Visions of Home

“Visions of Home”
July 19, 2015
By John Partridge


2 Samuel 7:1-14

Ephesians 2:11-22

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Over the years I have made a number of friends who were born in other countries. Some of them were in the United States for a limited time and others had come here to become American citizens and to make a new life. In either case, when they told stories of home, it was much, much different than simply reading stories about that place from a book. When these people told stories, the descriptions were alive with details of sights, sounds, smells, family and friends. When you heard their stories, you could feel the connection that they had, that their heart had, with a place called home. You can hear it in the voice of someone who was born in the south when they talk about the smell of magnolias in the springtime, or when fans talk about the baseball stadiums where they saw their first game. Their voices change and suddenly the story isn’t just a story, it comes alive, because in it, are visions of home.

This morning we are going to read three very different stories, stories which, at first, don’t seem to have a lot in common, but which, in the end, all include these very sorts of visions… visions of home.

We begin in 2 Samuel 7:1-14, where we find King David, resting in his newly constructed palace reflecting on the fact that the Arc of the Covenant was still kept in the Tabernacle, the tent, that Moses had made in the desert a thousand years earlier. Granted, it was a nice tent, and undoubtedly well maintained, but something still didn’t seem right about it…

7:1 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

3 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

4 But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:

5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. 7 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

8 “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son.

This is a great story and we can draw a lot of lessons from it, but today we’re looking behind it just a little bit. Today we are listening for that change of voice, that vision of home, and some insight into the nature of God. And in that sense, there are a couple of things that I heard. First, God says that he was never really concerned about where, on earth, that he lived. He never commanded that he live in a gold-plated palace. Being a nomad, wandering from place to place, never bothered him. Second, God promises that God is the one who is the ultimate builder. He is the one who is building the kingdom; he is the one who made David a king, and he is the one who is building our future. Third, God tells David that despite all the great things that he has done, he is not the one that God has chosen to build his house. In another passage of scripture God insists that because David is a man of blood, because he was a warrior, he is not to be the one who builds God’s house. Instead, God will choose David’s son, Solomon, who was a man of peace.

In Mark 6:30-34, 53-56, we hear this story that, at first sounds completely unrelated.

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

At first this seems pretty random. At least until we start looking for those visions of home, and then we realize something about Jesus’ personality. Even when they were worn out and dog tired from all the time that they had already spent ministering to other people and caring for their needs, even when they were so tired that Jesus said, “Let’s get out of here for a while and take a break,” even then they still did more ministry.


Even when they had every right to take break and get some rest, Jesus kept on teaching crowds of people and healing as many as could be brought to him.


Because, our scripture tells us, Jesus had compassion. Jesus cared about people. Jesus cared about their suffering. Jesus cared what they knew and how they thought. Jesus cared so much that his own comfort, even his own rest and his own sleep, were put aside until they could be taken care of. And that is a vision of home. It tells us something about how Jesus thought and felt, and it tells us something about his father and the things that are important to God. It tells us a little about what God’s home must be like. If Jesus cared so much about people who live here on earth, how much more must God care about the people in his own house?

Finally we arrive at Ephesians 2:11-22. Here again, this passage of scripture, appears to be a random selection that has nothing at all to do with the first two, but again we need to listen for that tone of voice that gives us a vision of home.

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Paul is talking about Jesus. How Jesus came, not to bring peace, but to be peace. Jesus came to bring hostile groups together, to bring people together, and to make peace, not only between groups of people, not only on earth, but to bring peace between human beings and God. Not only to bring people together, but to bring human beings and God together.

Paul says that, because of Jesus, we are no longer strangers to God. We are no longer strangers and foreigners regardless of our differences, regardless of the color of our skin, and regardless of our nationality. And if that is what Jesus was doing on earth, just imagine what that means in his own house.

And so, even though you won’t find a chapter of the Bible that tells you all about heaven, if we look carefully, we can find, behind scriptures like these, glimpses and hints of what Jesus’ home must be like.

From these short passages we found that God is building his kingdom, not in a gold plated palace, but in the lives and hearts of human being beings. God is also building our future, he is moving us to places we need to go and bringing people into our lives that we need to meet so that we can have the life that God intends. God is a god of peace. Even though he loved David and called him a man after God’s own heart, he wanted the world to see that the builder of God’s house had to be a man of peace and not a man of war and blood. And that was a foreshadowing, a preview, of the Messiah that was to come. Jesus was not a man of war but a man of peace, a savior who not only brought peace into the world; he came into the world to be peace, to bring people together, and to bring peace between humanity and God. Jesus was a man who was so filled with compassion that he set aside his own needs to bring comfort and healing to others.

