Church Can’t Save You

Church Can’t Save You

August 02, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 Genesis 32:22-31                   Romans 9:1-5             Matthew 14:13-21

 

It seems like everyone is always looking for the easy way out.

You can’t blame us.  Easy always seems better than hard.  But often, the only way to get from “worse” to “better” is to travel down the hard road.  If you want to be an accountant, an engineer, or a nurse, there’s no easy way that doesn’t involve going to college.  And, if you want to be a doctor, then the only path that gets you there goes through medical school and some grueling years as an intern and a resident.

But that doesn’t stop us from trying.

As we do battle with the Coronavirus, we know that developing a new vaccine from scratch typically takes five to ten years.  We also know that there has never been a successful vaccine against any of the other viruses in the coronavirus family.  But a vaccine is the “easiest” path forward that most of us can see, so we’re going to spend a lot of time, money, and effort in hopes that our best doctors and scientists can do what’s never been done before.  And others are pinning their hopes on a variety of unproven drug therapies that might work, that might not work, or that might be more dangerous than the virus they’re trying to fight.

But, as is often the case, the easy way, may not be the best way.  In fact, the easy way, may not get us anywhere near our intended destination.

And the same is true in the spiritual world.  The easy road may not lead us to the place we had hoped.

But before we get to that, let’s go back to the story of Jacob, and rejoin his story as he prepared to meet his long-estranged brother Esau, from whom he stole his father’s birthright. (Genesis 32:22-31)

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, [Israel means “struggles with God”] because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face [Penial means “face of God”], and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.

 God appears to Jacob in human form (which, in theological language, is called a theophany).  All night long, Jacob wrestles with God and, in the morning, demands a blessing from him.  Because of our understanding of the events of the New Testament, the name that we usually use for God in human flesh, is Jesus.  So, if you want to bend your understanding of time and space a little bit, we might think that Jacob spends the night wrestling with Jesus.  And, if you think that’s impossible, consider John 8:56-59 where Jesus argued with the leaders of his church saying:

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

 In any case, Jacob wrestles with God, receives God’s blessing, and is given the name, Israel, or wrestles with God, that will remain with his family for thousands of years.  Then, in Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus performs miracles as a sign that he is the fulfillment of that blessing, and the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, and one of those is the spectacular moment when Jesus feeds ten to fifteen thousand people, possibly more, with the contents of one small boy’s sack lunch.  This story begins immediately after the execution of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist.

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

In the gospel stories of his miracles, Jesus demonstrates his command and authority over time and space, over the wind, rain and weather, over disease, demons, and death, and, in this story, over the laws of matter itself.  The contents of a small boy’s lunch, five small loaves of bread (probably small flat breads like a pita) and two fish are multiplied to feed five thousand men, and all the women and children that had come with them.

And so, as we come to church, we often arrive at the belief that everyone who believes the story of Jesus, is adopted into the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and, like the people of Israel, we inherit the blessings of God.

Not so fast.

Let’s not be too hasty.

It was exactly that line of thinking, in the time of the disciples, that led the Apostle Paul to weep over the Jewish people of Israel.  In Romans 9:1-5, we hear him explain it this way:

9:1 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

Paul says that he weeps over the people of his own race, the people of Israel, who are, as we know, the genetic and philosophical descendants of Jacob and the inheritors of his blessing.  But Paul’s grief was that the people believed that this was all that was necessary.  They believed that being the heirs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was enough. 

But it wasn’t. 

Even though Paul was the ultimate Jew, who was born into the right family, who followed all the right rituals, who went to all the right schools, and had all the best teachers, Paul knew that his genetic lineage was not enough.  Paul knew that the Jews of his day were excluding themselves from God’s kingdom and from God’s blessing by their failure to believe, and to follow, Jesus Christ.  As evidence, Paul points to Isaac’s half-brother Ishmael and, by inference, to Jacob’s twin brother Esau.  Even though they were genetically connected to Abraham and to Isaac, the blessing of God did not automatically flow to them.  Even though Ishmael and Esau believed in God, they did not follow God in the way that Isaac and Jacob did, and so, God’s blessing did not come to them, or to their families, in the same way.  And Paul says that this same rule applies to all the Jews when it comes to their belief in Jesus.  Paul’s message is that the promise of God does not come to us because of our family ties, or our genetics, or our church membership, but only to those who choose to accept the gift, follow God, and live a life patterned after that belief.

