Jesus was the messiah that all the prophets had testified about, and that human beings were able to receive forgiveness through the name of Jesus.

 This is an impressive list.

 But nearly all these things are impossible for someone who was no more than just a human being.  No one else, in all of scripture was able to raise the dead simply by commanding them to do so.  No one else was raised from the dead by God in the way that Jesus was.  No one else could ever fulfill the prophecies that were written about God’s messiah.  And if you remember the objections of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, no one has the power to forgive sin, except God himself.

 And again, here we are faced with a puzzle.  How can Jesus be all these things at the same time?  How can God be all these things and yet not yield his glory to another unless Jesus is, himself, God in human flesh?

 The conclusion of countless theologians throughout history is that these three things, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, must somehow, be one and the same, and yet, somehow, exist separately.  I remind you that this word that we use, “Trinity,” appears nowhere in scripture.  It was invented in the first century after Jesus in an attempt to describe the relationship that we’ve been reading about this morning.  But two thousand years later, when we are faced with the facts, from the Old Testament, the Gospel stories, and from the testimony of the New Testament eyewitnesses, we are compelled to come to the same conclusion or one very much like it.

 Jesus is the messiah, sent by God, to bring justice to the nations.  He is the one who has been given supernatural power to overcome evil and bring righteousness to the world.  And yet, he is so in control, so gentle, so compassionate, that even while yielding this incredible, indescribable power, he will not raise his voice or break the most fragile and damaged among us.

There is no alien from another world like that.

There is no human being like that.

The only conclusion is that Jesus…  is… God.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, 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 may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

Finding Peace On Earth

earth-rise“Finding Peace On Earth”

December 24, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

 

Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7                        Titus 2:11-14                             Luke 2:1-20

READINGS:

Reading 1 – Isaiah 9:2-5

2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

Reading 2 – Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
 Reading 3 – Luke 2:1-7

2:1 
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Reading 4 – Luke 2:8-14

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Reading 5 – Luke 2:15-20

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

MEDITATION:

Imagine with me the world to which the prophet Isaiah spoke.  Isaiah wrote from the land of Judah at a time when the Assyrian Empire was growing stronger by the day.  He watched as Judah’s King Ahaz, rather than stand together with Syria and the northern tribes of Israel, allied himself with the Assyrians instead.  Despite Isaiah’s warning to the contrary, Ahaz aided the Assyrians in conquering their neighbors and brothers in Israel.  Everyone could see the handwriting on the wall.  Everyone knew that, eventually, the Assyrians would come for them as well and, although it wouldn’t happen for more than a hundred years, Isaiah wrote about the eventual conquest of Judah, the captivity of both Israel and Judah in Babylon, the rise of power of Cyrus the Persian, and the return of the Jews to Israel and Judah after seventy years of captivity, as well as the Messiah that was to come.

Although these were dark days, Isaiah wrote about the light that was coming that would dispel the darkness.  Although the people were oppressed, Isaiah wrote about the freedom that would come.  Although they were surrounded by armies and warfare and bloodshed, Isaiah wrote about a child who would be the Prince of Peace.  Isaiah proclaimed that a day was coming when a rescuer would come from God who would have the authority to bring about endless peace and he would establish his kingdom not with force and oppression, but with justice and righteousness.

More than seven hundred years later, in a land occupied by foreign armies, and to a people who were also well acquainted with violence, oppression, warfare, and bloodshed,  angels appear in the skies over a band of shepherds and declare that the day prophecied by Isaiah had finally come.  “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

Two thousand years later, we still remember that night and we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the rescuer and redeemer of all humanity, and yet, much like the people in the time of Isaiah, and in the time of the shepherds, we too are a people who are all too familiar with violence, oppression, warfare and bloodshed.  And we still look forward to the day when the boots of our soldiers and all of their bloodstained uniforms will be thrown into the fire.  We look forward to the end of darkness, and oppression, and death.  We look forward to the day when there will be endless peace and Jesus Christ will rule over all the earth with justice and righteousness.

But while we wait, we must also remember the instructions contained in the words of the prophet Titus who said (Titus 2:11-14):

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly,13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

While we wait for the return of Jesus we have work to do.  Amid the chaos of the world in which we live, we are to pursue purity, and live lives that are self-controlled, righteous, and godly.  Jesus came, and surrendered his life, so that we could be rescued from sin and death, and to be transformed into a people who are passionate about doing good.

And so, while we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, and while we look forward to the return of Jesus Christ, until that time, his work falls to us.  Until Jesus sits on the throne and brings peace and justice to the world, we are called by God to do whatever we can to bring godliness, justice, righteousness, purity, and yes, peace, into the world in which we live.

I admit it’s a big job.  It’s huge.  It’s enormous.

But it is possible.

With.        God’s.        Help.

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, 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 may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Keys to Hope or Despair?

“Keys: Hope or Despair?”

