Choices and Hypocrites

“Choices and Hypocrites”

September 02, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Song of Solomon 2:8-13                    Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23                  James 1:17-27

Have you ever loved someone?

This question is particularly addressed to those of you who are married or who might soon be married.

Do you remember what it was like to love your significant other before you became “old married people?”

Do you remember how intense your feelings were?  How powerful your passion for one another was?

It is exactly this passion and intensity that we find in the Song of Solomon.  This poem is all about
Solomon’s love for his bride and her for him.  It’s all about the passion and intensity of love and marriage between a man and a woman, but for thousands of years, in both Jewish and Christian theology, it has also been an allegory about the relationship between God and his people Israel, and between Jesus and his church.

Let’s begin in Song of Solomon 2:8-13, where we hear these words:

Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattice.
10 My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
11 See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
12 Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”

When used and understood as an allegory, we can see how intensely and passionately God loves his people and his church.  Unlike the repeated theme in The Game of Thrones, winter is not coming.  In Solomon’s story, and in God’s story, winter is over.  Spring has come.  The flowers appear.  Spring is a representation of new life, of reproduction, and a reminder that a healthy love produces fruit.  When we understand our relationship with Jesus Christ in that way, a love that is full of passion and intensity, then we begin to understand that our relationship can, and should, be more that what most of us are experiencing.  Just as the Song of Solomon reminds us that our relationship with our spouse could be stronger if it were renewed and refreshed by remembering the feelings of passion, intensity, and love that we once had, it also reminds us that our relationship with God could likely stand some refreshing as well.

In the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Mark (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23), Jesus confronts a group of church leaders who had forgotten their love for God and who had allowed that relationship to become all about routine, tradition, and rules.

7:1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law criticized Jesus because his followers didn’t wash their hands before they ate as tradition demanded.  Jesus replies with scripture and quotes the prophet Isaiah while at the same time calling these church leaders a bunch of hypocrites.  Isaiah called out the same kind of people in his generation for talking all about their love for God but having hearts that were nothing like the kind of hearts that God wanted.  Instead, Isaiah says, they are totally focused on human rules and Jesus says that the church leaders of his generation had done the same thing.  They had forgotten the important things that God wanted and focused instead on rules that men wanted.

Nothing has changed.

How often do we see churches that are fixated on rules that you can’t find anywhere in the Bible?  Or rules that are twisted to be more important than they ever were when the Bible was written?  There are churches that say you can’t be a Christian if you are a Republican and others that say you can’t belong if you are a Democrat, some that prohibit their members from wearing certain kinds of clothing, or drinking alcohol, or smoking, or attending other churches, or listening to other pastors, and on and on it goes.  If you listen carefully to many televangelists, you’ll find much the same things and this is exactly what you will find with many of the groups that we refer to as cults.  But this sort of thing also creeps into our local churches, and into our personal lives.  And Jesus cautions us to be careful that we keep our focus on our hearts.  We need to have hearts like God and hearts that love the things that God loves.

We are hypocrites if we talk all about God and have hearts that are full of sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and foolish projects.

James spells this out clearly. (James 1:17-27)

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James reminds us all that God does not change.  God sent Jesus, the word of truth, so that we could be born to eternal life.  As the followers of Jesus, we should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry because anger does not draw us toward the things of God but pushes us away from the things of God instead.  Moreover, James has an important word of caution for us as we follow Jesus and try not to become hypocrites like the Pharisees.

James says that we cannot simply come to church and listen to the scriptures being preached, proclaimed, and taught.  Coming to church isn’t enough.  Listening to, or even reading scripture, isn’t enough.  The pharisees heard scripture every day.  They studied it.  They taught it.  They proclaimed it.  The even enforced it.  But that wasn’t enough because the word of God never made it to their hearts.  They insisted that people follow tradition.  They called out people who didn’t follow the rules.  But they didn’t do the things that God wanted.  James says that while listening to the word of God is important, we must also do the things that God has called us to do.

Calling ourselves Christians, and going to church, and reading and listening to scripture doesn’t do us any good at all if we don’t do the things that scripture teaches and act the way that Christians are called to act.  James says that those who fail to do what God commands are like someone who looks in a mirror and immediately forgets what he looks like.  We would describe such a person as a fool, or worse.  But to be blessed, a person must look into God’s word and not forget and do the things that it says.  James says that hypocrites who don’t do what they have been taught, have a religion that is worthless.

So, what does all this mean?