In more modern language, we need look no further than Billy Sunday, a professional baseball player and internationally known evangelist of the early 20th century, who said,

 “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.”

Just as Ishmael and Esau walked away from God’s blessing, Paul wept as he watched his own Jewish race, whom he loved more than life itself, walk away from the blessings of God because of their failure to accept, and follow, Jesus.

And Paul’s message for us is pretty much the same.  We aren’t saved because our family was saved.  We aren’t saved because we believe in God, or because we go to a Bible believing church, or because we believe that Jesus was a real person, or because we believe that the stories in the New Testament actually happened.  We are saved, and we receive the blessings of God, because we have put our full faith and trust in Jesus, and allow that faith to change the way that we live our lives, as we pattern our lives, our behavior, and our actions after the life and the teaching of Jesus.

So yes, church is important.  And yes, I am convinced that every person who believes in Jesus must belong to a fellowship of Christian believers (whether you call that a church or not).  But going to church is not the easy way out.  Going to church will not save you no more that going to a garage will make you an automobile.

Each person must put their full faith, and trust in Jesus, and then live a life that reveals Jesus to the world around them.

That is not always going to be the easiest path.  But it’s the only path that leads to the destination that matters.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/vElLkqp1aZ0

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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.

More Than Family

“More Than Family”

August 12, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33         John 6:35, 41-51       Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2

Is your family close?

Do you love each other?

Is there anything that you wouldn’t do for your family?

For some families, there is no closer bond.  They will go anywhere and do anything to help one another.  There is no mistake, however grievous, that cannot be forgiven.  Of course, not every family is like that, but even among those that are, sometimes that family bond can be put to the test.  As we rejoin the story of King David this morning, God’s punishment for David’s sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah has come upon him.  First, the child that he had with Bathsheba died.  But then, one of David’s other children, Absalom, determines to push David aside and become king for himself.  Over a span of years, he persuades many of David’s own advisors and military leaders over to his side and stages a coup.  David, and those loyal to him flee the city and Absalom sets up a tent on the roof of the palace, at the high point of the city, where everyone can see.  And in that tent, Absalom sleeps with all of David’s wives that couldn’t flee with him.  But as David fights to regain what was his, the bonds of family are stretched to the limit.  (2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33)

The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.

David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.

Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.

15 And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.

31 Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”

32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”

The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”

33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”

David’s son staged a coup, drove him out of his capitol city, moved into his home, slept with his wives, went to war with him, and attempted to kill him, and still, David’s love for his son is so great that he commands his troops to “be gentle” with Absalom and David weeps in great distress when he learns of Absalom’s death.  Though obviously, Absalom didn’t feel the same way, those are the bonds of family.  Despite the betrayal and the carnage, David still loved his son enough to care deeply about him and mourn his loss.

When things work the way that they should, the love, and the bonds of family are some of the strongest that we ever have for other human beings.  But in a story recorded for us in the Gospel of John (John 6:35, 41-51), Jesus begins to describe a bond that is even greater.

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Once again, the religious critics of Jesus disparage him because they knew him and knew his family.  To them it seemed obvious that Jesus couldn’t be anyone important and certainly couldn’t have “come down from heaven.”  But Jesus refutes their arguments by simply saying that no one can follow him unless God leads them to follow him and all those who follow Jesus will be raised up on the last day.  But more than that, Jesus says that he is the living bread and anyone who eats that bread will live forever and he promises that those that follow him will never go hungry or thirsty.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we already know that we are adopted, by God, into his family and are made brothers and sisters, legally co-heirs, with Jesus.  Legally, we become family.  But beyond that, Jesus says, God gives his family members eternal life and will care for their needs forever.  It’s worth noting that while this is not a huge change from Jewish theology, it was dramatically different than many of the other religions of Jesus’s day.  The gods of most other religions demanded obedience from their human worshippers, if they cared anything for them at all. The gods only cared about themselves and they had little or no concern for the welfare, past, present, or future, of their worshippers.  But the God of Israel cared.  And the change Jesus emphasizes is a major change from Jewish theology.  Jesus says that you don’t need to be a genetic descendant of Abraham.  If you follow Jesus, God will adopt you into his family, invite you to live with him, and will care for your needs forever.  That is a relationship that goes beyond the ordinary boundaries of family.

