A Change of Plan

 

A Change of Plan


February 10, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 6:1-8                            Luke 5:1-11                            1 Corinthians 15:1-11

 

Have you ever had your plans change?

It’s the kind of thing that often happens but sometimes it happens more dramatically than others.  In 2005, when Patti and I were serving the Johnsville and Steam Corners churches in Morrow County south of Mansfield, I was in the car taking our kids somewhere when suddenly, I got a phone call that one of our members was in an ambulance on his way to the emergency room.  I wasn’t yet far from home, so I called Patti, turned around, we switched cars in the driveway, Patti took the kids wherever we were going, and I headed straight to the Morrow County hospital emergency room. 

Cars get flat tires, flights get cancelled, professors miss class, the power goes out, one of your kids gets sick just as you’re leaving the house. Life is never completely within our control. Sometimes our plans change. 

And sometimes those changes are big changes.

Sometime around 2001 or 2002, I was working in an engineering job that I liked.  I thought engineering was going to be my life’s work.  But then I got laid off.  Even though the economy was good, and the job market was decent, I was unemployed for two years.  And in the process, I began to consider the possibility that God might be calling me to do something else.  At the time, pastoral ministry was about the farthest thing from my mind.  I grew up in a Methodist preacher’s house, and I always knew that I didn’t want to do what Dad did. 

But God had other plans.  That whole story is a sermon or two all by itself, but my point for today is simply this:

Plans change.

But if we look, that story is not a new one.  Last week we heard how God called the prophet Jeremiah and this week as we read Isaiah 6:1-8, we hear the story of how God changed Isaiah’s plans as well.

6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

You might remember that Jeremiah protested to God that he was too young and didn’t know how to speak, and God wasn’t buying any of his excuses.  In this passage of scripture, we hear Isaiah make a different excuse, saying that he isn’t good enough, or pure enough, that his lips are not clean enough to speak the words of God.  But God’s answer is a lot like his answer to Jeremiah.  One of the angels in the throne room of God grabs a hot coal from the altar, flies over to Isaiah, and touches his lips with it saying that now you have been purified, your guilt is gone, and your sin has been paid for.  There is no longer any reason to prevent you from answering the call of God, your excuses and your obstacles have been removed.

And, despite the reality that Isaiah was totally intimidated by his obvious sinfulness when faced with God’s holiness, he understood that God was calling him to a change in plan and accepted by saying, “Here am I. Send me!”

But dramatic changes of plan don’t end with the Old Testament.  In Luke 5:1-11 we read the story of Jesus meeting, and calling Peter, James, and John to join him as his disciples.

5:1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

When Jesus showed up at the lakeshore (at the Sea of Galilee, Gennesaret = Galilee) to preach, he and the fishermen already knew one another.  Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law, they had been together at the wedding where Jesus turned water into wine, and on a few other occasions, but clearly up to this moment, Peter, James, and John had planned to be fans of Jesus but believed that they would keep their jobs as fisherman and follow Jesus from a distance, or on weekends, or something.  Giving up their jobs, and their livelihoods, was not a part of the plan.

But when they met Jesus, there was a change in plan.

And we see the same thing again in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, as the Apostle Paul tells his story.

15:1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Paul was not originally a follower of Jesus.  Instead, Paul was a Pharisee and a part of a group that was violently opposed to the followers of Jesus.  Paul was a persecutor of Jesus’ followers.  He was the guy that had warrants for the arrest of any Jews who wouldn’t deny Jesus and would drag people back to Jerusalem to face trial for heresy.  Paul intended to keep right on persecuting Christians and never planned to stop.  He certainly never planned to become a Christian, let alone a leader in that movement.

But then, while he was traveling on the road to Damascus, Paul met the risen Jesus.

And suddenly, there was a change of plan.

