Thanksgiving Overflow?

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Thanksgiving Overflow?

November 26, 2020

By Pastor John Partridge

Deuteronomy 8:7-18       Luke 17:11-19       2 Corinthians 9:6-15

In the middle of a global pandemic, we are taking a day out of our schedule to give thanks.  For many of us, our traditional celebrations have been dramatically changed, reduced, or even cancelled, and yet still we pause to give thanks.  And that’s a good thing.  Despite all the weirdness, difficulty, hardship, and yes, even death, when we pause long enough to reflect, we remember that we are, indeed, blessed.  That busyness causes us to forget our blessings is not new.  Almost as soon as the people of Israel had escaped their 400 years of slavery they already knew that once a  better life came, that they would begin to forget just how blessed they were to have a better life.  In Deuteronomy 8:7-18 we hear these words:

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws, and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

God tells the people that once they had arrived in the Promised Land, and once their lives were better, they needed to occasionally pause from their busyness and remember that it was God who had given them that life.  Despite their sweat and hard work, they would not have been where they were had it not been for God.  Yes, they busted their guts, and  yes they invested their sweat and their hard work, but if it had not been for God, they would have been doing all those things for the benefit of Egypt’s Pharaoh, and not for themselves. 

They were indeed blessed.

And God simply asked them to occasionally pause and remember that it was God who gave them the ability to do the things that they did and to have the things that they had.  But Jesus tells us that thanksgiving is more than something that we put on the calendar to do one day each year.  In Luke 17:11-19, we hear a story that should resonate with us during a pandemic, as Jesus meets ten men who were afflicted with an incurable disease.

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

God has given us gifts.  God has granted us health, and healthcare workers who struggle to make us well when we fall ill.  But how often do we say thank you to those to whom we are indebted?  Do we return to God and give thanks?  Do we appreciate, and give thanks to our healthcare team?  Do we bother to simply say “thank you” to the people around us who work to make our lives better, and easier?

It isn’t a question of setting aside a day to give thanks.

But do we live lives of thankfulness?

And, as you consider that, let us also remember Paul’s words in his letter to the church in Corinth that we find in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15.

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:

“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
    their righteousness endures forever.”

10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Paul reminds us that if we are to truly live lives of thankfulness, then we must also live lives of generosity.  Our generosity is not a fee that we pay for God’s continued blessing and it is not a tax on the blessings that we have already received.  Instead, our generosity should come from a heart that overflows with gratitude. 

Generosity is a visible sign of genuine… thanksgiving.

And so, as we take time out to give thanks for the gifts that we have been given, as we give thanks for our homes, our lives, our health, our families, and everything else, let us remember to let out thanksgiving overflow into the lives of the people around us.  Say “Thank you” to the people who make your life easier, say thank you to God for his indescribable gifts, and let us not insulate, segregate, and isolate our thanksgiving in one single day.  Let us instead live lives of thanksgiving and allow that thanksgiving to overflow as gratitude and generosity.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.


* 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.

Whining About Winning

 

 

Whining About Winning

September 20, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Exodus 16:2-15          Philippians 1:21-30               Matthew 20:1-16

 

Do you like horses?  Many of us do. 

John Wayne once said that the best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse.

But even if we don’t keep horses, or ride horses, or even if we don’t like horses very much, we often talk about them because horses have been partners with humanity for so long that they have become ingrained in in our language.

Most of us are familiar with some older phrases in English that grew out of our pre-industrial history.  We say things like “biting the hand that feed you,” (which is pretty self-explanatory), or say that something, or someone is “long in the tooth.”   That phrase, “long in the tooth” became a part of our language because horses’ teeth continue to grow as long as they live, so older horses, naturally, have longer teeth.  And that brings us to the phrase “looking a gift-horse in the mouth.”  Because a horse’s teeth can tell you a lot about how old it is, and what kind of care it has been given, it was, and is, standard practice to look in a horse’s mouth before you bought one.  But if someone was giving you a horse as a gift, it was bad form, or even rude, to look in the mouth of a horse for which you paid nothing.  After all, why would you complain about something that you were getting for free?

But throughout scripture, and in our present generation, the people of God have a bad habit of doing exactly that.  Human beings seem to make a habit of complaining, and that complaining, grumbling, whining, often continues even when God answers our prayers, gives us everything that we wanted, and even pours out blessings for which we hadn’t even hoped.  We begin in Exodus 16:2-15 where we find the people of Israel who, after four hundred years of slavery and captivity in Egypt, had been were finally free, and who had witnesses God’s protection as he destroyed the Egyptian army that had been pursuing them.