And in Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2, the Apostle Paul preaches that our relationship with God goes even farther.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

5:1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The first thing that we see in this passage is how Paul describes our relationship with one another where he says that we are all “members of one body.”  Think about that.  What does it mean to belong to “one body?”  What Paul is describing, is a relationship that is closer than family.  It’s one thing to love your brother or your sister, but it’s an entirely different thing to say that your hand or your foot is important to you.  You might consider walking away from a relationship with one of your family members, but few, if any, would willingly cut off a hand.

Paul goes on to warn the church not to allow our anger to cause us to sin.  This takes us right back to the story of David and Absalom.  While David continued to love his son, no matter what insults and atrocities he committed, Absalom allowed some insult in the past, some hurt, to fester into anger, and he allowed that anger to cause him to rebel against his king, and sin against his father David.  But anger is just the beginning.  Paul has more to say about how we are to manage our relationships with one another.  Don’t steal, work, and work enough so that you have something extra to share with those in need.  Purify the words that come out of your mouth and don’t behave in ways that grieve the Holy Spirit.

Wait.  What?  How do I “grieve the Holy Spirit?”

Think of it this way, at the moment that you put your faith in Jesus Christ and follow him, the Holy Spirit takes up residence inside of you, right?  So, every minute of every day, everywhere that you go, the Spirit is there with you.  Just imagine God’s reaction to some of the places that you go.  Do you think that God is thrilled when he walks beside you into a strip bar, or to some of the R-rated movies that you’ve seen, or parties that you’ve attended?  Do you think that God’s spirit rejoiced when some of those words that you shouldn’t have said came out of your mouth anyway?  Of course not.  But you did them anyway.  And you took a holy and perfect God along with you.  And the Spirit of God grieved over the places that you went, the things that you did, and the words that you said.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, violence, slander, and every form of malice.  Be kind, and compassionate, forgive one another, and walk in the way of love.

These are not easy things.  They’re not.  They’re hard.  But in today’s story, we are Absalom.  We’re the ones who got mad, went our own way, behaved badly, betrayed our father, and hurt him more than we could ever imagine.  But despite all that we have done, God loves us anyway.  Our God is the god who genuinely cares about his people.  God loves us like family.  In fact, God loves us more than family.  God made each and every one of us and he wants us to be more than we are.  God wants us to be like Jesus.  God created us to be perfect and holy, and he wants us to be perfect and holy.  God wants us to care about each other more than family.  God wants us to care about each other as if our brothers and sisters were our own hands and feet, or kidneys or liver.  God wants us to be one body, that is pure, and holy, and works together for the kingdom of God.

So yes, doing all the things that we talked about today, doing all the things that Jesus, and Paul, and the other writers of scripture have taught us is hard.

But doing those things is how we get from where we are, to where God wants us to be.

We were created to be more than family.

Let’s act like it.

 

_________

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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.

Foreigners or Family?

“Foreigners or Family?”