And you’ve probably noticed by now that from Isaiah, to Peter, James, and John, to Paul, and even to this very moment, there is an obvious pattern.  Whenever a human being has an encounter with God, or with the risen Jesus Christ, there is an almost certain probability that your life will exhibit a change in plans.  Simply because we’re human, we are likely to resist those changes.  We don’t like change.  We’re selfish.  We want what we want.  We want to follow our own path, and our own plans.  But in all the examples that we saw in scripture this morning, we also see that God is able to remove our excuses and clear away all the obstacles that stand in the way of taking us to the place where he wants us to go.  God’s plans are always bigger, and more powerful, and vastly more important, than the ones that we came up with by ourselves.

God may not be calling you to be his prophet, or the pastor of a church, but he is calling you to walk with Jesus.   God isn’t interested in collecting fans who follow his activities from a distance, God is calling you to be his disciple. Christianity has never been a spectator sport.  God wants disciples, not fans.  If you are serious about being a follower of Jesus, then you need to accept the fact that God has called you, not only to church on Sunday, but to be a part of his plan to change the world and to rescue the lost. 

And since this is Scout Sunday and we have a room full of scouts today, I can make this next comparison.  “Scout” is a verb.  Scouting isn’t just who we are, it’s what we do.  We don’t just sit around and read books about scouting, scouting is something that we do.  What we do here at church is very much the same.  “Disciple” is a verb.  Being a disciple isn’t just something that we read about, it’s something that we do.

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ isn’t just about believing, it’s about doing.  And if you think that you can just sit back and watch from the sidelines, be prepared for…

… a dramatic change in plans.

 

 


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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.

Who Am I?

“Who Am I?”

September 03, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 3:1-15                        Romans 12:9-21                                 Matthew 16:21-28

 

 

It’s sometime hard to figure out what’s “real” and what’s not.

 

When we meet someone we want to know who they really are, and this becomes even more important when we want to do business with them, or… if they want to marry your daughter.

 

Many of us have been the victim of an unscrupulous mechanic, or had to fire a contractor that didn’t live up to our expectations, or worried about who our children were dating because we weren’t sure that they were the people they seemed to be.

 

In the age of social media, it’s all to easy to pretend that your life is more perfect than it is, or to claim that you go to church, or that you went to a certain school, or to fabricate all sorts of impressive things.  But our curiosity about the people that we meet isn’t anything new.  People have wanted to know the truth about the people that they meet as long as there have been people.  We want to know if we can trust them, and if so, we want to know how much we can trust them.

 

And that brings us to our scripture for today.  Four hundred years after the life of Joseph, the people of Israel still lived in Egypt, but after the passage of so much time, the Pharaoh on the throne no longer remembered the story of Joseph and what he had done for the nation of Egypt.  And once those lessons were forgotten, Pharaoh began to wonder who the Israelites really were, and if he could really trust them.  (Exodus 3:1-15)


3:1 
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I amThis is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lordthe God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,
the name you shall call me
from generation to generation.

 

The Pharaoh of Egypt doesn’t know who Israel is, and he doesn’t know Israel’s god, and he doesn’t know anything at all about the character of Joseph and so he decides that it’s too risky to trust that they won’t rise up and try to overthrow him and take control of his nation.  This decision leads him to oppress the descendants of Jacob and try to limit their ability to reproduce.  In turn, because of his oppression, God calls Moses to be his agent as he rescues his people.  But that causes Moses to doubt himself and wonder what it is that God sees in him.  Moses wonders why God would want him because he has already been thrown out of Egypt, and because he is disgraced in Egypt, because he is a wanted murderer in Egypt, a humble shepherd in Midian, and so Moses asks, “Who am I that I should go” and do this thing.

 

We all do that.  Many of us have struggled to understand who we are.  We often hear about young people you go off to “find themselves” and that’s exactly what they are doing.  They are struggling to decide who they are.  But a big part of the answer for us is the same as it was for Moses.

 

God’s simple answer is that it doesn’t matter who you are.  What matters is that the God who created the universe is going with you.

 

But Moses follows up with another pretty solid question.  Since the people have been living in Egypt for 400 years, and many of his own people have forgotten Jacob, and Joseph, as well as their god, and they are going to want to know who it is that wants to save them.