September 25, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: 1 Timothy 6:6-19                           Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

 

We’ve all read about the roaring twenties, the stock market crash, and the Great Depression that followed.  But what we often forget is that, while a great many Americans suffered, there were several people who made enormous sums of money because of the stock market crash.  I have heard stories that while the Rockefellers were rich before the crash, they became very rich afterward because they had already begun to withdraw money from the stock markets before the crash, and then used that money to buy up real estate at 20 cents on the dollar during the depression.

Likewise, Joe Kennedy, Sr., patriarch of the Kennedy family that we often read about, made a lot of money speculating on stocks in the 1920’s, along with a healthy portion of insider trading and market manipulation. Joe Kennedy knew when to get out of the stock market, and got out before the crash.  He then took his money and invested it in real estate, liquor, and movie studios, all of which made huge profits and built his family fortune to lofty heights and landed it among the highest echelons of the American rich.

But when I mention these things, I’m sure that some of you are wondering, “So, what can the Great Depression have to do with the Bible?”  But as odd as it may seem, there is a scene in scripture that is eerily similar to the days before the stock markets crashed.  In Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15, the prophet Jeremiah has warned the king of the impending invasion by the Babylonian army and the imminent defeat of Israel.  But no one wants to hear bad news.  Instead of doing something about it, let alone listening to God’s instructions, the king imprisons Jeremiah in the palace courtyard.  But even from there, Jeremiah hears from God and, by his obedience and attitude, gives hope for the future.

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

Now Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him there, saying, “Why do you prophesy as you do? You say, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am about to give this city into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will capture it.

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah is imprisoned in the guardhouse of the palace, but there he hears from God and is told that his cousin will soon arrive with an offer to sell him his uncle’s farm.  Of course, Jeremiah has been telling everyone, and it is becoming increasingly feared, that the Babylonian army is about to capture the city.  So if that is true, then what follows is likely to be profoundly unpleasant.  Everyone knows how brutal the Babylonians are and they know that slavery or death is probably in their future.  So why would anyone, particularly someone like Jeremiah who believes, and has been preaching, that this is going to happen, why would someone like that go to the trouble of buying property that they will likely never be able to use?  And the simple answer is… hope.  God has not only announced that Israel would be defeated, but that, sometime, in the future, likely in the lifetime of Jeremiah or his children, the land of Israel will once again be bought and sold.  Buying one that field is both an act of faith in God and a demonstration of hope for the future.  By witnessing, or even hearing about, Jeremiah’s purchase, the people of God know that even though horrible things are about to happen, Israel will once again exist as a nation, the economy will be rebuilt, and normal life will return.

It seems like a small thing, the purchase of one small field.  But the attitude behind it, an attitude of obedience and hope, is enough to stand above the panic and bring hope to an entire city.  Jeremiah demonstrates that our attitude makes a huge difference in our lives, but also that it makes a difference whether or not we pursue the things of God, or, like the king of Israel, pursue instead our own gratification and self-importance. And then in 1 Timothy 6:6-19, Paul takes that same message and makes it personal.

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

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

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

Paul says that it is often our own desires that harm us and bring us to ruin.  God told the king of Israel that he was going to lose, but if he surrendered, that most everyone would be unharmed.  His ego caused him to ignore God and imprison his messenger.  Paul says that each of us do the same thing when we love money more than God.  It is our love of money, and our pursuit of it, that causes us grief and suffering.  Instead of dedicating our lives to pursuing wealth, or fame, or power, or the accumulation of belongings, or comfort, or any number of other things we are called to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.  Paul condemns the rich not because they are rich, but because they are arrogant and put their hope in money instead of God.  Instead, the standard by which we are measured, rich and poor alike, is whether or not we do good with the things that we have been given, to be rich in doing good deeds for others, and for being generous with what we have.

For Jeremiah and for Paul, the key to contentment and true wealth can be found simply by having the right attitude.  Chasing after money, or power, or fame and putting those things, or anything, ahead of our pursuit of God, takes us down a path of grief, pain, suffering, and despair.  But pursuing the things of God, righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness take us down an entirely different path toward faith, contentment, and hope.

Life is all about choices, but each choice opens another door down a path.

Which path will you choose?

Will you put God first?

Or something else?

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, 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 may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

From Fear to Fruitfulness

“From Fear to Fruitfulness”
December 13, 2015
(Third Sunday of Advent)
By John Partridge

Scripture: Zephaniah 3:14-20    Philippians 4:4-7    Luke 3:7-18

We begin today with an easy question.

Have you ever been afraid?

Almost certainly, every single one of us can answer that “Yes” we have been afraid. But after that simple answer, things quickly get a lot more difficult.

We have all been afraid at one time or another. We might have been afraid of a bully, afraid of losing, afraid of looking foolish in front of our family or friends, when we were expecting babies or held them for the first time we were afraid of what the future might hold, we have been afraid as we watched loved ones spend their last moments on earth or as we attended their funerals and were forced to face a future without them, we were afraid as we sent our children off to school for the first time, or watched them leave for college, or move out of our homes as they started lives and families of their own. There are a great many moments in our lives when fear has crept in.