It’s simple.  And it’s difficult at the same time.  The Song of Solomon is a clue, and it reminds us that all of scripture is a love letter from God to his church, and that God’s great desire is for us to love him with the same passion and desire that he has for us.  The closest and best understanding of what that love looks like is the love that a bride and her bridegroom have for one another.

But too often, the people, the church, and even its leaders forget the love that they once had for God and they begin to love their own desires and their own rules more than they love God.  Both Isaiah and Jesus describe such people as those who honor God with their lips but whose hearts are far from him.  They worship God in vain.  They have made poor choices. Their religion is worthless.  They are… hypocrites.

The only defense that we have is to stay in love.  To remember the passion that we once had, and work to return to the lover that loves us back with passion and intensity.  Because if our love is real, then that love will be lived out through our actions.

We are God’s chosen.

We are God’s people.

We are God’s beloved.

We must do the things that that God has taught us to do.

Not because of fear.

Not because of rules.

Not because of traditions.

Not because of obligation.

Not because of duty.

But because of love.

 

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

What Will You Do With Freedom?

“What Will You Do With Freedom?”

February 04, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 40:21-31                              Mark 1:29-39                         1 Corinthians 9:16-23

 

 

Have you ever heard of a man named Blanche Bruce?

 

Bruce was born in 1841 to Polly Bruce, a domestic slave, and her master Pettis Perkinson, a white plantation laborer.  As a slave, Blanche Bruce’s upbringing was comparatively privileged.  His father raised him alongside his legitimate half-brother and allowed him to be educated with him by their private tutor.  As he reached adulthood, his father legally freed him so that he could pursue an apprenticeship, but when the Civil War broke out many freed slaves were being returned to slavery and Bruce fled to Kansas.

 

At this point in our story, it’s worth noting that Blanche Bruce wasn’t the only slave, or freed slave, to escape from slavery.  Many people did.  But what makes Blanche Bruce worth remembering isn’t that he was a freed slave or an escaped slave, but what he did with his freedom once he had it.

 

In Kansas, he worked as a school teacher, and when he later moved to Mississippi he arrived there with only 75 cents to his name.  Even so, it only took a few years before he was successful as both a land speculator and as a planter.  His intellect, personality, and charisma also made him a rising star in the Mississippi Republican Party and as such, he became a sheriff, a tax collector, and the superintendent of education in his county.  In 1874 he was elected to the United States Senate by the Mississippi legislature and he became the second black senator in U.S. history and the first to serve an entire six-year term.  As senator, he defended black Civil War veterans, fought segregation, and spoke out for the rights of Chinese immigrants and Native Americans.  After his term as senator, Bruce later served as the register of the US Treasury and thus the first African American to have his signature appear on our nation’s paper currency.

 

While that’s all very impressive, the reason that I’m telling you the story of Blanche Bruce is that, as we read the lessons of scripture, we find that we need to be asking ourselves one of the same questions that he did.  We begin this morning with these words from the prophet Isaiah contained in Isaiah 40:21-31.

 

21 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

 

There are two key points that Isaiah emphasizes in this passage and those same two points underlie everything that we do as followers of God, as Christians, and as a church.  First, God is uniquely powerful.  Our God is the creator of the universe and everything that exists and there is none like him or even remotely close to him.  Second, God is with us.  Our God chooses to care about, and to care for his followers.  Moreover, God chooses to work through his followers for the benefit of the entire world in a way that no other idol, god, or religion does.  We can choose to live our lives without God, but we are strongest with him when we choose to follow him and when we invite God to work with us and through us.

 

But what does that look like?

 

In Mark 1:29-39, we see Jesus ministering in Peter’s hometown, but even at the height of his popularity and when the demand for his ministry was at its highest, he left.

 

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

 

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

 

Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, and then the entire town gathered at the door of the house and Jesus healed diseases, and cast out demons from the people who had come.  But early the next morning, even though more people were coming and everyone was looking for him, Jesus slips out of town to pray and doesn’t go back.

 

But why?

 

I made this point a week or two ago and I need to make it again today.  Jesus was the Son of God, a member of the Trinity, and he literally had the freedom to do anything that he wanted to do.  But the question that he asked himself was the same as the one that Blanche Bruce must have asked himself after he escaped to Kansas.

 

What will I do with my freedom?

 

Jesus explains to his disciples that he had been sent by God, not to minister only to one town, but to travel from town to town and carry the message of God to as many people as possible in all of Galilee and in all of Israel.  Jesus had the freedom to do whatever he wanted, but with that freedom, he chose to do what God had called him to do.