 

And God answers, tell them that “I am” has sent you.

 

Egypt’s gods always had a name and a description.  There was Ra, the sun-god, Amun, the wind god, Anubis, the god of death, Horus, the god of war, Isis, the goddess of magic and healing, Osiris, the god of the underworld, Set, the god of the desert, Sobek, the god of crocodiles and alligators, and on, and on.  But when Moses asks the God of Jacob what his name is, the only name big enough to define it are words that we can only use to describe ourselves.  What all this says, in one name, is that the only thing big enough to name God, is God himself.  God’s name is “I am.”

 

God is, all that is.

 

God’s message to the people of Israel is that it doesn’t matter who they are, and it doesn’t matter what has happened to them in the last 400 years, and it doesn’t matter how powerful Pharaoh and his armies are, and it doesn’t matter that many of them have forgotten God and don’t know how to worship him.

 

The only thing that matters is that the God who created all that is, is going with them.

 

And then, thousands of years later, as Jesus approached the time when he knew that he would die, we hear this story in Matthew 16:21-28.

 

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

 

After several years of teaching his disciples and telling crowds of people who they should be as followers of God, suddenly Jesus tries to explain to his friends who he is, by describing what he needed to do.  Jesus had to do these things because that is who he was, because that is why he came.  And when Peter tries to talk him out of it, Jesus declares that doing so is taking the side of the enemy because Jesus’ identity, who he is, is tied only to answering God’s call and doing what God wants him to do.  Jesus’ identity was built on God.

 

The only thing that mattered is going where God wanted him to go and doing what God wanted him to do.

 

And finally we come to Paul’s words for the church in Rome as they too wondered who they were. (Romans 12:9-21)

 

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 

Paul reminds the church that if we are to call ourselves Christians, and allow our identity to be shaped by God, then we must be sincere.  In a time when everyone is talking about “fake news” it is far more important that we not be “fake Christians.”  We must hate evil and love good, we must serve God as much as humanly possible.  Paul lists these things, not as suggestions, but as a checklist or as a measuring stick against which to check ourselves.

 

Our world is a strange, wonderful, terrible, and sometimes terrifying place. And in these difficult times we ask ourselves, “Who am I?” and we worry about the future.

God’s simple answer is that the God who created the universe is going with us.

 

We met here today in a church and we call ourselves Christians.  We claim that our identity is built as followers of Jesus Christ.  But are we fake Christians or real ones?

 

There’s really no need for us to wonder who we are.

 

If we are real Christians, then we must go where God wants us to go, and to do what God wants us to do.

 

That is who we are.

 

Otherwise it’s all just for show, and we’re all fake Christians.

 

Who are you?

 

 

 

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

 

Alive But Dead

“Alive but Dead”

April 02, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And fight he did.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

What made the difference?

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

We must all choose.

 

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

 

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

 

Lazarus answered and walked with Jesus.

 

Won’t you?

 

 

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

 

Set Free… For a Purpose

“Set Free… For a Purpose!”

August 21, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 13:10-17                 Hebrews 12:18-29                         Jeremiah 1:4-10

 

How many of you have access to the internet and use things like email, Facebook, Twitter and other things?

Like anything else, sometimes we take have to take the good with the bad.  I am not very fond at all of the political garbage that gets circulated but I love some of the things that my friends pass along.  While there is a lot of worthless junk, some things make me smile, and others can be a source of encouragement.  Not long ago, I saw a video that was, recorded from the dashboard of a police car.  In the frame of the video are both another police car and a police officer who is attempting to make an arrest.  But there is a problem.  The man being arrested is not cooperating and is bigger and stronger than the police officer.  He begins to wrestle with the officer for his gun and things look pretty grim for the good guys when something unexpected happens.