January 07, 2018

(Epiphany)

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 60:1-6                          Ephesians 3:1-12                               Matthew 2:1-12

 

 

Since this is the beginning of a new year, let’s take a moment to be introspective.  Let’s take a look deep inside of ourselves. Over the past month or so we’ve discussed the idea of “us” and “them” a few times and we’re going to touch on that one more time today as well.  And so, the question I want you to consider is this: who in your life is “the other?”  Perhaps if you are a college educated person with college educated parents, “the other” is a person who works a blue collar job for an hourly wage.  But if you are a blue collar, union member from a long line of union members, then maybe “the other” is someone who wears a tie to work every day in some high rise building downtown, or in New York or some other big city.  Maybe “the other” person is a CEO, or a multimillionaire, whose job, and entire lifestyle is really more than you can even imagine.  Or maybe your life has been mostly comfortable and “the other” is a homeless person who is so unlike you, and unlike your life’ experiences, that you can’t even imagine how they got there or what it must be like to call a little spot under a bridge “home.”  Many of our families have been living on this continent for so long that we have no idea what it’s like to be someone who was born somewhere else and immigrated here or who has moved here temporarily on a work visa.  In many places that I have lived, and I imagine that this area isn’t terribly different, I knew people who had never left the county they were born in, and quite a few who had never been anywhere outside the state of Ohio.  For them, “the other” can often be people who travel or almost anyone who has come here from Texas, or California, or somewhere else, especially those who have come here from another country.

 

Think about who “the other” might be for you.  Who is it whose life, and whose life experiences, are so vastly different that yours, that you have a hard time understanding the things that they do, how they act, the choices that they make, the things that they like and dislike, and who they are as a person?

 

Who is it that is so different from you that you can barely imagine having a conversation with them, let alone consider the possibility that one day you might be friends?

 

Got it?

 

Now, keep that person in mind as we consider our scriptures for today, which is Epiphany, the day that we celebrate the coming of the Wise Men.

 

We begin once again by reading from the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 60:1-6 where we hear these words…


60:1
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

 

Isaiah writes of a time, in the future, when God’s messiah would come and the entire world would rejoice, bring gifts, and bring praise and worship to God.  From our side of history, we take this for granted, but in the time of Isaiah, and up until the coming of Jesus, Israel was God’s chosen people.  God had made a covenant with Abraham and it was only his family that had a relationship with God.  In order for other people, or other nations to worship Israel’s god, they had to come to Israel and to her temple, and worship there.  In order for them to follow God and to have a relationship with him, they would have to be circumcised (at least the men, obviously) and become practicing Jews, but in order to be a practicing Jew, it was necessary to make occasional visits to the temple to make sacrifices and to celebrate holy days.  While people from other nations occasionally came to faith in Israel’s god and converted to Judaism, it was fairly rare.  For the most part, the people of Israel considered foreigners to be “the other.”  Israel was “us” and everyone else was “them.”  Hundred of years had passed since women like Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba had converted to Judaism, but even though they belonged to the genealogy of King David, they were still referred to as Gentile women.  Gentiles and foreigners were always “the other.”

 

This is one reason that Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy that breaks with tradition and includes five women (women were rarely, if ever included in official genealogies), three of whom were foreigners and Gentiles.  From the beginning, Matthew makes sure that his reader understands that the thing that God is doing is not limited to men, or even limited to the nation of Israel.  And then we come to Matthew 2:1-12, where we hear about the coming of the Wise Men.


2:1 
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

 

A great deal can be said about the coming of the Magi, but for today it is enough to point out that this is exactly the beginning of what Isaiah was talking about.  Foreigners, Gentiles, people who were clearly “the other” came to Israel from a distant country rejoicing, bringing gifts, and bringing praise and worship to God.  Just as Isaiah had said, “the other” was being invited in.  Two weeks ago, I talked about outsiders who were invited in.  These were people like the shepherds, people who technically belonged but who, for the most part, lived on the fringes of society.  But the Magi are an entirely different class of outsiders.  These aren’t people from the family of Abraham who had taken a bad path, or who smelled bad, or who were cast aside because they were poor, or even because they were unclean, the Magi were totally outside.  The Magi were never a part of God’s covenant.

 

They… were never… us.

 

Until now.

 

In Ephesians 3:1-12, Paul explains just how dramatically, and earth-shatteringly radical and important this really was.


3:1 
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

 

Paul’s message is that with the coming of Jesus, the Gentiles are now not only welcomed into the Temple, but are adopted into God’s family as co-heirs with Israel, members of one body, one church, and one people.