In all of these passages, and in many others, we see glimpses of God’s character and clues to what we will find in heaven. Jesus has invited everyone to come; all are welcome regardless of the color of your skin, or nationality, or personality or anything else. We are invited to a house so filled with compassion that there will no longer be suffering or pain or death, a place where there will be no strangers nor will we be strangers to God.

These are just a few of the things we can find in scripture when we read carefully.

These are examples of how we can begin to live our lives here and now, lives filled with peace, love and compassion toward others, even when they appear different and strange to us.

These are images of the future.

Visions of home.

A Promise Kept

“A Promise Kept”
July 12, 2015
By John Partridge


2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

Ephesians 1:3-14

Mark 6:14-29

After General Douglas MacArthur escaped from the Philippines in March of 1942, he famously proclaimed “I came out of Bataan and I shall return!” More recently, the Terminator robot, played by Arnold Swarzenegger, announces in several movies in the franchise, “I’ll be back.” A great many people have promised an even greater number of things, but most often those promises aren’t worth much. All we have to do to remember how fragile a promise is, is to remember the promises of our political candidates, or the treaties that our nation made, and broke, with the American Indian tribes. Chief Joseph once said, “It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and the broken promises.” Actress Mae West may have summed it up best when she said, “An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.”

A promise only has value if the one who promises is willing and able to keep it.

And that is the pivotal thought behind all of today’s scriptures. We begin in 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19, where we find both David and God keeping promises that were made to one another and to God’s people.

6:1 David again brought together all the able young men of Israel—thirty thousand. 2 He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. 3 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart 4 with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. 5 David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.

So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

16 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the LORD. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.

God had given the Ark of the Covenant to the people of Israel but it had been lost for many years to the Philistines. No matter where it had been kept in the Philistine nation it caused problems, sickness and death and so they eventually allowed it to return to Israel’s control. Even then, it had been kept in the home of an ordinary Israelite because Saul had little interest in it. But David was different. As David began to make Jerusalem into his capitol city, he wanted to bring honor to God and to Israel, by bringing the ark home. Instead of ignoring the ark, David held it in high honor and brought the ark back with fanfare, praise, joy, dancing and celebration. Michal, David’s wife and also the daughter of Saul, despised David and although scripture doesn’t tell us why, perhaps it is because David’s dancing and celebrating didn’t look proper for a king, or perhaps it was because God was keeping his promises through David instead of through her father Saul.

In Mark 6:14-29, King Herod makes a promise that he would like to get out of, but, because he made the promise in public, he honors his promise in the most gruesome way.

14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying] “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Herod was known to be an unpleasant, unpredictable, and outright dangerous man, but he had both the power and the willingness to keep his promise and he did.

In Ephesians 1:3-14, the Apostle Paul describes for us one of the most important and most powerful promises in all of scripture.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Paul explains that the followers of Jesus Christ were known by God before the creation of the world. We are redeemed by Jesus Christ, rescued from the destruction at the end of the world, and rescued from sin and death because of the grace and mercy of God. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ we trust that he is both willing and able to do what he has said that he will do.

We trust that God will keep his promises.

But in Paul’s description he makes two incredibly important points. First, he says that God has “adopted us to sonship,” which sounds nice, but is an even bigger deal than it appears. The Greek word that we translate as “adoption to sonship” is a Greek legal term with a specific meaning. In Roman culture, it refers to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir. That means that God’s invitation to us, and acceptance of us, is not just an invitation to be his servants, nor is it just to stay at his house, nor is it to be honored guests. It is nothing less than to become, legally, sons and daughters of the King of the Universe, the creator of everything, and legally equivalent to Jesus Christ himself.

That, my friends, is a really big deal.

The second important point is that when you believed, that very moment when you put your trust and faith in Jesus Christ, God marked you with a seal, a deposit, that marks you as his, and guarantees your inheritance until the time comes for your full redemption. At the moment that we put our faith in Jesus Christ, God sends the Holy Spirit to take up residence in us so that he can use his power to work on us and through us, but also as a deposit that symbolizes the promise of our ultimate redemption.