The text underneath the video tells us that the officer that we are watching is, in fact, a canine handler and his canine partner is still in the car that is seen in the video.  We are also told that just a short time before the events recorded in the video, the police department had installed a remote release that allows the officer to press a button in his pocket or on his equipment belt, and release his partner from the back of the car.  At that moment, the officer, in the midst of wrestling with the perpetrator, manages to reach his remote release button.  And in the blink of an eye, the tide turned.  In a flash, the canine officer is all over the perpetrator, wrestles him away from his human partner and pins him to the ground.  From the moment that the car door opened to the bad guy being in handcuffs, took less then ten seconds.  It was truly impressive, especially if you are a dog lover.

But the reason that this story came to my mind was the scripture that we will be reading today.  The police dog was safe and secure in the police car but being save and secure is not what police dogs have been trained for.  In order to do what he had been trained to do, the dog had to be set free.  When his handler pushed that button to open his door, there was no leash on him but he knew exactly what had to be done.  He was set free… for a purpose.

We begin our scripture lesson this morning with the prophet Jeremiah who was probably about 12 years old when God called him.  Jeremiah was worried that no one would believe him and protested his calling before God. (Jeremiah 1:4-10)

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Jeremiah complained that he was too young to be a prophet probably because he had already been told this about a lot of things.  “You’re too to do this.”  “You’re too young to do that.” And so Jeremiah internalizes those doubts and protests to God himself that he is too young to answer the call of God.

But God.

But God didn’t care for Jeremiah’s excuses nor did he care much about his fear.  God casts aside the protests of others by telling Jeremiah not to worry about his age and then he does something else.  God tells Jeremiah not to be afraid because when God calls, he does not set you loose upon the world all alone.  Instead, God calls you to go out, and then goes with you.  To further ease his fear, God touches Jeremiah and declares that he has put his words into Jeremiah’s mouth.  What’s more, God declares that Jeremiah is being called and sent out, to lift up, and to destroy entire nations, to build things, as well as to destroy things.

God called Jeremiah to be his prophet, and then he set him free… to go out into the world and to do the work of God.

God called Jeremiah and then he set him free… for a purpose.

And then in Luke 13:10-17, we hear of this encounter with Jesus:

10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

The woman that Jesus met had been bent and crippled for eighteen years and Jesus simply declares “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.”

But the synagogue leader was infuriated that Jesus would even consider healing someone on the Sabbath day, a day that no one was supposed to do work.  But Jesus exposes the ridiculousness of this manmade rule by pointing out how any sensible person would understand that untying their animals, or feeding and watering them, was allowed.  How much more so would God allow this woman to be freed from her crippling disfigurement!

Jesus healed the woman to set her free from her pain and humiliation.

Jesus broke manmade rules to set everyone free from expectations that twisted God’s commands into something ugly.

Jesus set the woman free… for a purpose.

And finally, in Hebrews 12:18-29, the Apostle Paul confronts the nagging fear of many Christians that God is big, and scary, and will strike us down because of some mistake or perceived sin.  Paul understands that the stories of the Old Testament can feed this fear of God but reaches out to calm our fears by saying this:

18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Paul understands that the stories of the Old Testament revealed a god that sometimes even terrified Moses.  But in contrast, Paul reminds us that God is also the god that invites us to live with him, the righteous, loving, and perfect god.  With God is Jesus, the priest who intercedes for us and the man who loved us so much that he gave his life for us.  While we should be cautious not to refuse God, God’s strength is intended to comfort us instead of frighten us.  As followers of God, God’s strength defines a kingdom that cannot be overthrown or defeated.  Instead of binding us into slavery through fear, God’s strength, when added to his call, is intended to set us free.

Just as he called Jeremiah to be his prophet, God calls each and every one of us to our own, unique and special ministry for his kingdom.

Just as Jesus healed the crippled woman, God has healed us of a multitude of wounds, infirmities, and sin.

Just as Jesus broke manmade rules in order to make God’s rules appear more clearly, we too are called to understand the loving Spirit of God instead of the harshness with which humans have often described him.

We have been called, to tell the world that God loves us, and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

We have not been enslaved.

We have been set free from the non-biblical rules that human beings have made for us.

We have been set free from sin.

We have been set free from death.

We have been set free… for a purpose.