 

Paul wrestled with this question as well and talks about it at some length in 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 where he says:

 

16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

 

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

 

Paul had a number of things to say and all of them are worth noting as we search for answers.  First, Paul explains that he really can’t boast, or even take much credit, for the things that he does because he is compelled, by God to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  But more than that, Paul says that he would suffer if he did not do what God had called him to do.  Second, Paul makes sure that his readers understand that he is a citizen of Rome, and as such, is absolutely free to do whatever he wants to do that is permissible under the law.  He is a slave to no one and in addition, Paul knows that he has been made free from sin through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But, with this freedom, he has chosen to do whatever he can to win souls for the kingdom of God.  Paul is free to do as he pleases, but he will go anywhere, and do almost anything, to rescue the lost.  He is fully committed to the goal of winning souls for Jesus Christ.  And finally,  Paul reminds the people of the church that no matter how committed we are, and no matter how devoted we are, or how much effort we expend, we won’t win every time or every person, but by doing all that we can, we will win some.

 

And this is where we return to Blanche Bruce.

 

As he fled Virginia and travelled toward Kansas, he knew that he could safely live there as a free man.  But remember the question that he had to ask himself along the way.

 

What will I do with my freedom?

 

Today we must each ask ourselves that same question.  Isaiah reminds us that God is not only uniquely powerful, but that our God chooses to care about us.  God is free to do as he pleases, but chooses to work through his people to rescue the lost and to save the world.  Jesus made that same choice.  As a member of the Trinity, Jesus was free to do whatever he wanted, but he chose to do only the will of God.  Paul emphasizes that, as a Roman citizen he had a lot of rights under the law.  He was free to do whatever he wanted within the law.  Paul chose to answer the call of God and to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ with everything that he had at his disposal.  He would go anywhere, do anything, and become whatever he needed to become in order to save as many souls as he possibly could.  Paul understood that he wouldn’t win every single time, but that, with every effort, he would win sometimes.

 

And so, today we are faced with that same question.  We live in of one of the strongest nations on earth.  We are citizens of the greatest empire that has ever existed on the face of the earth.  Much of the world can only dream of things that most of us take completely for granted.  The poorest among us have things that more than half of the world will never have.  We have many basic rights that are guaranteed by the founding documents of our nation and we brag about the freedoms that we enjoy as a nation.

 

But the question we need to answer is the same as the one faced by Blanche Bruce, by the Apostle Paul, and by Jesus Christ.

 

What will I do with my freedom?

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resurrection? So What?

“Resurrection? So What?”

(Easter.  So What? – Part 1)

April 16, 2017

(Easter Sunday)

By John Partridge*

 

Colossians 3:1-4                     Matthew 28:1-10                               Acts 10:34-43

Did you watch the news at all this week?

Every week, almost every day, we are confronted with stories and images that demand our attention.  This week we were horrified to see United Air Lines being drag a passenger off of a flight against his will simply because the airline overbooked the flight and randomly selected him to be removed. In the past we’ve seen the images of Tamir Rice being shot by police, police officers being attacked or shot in the line of duty, American Indian tribes protesting a pipeline, or heard about the FDA allowing the use of a dangerous pesticide, or the dramatic loss of honey bee colonies, and a host of others.  Our initial reaction might be surprise, or shock, or sadness, or anger, but the most important question that we are left with when the news is over is, “So what?”

What are we expected to do about it?

Are we simply better informed than we were a moment ago, or is there something that we can, or should be doing as a result of the information that we have received?  Should we sell our stock in United? Call our congressman? Vote for the police levy?  Read the labels at Home Depot and refuse to buy products that contain dangerous pesticides?  Plant bee gardens?

The “So what?” question is important because if we don’t change… then nothing changes.

In our seminary class on preaching, our professor reminded us that our Sunday sermons ought to pay attention to the “So what?” question.  If what we have to say on Sunday morning is important, then so what?  What do we want the congregation to do with the information that we have studied, prepared, practiced, and provided?

The “So what?” question is important because if we don’t change… then nothing changes.

And that’s really the heart of the Easter story as well.  But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s remember the story. (Matthew 28:1-10)

28:1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

 

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

 

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

 

The women are shocked and afraid as they meet Jesus, whom they (obviously) thought was dead.  But Jesus calms their fears and then answers the “So what?” question as he sends them to carry the message of Good News to the disciples in Galilee.