For those of you old enough to remember, soft drinks used to come in glass bottles that legally, belonged to Coca-Cola or Pepsi, or whoever had originally manufactured them. On each bottle was a guarantee that if you returned them to the store, the owner would redeem them, he would pay you for them and retake possession of them. Likewise, for many years, our American currency was backed by gold and silver and each bill of paper currency had a seal on it which said, “This certifies that there have been deposited in the treasury of the United States, five silver dollars, payable to the bearer on demand.” If you had a five dollar silver certificate, you could, at any time, take it to the bank and redeem it for real actual silver. Likewise, gold certificates could be redeemed for gold. The seal on the bill was a symbol of the bill’s true value.

And that is Paul’s message. We were sentenced to death but the penalty has already been paid. We had a price on our heads, but that price has been paid in the blood of Jesus Christ. We belong to him and we have been marked with a seal that indicates that we belong to God’s family. We carry with us, every day, God’s mark upon our lives, that we belong to him and that, when the time comes, we will be redeemed and returned to him.

That too, is a really big deal.

A promise is only as good as the integrity of the one who makes the promise.

A promise only has value if the one who promises is willing and able to keep it.

General MacArthur kept his promise.

The Terminator and King Herod kept their promises.

“An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.” – Mae West

Our message today reminds us that God is able.

God always keeps his promises. Our future is guaranteed because we have put our trust in Jesus Christ.

Our challenge is to be not only the kind of people who trust God, but the kind of people who keep their promises to God, the kind of people who keep their promises to one another, and the kind of people who keep their promises to others.

Our challenge…

…is to be the kind of people who are worthy of trust.

They weren’t Superman, but they did the impossible because…

“With God’s Help”
July 05, 2015
By John Partridge


2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Mark 6:1-13

What would you do if you could do anything in the world?

That is one of the questions that I have heard as career counselors and advisers try to help young people to discover their passion and choose a college major or to find a career.

If you had ten million dollars and didn’t have to worry about making a living, what would you do everyday?

If you could do anything in the world, and you knew that you couldn’t fail, what would you do?

These are the kind of questions that spur our imagination and invite us to dream, but they can also lead us, as followers of Jesus Christ, to attempt great things for God. If our church could do anything, what would we do? Of course there are always practical and physical limits in the real world. The technology of the twenty first century in which we live will not allow us to build floating cities in the sky, terraform Mars, or colonize other planets and at least for the time being, humans cannot fly, grow gills, and live underwater.

Our world has limits…

…but more often than not, the limits that we put on ourselves are far greater than the real limits of our world. We imagine limits that do not exist and more than that, scripture tells us that we can surpass and exceed many of our imagined limits when we are doing the things that God has called us to do. Remember that David, the youngest and smallest in his family was selected to be Israel’s next king? Remember that he defeated Goliath, with God’s help? Remember that even though Saul and the entire army of Israel were hunting for him, David and his small band of friends were able to stay one step ahead for years at a time and even given the opportunity to kill king Saul (but didn’t) on several occasions? Remember the miracles that Jesus performed… with God’s help? Or the miracles that Samuel, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, and many other prophets of God performed… with God’s help? Or the multitudes of other ordinary men and women in scripture who did great things, things beyond what others thought possible, and sometimes even beyond what science thinks is physically possible? They did these things, not because they were born on the planet Krypton and were Superman, but because they did them (say it with me)… with God’s help.

In 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10, we hear this story as David, who is already the king of Judah, also now becomes the king of Israel, and by doing so unites all 12 tribes of Abraham into one nation…

5:1 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. 2 In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the LORD said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”

3 When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel.

4 David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. 5 In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

9 David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. 10 And he became more and more powerful, because the LORD God Almighty was with him.

Remember that David was anointed as king by the prophet Samuel years before, but it took a long time to actually become king. For seven and a half years he had been king of the southern tribes of Judah and now, finally, he is anointed yet again and become the king of a united nation. As king, David continues to build the nation of Israel into an international power both militarily and economically. And our scripture tells us that “he became more and more powerful, because the LORD God Almighty was with him.” David, for all his good looks and fighting skill, became increasingly powerful and transformed his nation… with God’s help.

In 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Paul tells a story about himself. He tells the church how he had been given a vision by God but also some kind of disability that plagued his entire life.