 

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

God and Weasels

“God and Weasels”

July 10, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 10:25-37              Colossians 1:1-14                  Amos 5:7-17

 

Do you watch the news at all?

Does this year’s political fiasco stir up any questions for you or for your friends?

I suspect that it has, and I think that it should.

Here are some politically charged questions that are often asked by the followers of Jesus Christ as well as your average person on the street.  And, while they are politically charged questions, they deserve thoughtful, theological, answers.

Why do good things happen to bad people?

Why don’t bad things happen to bad people?

Why are there people, that no matter what they do, nothing bad ever seems to ever happen to them?

Why do these same people manipulate the media so that the people don’t ever hear the truth?

The funny thing about these questions is that, while I have put them into a 21st century context by the way that I worded them, I wasn’t referring specifically to the Bushes, Cheneys, Clintons, or anyone else.  In fact, I drew these questions from a story in the Bible from almost three thousand years ago.  (Amos 7:7-17)

This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”

“A plumb line,” I replied.

Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

“The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined;
with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”

10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:

“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’”

12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees.15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say,

“‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’

17 “Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
Your land will be measured and divided up, and you yourself will die in a pagan country.
And Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’”

Amos was just a guy herding sheep in the middle of nowhere until God called him to take a message to the people of Israel.  But when he did, the priest at the nation’s most important place of worship, the place where the king would have sacrificed and worshipped, Bethel, sends a message to King Jeroboam that Amos is trying to undermine his authority and destroy Israel.  In our terminology, he is conspiring to control the news cycle and stifle free speech, so that the people won’t have a chance to hear the truth, so that the people won’t have a chance to hear message from God that Amos is preaching.

Amaziah the priest goes on to tell Amos to go home and not to bother coming to bring God’s words to the king, to the capital city, and to the nation’s most prominent place of worship.  But Amos’s answer is this: If God has called me to bring a message to Israel then I will bring a message to Israel.  And if you want to stop me, then God has a message of disaster for you as well.

King Jeroboam didn’t like bad news and he didn’t like his people to hear bad news either.  In fact, he had been manipulating the news for so long that he didn’t want the people to hear the truth at all.  On top of that, the church, along with the nation’s most important priest, was one of his leading coconspirators. Together, they had been building something that God says doesn’t measure up, a nation, and policies, morals and ethics, that don’t match God’s standards.  And the message that Amos brought was that God himself was coming with his plumb line, his measuring stick, to see what is built to standard, to see what is straight, to find what is crooked, to test them, to measure them, and everything, and everyone, that didn’t measure up would be destroyed.

Perhaps one of the most important messages that we learn from Amos is that while God’s justice may not always be immediate, or as fast as we would hope it would be, God has not forgotten.  The weasels will get what they deserve, in God’s time.  Ignoring God does not make God, or God’s justice, go away and ignoring God’s laws does not protect you from the consequences of breaking them no matter how wealthy or important (or unimportant) you may be.

Nearly eight hundred years later, in the time of Jesus, people haven’t changed.  Leaders of the nation and of the church are still trying to manipulate and misinterpret the words of God for their own benefit but Jesus isn’t having any of it.  (Luke 10:25-37)

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

This man, who is described as an expert in Jewish law, comes to Jesus and seems confused by the meaning of one of the two fundamental laws of God, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  He accepts that this is a fundamental law of God, and he accepts that he is commanded to love his neighbor, but when it comes time to decide who his neighbor might be, he wants to play fast and loose with the definition.

He knew that he wasn’t loving and so, because “he wanted to justify himself” he tries to get Jesus to give him a definition of “neighbor” that will allow him to weasel out of loving people that he doesn’t like.

But Jesus isn’t having any of that noise.

Jesus tells him a story, in which the hero of the story, the most loving, and most godly character, is a man that every Jew has been raised and trained to hate with every fiber of his being, an enemy that they disliked more than they hated the Romans, a Samaritan.  In the end, the teacher of the law admits that it was his enemy that showed mercy, but even then he can’t bring himself to even say the word “Samaritan” out loud.