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”

Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”

10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.

11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning, you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning, there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

For four hundred and thirty years, the people of Israel pray that God would rescue them and, eventually, he does.  Then they pray that God would rescue them from the Egyptian army that is charging after them to kill them or return them to their slavery.  And they watch, as God parts the Red Sea, saves all of Israel, and destroys the chariots and horses that had been pursuing them.  And then… they complain and grumble that God doesn’t love them enough, that there isn’t enough food to eat, they maybe they ought to just return to Egypt on their own because at least when they were slaves, they had enough food.

Let me say that again.  They were rescued from slavery, given their freedom, watched as God destroyed the most powerful military machine on the planet, and then complained that God didn’t love them enough and maybe they should just give up and go back because slavery was better than freedom.  It sounds ridiculous, but this is not an exception.  Human beings do this sort of thing far more often than we care to admit.  In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells an entirely believable parable about a landowner who needed to hire workers to harvest the grapes in his vineyard.

20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denariusfor the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

So, let’s review.  There were a bunch of people who needed work and gathered in the town square to meet people who would hire them.  The landowner needed people to help with his harvest and offered them work.  He offered them the common wage for a day’s labor, in advance, and they accepted.  Several times, throughout the day, he hired more people and offered to pay them “whatever is right.”  And then, at the end of the day, he paid them the agreed upon wage, or more, and… they complained.  Because the landowner was generous, and paid everyone well, the people who had been hired first grumbled that they should have been paid more, even though they agreed that the wage he offered was fair before he hired them.

But what about us in the twenty-first century?  After two millennia of following Jesus and studying his teaching, do we have it all together or are we just as prone to whine and moan and look a gift-horse in the mouth?  In Philippians 1:21-30, Paul writes to one of the churches in Greece and says this:

To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:

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

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guardand to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former, preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

Paul starts out his letter by making it clear that everyone knew that he was in prison because of Jesus.  But, because Paul was in prison, other followers of Jesus became fearless in proclaiming and sharing the gospel message.  Different groups had different reasons, but the response to Paul’s imprisonment by the community of faith was to preach louder and more often.  And so, even though Paul was suffering, he rejoiced because he knew that good things had resulted from his pain and discomfort.

Paul believes that eventually, he will be released from prison and continue preaching.  But he knows that if he dies, he looks forward to an eternity with Jesus.  And so he tells the church that no matter what happens, they should conduct themselves in a manner worthy of Jesus Christ, work together as one to promote the gospel message, and do so without fear by those who would oppose them.  For in the end, we have been given the gifts of both believing and of suffering.  Because, as Paul explained, our suffering in the name of Jesus, is still a part of God’s plan, and good can still grow out of it.

The people of Israel were whining about winning.  They got everything that they had wanted for more than four hundred years.  They were witnesses to God’s power in ways that no one had ever seen before.  And still they complained.

The people in Jesus’ parable were paid everything that they had agreed to, and more, and still they complained that they thought they deserved more.

But Paul rejoiced while he was suffering in prison and encouraged the church to do the same thing.

The difference was that Paul remembered to look at the big picture and remembered that God had a plan for the world. 

So, what will we do?

Do we look a gift-horse in the mouth?

Do we complain because we can’t see the plan? 

Do we think that we should be paid more?

Are we angry when God blesses someone else, or bitter that others are given more than we think is fair?

Do we think that the blessings that we have received aren’t enough?

Or do we remember to look for the big picture?  Do we remember the many blessings that we have already been given and the untold prayers that have already been answered? 

Rather than complain, in the middle of our pain and suffering, let us strive together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who might oppose us.  Let us remember that both our belief in Jesus, and our suffering in his name are blessings from God.  May we be like Paul, so that our time of trial and hardship, through the blessing of Jesus Christ, can become our greatest time of victory and growth.

 

 


 

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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.

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.

The Anti-Blessings of God

The Anti-Blessings of God

June 14, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 18:1-15                  Matthew 9:35 – 10:23                Romans 5:1-8

 

 How would you feel if you prayed that God would protect you and pour out blessings on you, and what you got was trouble, suffering, and pain?  Would you feel protected and blessed?