 

It took a while for the disciples to fully understand what it meant that Jesus had risen from the dead.  Over the course of Jesus’ ministry, the disciples had seen the impossible.  The blind could see, the lame could walk, incurable diseases had been cured, and they had even seen the dead restored to life.  But now Jesus, the teacher, and their connection to the power of God, was the one who had died.  Who was left that could defeat death now?  Clearly, Jesus was no ordinary man.  Jesus had done miracles that even the greatest of God’s prophets had never accomplished, and rising from the dead was the greatest miracle of all.  What did it all mean?  What were they expected to do about it?  They knew that if they didn’t do something, if they didn’t change, then nothing would change.  And this was far too important to allow that to happen.

 

A few months later, after Jesus had ascended into heaven, and after the events of Pentecost, Peter answers the “So what?” question for the disciples and other followers of Jesus 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 is a changed man.  Only a month or two ago he denied even knowing Jesus, and hid from the authorities. Then, after the crucifixion, he left Jerusalem, walked back to Galilee, and went back to his old job.  He was utterly defeated and a ruined man.  And suddenly we see him as forceful, decisive, thoughtful and confrontational as he stands before a crowd of people in the streets of Jerusalem.  He is clearly not the same man that we saw during the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.  What he had seen was so important that the answer to the “So what” question changed his life.

 

He knew that if he didn’t change… then nothing would change.

 

And so he changed.

 

And as he preached, he argued that everyone else had to change as well.  The “So what?” of the resurrection of Jesus was nothing less than world changing.  No one else in the history of the world had done what Jesus did.  The most famous and most powerful of God’s prophets had not even come close.  The resurrection was important.  The resurrection meant something.  And Peter preaches to the world about its meaning.  Peter says that the trial and crucifixion of Jesus really happened.  Everyone knew that it happened because they were witnesses and because they were witnesses, they had to do something.  They had to change.  We have to change.

 

Because if we don’t change… then nothing changes.

 

Jesus has commanded us to preach to the people, to testify about Jesus, and tell the world that he is the judge of all humanity, and by believing in him we receive forgiveness for sins.

 

Paul, writing to the church in Colossae, answers the “So what?” question in a slightly different way. (Colossians 3:1-4)

 

3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

 

Paul says that since Jesus saved your life and rescued you from death, then you should do something about it.  If we believe in Jesus, and have put our faith in him, then we must build our lives around his teaching and around the expectation that heaven is real and that we expect to live there.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ isn’t just information.  It isn’t just something that we need to know to be well informed.  It is so important, so significant, that we are expected to do something about it.

 

Clearly, Jesus was no ordinary man.  Jesus had done miracles that even the greatest of God’s prophets had never accomplished, and rising from the dead was the greatest miracle of all.  The resurrection is important.  The resurrection means something.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ proves that he is the Messiah, the Savior and rescuer of all humanity.

 

And because we are witnesses, we are expected to preach to the people, to testify about Jesus, and tell the world that he is the judge of all humanity, and by believing in him we receive forgiveness for sins.

 

We are expected to do these things…

 

Because if we don’t change… then nothing changes.

 

 

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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.

 

Trust and Leverage

leverage

“A Scoundrel’s Lesson: Trust and Leverage”

September 18, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 16:1-13                     1 Timothy 2:1-7        

 

As we watch the current election process and listen to the daily news, we are regularly bombarded with examples of how not to do things  We constantly hear about new ways to rip people off, or business people, banks, or corporations who managed to defraud their customers and one another.  And while it is tempting to shake our heads, moan about how evil the world has become, and assume that God’s people have nothing to learn from such schemes, we would often be mistaken.  While we should never condone such practices, there are often lessons that we can learn from even the most misguided pursuits.  In Luke 16:1-13, Jesus tells a parable about an unscrupulous, rip-off artist that was fired from a management position in a rich man’s organization.

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

The manager in the story was not a good manager.  He was accused of wasting his employer’s money or belongings, or both.  Perhaps he was helping himself to some of them, or perhaps he had just made a few bad investment decisions that caused his employer’s portfolio to suffer.  But in either case, we learn pretty quickly that he was dishonest.  The confusing part of the story is that the both the employer and Jesus have something good to say about him.  Clearly, Jesus describes the man as dishonest, and we know that Jesus is not encouraging anyone to be dishonest, so what is he saying.  The scoundrel is commended because he is shrewd.  He may be dishonest, but the guy knows how to get things done.  Knowing that he was going to lose his job anyway, he used his employer’s wealth to buy him friends that would be indebted to him and who could give him a place to live and food to eat while he tried to figure out where to go and what to do next.