Jesus wants us to know that just like it was in the time of Amos, we can’t change God’s rules just because we don’t like them.  Redefining words, or misinterpreting scripture, to make ourselves look good is not acceptable.

We cannot follow the way of the weasel.

There is another way.

As the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Colossae, he begins by complimenting them because the things that they have been doing have people all over talking about them. (Colossians 1:1-14)

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The faith of the church in Colossae, their love, and their ministry, is bearing fruit and people are talking about them so much that Paul keeps hearing about them as he travels on his missionary journeys.  And so, Paul, and his travelling companions, are continually in prayer for the Colossian church so that God would continue the good work there, strengthen them, and give them great endurance and patience so that the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ might continue to grow throughout the world.

Jesus calls us to follow him and to obey his teaching.  But the followers of Jesus Christ are called to do things his way and not to redefine words, reinterpret, and misinterpret scripture so that we make the gospel message into something it isn’t just so that we can look good.

Instead, we are reminded of God’s promise in Deuteronomy 30:9-10 where it says, “The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors, if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

God’s justice may not always come as fast as we would hope it would but God has not forgotten.  The weasels will get what they deserve, in God’s time.

Ignoring God does not make God go away.

Ignoring God does not make God’s justice go away.

Ignoring God’s laws does not protect you from the consequences of breaking them.

We are called to follow the way of Jesus Christ… and not the way of the weasel.

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

Before Birth

“Before Birth”

June 26, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 1:57-66, 80                Acts 13:22-26                 Isaiah 49:1-6

 

How many of you have noticed that our culture, over the last forty years of more, has spent a lot of time arguing over the legality, morality, and ethics of abortion from the time of conception to the moment of birth?

Don’t get yourself worked up, because this isn’t a sermon on abortion (although I have preached them).  Instead, this morning I want to bring to mind an idea about God that while it may, or may not, inform our thinking on the issue of abortion, has even bigger implications for each one of us and how we choose to live our lives.

The message of scripture is one that you have undoubtedly heard before, and it is this:

Our God is the god who goes before us.

What that means, is that God is omniscient, which means all-knowing.  God knows everything, past, present, and future.  God knows everything that is know-able and that includes the things that happen in secret.

Most likely, we’ve all heard that before.  But what does it mean?  How does that play out in history?  And how does that have anything at all to do with me?

Let’s begin this morning by reading a bit from the prophet Isaiah, who lived and wrote the words of God, about 800 years before the birth of Jesus.  (Isaiah 49:1-6)

49:1 Listen to me, you islands;
hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
and my reward is with my God.”

And now the Lord says—
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord
and my God has been my strength—
he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Isaiah proclaims that God knew him by name, and called him to be a prophet, before he was born.  Isaiah even has a Jimmy Stewart moment that sounds like something from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  He admits that there was a time when he believed that he had worked for nothing and wasted his life, but then realized that he has worked in the service of an all-powerful God.  In the end, Isaiah trusts that whatever reward is owed to him because of his life and his work, is in the hands of a good, loving, and trustworthy God.

But Isaiah also proclaims that God has plans for the future, plans to restore Israel to its former glory, to return to Israel those whom God has protected, and finally, God intends to create a person who would call to the Gentiles so that God’s rescue and salvation could expand across the entire world.  This person was known to God, and their mission and ministry established, long before they were born.  Clearly, it is a reference, 800 years before his birth, to Jesus, the rescuer of all humanity, but it may also speak of the ministry of John the Baptist who announces the coming of Jesus.  If this passage does not speak of John indirectly, there are other passages of scripture that describe John quite clearly.  In Luke 1:57-66, 80, we hear John’s story begin this way…

57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”

62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

The Old Testament prophets told of one who would come to announce the coming of the Messiah and that person was described as someone who would be like Elijah the prophet.  But closer to the time of his birth, Elizabeth and Zechariah are told about his coming, what his name was to be, and that God had already set him apart for a special ministry.  All these things were known by God long before John was conceived in his mother’s womb.