What if you prayed, in the middle of your pain, for the suffering to end, and it just kept going, and going?  Would you feel as if God answered your prayers?

And imagine that you spent your entire life praying for God to answer one specific prayer, one that everyone around you seemed to have answered, and after a lifetime of prayer, you gave up simply because the answer to your prayer was no longer even possible.  Would you feel blessed?

Contrary to what we might want, and contrary to what some television preachers might tell you, God isn’t a genie that dispenses wealth and happiness in answer to our prayers like some kind of cosmic vending machine.  God is more complicated than that just as our lives are more complicated than simplistic sayings like “earning a living” and “raising a family.”  Life can be hard, but we worship a God who understands our needs better than we do and who dispenses blessings that are far more complex than those things for which we might have asked.  Rather than giving us things that we think we want; God blesses us with gifts that he knows we will need.  Unfortunately, we often find that these “anti-blessings” are gifts for which we would never have prayed and are gifts that we didn’t want.

In Genesis 18:1-15, we hear the story of how Abraham met God, and was given a gift for which he and Sarah, his wife, had prayed for decades.  But now, as Abraham and Sarah had given up on that prayer, after both were long past the age of having children, God begins the fulfillment of an almost forgotten promise.

18:1 The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs [about 36 pounds] of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

God visits Abraham decades after he changed his name from Abram, which means “father of many,” to Abraham, which means “father of nations.”  By the time of this visit, Abram and Sarah are in their eighties or nineties, or as the passage notes, “already very old, and Sarah was well past the age of childbearing.”  And yet, God honors his promises, and when the visitor returns a year later, the impossible has happened and Sarah, the octogenarian, has given birth to a son named Isaac.  This is amazing, and miraculous, but imagine the pain that the two of them endured for generations.  Imagine introducing yourself as “the father of nations” but having no children.  Why did God allow that to happen?  Isn’t the creation of these circumstances extraordinarily cruel?  What could God possibly have had in mind?

We will come back to that, but now, let’s consider the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples, and the warnings that he gave them, and us, at the same time in Matthew 9:35 – 10:23.

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

 10:1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town, and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you; it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because he saw people who, like sheep, were lost, aimless, alone, and suffering from a total lack of unity.  To combat that isolation, Jesus sent the disciples into the world to cast out spirits and heal the sick.  And while that sounds a bit like sending gallant knights on a brave quest, this blessing, and these gifts, come with a warning that would turn your hair white.  Jesus warns the disciples, and us, that the world isn’t going to be appreciative or grateful for the message that we carry.  Instead, Jesus frighteningly compares those that carry the message of the kingdom of God to sheep among wolves.  The disciples are warned that they will be arrested, judged, hated, beaten by their own churches, persecuted, and made homeless when they do what he has sent them to do.  But, at the same time, they will be given gifts from God, be accompanied by God, and be used by the Spirit of God.

These anti-blessings are gifts that none of us want.  Jesus isn’t promising that his followers will have wealth, comfort, happiness, and career advancement.  He is promising misery, suffering, pain, and death.  These are not the things that you would find on a recruiting poster, these are the things that wake you in a cold sweat run screaming into the night.

And so again, just as we did with Abraham, we ask ourselves, “What could God possibly have in mind?”

We find some of the answers in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (Romans 5:1-8).

5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Paul explains to the church that the things we find through our relationship with Jesus aren’t wealth, prosperity, and comfort.  What we find in Jesus… is peace with God.  Paul says that if we want to learn perseverance, we learn it through suffering.  If we want to build character, we build it through persevering through suffering.  And if we want to find hope, we find it while we are journeying through suffering and building character.  If you ask someone if they would like to learn patience, most will say yes.  But we all know that the only way to learn patience, is to live through difficult circumstances that require it.  The same is true here.  While everyone wants to have hope, and character, the path we follow as we learn them takes us through dark places that are filled with pain and suffering.

So why did God allow Abraham and Sarah to endure, and suffer, for fifty or seventy years while they waited for God to fulfill his promise?  Perhaps it is because God needed a man and woman with a specific set of skills and gifts to be the parents of Isaac.  Perhaps God needed parents with perseverance, character, and an abundance of hope.  God called Abraham and Sarah to be the parents of his new nation, but first he needed them to become the kind of people that Isaac, Israel, and the world, would need.

The same applies to the disciples and to us.  God calls us as we are, but to do the work that he has called us to do, it is often necessary for us to become the people that he needs.  And the journey from where we are to where God need us to be often passes through pain and suffering so that we can learn perseverance, character, and hope.