2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul was given great gifts by God. He had been given a marvelous vision of heaven and had met Jesus on the Damascus road, but at the same time he also received what he calls a thorn in his flesh. We don’t know what that was but it was something which caused him to pray for relief. Many people have speculated on what Paul’s thorn might have been. I have heard guesses that range from stuttering, to other speech impediments, epilepsy, lameness, some kind of facial ugliness, and we can guess any number of other things like an impacted wisdom tooth, but at the end of the day all we know is that it bothered him a lot, Paul prayed that God would take it away, and that God said “No.” But God’s refusal causes Paul to praise God and boast in God’s power even more.

Whatever it is, Paul regards his thorn in the flesh as some kind of weakness. Because of this weakness, whatever it was, Paul’s success in ministry and his endurance in the face of opposition, beatings, imprisonments, and other hardships is to be seen as even more amazing and miraculous. Paul wants us to know that when we are weak, when we have imperfections, problems, and “thorns in the flesh,” then it becomes even more obvious when God is working through us. Paul’s message is that even though we are weak, we are able to do great things…

…with God’s help.

And finally today we come back to Jesus, but in a way that makes even more certain that we know that the message applies to us. We spoke last week about how Jesus was 100 percent human and that God’s miracles were the power of God acting through him, but if you had any doubts at all, this week’s scripture should put that doubt to rest as well. In Mark 6:1-13, we see Jesus when he is powerless, and ordinary followers when they perform miracles.

6:1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

When Jesus returns to his hometown, the people were amazed at his preaching, but not in the same way that people normally were. Here the people are amazed that Jesus says the things that he says, not because of the power and authority with which he says them, but because he is a hometown kid. The people cannot see Jesus as a savior, teacher, or prophet because all they can see is the son of a carpenter. Jesus cannot do the things that he normally does… because no one has faith.

But afterward, Jesus sends his disciples out, two by two, and gives them the authority to command impure spirits and to perform other miracles. And these ordinary men (and soon he will send out even more followers, both men and women) carrying nothing except a walking stick, go out, preach, drive out demons, anoint the sick, and heal many people. Jesus could not perform miracles because the people in his hometown had no faith, but the disciples went from town to town, drove out demons, and healed the sick. They demonstrated God’s power working through them because they had little or nothing of their own. Whatever they did, was done through faith…

…with God’s help.

If you could do anything in the world, and you knew that you couldn’t fail, what would you do?

If Trinity Church could do anything in the world, and we knew that we couldn’t fail, what would we do?

Let us imagine, dream, and pray together to hear what God might be calling us to do. Because we can do incredible, amazing, and even impossible things…

…with God’s help.

Faith and Power

Faith and Power

June 28, 2015

By John Partridge

Scripture: Mark 5:21-43

    Last week, we read the story about David and his battle with Goliath and we remembered that even though David was just a boy, and even though Goliath was twice his size, well armored, experienced, battle hardened, and incredibly strong, the battle itself was not about swords, armor and brute strength. David understood that and he wanted to be sure that everyone else did too. David knew that the real battle was not between Goliath’s strength and David’s inexperience, but between the physical strength of Goliath, backed up by the power of the armies of the Philistines, against the faith of David and the power and strength of his God, the creator of the universe and all that is.

It was never even close.

Because David understood, and because his faith allowed him to see what others could not, he had the courage to do what others, others who were older, stronger, and more experienced, were afraid to even try.

In Mark 5:21-43, we hear two stories that reveal the true strength of Jesus, but also the power that was revealed in the faith of others.

21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

While Jesus was on earth, he was fully (100%) human but, at the same time, fully (100%) God in human flesh. We have trouble with that. In our world, that math doesn’t work. In the physical world that we inhabit, you can’t be 200 percent of anything but God is more than a physical thing. God is a spiritual being and so, in God’s math, Jesus could be, and was, 100% human in the physical world but also 100% divine in the spiritual world. We don’t really understand how that works, and we wrestle with it, but we know that it is true.

Jesus is on the way to see a sick little girl, when a woman who has suffered for years with a chronic illness, pushes through the crowd to see him. She can’t quite reach him but she believes that Jesus’ power is great enough that all she has to do is to touch his clothing. And so she reaches through the crowd, through a tangle of arms and legs and shoulders, and touches the edge of his jacket. Immediately, she is healed, and even before she realizes that she is better, Jesus knows that the power of God has flowed through him and into her. What Jesus doesn’t know, is who she is.