And of course, in Acts 13:22-26, Luke reminds us of another similar story.

22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’

23 “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. 25 As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’

26 “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.

God knew everything that David would do, long before he did it and in fact, God not only knew what David would do, God knew that David would do the things that God wanted him to do.  Further, Luke makes sure that everyone reading his letter, including both Jews and Gentiles, that God’s message of salvation has been sent to us so that we could be rescued, but also entrusted to us so that we could rescue others.

So let’s review for a moment.

Isaiah tells us that God called him to be a prophet, by name, before he was born and also that God made plans for the future of Israel at least hundreds of years in advance.  Isaiah also tells us that eight hundred years before it happened, God was already planning the arrival of the Messiah and preparing the people who would surround him.

Elizabeth and Zechariah are told that they will have a child, and what God has named him, before that child is even conceived.  In addition, the mission and ministry of that man is already known to God.

And Luke tells us that the message of Jesus Christ is intended for the children of Israel and for the rest of the world.  That message of salvation and rescue was intended for us even before we were born and it is intended for future generations even before they are born.

But so what?

How does this help us to think about abortion?

What does this mean for our lives?

First of all, I promised that this isn’t a sermon on abortion, but it is worth mentioning because it crosses paths with the main point.  As we consider the abortion debate, we may not come to the same conclusions, but regardless of our personal thoughts on these matters, it is important that we think about these things.

So what does this all mean?

What it means is that our God is bigger than the ways in which we often think about him.  God is all powerful (omnipotent) and all knowing (omniscient), and exists outside of time.  The creation story tells us that God created night and day, and by doing so is arguably the creator of time itself.  But regardless, God not only knows the future, God plans and prepared the future.  More importantly, God’s plans and preparations are not vague generalities, but specific plans, involving the lives, missions, and ministries of specific people that he calls by name hundreds or thousands of years in advance.  God raises up and destroys nations and shapes cultures over vast expanses of time to prepare each moment for the mission and ministry of his people.

And if you boil that down to what it means to your life and to my life, it means that God knew you, by name, hundreds and thousands of years before you were born.  God knew about you, your life, your personality, and everything about you, before the creation of the universe itself.  God knew what you would be good at, what gifts, skills, and abilities that you would have and God knew what mission and ministry he had in mind for you, for me, and for every human being ever born.

The universe is not without meaning.

This world is not without meaning.

Your life is not without meaning.

God has a plan… and you, your gifts, your skills, your abilities, your personality, are a part of that plan.

Knowing that, we are obliged to do whatever we can, through study, meditation, and prayer, and other spiritual disciplines, to discover what God has called us to do.

And then, we must help others to know Jesus Christ, and help them to understand what God has called each of them to do.

 

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

The Gift of Excalibur

“The Gift of Excalibur”

May 15, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: John 14:8-17, 25-27                  Acts 2:1-21                             Romans 8:14-17

 

How many of you have heard of King Arthur, the one of whom so many stories, movies and plays have been written?

Now, how many of you actually know the story of King Arthur beyond the one that we heard from Walt Disney’s “The Sword and the Stone” or the Hollywood musical “Camelot” with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave?

Of course, some of you are young enough that you have no idea who Richard Harris was.  You should go home and look this up on Netflix.  There have been countless other adaptations of this story and each of them is a little different.  But honestly, if once you start looking, the variations started hundreds of years ago and even the oldest sources for the legend of Arthur can be very different from one another.

In any case, the basic story goes something like this: King Uther Pendragon fancied another man’s wife, Lady Igraine, so much that he intended to steal her by force.  To that end, he took an army to attack the castle in Cornwall belonging to her husband, the Duke of Tintagel.  During the battle, the Duke was killed, and Merlin used magic to change Uther Pendragon into the shape of the Duke so that he could sleep with Lady Igraine without her knowing.  By that deception, Arthur was conceived but Merlin didn’t work his magic for free, and in the deal that Uther had made to sleep with Lady Igraine, when Arthur was born, he was given to Merlin and Merlin, in turn, gave him to someone else as a foster parent.