So yes, God just might be answering your prayer for his blessing when you are on the receiving end of trouble, suffering and pain.

And yes, when your suffering lasts longer than you had hoped, and even long after you prayed for it to end, God may just be answering your prayer in ways that you hadn’t expected.

While none of us wants these kinds of anti-blessings, God might just be allowing them today so that we can become the people that he needs tomorrow.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/8ywdXlDfGjI

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

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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.

Performance Review

Performance Review


February 17, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Jeremiah 17:5-10                      Luke 6:17-26                  1 Corinthians 15:12-20

 

When was the last time you had a performance review?

Both in secular jobs and in pastoral ministry, my job performance has been periodically evaluated.  Theoretically, this is supposed to happen annually, but in reality, my supervisors and, to a lesser extent, my Staff Parish Relations Committees, have occasionally missed those deadlines.  But regardless of how often they happen, most all of us have experienced them with some regularity.  We sit in a room together with our boss, or with a committee, and we discuss how things have been going, what things are going well, what things need to be improved, and what things we might focus on in the months ahead.  Although it is almost always stressful, sometimes the process is generally painless, and at other times, “painless” is clearly not a word that we would use to describe them.

But can you imagine what it would be like to be reviewed by God for your job performance as one of his followers or as a follower of Jesus Christ?

With that in mind, we begin this morning by reading Jeremiah 17:5-10, where we discover something that sounds very much like a performance review from God.

This is what the Lord says:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
    they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
    in a salt land where no one lives.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

10 “I the Lord search the heart
    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.”

There is some hard-hitting, close to home, preaching here that hits many of us right where we live. 

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.”

Jeremiah wastes no time and does not fool with political correctness when he says that we should not ever put our trust in kings, or presidents, or human governments, or even in pastors, priests, popes, or churches led by humans.  When we put too much trust in human beings, whether in governments or in the men and women who oversee our churches, that misplaced trust can cause our hearts to turn away from God and we become like a bush that grows in a wasteland, always wanting more, never having enough, and never being satisfied.  But, if we put our whole trust and confidence in God, then we will be like a tree that is planted by a lake or a river, never in fear of drought or summer, or sunshine, and always being fruitful and giving to the world around it.

But the last line of this passage strikes us most of all.

“I the Lord search the heart
    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.”

That clearly sounds like a performance review.

And not just a performance review, but a merit-based performance review.  God will examine our hearts and minds and reward each person based on our conduct, our behavior, and our actions. 

This serious business.  There is not a lot of “wiggle room” here.  You either perform, or you don’t, and your reward will be based on your performance.

But there are some caveats, or qualifications, that need to be made to that sort of teaching.  It needs to be explained because many of the people of Israel, or the Old Testament followers of God, read passages like that and began to believe that since rich people seemed to be blessed by God, then they must be good people, and since poor people seem to not be blessed by God, then the poor must be sinners and have somehow made God angry at them.  That line of thinking is still heard today among those who preach what is referred to as the “prosperity gospel.”  The prosperity gospel says, “If you truly believe, or if you only believe hard enough, if only your faith is strong enough, then God will make you healthy and rich.”  But that isn’t at all what Jeremiah was saying.  And, in truth, this understanding became so common that Jesus and the disciples spent a considerable time preaching against it.  One of the most famous of these lessons in contained in Luke 6:17-26 where we hear this:

17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Jesus us in the middle of healing a crowd of people from all over the region.  Some had physical illnesses, others had spiritual problems, and some might have had mental illnesses (as we understand them) as well.  Jesus was so filled with the spirit and the power of God that people were being healed simply by touching him.  But in the midst of this, Jesus looks directly at his disciples and gives a speech.  Clearly, this is something of vital importance that they needed to know, and which was illustrated in some way by the healing that was going on in front of them.

And Jesus’ message is that the kingdom of God belongs to poor people, that hungry people are blessed, that people who are experiencing great sadness, sorrow, and depression are not cursed, but will eventually rediscover laughter.  Jesus wants this followers to remember that when life stinks, you are still blessed by God, and more than that, if your life stinks because you are a follower of Jesus, or because you are doing the work of Jesus Christ, then you are blessed precisely because you are hated, insulted, excluded, and rejected.