This is one of those puzzles where we struggle with Jesus’ divinity. How did Jesus know that she had been healed but not know who she was. We really don’t know. But Jesus was human. He knew, he felt, God’s power flow through him, but in the press of the crowd, he couldn’t tell who had been on the receiving end. Since the woman had reached through the crowd, she might have already been several rows back from where Jesus was. But she had been healed just the same. Jesus didn’t see her, or pray over her, or recite some religious incantation, God had done all the work, through Jesus, simply because of the strength of the faith of this courageous woman.

Later, in the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus tells Jairus to ignore the people who have given up. The entire household gave up because they know that the girl is dead and that a healer is of no use. But Jesus is no ordinary healer. Jesus tells Jairus not to be afraid, but only to believe. The girl is restored to life, not only because Jesus wielded great power (which he did), but because Jairus had faith.

When we remember that Jesus was fully human, we begin to see the real power in these stories. The power did not reside only in Jesus, but in the faith of those who were healed. Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead because of Jairus’ faith. Jesus didn’t even know that the sick woman was in need of healing but she was healed because of the power and strength of her faith. David was able to defeat Goliath because he was the only one who had the faith to trust that God was able.

More often than not, we do not witness the power of God because, like Saul and his army, we lack the faith to trust that God can do it.

Our regular and fervent prayer must be for God to grow our faith so that Jesus Christ can do his work through us.

Learning to See (Part 2 – The World)

Learning to See (Part 2 – The World)
June 21, 2015
By John Partridge

Scripture: 1 Samuel 17: 1-11, 20-24, 32-49 Mark Mark 4:35-41 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

You may not have heard of Franz Harary, but you have probably seen his work. Franz Harary designed all of the illusions that were used on Michael Jackson’s 1984 Victory tour, the 1989 Super Bowl, and he has levitated the Taj Mahal, and made both the Sphinx and the Space Shuttle disappear. In addition to Mr. Harary, most of us have seen Siegfried and Roy make lions and tigers disappear and practically everyone remembers watching David Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty disappear.

Although these folks, and people like them, are often called magicians, many of them insist that they be referred to as illusionists, which is a more accurate description. What these men and women do is not magic, but an illusion designed to make you see what isn’t there, not see what is there, and in general make their audience believe that they saw something that they really didn’t see.

Last week we discussed how we live in two worlds at the same time, a physical world and a spiritual world. Although we live in these two worlds, we cannot always see everything that exists in the spiritual world regardless of the reality of those things. It isn’t that they are an illusion, but that we are unable to see everything that exists in our reality. In 1 Samuel 17 we discover that David, even though he was too young to fight in the army, was able to see what others could not. (1 Samuel 17:1-11, 20-24, 32-49)

Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah.

They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. 2 Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. 3 The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.

4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. [about 9’9’] 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels[125 lb.]; 6 on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. [15 lb.] His shield bearer went ahead of him.

8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

While this is happening, David, being too young to go to battle, is at home watching the sheep but his father sends him to the front with food for his brothers and a gift for their commander.

20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.

Everyone, that is, except David. David is furious that Goliath is making all sorts of threats and insults against God and his people and so despite being too young to be in the army, he goes to King Saul and volunteers to fight the giant.

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.”

38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”

45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

In last week’s scripture lesson we learned that God saw people differently than we do, but here we see that God sees the world differently than we do, and that God’s people can learn to see the world, to see reality, like it really is. To the world, and to most of Israel’s army, Goliath looked unbeatable. He was over nine feet tall in a day when we know average men were rarely much over five feet tall. What the soldiers saw was a giant who was almost twice their size, wearing armor that weighed nearly as much as they did, and carrying a spear whose head weighed as much as two gallons of water. At first that might not sound like much, but if you want to try this out, remember that a spear is usually at least as tall as the man that carries it. So take a stick that’s as tall as you are, tie two gallons of water at the end of it (feel free to use a big rock or a bowling ball), grab the stick in the middle and try to throw it. I doubt that you will throw it very far. Goliath must have been huge.

Everyone could easily see that defeating him looked impossible.

But David wasn’t looking with eyes that saw only one world. David saw this world through the lens of another, spiritual world. When everyone else looked at Goliath they saw a giant. What David saw was a man who, although far larger (probably every bit of twice as large) than David, but who was much, much smaller than David’s God. With God’s help, David, despite his youth, had already defeated a lion and bear, both of which were much larger than he was, and so David knew that, with God’s help, Goliath would be no different.