While Jesus isn’t encouraging his followers to be dishonest, what he does say is that we ought to be shrewd.  That simply means that we ought to do better at using the things that we have, and the people that we know, and leveraging them to do kingdom work and to bring people into God’s kingdom.  Jesus goes on to talk about how trust is earned.  We’ve all experienced that and we understand it in the short term here on earth.  Most of us realize that you wouldn’t hire a person that steals money from his employer to be your new treasurer.  But Jesus says that the stakes are even higher because the trust that you earn on earth now, determines how much God trusts you, both on earth, and in eternity.

The way Jesus spells it out, either you can be trusted, or you can’t.  God has given us things to manage, much as the man in the story.  We have been given health, wealth, time, friendships, and other resources and God is interested in how we use all of these things to grow his kingdom.  According to Jesus, in God’s eyes if you can’t be trusted here on earth, then God doesn’t trust you either.  And, if you can’t be trusted, then God will not give you things that you otherwise might have had.  In that sense, God is much like an investment advisor who is rearranging his portfolio.  Those investments (that would be us) that do well are places where God will invest more.  But if those investments aren’t doing that much, then God will invest what he has somewhere else.

And just in case we have forgotten why this is important, let’s read Paul’s words from 1 Timothy 2:1-7.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

Jesus Christ is the mediator, between every human being and the perfect, immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing God.  Jesus gave his life in order to secure the ransom and rescue of every single human being that has ever lived.  And Jesus did that, because he wants all people, every single one of us, to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

In telling the story about the unscrupulous manager, Jesus was emphasizing two important points.  First, his followers, although called to be honest and truthful, should be more like that manager and use every means at our disposal to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, to help people come to a knowledge of the truth, and to rescue as many people as possible.  And second, Jesus watches each of us to see how well we do with what we have been given, to see how effective we are as managers.  While your employer may watch to see how you help his company to make money, God watches to see how trustworthy we are in using the things that he has given to us to make disciples of all people, and of all nations.

May we all live our lives in such a way that we might be found to be faithful, prudent, wise, and yes, even shrewd, in using our resources to rescue the lost and grow the kingdom of God.

 

 

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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.

The Cost of (Dis)Obedience

“The Cost of (Dis)Obedience”

September 04, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 14:25-33                   Philemon 1-21                            Jeremiah 18:1-11

 

Did you happen to hear anything about Colin Kaepernick this week?

You would almost have to be a hermit not to.

This week, the internet blew up when Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand during the National Anthem.  As usual, everyone immediately chose sides.  One side said that he was a traitor to his nation and the other called him a hero for calling attention to the important problem of racial injustice.  But, as I have often said, the truth is really somewhere in the middle.  The truth is that our Constitution guarantees everyone, including Colin Kaepernick, the right to free speech, even when that speech isn’t very popular.  The truth is that the veterans that many people claimed to be disrespected by his refusal to stand, served, fought, shed blood, and died to protect his right to do what he did.  On the other hand, the truth is that our nation really does have a problem with racial injustice and, as long and as hard as we’ve been working at it, some of those problems haven’t really gotten much better in several decades.

But as we consider these things, we must also recognize that sometimes there is a time and a place for exercising our rights.  We have a right to free speech, but it is likely unwise for someone to make a speech about Black Lives Matter at a Ku Klux Klan rally.  We might have the right to keep and bear arms, but there are certain neighborhoods where walking down the street carrying a rifle is probably unwise.  Wisdom tells us that sometimes just because we have the right to do something, and just because we can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that we should do that particular thing.

Recent reports say that the San Francisco 49ers football organization, because of this particular incident, as well as a laundry list of other problems, will most likely terminate their contract with Colin Kaepernick.  Likewise, the companies that pay Mr. Kaepernick to endorse their products are considering their options.  It seems likely, that such a talented young man, armed with a multimillion dollar salary, and given such a significant presence on the public stage, could likely have found a better way to accomplish his goals.  As an example, one commentator pointed to LeBron James who grew up in challenging environment and who knows a thing or two about racial injustice.  But instead of making one grand gesture that would alienate his fans, and people all over the country, instead chose to use his wealth to offer full scholarships to college to 2,300 kids who are growing up in neighborhoods similar to his and who, most likely, suffer from the kinds of racial injustice that  Colin Kaepernick was protesting.  Assuming that each of these scholarships covers a four year degree program, this amounts to over $87 million dollars of Mr. James’ personal wealth.

Which of these actions, do you suppose, will the have the most positive impact?