 

For almost everyone in Israel and Judea, everyone who was Jewish, and everyone who worshipped Israel’s God, the Gentiles, more than anyone else, had been considered to be “the other.”  While shepherds, prostitutes, and even those that collaborated with the enemy like tax collectors, and half breeds like the Samaritans, were considered to be aliens and outsiders, they at least had some connection, however distant, to the family of Abraham.  But the Gentiles were the ultimate outsiders.  They were completely outside the family of Abraham.  They weren’t Jewish at all.  They had never belonged.  As much as Israel admired King David and King Solomon, and even though they looked forward to a King that would come from David’s royal family, they still considered women like Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba to be Gentiles and outsiders.  Despite converting to Judaism, despite marrying into the family, despite worshipping Israel’s god, and despite being the matriarchs of one of Israel’s greatest families, they were still thought to be “the other” because they were foreigners.

 

But both Matthew and Paul are very clear that the coming of Jesus changed all that.

 

With the birth of the Messiah, Jesus, there is no longer anyone whom we can consider to be “the other.”

 

The most ‘other’ outsiders that existed had not only been invited in, they had been adopted as brothers and sisters.  And not only were they adopted, they were included as equal in God’s inheritance, co-heirs with God’s chosen people.

 

As followers of Jesus Christ, there is no longer anyone that we can think of as “the other.”  Not the rich, not the poor, not the educated or the uneducated, not city people, not country people, not blue collar or white collar, union or non-union, well to do or homeless, and not American, immigrant, or foreigner.

 

There are no longer outsiders.

 

There is no longer anyone that we can call foreigners.

 

There is only…  family.

 

And Paul says that, as the church, God has given us the mission to make sure that everyone hears the story of Jesus, and feels like family in the church.

 

In this New Year, let us resolve to be that kind of a church.

 

 

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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.

 

Sheldon, Jesus, and "The Big Bang Theory"


    While those who read my blogs may not have an interest in reading my Sunday sermon each week, I recently saw something in scripture that had a connection to our modern culture that I’m sure many of my friends would appreciate.  

    In Luke, Jesus tells a story about a man (or woman, it’s you, actually) who goes to his friend’s house to get bread to feed to an unexpected house guest.  As I read this story, told more than two-thousand years ago, I heard the voice of Sheldon, from the television show “The Big Bang Theory.”  Jesus’ story is short so I invite you to read it with me…
Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
    Luke tells us that, because of our friendship with God, through his son Jesus Christ, we are given the privilege to trade on our friendship.  Because we are friends, and indeed, family, we are able to ask for what we need without fear that we will annoy God into ignoring us.  Luke says that if not “because of friendship”, then because of “shameless audacity,” God will give us what we need.  The story that Luke tells is of asking a friend for bread after that friend had locked the doors and gone to bed at night.  
    It helps to understand that the houses in ancient times were not like the houses we have today.  Not every member of the family had their own room and in fact, while Mom and Dad might have had some privacy, in many cases the living room was somebody’s bedroom and quite possibly everybody’s bedroom.  At night the furniture would be pushed aside, bedding would be unrolled and members of the family would sleep on the floor and in front of the door.  The man who was in already in bed would have to light a lamp so that he did not step on sleeping family members, step over those who were sleeping and then move whoever was in front of the door.  Certainly by the time he had done this most of the family would be awake, grumbling and grouchy… and yet, because of your persistence, because of your “shameless audacity,” even if not because of your friendship, he would get up and get you the bread that you need.
    And this is where I made the connection with “The Big Bang Theory.” There, in episode after episode, week after week, Sheldon knocks on Penny’s door at all hours of the day and night

Knock, knock, knock, “Penny?” knock, knock, knock, “Penny?” knock, knock, knock, “Penny?” 
    Sheldon knocks over and over and over again until poor Penny answers, in her pajamas, often bedraggled, hair a mess, and half asleep.  Not because she’s happy about it, partly because of their friendship and mostly because of Sheldon’s shameless audacity, Penny comes to the door and helps Sheldon with whatever problem that he is having.
Luke says that our relationship with God is sort of like that.
    God desires to give you good gifts, just as a father desires good things for his children.  He is not put off by your persistence and you aren’t going to annoy him into ignoring you.
Never forget that God loves you.  He has adopted you so that you are a part of his family.
    You area child, and a friend of God who never needs to be afraid to pound on the door of heaven at all hours of the day and night, to ask for the things that you need.
Knock, knock, knock, “Jesus?  Knock, knock, knock, “Jesus?  Knock, knock, knock, “Jesus?  