Because David knew and trusted God, he saw the entire world in a different way.

Jesus teaches the disciples this same lesson in Mark 4:35-41.

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

To the disciples, the storm, a completely natural phenomenon, was totally outside of their control. Everyone knows that the weather does whatever it will do and human beings don’t have much of anything to say about it. But that is only a part of the complete reality. Jesus sees the unseen. Jesus sees the spiritual part of a natural world, and by seeing the spiritual world, Jesus understood reality in a different way. In seeing the complete reality, the reality of the natural world and the reality of the spiritual world, Jesus knew that the natural world answered to God. The lesson that Jesus teaches the disciples is that through faith, with God’s help, we are able to do things that would otherwise seem to be naturally impossible.

In 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Paul explains that they did whatever they could to be good servants of God and some of the things that they did seem to be, at first, odd and not at all what most people would do to be a good servant.

Paul says that they through “great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

The list that Paul presents doesn’t make much sense unless we realize that there is more to the world than just the natural, physical world that we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch with our senses. But when we are able to see and understand the world that is unseen, we are able to do far more, with God’s help, than might be expected by people who can only see and understand the natural world.

We have seen this kind of vision in the horrible shooting in Charlotte this week. Although the entire nation is horrified at this kind of hatred and violence, and rightly so, the families of those who were murdered have been gracious and forgiving with one of them, publicly forgiving their sister’s murderer all because they know that this reality is not all that there is. They know that death is not the end that it appears to be and they know that although their loved ones have been taken from them, they will once again, be reunited.

The world we live in is not an illusion and neither is the spiritual world.

We live in two worlds and, apart from God, we can only see one of them. But with faith, devotion, study, and with God’s help, we can learn to see, feel, and experience the whole world, the real reality, in a new and powerful way.

The King is a Fink!

“King: Demon, Lunatic, or Fink?”
June 07, 2015
By John Partridge

Scripture: 1 Samuel 8:4-20            Mark 3:20-35               2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

How many of you read the comics in the newspapers?

Those of you that do are probably familiar with Brant Parker’s “Wizard of Id” comic. In the comic, it is understood that the king is not a particularly good ruler. He is focused on his own wealth and pleasure over any concerns that he might have for the welfare of the people. One recurring line voiced not only by the convict, Bung, but often by anonymous sources, and even by entire crowds as they listen to the king’s speeches is the phrase. “The King is a Fink!” In the comics, this is usually a punchline and the reader is meant to find humor in it, but in real life, this same sentiment can be deadly serious. In 1 Samuel 8:4-20, the people cry out for a king like other nations have, and Samuel warns them that any human king, apart from God, will be a fink.

4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

My first reaction while reading this was that it would be nice if the king only took ten percent… but aside from that, Samuel’s point was that a king, or any kind of a government, regardless of how benevolent, will ultimately demand more from you than God does. In Samuel’s view, any king is a fink because he will take away your children, demand a portion of your labor, a portion of your property, and take the best of the things that you have for his own use and give some to his friends. But regardless of Samuel’s arguments, the people want to be like everybody else. They want an earthly king instead of God.

But after hundreds of years, perhaps a thousand years, under the rule of an earthly king, after several devastating wars in which their entire nation was destroyed and the people carried off in to captivity, after a succession of kings who were ungodly as well as flat-out horrible rulers who were angry, vindictive and mean, and finally after decades under the rule of a foreign nation with legions of soldiers who occupied their country to insure their obedience, Israel realized that Samuel had been right all along. After years of abuse Israel began to pray for a rescuer. It didn’t take a thousand years, people had been praying for rescue for a very long time, but God doesn’t change his mind right away. Samuel had said, “When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” And so, when the people began to pray for rescue from the very kings that they had begged for, God did as he said he would do, and took his time.

But finally, God did send his rescuer and he wasn’t what they expected. (Mark 3:20-35)

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

So many people packed into the house to see Jesus that the disciples were unable to eat. Now, I have been in some crowded places that were sometimes packed shoulder to shoulder, but how tightly do you have to be pressed in, so that you can’t get your hand from your plate to your mouth? That is a lot of people. But even as Jesus is attracting this sort of crowd because of his preaching and his natural charisma, others are alarmed at his popularity. Jesus’ family worries that he is crazy. In today’s language Jesus would be accused of having delusions of grandeur because he had the outrageous idea that the son of a carpenter could preach and proclaim the words of God. The teachers of the law, who themselves may have come from parents of humble professions, aren’t concerned that he is the son of a carpenter, but that his preaching is more popular than theirs. Their fear causes them to accuse Jesus of being possessed and controlled by Satan.