But what does this have to do with scripture?

Simply put, actions have consequences.

Ask anyone who has found themselves on the wrong side of the law, or even a high school kid with a detention slip in their hand, and they will probably agree that there is a cost to disobedience.

But we also look no further than to the flag draped coffins that return home from battlefields halfway around the world to remember that there is sometimes also a cost to obedience.

Finding our way between what we can do and what we should do, and counting the cost of our decisions, is a daily act that requires wisdom, prayer and discernment.

We begin this morning by reading from Jeremiah 18:1-11, where God once again threatens the destruction of his own people.  But in this case, their reaction is more than a little surprising.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

11 “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’ 12 But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; we will all follow the stubbornness of our evil hearts.’”

God calls to Jeremiah and sends him to the potter’s house to witness an ordinary event that becomes one of scripture’s most spectacular visual aids.  God says that the pot he is making is going bad, and so he intends to simply destroy it and start over.  But although God sends Jeremiah to relay this proclamation of doom to the people of Israel, and even though they still have a chance to turn from their wickedness, God knows that they will not.  The reaction of the people, upon hearing of God’s condemnation, is simply, “Okay, go ahead.  We’re just too stubborn to change.”  And so, in the end, Israel is condemned not only for their sin, but for stubbornly refusing to change.

Actions have consequences.

And then in the book of Philemon we see the same principle illustrated in an entirely different direction.

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

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

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

Onesimus was an escaped slave that belonged to Philemon.  By law, he could have been killed for fleeing his master but, having met Paul, he came to faith in Jesus Christ and became a new person.  He was changed mentally as well as spiritually and became convicted that in order to do what was right, he had to return to his master and face the consequences of his actions even though that might result in beatings, torture, or death.  Paul, having grown quite fond of Onesimus, writes a glowing letter of recommendation to Philemon in the hope that he will not only be merciful, but that he will release Onesimus from his slavery entirely.

Onesimus was an escaped slave but had become a new creation in Jesus Christ.

Philemon was a slave owner but also a believer in Jesus Christ and owed a debt to Paul for the introduction.

We don’t know for sure the result of their reunion but we know this:

Actions have consequences.

And then in Luke 14:25-33, Jesus lays out a hard truth about the wisdom of making choices.

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Jesus points out that whenever we make important and potentially expensive choices, we are wise to consider how much those choices are going to cost.  Colin Kaepernick’s actions will likely be costly and we don’t know whether or not he considered the possibilities before he acted.  The actions of the nation of Israel were costly, and when they were given a chance to change their mind, they were doomed by their stubbornness.  Philemon became convinced and convicted that he had to do what was right no matter the cost.  And Jesus warns us to consider the enormous cost of following him.

Finding our way between what we can do and what we should do, and counting the cost of our decisions, is a daily act that requires wisdom, prayer and discernment.

In order to follow Jesus we must put him first, and put absolutely everything else, and everyone else, after him.

If we can’t do that, Jesus says, then we really aren’t his disciples at all.

This is a hard truth but…

…actions have consequences.

What will you choose?

 

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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.

Choosing Death

“Choosing Death”

August 28, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 14:1, 7-14           Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16                Jeremiah 2:4-13

 

How many of you like detective stories?

Some of us like Agatha Christie novels with Miss Jane Marple or Hercule Poirot, or we enjoy reading the exploits of Sherlock Holmes.  Some of us like watching television dramas with a detective element like NCIS, or CSI, or of course, either of the two current Sherlock Holmes dramas.  I admit that I was several years late to the party, but a year or two ago I discovered the television series “Castle” and now we watch it often and are still catching up on a lot of the older episodes.  In any case, this past week we were watching a rerun from early in the Castle series and in it a young man was killed while his friends were playing Russian roulette.  Of course they all claimed that they often did it but that no one was stupid enough to play when there were actually real bullets in the gun.  Instead, they liked to point an empty gun at one another and pull the trigger… except for one night that it wasn’t empty.  That, of course, leads to the mystery to be solved.

But I thought of that episode when I was reading today’s scriptures because of the striking parallels.  We begin this morning in Jeremiah 2:4-13, where God, through his prophet Jeremiah, brings charges against Israel for the crimes that they have committed against him.

Hear the word of the Lord, you descendants of Jacob, all you clans of Israel.

This is what the Lord says:

“What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me?
They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.
They did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord, who brought us up out of Egypt
and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and ravines,
a land of drought and utter darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives?’
I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.
The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord?’
Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me.
The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.