Why the Russian Adoption Ban is a Disaster in Slow Motion

    By now most of you have heard about the adoption ban put into law in Russia.  It all began with an attempt by our United States government to rein in human rights violations in Russia.  President Obama signed the Magnitsky Act, which provides sanctions against Russian citizens deemed by the US to have violated human rights.  Prior to this, the Russian government was concerned about the abuse some Russian children have received at the hands of their adoptive parents in the United States but had only recently, in November, 2012, signed a new treaty designed to provide greater access for Russian officials who desired to review the treatment of adopted children.  This new agreement was only in place for eight weeks before the adoption ban was signed by President Putin.

    The Russian government claims that the adoption ban was necessary because they were not getting access to the documents that the new treaty was supposed to give them and the American government claims that the whole thing is just retaliation for passing the Magnitsky Act.  Whichever is true, it is neither the American nor the Russian government that is the big loser.  The big losers remain the children who will remain in Russian orphanages instead of in loving homes.
    I know something about this.  Our family includes two children who were adopted from a Russian orphanage.  The trauma that they suffered in their first year of life has been a real education.  Before we witnessed it firsthand, I never would have believed that children could be so damaged in their first year of life.  We were always told that “Love heals all wounds,” and “Love conquers all,” and things like that.  We genuinely believed it when people told us that all we had to do was take them home and love them.  But sometimes love isn’t enough.  Thankfully, the problems that our children have, though not insignificant, are not nearly what other parents, whom we’ve met, live with every day.  Some of the neurological, emotional and psychological problems that grow out of living in an orphanage, even for a few months, are frightening. 
 
    While I could not ever condone abuse, I have seen enough to understand how parents of some of these children could reach a point where they simply don’t know what else to do.  Many parents do not abuse these damaged children but recognize that they cannot cope with the behaviors of their children and choose to dissolve or disrupt the adoption.  That means what it sounds like; they go in front of a judge and declare that they are no longer the parents.  This frees them, but makes the children orphans yet again and turns their care over to the state in which they live, or to yet another set of adoptive parent and cause still more emotional and psychological damage.
    Children from former Eastern bloc countries (primarily Russia and Ukraine) bear a higher risk for behavioral problems and eventual adoption disruption.  We don’t completely know why, but although similar problems are seen in children from other nations, these children see higher rates of disruption than any others.  I cannot quote any particular sources but I have heard estimates as high as 10-20 percent.  That means that even with the resources of wealthier American parents, even with parents who love them, even with access to modern medical and psychological care, between one in ten and one in five of these kids have real, serious problems.   Do the Russians have a right to be concerned about what is happening to their children?  Certainly.  But what happens if they don’t come here, don’t have parents, and don’t have access to care?  Russia does not have a history of adoption.  Adoption is not a part of their culture.  While adoption does happen, fewer Russian children are adopted by Russians than by Americans, and we are just one country among many who has, until now, been able to adopt from Russia.  Children who remain in Russian orphanages are likely to stay there until they “age out,” until they are old enough that the Russian government turns them loose on the streets with no support whatsoever.  The majority of children who age out of Russian orphanages will end up dead or in prison within two years.
    Yes, these children can be scarred and damaged by even a few months in an orphanage.  Yes, we should strive with all that is within us to do a better job than we are doing.  No.  No child should suffer abuse at the hands of their parents regardless of their behavior.  But the Russian government needs to look in the mirror as well.  Our system may not be perfect, but an adoption ban that prohibits these children from coming home to loving parents doesn’t fix the problem and in reality only makes it worse.

As usual, when grown-ups fight, the ones who lose… are the children.