Jesus corrects, or at least argues with, the teachers that, logically, he cannot be demon possessed because someone possessed by a demon, could not, sensibly, cast out demons. But Jesus doesn’t answer his family at all except to say that anyone who does the will of God is his brother, sister and mother. Those who are going in the right direction, God’s direction, are his family and those who are not, regardless of their blood relationship, should be left behind.

The problem that everyone had with Jesus was that he is a different sort of a king. Jesus was different than anyone that they had ever met. Jesus was not a fink, nor was he crazy or demon possessed.

Jesus was something entirely different.

Paul understood that this difference exists because we live in two different worlds.

(2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1)
13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

Every king that the people had known had been an earthly king. After the thousand years since the time of David, no one could remember what it had been like for God to be their king. Everyone thought that fink-y kings were normal. Israel had gotten what they had asked for, they had kings that were just like the kings that everyone else had. There were some good ones, but many of them were immature, unfaithful, angry, vengeful, greedy, lustful, and sometimes almost purely evil.

But Jesus was different.

Jesus was different because he was not an earthly king. Jesus did not desire wealth or power on earth as other kings did because his kingdom was different. The kings of this earth live lives that are temporary, they have wealth and power and glory that are temporary, but the kingdom of Jesus was anything but temporary.

The king is a fink.

Every earthly king will be a disappointment because every earthly king and every earthly kingdom is temporary and imperfect.

The only king that satisfies is not an earthly king at all, but a king who lives and reigns for all of eternity in a kingdom that will never fade or pass away.

The only true king, the only eternal king, is Jesus.

And he is certainly not a fink.

Test post

“James: Generosity and Favoritism (Part 3)”
The Most Important Book We Forgot
May 10, 2015
By John Partridge

Scripture: James 2:1-26

I want you to use your imagination with me for a minute. Many of you travel from time to time, so imagine that while you are away from home, either for work or for vacation, you decide to go to church on a Sunday morning. As you pull into the parking lot you slowly begin to realize that this church might just be a little different than your church at home. At home, the parking lot is filled with Chevy’s and Oldsmobile’s but in this parking lot, while you see an occasional General Motors product, the majority of the cars are built by Lexus, Porsche, Mercedes, BMW, and other high-end cars. As you enter the church, you notice that the people are dressed as expensively as the cars they drive and, although you are dressed decently, your suitcase didn’t have room for a suit and tie. And so, as you prepare to enter the sanctuary, an usher gently encourages you to head for the balcony where the youth group is sitting and you notice that the balcony also contains everyone else who is either visiting, or wearing anything less than a three piece suit or a designer dress. It is obvious that you have been seated with the less desirable elements of the church in a place that is out of sight of the regular members.

And now I ask you that question that the professors from the counselling department liked to ask in seminary…

So how does that make you feel?

At the end of last week’s message we heard James say that we should care for the widows, orphans, and others that do not have a voice in our society. In James’ world, and often in ours, these people are poor. And so, caring for the widows, orphans, and others is an issue of generosity and serves to transition us to the subject of today’s message. For James, generosity is a test of the reality of our faith, a place where faith and works collide. And as faith and works collide, how did it feel in your imagination, when you got stuck in the balcony because you weren’t good enough to mix with the regular membership?
Even in our imagination, that hurts. And more than a few of you were thinking that you would never, ever, go back again.

But more than that, James wants us to consider how it feels when it happens to others when they visit our church.