“Therefore I bring charges against you again,” declares the Lord.
“And I will bring charges against your children’s children.
10 Cross over to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and observe closely;
see if there has ever been anything like this: 11 Has a nation ever changed its gods?
(Yet they are not gods at all.)
But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols.
12 Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror,”
declares the Lord.
13 “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

God says that the entire people of the nation of Israel had strayed from him, had begun to worship worthless idols, and then became worthless themselves.  They forgot the God who had given them so much and they took for granted the things that God had done for them.  And as they wandered away from the God of their forefathers, they corrupted the very things that God had given to them.  Even worse, their leaders, both religious and political, were as bad as or worse than everyone else.  Jeremiah says that the people, whose job it was to read and interpret the law, did not know God.  The leaders of the nation actively rebelled against the instructions of God and the prophets who were supposed to speak God’s words to the leaders and to the nations, began to prophecy in the name of another God altogether.

As I watched that episode of Castle, I thought, “What kind of an idiot would willingly play Russian roulette?”  To play Russian roulette is a heartbeat away from choosing death itself.  To do so would require depression, or suicidal thoughts, or some other kind of mental imbalance.  And yet, Jeremiah describes for us a time when an entire nation chose to play Russian roulette and gamble that the fun that they are having is worth death.

Let’s be clear.  No one woke up one day and decided to hate God.  There was no single moment when the nation of Israel decided to abandon the God that had blessed them, brought them out of slavery, given them their land, and had cared for them.  There was no single moment when everyone decided that suicide seemed like a great idea.  But all the same, gradually, one decision at a time, one small compromise at a time, the people of Israel picked up a gun because it looked like it might be fun, pointed it at their heads and, one poor choice at a time, began to load bullets into the chambers of the pistol.  There was no single moment when the nation of Israel suddenly decided to choose death and commit suicide, but they arrived in that place all the same, one step at a time, gradually drifting farther and farther from God until they began to represent all the things that God hated and left God with no other choice but to pull the trigger of the gun they had loaded.

But there are other choices that can be made.

In Luke 14:1, 7-14, Jesus warns us of a principle danger that causes many of us to make bad choices and start down the road that leads to death.

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

This simple parable of Jesus can be applied far more broadly than our occasional invitations to fancy dinners.  The message in Jesus’ story is that when we allow pride to lead us, trouble inevitably follows, even in something as simple as where we sit for dinner.  Instead of allowing our pride to lead us, make your choices humbly instead.  Or, even better, instead of using what we have to make ourselves look good in front of other people who can afford their own dinner, use what we have to help people who cannot help themselves.  Jesus’ message is that one key to staying close to God is to make choices that are guided by humility rather than pride.

But what else is there?

How can we avoid making the sort of bad decisions that lead us away from God?

In Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, Paul says this:

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”

So we say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Paul makes us a shopping list of things to help us make good choices.  Of course, this isn’t all that there is, but if we can remember this much, it’s a good start.

Love one another, show hospitality to people that you don’t know, remember those who are in prison, those who have been mistreated, and people who cannot speak for themselves.  Honor marriage, even if that marriage isn’t yours and even if you aren’t married yourself.  Keep yourselves sexually pure.  Don’t ever allow money to become the most important thing in your life but instead, be content with what you have.

These things, Paul says, will help us to stay close to God and make choices that will help prevent drift.

But that isn’t all.

Remember your leaders who taught you about the word of God.  Consider their examples, both good and bad.  Learn from what they taught you, but also learn from their mistakes as well as their successes. Paul says that we should continually sacrifice our time to offer God praises.  Paul knows that it takes time and effort to come together as followers of Jesus Christ to worship and praise God and he calls this time and effort a sacrifice that we offer to God.

And finally, do good and share with others.  Paul describes both of these things as sacrifices as well. Doing good isn’t always easy and it isn’t always free.  Doing good costs us time and effort and money and so does sharing what we have with others.  Doing good and sharing with others can be costly, but these are ways that we can offer sacrifices to God regardless of how much money we have.

None of these things are complicated.  None of them are terribly difficult.  But every single one of them is a place in our lives where it is remarkably easy to become selfish.  Every single one of these things can be blind spots for us that allow us to make compromises, small choices, baby steps, that lead us away from God.

Drift.

Israel didn’t wake up one morning and choose death.  They didn’t suddenly decide to rebel against the God that had rescued them and everything that he had ever taught them.  Israel never made a conscious choice to put a loaded gun to their head.  But bit by bit, step by step, one compromise after another, one selfish choice after another, they did exactly that.