If your life stinks because you are a follower of Jesus Christ and because you are acting like a follower of Jesus Christ, then remember that God’s own prophets were similarly mistreated.  God’s prophets were still loved, honored, and blessed by God even when the world treated them like crap. 

And so are you. 

If… you are mistreated because of Jesus.

If you live a life that honors God and does the work of Jesus Christ, even if that life stinks, you need to know that you are piling up blessings that may not ever be received until after you meet Jesus face-to-face.

At the same time, contrary to popular opinion, being rich might just mean that you are cursed by God, and not blessed.  If you are rich, or comfortable, or well fed, or spend your days in joy and laughter, or if everyone speaks well of you and thinks that you’re great, if you live well because you say the things that people want to hear… and you have forgotten to live a life that honors God, and have forgotten to live a life that does the deeds and actions of a follower of Jesus, then the only blessing that you will ever get is the one that you have now. 

And you will have all of eternity to regret the choices that you have made.

Once again, that clearly describes a merit based, performance review.

But don’t let the thought of a performance review fill you with anxiety or uncertainty.  Instead, be reassured and remember the words of Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth where he reminds them of what is true and real (1 Corinthians 15:12-20).

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Paul says that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then nothing that we have done is worth anything.  If Christ has not risen from the dead, then everyone is lost, and no one has anything in which to find hope.  But Christ is real.  And Christ really did rise from the dead.  And if Jesus rose from the dead, then he is the first born from the dead, or as Paul said, the first fruits of the dead.  And that means that everyone who has aligned themselves with Jesus, everyone who has become a follower of Jesus, carries with them the promise of resurrection from the dead. 

Paul’s message is that resurrection is real.  The Bible is real.  The Gospel message is real.  And in that reality, we have a future if we believe in Jesus Christ.  But when we believe in Jesus, we must also live for Jesus by doing the things that he has called us, and commanded us, to do.

Rest in the knowledge that, if you have put your trust in Jesus Christ, then you will be see resurrection.

Be confident that we will live, with Jesus, in God’s eternal house.

But be – daily – spurred to action, be motivated, by remembering that there will be a performance review on the day of judgement.

 

 

 

 


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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  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Struggle

“Struggle”

August 06, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

 Have you ever just sat and watched a butterfly?

 

At home we have a butterfly bush that is a favorite of humming birds and butterflies and at certain times of the year it can be crowded with flying things.  Once, at one of the zoos that we visited, we got to go through a greenhouse that was filled with butterflies.  It was an amazing experience.  Many of us have had science teachers who brought in a chrysalis and set it in an aquarium where we could watch it.  And if we were lucky, we were in school when the time came for the butterfly or moth to open the chrysalis, struggle greatly for an hour or more, climb out, and begin its new life.  But it is here when the butterfly is in the most danger, both from nature and from kindhearted humans.  While the butterfly is attempting to climb out of the chrysalis and while its wings are drying, it is nearly defenseless and utterly vulnerable to predators.  But it is also in great danger from human beings who want to be helpful because while its climb out of the chrysalis into the world is filled with struggle, if a helpful human being opens the chrysalis and lays the creature on a branch, that creature will never be a butterfly.  Its wings will never form properly, and its body will always be bloated and misshapen.  In this case, kindness has robbed the butterfly of the struggle that would have forced fluids out of its swollen body and into its wings.  Those fluids needed to come out of its body and expand its wings into their final form and the only way that they could move from one place to the other was through the struggle to squeeze out of the chrysalis and climb out into the world.  It is the struggle that completes the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, and without the struggle that miraculous transformation never happens.

 

In today’s scriptures we are reminded that much of our life, and much of our spiritual life, is filled with struggle.  But, as unpleasant as that struggle can be, it is often the vehicle that carries us from one side of transformation to the other.  We begin in Genesis 32:22-31, where we find Jacob preparing to meet his estranged brother Esau.  When they had last seen one another, Jacob had swindled Esau out of his birthright, out of his father’s blessings, and out of a third of his father’s estate and so, Jacob was afraid of what might happen at their meeting.  With that in mind we hear this:

 

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. 25When 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, 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, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

 

As Jacob prepares to meet his brother Esau, he is sending his herds, his servants, and even his family ahead of him in waves, each carrying greetings and gifts in the hope that Esau will be persuaded not to kill him or take revenge in some other way.  And on this last night before their meeting, in that place, during the night, he meets… and wrestles with, God.  Jacob demands a blessing from God before they part, but in the process wrenches his hip and acquires a limp that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.  Jacob names that places, Penial, which means “face of God” because he knew that he had met God face to face, and God gives Jacob the name Israel, which in this context likely means “struggles with God.”  On the evening before he meets his brother, a meeting which might literally become a life or death fight between brothers, Jacob meets, struggles with, and is blessed by God.  For the rest of his life he limped because of this struggle, and with every step he remembered that it was this same struggle that brought him God’s blessing.