Much later, Arthur, not knowing that he is the rightful heir of King Uther Pendragon, pulls a sword out of a stone and anvil.  According to the legend, that sword was well known in England and it was said that only the true and right king of all England would be able to draw it out.

Later still, Arthur complained to Merlin that he didn’t have a really good sword that he could call his own, and so Merlin took him to a lake where he met Nimue, the Lady of the Lake.  Nimue had a fantastic sword that belonged to her and her only, but she would loan it to Arthur and told him that it would serve him well.  The sword was encased by a beautiful scabbard made of gold and inlaid with precious gems but it was more than that.  The scabbard also had the power to protect Arthur from all harm on the battlefield.  Another part of the story says that the sword, through the light that reflected from it, and the magic that it held within it, had the power to bedazzle his enemies so that he could overcome them even if he were vastly outnumbered.

There are tons of books that can tell you more about the legend of the great King Arthur, but this much of the story is important to our message today.  There are three important reasons that I shared these parts of the legend of King Arthur… but I’m not going to tell you what they are until later.

We begin our scripture lesson this morning in John 14:8-17, 25-27 where we hear this:

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Jesus promised the disciples that after he leaves them, God will send his Spirit to live with us forever and that spirit will come to lead us, guide us, and to help us do the will of God.

That promise is fulfilled after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension in to heaven and we hear that story in Acts 2:1-21.

2:1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

People who witnessed the coming of the Spirit of God were amazed and wondered what it meant and Peter is more than happy to explain it to them.  The coming of the Spirit of God was prophesied by the prophet Joel as well as Jesus.  Those prophecies tell us that the coming of the Spirit would give the followers of God the power to prophecy, dream dreams, see visions, and otherwise hear the voice of God as well as to do the will of God so that all of humanity might call on the name of the Lord and be saved.

The Spirit of God gave the disciples the ability to preach in languages that they didn’t know so that the crowds of people, who had come to Jerusalem from all over the world, could hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Finally today, we read from Romans 8:14-17, where we hear Paul explain what it means for us to receive the gift of the Spirit of God.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

And that brings us back to the story of King Arthur because there are three important parallels between King Arthur and each of us who are gathered here.

First, Arthur was the true heir of the King and so are you.  Because Arthur was the true son of the King, despite the fact that he had no knowledge of his real parentage, he was able to draw the sword out of the anvil and stone.  Because you are a child of the King of kings, adopted into sonship, co-heirs with Jesus, regardless of your human parentage, you too are able to receive a great gift.  In your case, what you can receive is not a sword, but the power of the living Spirit of God.

Second, Arthur was given a great gift, Excalibur, which enabled him to do far more than he could have done through his own effort, strength and power.  And so have you.  Because, when you came to faith in Jesus Christ and put your trust in him, the Spirit of God came to live within you.  And because the Spirit of God lives within you, you are able to do far more through the power of that Spirit, than you ever could through your own effort, strength and power.

And finally, The Lady of the Lake gave Arthur the sword Excalibur because he was worthy, but in the end, Arthur was mortally wounded in battle because of a moral failure.  Similarly, Jesus said that if we love him, we must keep his commands.  Our ability to be channels of the power of the Spirit of God is limited, or even lost, when we fail to be obedient to the commands of God.

And so, as we remember and celebrate Pentecost, I want each of you to remember that you are like King Arthur.  It is as if you have been given the gift of Excalibur.  You have been declared to be a true heir of the King of kings.  You have been given a great gift.  It is a gift of indescribable power and it can help you to do the work of God’s Kingdom in ways that go far beyond your own effort, strength, courage, wisdom, and understanding.  But to wield that power effectively, you must stay close to God and do your very best to be obedient to his commands.

You are heirs of the King of kings and are servants, warriors, and knights in his service.

You have been given a gift that is more powerful than the mythical sword Excalibur, and you have been called by God to use that gift in the service of his kingdom.

How will you answer brave knight?

 

 

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