The Incredible Power of Small

It seems impossible, but there is incredible power in small things.

As we go about our business, as we watch the news, and as we experience life, most of us have accepted the reality that those things that are big will be the winners.  Billionaires will win out over millionaires, a 300-pound football linebacker is a good bet in a barfight, the state will win over a township in a legal dispute, and so on.  Face it, when David faces Goliath, Goliath usually wins.

But increasingly, I am being reminded of the enormous power of the small.

We know this almost unconsciously, but we are prone to ignore it in our conscious decision making.  Here’s what I mean:  Elephants and whales are huge, but there aren’t huge piles of dead elephants or whales anywhere.  Why? Because as soon as the large animals die, the small animals get to work.  Lions, sharks and other predators take their turn, then buzzards, fish, and smaller creatures, and then, beetles and tiny fishes, and finally bacteria and other microscopic creatures set to work.  And in this system, the web of life, each time the creatures get smaller, they grow greater in numbers.  And while a handful of lions may feast on the carcass of a dead elephant, the number of bacteria, fungi, and other microscopic creatures number in the millions and tens of millions.  We take them all for granted, but without them our planet would be overrun with dead things.

Change is like that too.

Sometimes change seems impossible.  The task is simply too hard, or too big, or too expensive, and so change is left untried.

But small is powerful.

When great ships set sail from one continent to another, the most important person on the ship is the navigator.  Over and over, history demonstrates that a tiny error in navigation, an error of one degree, or even a fraction of a degree, multiplied by a voyage of a hundred or a thousand miles, and the ship arrives far from its intended destination.  In our era, as scientists consider how to protect our planet from potentially devastating, city-sized asteroids that may come our way in the future, the answer isn’t enormous rockets with powerful nuclear weapons, but early detection.  If we can discover the danger early enough, small rockets, with tiny nudges, can redirect planet killing asteroids by a fraction, even hundredths, or thousandths of a degree and, over the course of millions of miles, the asteroid never even comes close to us.

As we approach the end of one year and the beginning of another, we often think of what we can do to make the next year better than the last.  But change is intimidating.  Our problems seem to be too big, too powerful, too expensive, or too difficult.

But remember the incredible power of the small.

Losing weight can seem impossible, but what about a pound a week?  Even a half a pound per week means a loss of twenty-five pounds by this time next year.  Drastic changes aren’t needed.  A half a pound per week can be done, gradually, by eating just a little bit less and walking a little more each day and even then, you might have to work up to it a little at a time.  Making big changes is hard, but don’t be afraid to make a little change today, and then a little more next month.

Saving for retirement sounds impossible.  But don’t let the size of the goal scare you from starting small.  Maybe you can’t afford to save hundreds of dollars a month.  But can you, occasionally, give up your morning coffee?  Or pack a lunch instead of going out to eat?  Giving up a stop for a ($2.00) coffee, twenty days each month and banking that, produces almost $50,000 over thirty years at 7 percent interest.  Packing your lunch two days each week and saving another $20 pushes that number to almost $150,000.  That still won’t get you to a comfortable retirement, but one small change can motivate you to make another, and then another, and so on.

Growing our church and adding a hundred new members sounds impossible.  But, like we saw in the previous examples, it’s our focus on the big things that often prevents us from seeing the power of the small things.  No, we can’t plan a single event, or offer any kind of training that will allow us to instantly add a hundred people on Sunday morning.  But, could you find the time to invite one person to have coffee with you this month?  Could you join a new club, or commit to making one new friend in the next year?  How hard would it be to do something nice for a neighbor or someone you know?  Could you make some hot soup for a neighbor when they’re sick?  There are thousands of ways that we can invest ourselves in the lives of the people around us.

But those small acts, done consistently, are incredibly powerful.

If each member of our church reaches just one person this year, we will touch the lives of more than a hundred people in deep and meaningful ways.  And if only ten percent of those people choose to join our church, we will add ten new families.

Most likely, none of us will run for a national political office, or write a best-seller, or have millions of followers on social media.  But just the same, we have the power to transform our church… even change the world.