 

The Apostle Paul lived a life that was full of struggle but in Romans 9:1-5, he outlines one of his greatest frustrations saying…


9:1 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2I 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. 5Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

 

Paul was born and raised as a Jew and he had always been proud if his heritage, his religion, and his God.  As he travelled on the road to Damascus to capture and punish those people whom he believed were perverting and damaging his faith, Paul met the risen Jesus.  Paul’s life was changed in an instant and he knew that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the rescuer of God’s people.  But the joy of that knowledge came with what he described as “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his heart because despite his love and respect for the heritage of Israel, despite the stories and the teaching of the patriarchs, despite the covenants of God, despite the construction of and the worship in the temple, and despite the ancestry of and the genealogy of Jesus, many Jews would be lost because they did not have faith in the messiah.  Paul’s great desire was to save Israel, and he wished that he could be cursed and trade places with his people so that they could be saved… but he could not.  Paul continually struggled with the difference between his compassion and love for his people and the reality that they did not know, trust, or believe in the Messiah Jesus.

 

But it was this struggle that drove him, constantly, throughout his entire life, to preach the good news, and to use whatever energy that he had to reach, and to save, the lost.

 

And then in Matthew 14:13-21 we read the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and we discover that there are everyday struggles in the Christian life as we try to be obedient and faithful.  We join the story, just as Jesus learns that his friend, and his cousin, John the Baptist, has been beheaded.

 

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.

 

Jesus is tired and he is grieving at the news he has just received.  And so he withdraws to a remote and quiet place so that he can be alone.  But the crowds follow him and as much as Jesus wants to rest, as much as he wants to grieve the loss of his friend and relative, he feels the needs of the people, has compassion on them, and cares for their needs instead of his own.  And as evening comes, the disciples realize that all these people, 5,000 men along with many of their wives and children, will need to eat and so they urge Jesus to send them away so that they can go home or buy food for themselves in nearby villages.  But instead of sending them away, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the hungry with the five small barley loaves and two fish that they found in the sack lunch of one small boy.  For the disciples this was an impossible problem.  In their eyes, they knew that one sack lunch was not nearly enough to feed a crowd of ten thousand or more people.  But Jesus sees the world differently.  Jesus never told the disciples that they should feed everyone a full meal but only that they should give the people… something.  And surprisingly, that is exactly what Jesus did.  He took what little they had, prayed over it, and shared.  Jesus shared what they had, God blessed it, and it was enough.  We are left to wonder what would have happened if the disciples had chosen to share what they had instead of complaining that they didn’t have enough.

 

The disciples of Jesus struggled with the difference between their compassion for the people in the crowd and the reality of one small sack lunch.  The disciples struggled with the difference between their generosity and the reality of their poverty.  The disciples struggled with the difference between their desire to be obedient and their willingness to trust Jesus with all that they had.  The disciples struggled because their faith was inadequate to overcome their understanding of reality.

 

As the followers of Jesus, we struggle with these same things today.  Jesus asks us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widows and the orphans, to speak for the voiceless, to be fathers to the fatherless, to love the unloved, to love mercy, and to have compassion for the people around us.  But we struggle because we don’t think we have enough.  We come to Jesus thinking that we need more, that we need more food, that we need more money, we need more time, we need to be a bigger church, we think that we simply don’t have enough.  But Jesus’ answer to our struggles is the same today as it always has been.

 

We don’t need more.

 

We just need to trust Jesus enough to share what we already have.

 

Jacob’s struggle brought him God’s blessing.

 

Paul’s struggle drove him to preach the good news, and to use all that he had to reach, and to save, the lost.

 

Our struggle is the same as that of the disciples.  Every day we struggle because we think that we don’t have enough faith, or enough money, or enough of something else.  But Jesus reminds us that we don’t need more.

 

What we need, is to trust Jesus with what we already have.

 

And we have faith that as we struggle, like the butterfly, day by day, we are being transformed, into the people God created us to be.

 

 

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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.