2:1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
James begins with his basic premise, his simplest assumption, that believers cannot play favorites because God doesn’t play favorites. From there, James accuses his church flock of doing exactly that. Much as I did when we began, James says, imagine that a man comes to visit your church… But to add to our understanding of this story, I want to add a few details. James tells a story that might have happened during a worship service, but might also have happened when the church elders met to judge a dispute between believers. In that story, James asks if those who have acted this way have not become “judges with evil thoughts.” These hints of judgement in the synagogue, are probably included to remind everyone of the rules for a synagogue trial because among those rules are some that mirror this story almost exactly. Jewish law required that everyone in a trial either sit at the same level or that everyone stand. No preference could be given for status or wealth. Also, both rich and poor participants had to be dressed similarly. A rich man could dress the same as a poor man, or he could pay for new clothing so that the poor man could dress the same as the rich man.
Apparently, the church (or churches) had been discriminating against the poor in exactly this way. James is also pointing out a tragic irony because rich people in that time were abusing Christians by dragging them into court and treating them with contempt because of their poverty and because of their association with Jesus Christ. And so, despite having been abused by the rich, many in the church are granting preferred treatment to the rich and abusing others just as they themselves had been abused.
James then proceeds to remind us that God loves the poor. In fact, James echoes the words of Jesus from his sermon on the plain in Luke 6:20 where he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” James wants us to remember that the poor are only poor in the eyes of the world because in God’s eyes, they are heirs of the kingdom and rich beyond measure. And so, in all of this we are reminded that the church cannot judge the way that the world judges but instead must judge others the way that God judges James suggests that by discriminating among ourselves, we have “divided ourselves” and therefore become double-minded.
James further illustrates this by quoting the “royal law” (perhaps called the royal law because Jesus also said it) from Leviticus 19:18 which says “Love your neighbor as yourself.” His point is that favoritism lacks mercy and is not loving. For James, a failure to love is equivalent to murder or adultery.
The Ten Commandments are not a multiple choice question.
Next James connects these ideas of generosity, mercy, love and favoritism, to faith and action.
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20 You foolish [Greek for “foolish is “kenos” which literally means “empty”] person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
James introduces us to a person who is not properly dressed, probably someone who cannot afford a coat or appropriate outer covering, and who does not have enough to eat. This person is not worrying about having enough food at the end of the month, or even at the end of this week, but does not have food to eat today. For us to simply pray for food, when it is within our power to give them food and clothing, is wrong. Theologically, such a prayer is not wrong, but it lacks action. The prayer that is offered is missing the deeds that could back it up. And so James tells us that if we believe that God loves the poor but we do nothing to help them, then our faith is dead.
As a counter argument, James anticipates that someone will argue that their faith is enough, that they will say “I believe that God is one.” That argument does not immediately click for us but today we would hear something quite similar. Remember that most of those reading this letter were Jewish followers of Jesus. Every good Jew would, at least twice each day, repeat the ‘Shema’ a prayer that begins by saying, “Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” It is an expression of devout faith and orthodoxy (which means right practice). The Shema is a basis of both Jewish and Christian belief but it is not enough. Something more familiar to us today would be a recitation of the Apostle’s Creed, or the Nicene Creed, or the Lord’s Prayer but likewise, these are not enough. As James said, even the demons believe that God is one, and their knowledge of God makes them shudder with fear, but still, they do not have faith.
James argues that Abraham, the father of all Israel, was considered righteous because of what he did. That phrase “what he did” can be literally translated as “from his works” and understood as ‘because of a lifetime of obedience.’ Abraham’s faith was so strong that he obeyed regardless of the cost. But James anticipates another counter argument. He knows that someone will say that Abraham’s deeds grew out of his thankfulness for all the things that God had done for him and not from his faith, and in answer to that, James gives us Rahab. Rahab was not from Israel and did not receive the blessings that God had given to Israel’s people and in fact, Rahab had received nothing at all from God, and yet, she had faith. Because of her faith, she acted on her beliefs and it is her actions that reveal her faith to the world.
The weird thing here is that while James says that Abraham was proved righteous because of his works, Paul teaches that Abraham was righteous because of his faith. While there are different opinions on this, I think Paul’s point was that Abraham was righteous before the law was written and so the law could not save him. In that sense, works, according to the law, were impossible. But Abraham did have faith, and his faith produced works which proved that his faith was real.
And so, when James says that faith without works is dead, he wants us to understand something important.
It is deeds that give life to our faith.
Faith is not just an intellectual thing. It is not an issue of the mind, but has to migrate south and become an issue of the heart. If (and once) it does that, faith must, by necessity, continue its migration to our hand and feet and be lived out through our actions.
Some of the things that we must do are to show mercy, give generously, run away from favoritism and to love others the way that God loves them
We aren’t Christians simply because we say that we are. We are not Christians because we academically subscribe to a particular doctrine or statement of faith. We are not Christians simply because we go to church or because we have memorized the Apostle’s Creed.
We are Christians because we do the things that Christians do.