Politicians, Rape and Bad Theology (Part 2)


The answer is that God doesn’t want that. 

Just because God loves life doesn’t mean that he intends for every person to come into being. 
Wait. 
What? 
Just because God loves life doesn’t mean that he intends for every person to come into being.
    Some people will read that and conclude that if God does not intend for some people to be born, then some people are not wanted by God.  Nothing could be further from the truth but in order to see why, we have to think carefully.
    Consider this example: If a birthmother chooses to give up her baby for adoption, it has nothing at all to do with the goodness of the child.  Many of those children will assume they were adopted because their birthmother didn’t want them or that they weren’t good enough, or that something was wrong with them.  Many suffer for years until they understand that their birthmother wasn’t keeping them even if they wereperfect.  Birthmothers give up their children because they are unwilling or unable to be a parent.  Their choice has nothing to do with the perceived “goodness” of their child.  Often, birthmothers would like nothing more than to keep their child but understand that, for a variety or reasons, they cannot. 
    Giving a child up for adoption has nothing to do with being “wanted” and neither does rape.  Just because God doesn’t intend for a woman to become pregnant as a result of rape, doesn’t mean that God will not love the child that is produced.  
He does.  
    I am the fourth child in my family.  I was born five years after my next older brother.  It is well known that my parents thought they were done having children.  I was an accident.  My existence is unintended but I have never had any doubt that my parents welcomed me, wanted me and loved me since the moment that they knew I was coming.
    God does not want women to be raped nor does he want them to suffer the emotional trauma that will follow them through an unexpected and unwanted pregnancy.  Even so, that does not mean that he does not love and value that child from the moment of its conception.  
He does. 
    What’s left to us, is an unwanted choice between two unpleasant outcomes.  We must choose between the emotional and psychological pain and suffering that will inevitably come with the pregnancy, and the destruction of that unique and valuable life that has been created as well as the emotional and psychological pain and suffering follows that choice.   
Neither choice is a good one.
This is a complicated and difficult theological problem. 
When politicians try to oversimplify it, they sound stupid.

(Click here to go back to Part 1)

Politicians, Rape and Bad Theology (Part 1)


    What is it about politicians this year?  I know it’s an election year, and I know that politicians often say (and do) downright dumb things, but it seems that this year an unusually large number of politicians are saying them.  Some of these things we can just laugh at, but as a pastor I cringe whenever politicians make pronouncements about theology and religion.  Several things have been said this year that defy common sense.

    Most recently, Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said that that pregnancy resulting from rape can be “something that God intended.”   He has since clarified his remarks and made it clear that God does not advocate violence or rape but that if a child is conceived through rape, that this is something that God intended to happen.
    In order to even begin we need to review what we know about God.  First, God is good.  Not everyone believes this, but Christians do.  We believe that God created human beings for a reason and that even though we don’t always understand why, God loves us and wants what is best for us.  Second, God is omniscient, which means all knowing.  The Bible tells us that God knows everything that has happened and everything that will happen.  Before he created the universe he knew everything about us.  Third, everything that happens does not happen because God wantsit to happen.  The whole story of Adam and Eve teaches us that human beings are stubborn and will do things that God commands them not to do, things that hurt themselves and others.
    Saying that rape is a part of God’s plan is patently ridiculous.  Rape is violent, brutal and is both physically and emotionally damaging.  Victims of rape often require years of therapy and some are never the same again.  It seems obvious that this isn’t something that anyone ‘good’ would want.  Richard Mourdock has essentially acknowledged this in his explanation but I don’t understand his assertion that a pregnancy as a result of a rape is something that God intends.
    I suspect that Mourdock’s thinking is that since God is a good God, and also a God that is the creator and protector of life, that once a life has begun in the womb, that this must be something that God intended.  Frankly, I don’t follow that logic.  Pregnancy as the result of a rape can add a significant emotional burden to a woman who is already suffering the effects of the original trauma.  The pregnancy can, and will, stir the memories of her rape over and over again and each time they return, those memories will cause the victim more pain.  Again, I come back to the question, “How can a good God want that?”