Our prayer is that we do not do the same.

Let us not choose death.

Instead, let us remember the things that we have been taught by Jesus, by Paul, and by others, so that we might stay close to God and not drift away, one small compromise at a time.

 

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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.

God Hates Church

“God Hates Church”

August 07, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 12:32-40                Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16         Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

 

 

Do you remember playing pretend and actually using your imagination?

Today we’re going to begin by playing a game with your imagination.

This is going to be a little weird.

Imagine… that every Sunday there are church services in your local bank.  These are not services to worship God, but services to worship money.  Each week people gather to sing songs about deposit slips and ATM’s and occasionally a really old song about real human tellers that smiled.  People stand up occasionally to share stories about how their debit or credit cards changed their lives and the bank president preacher delivers a message about the importance of maintaining a healthy balance.

I warned you that this was going to be weird.

But over time, the stockholders of the bank begin to notice that while the worship services at the bank are just as passionate as they once were, there are a lot of people who aren’t customers of the bank and are known to be deadbeats who don’t have any money.  They love to sing the songs about money, but they don’t actually want to earn any, or save any, of their own.  For them, it’s the passion of the worship experience, and the fellowship of the community that’s important and not the money.

This is weird, first of all because it is difficult for us to imagine that people would worship at the bank (despite the fact that we know a lot of people who already worship their money).  But there is a second layer of weird because the people who are worshipping at the bank reach a point where they don’t even care about the money.  And we wonder why they would even go to the bank if they didn’t have any money and weren’t a regular bank customer.

But move that story back to the church instead of the bank, and substitute God for money, and this is essentially the story that we have in Isaiah (Isaiah 1:1, 10-20)…

The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.

18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Right off the bat, God refers to the leaders of Israel as if they were from Sodom and her people as if they were from Gomorrah, but then God says that he doesn’t care about their sacrifices, or their prayers, or their offerings, incense, holy days, celebrations, feasts, or festivals.  In today’s language, God says, I don’t care about your worship, I hate your church, I despise Christmas and I reject Easter.  You come to worship, but I refuse to listen because you only care about your worship.  Your actions are evil and your hearts are corrupt.

God says that if his people want to be clean again, their hearts must return to God and when they do, their actions will begin to look like the actions of godly people… do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed, and care for the fatherless and the widow.  God makes sure that they know it is not too late to change, but if they do not, they will be destroyed by violence.

The reality that Isaiah tries to communicate to God’s people is that church was supposed to be an expression of their love for God but has become instead simply a travelling show, a performance for its own sake, a custom or a habit with no love.  And God says that for him it was never about the show.  It was always about love.  In today’s language, what God says is that if you can’t live like believers, if you can’t love, then God doesn’t care about church, or Christmas, or Easter, or any of it.

We find this same sentiment expressed by the Apostle Paul in Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, where he says,

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

I like to remind everyone around me that in most contexts, when the word “faith” is used in scripture, it can more easily be understood by replacing it with the word “trust.” What Paul is saying then, is that we trust God, we have confidence and assurance that God will do what God has said that he will do because we have tested him and found him to be worthy of our trust.  And as such, we, like those who have come before us, live by faith and look forward to something better, a world that is better, because we trust that God has prepared such a place for us.  Paul’s description, much like that of Isaiah, reminds us that worshiping God is more about the condition of our heart than about putting on a good show on Sunday morning.

And then in Luke 12:32-40, we hear Jesus emphasize the importance of our heart condition.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

That really is a powerful message.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

If your treasure is money, your heart will love money.  If your treasure is in pleasure, then that’s where your heart lives.  And if your treasure is in looking good, or even in worship and on making Sunday morning worship services look great, or in overflowing offering plates, then that is where your heart will be also.

But that isn’t what God wants.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do what we do on Sunday morning with as much excellence as we can muster, but what it means is that if our only goal is to put on appearances, then none of it matters and God doesn’t care about any of it.

Jesus says that he will come at an hour when no one will expect him and we must be ready, our hearts must be ready, because on that day there will be no ‘do overs’ or second chances.  Our hearts, on that day, today, and every day, must be focused on God and God alone.

Church is supposed to be an expression of our love for God.  No matter what we do, love has to come first or church will instead become nothing more than a performance for its own sake, a custom or a habit with no love.  God doesn’t want church to be full of people who don’t have an account with him or even care who he is or what he wants.  No matter how passionate, God doesn’t want a church without love.

Without love, God hates church.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Love… must… come… first.

 

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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.