For the moment, I want you to find one of those places of fear inside of yourself and remember what it was like. Hold on to that feeling for just a moment, and imagine what the people of Israel might have felt as Zephaniah proclaims that God is about to bring judgment upon the nations of the world, Including Judah and Israel, because of their unbelief. At that moment, during the life of the prophet Jeremiah, the Scythians, a nation that had migrated out of what is now Russia, perhaps similar to the Mongols who would come later, had crossed into their nation and had destroyed the fortresses of both Ashdod and Ashkelon and only stopped at the Egyptian border when Pharaoh Psamtik paid them off. Soon, the Babylonians would rise to power, defeat the Assyrians and would also come into the lands of Canaan destroying cities, killing and capturing anyone who got in their way.

Fear was real.

And so, into that environment, Zephaniah pours gasoline on the fire of their fear by proclaiming God’s coming judgment. But… before he is finished, God also gives hope for the future with these words: (Zephaniah 3:14-20).

14 Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
Daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
16 On that day
they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”

18 “I will remove from you
all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,
which is a burden and reproach for you.
19 At that time I will deal
with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame;
I will gather the exiles.
I will give them praise and honor
in every land where they have suffered shame.
20 At that time I will gather you;
at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
before your very eyes,”
says the Lord.

Although judgment is coming, be glad. Although things look grim, do not fear. Never again will God leave you. Never again will you fear harm because God is the Mighty Warrior. God will deal with those who oppress you. God will rescue you and gather those who have been scattered. God says, “I will bring you home.”

Even though God’s people are afraid, and even though the worst is yet to come, God is already moving them toward hope and restoration.

Interestingly, in Luke 3:7-18, as John the Baptist proclaims the coming of the Messiah, his message is very similar. John proclaims the coming of judgment but also offers helpful instruction… and hope.

7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

I cannot remember a single time when I have taken classes on preaching or public speaking, when we have been advised to begin a message by openly insulting and taunting our listeners. In fact, I am virtually certain that this is a bad idea most of the time. But this is exactly what John does. I told the children last week that John was probably considered, by most people, to be pretty weird and this is yet another example of that. John begins by calling everyone snakes, and begins talking about judgment and the wrath of God.
According to John, no one can be saved because they were born in the church, born to people who went to church, or because they themselves go to church. For John, the only real measure of godliness is the fruit that grows out of repentance.

Today, some of us would almost certainly have a follow-up question because we wonder what the fruit of repentance would look like, and the people in the crowd felt exactly the same way. John’s answer to that very question is to share what you have with people who don’t have any. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked. But even that isn’t enough because some people want to know specifics. Tax collectors, who were widely considered to be cheats, scoundrels, and collaborating with the enemy, are told to just do their jobs as honestly as they could. Soldiers, who were, in fact, the enemy, were told to do their job, not to take money they weren’t entitled to take, and not to accuse innocent people. It is interesting to note, that although both of these groups were widely hated because of what they did, John did not advise them to quit or to change jobs, but simply to do them honestly.

John then tells the people of the coming Messiah who will bring judgment as he separates the wheat (which is fruit) from the chaff (which is basically useless). Overall, John encouraged, admonished, advised and appealed to the people that they should hear the good news of the coming Messiah.

As we have been working our way through the Advent season, we have spoken often of repentance and the need to get our hearts right before God, but John tells us that repentance is just the first step. What comes next, producing fruit, is just as critical. Fruit trees without fruit will be cut down and burned in the fire. The wheat and the chaff will be separated and the useless chaff burned in the fire. John warns everyone, including us, that our purpose is to live a life of fruitfulness, to do our jobs well, but honestly, and to willingly share what we have with those who do not have.

But just in case we were still a little unclear on what a life of fruitfulness would look like, the Apostle Paul provides a little more detail in Philippians 4:4-7.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s addition to John’s teaching is to rejoice and give thanks always for the things that God has done and for the things that God is doing. But Paul also says that our gentleness should be obvious to everyone around us, and that is a harder thing for some of us to do. In our culture, many of us have found that weakness is scorned and strength is honored and so we, both men and women, have often cultivated a sort of public fierceness in order to appear strong. Paul’s instruction reminds us that gentleness is also necessary. Jesus was a stone mason. He worked with his hands and was no stranger to hard labor. Jesus was no wimp and was not afraid to defy the Temple guards as he overturned tables and stared down mobs that didn’t like his teaching. But at the same time, Jesus was known for his gentleness and self-control with women and children.

Additionally, the followers of Jesus Christ should not worry about anything but instead spend their time praying about their problems and giving thanks for what God was doing. Paul says that when we do these things, then we will find peace that is far beyond all human understanding.

And so the road that we travel from fear to fruitfulness may not be easy, but it ends in a truly wonderful place.

It is no coincidence that at the end of that journey, the person that we find is the same one of whom the angels sang…

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14, KJV)

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 You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, 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 may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at http://www.scribd.com/Pastor John Partridge. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.