We have at our disposal the incredible power of the small.

Join me.

Make this year, a year of slow and steady progress.

We can change the world.

One cup of coffee at a time.

 

_____________

Blessings,

Pastor John

 

 


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Changing the World with Muddy Boots

It’s a good thing I brought my new boots. Yesterday, my old boots (comfortable friends with lots of miles and one National Jamboree) fell apart (again). Thankfully, I had recently purchased a new pair (with Patti Partridge ‘s help and a gift from my Mama) and broke them in over the last couple of weeks. So yesterday, even though it rained all day (with a few short breaks) and all night last night, my feet stayed dry throughout the chaos of welcoming 38 or so troops from around the world. Our subcamp staff is nothing short of amazing. Of the 24 of us, only five are American, four (I think) are from the UK, one from Australia, one from Canada, and the rest from non-English speaking countries from around the world. We were able to greet almost every troop in their own language. As well, the flexibility and patience exhibited by the troops, even after traveling great distances, and being on buses for sometimes eight to ten hours (or more) has been incredible. Today, all these young people are exploring, meeting one another, playing games together, and shaping a new world. Sure, it’s hot, wet, dirty work but maybe these young people can go home and tell others that the world *can* live together in peace. Yes, we’re all having a great time. But our hope is that we’re changing the world and moving us all toward a better future at the same time. Isn’t that worth a few muddy boots?    
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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.

Transitions

change aheadChange.

As much as we sometimes say otherwise, most of us struggle with change.

And we know that in just a few weeks, we all have to figure out how to deal with some big changes.  My family is already packing boxes and donating other things as we prepare to move into a new house and prepare to attend a new church, find a new mechanic, a new grocery store, a new favorite gas station, and on and on it goes.  Thankfully, at least this time we don’t need to worry quite so much about changing school districts.

Here at Trinity, your changes will be somewhat less, but I know that there are a few of you who really struggle with far smaller changes.  More than one person has confided in me that they are uncertain about having a female pastor.  I understand that Trinity Church has never had a female pastor and that many of you haven’t either.  But I was in your shoes once and as folks have shared their concerns with me, that is the story that I’ve been telling them.  Since I’ve heard about those kinds of concerns more than once, I thought that I should share that story with all of you.

Back in the mid to late 1990’s Patti and I were still attending the church in South Akron where we met and where we were married.  This was the church where my father had been the pastor in the early 1980’s and that’s how I had begun my membership there.  After several more male pastors had succeeded by father, the bishop and the cabinet announced that our next pastor would be female.  There were many concerns expressed throughout the church.  It was nearly a shockwave of concern.  Some of the leading families in the church were known to be very conservative and at least one of the patriarchs of those families was rumored to be openly racist.  People thought at a woman simply would not be welcome as a leader of the church and many feared that her appointment would divide the church and that whole families would quit together.

But they were willing to give the new pastor a chance.

And, as far as I know, not one person left the church.  Because you see, although Pastor Linda was a woman (obviously), she was found to be more conservative in many things, than several of the male pastors that had been at our church.  She didn’t come to our church with an axe to grind or anything and more than that, she did something else.

She loved us.

Linda just loved on the entire congregation and many (okay, all) of the old curmudgeons that we worried wouldn’t like her, fell in love with Linda too.  In the end, Pastor Linda stayed at that church longer than any other pastor in the history of the church.

There were changes that we had to adapt to though.  Some because we had a female pastor, others because every pastor has their own unique personality, and still others because Pastor Linda’s husband, Pastor Mike, was appointed to a church across town.  Where we had grown accustomed to the pastor’s family attending our church, Linda’s didn’t.  Pastor Mike rarely ever came to our church.  I think I saw him two or three times in five or six years other than when we visited them in their home.  When Mike and Linda’s kids were in town, they most often attended Mike’s church, if at all.  It wasn’t what I expected.  It was different.

But different isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just different.

For many of the same reasons, you will find that things here at Trinity will be different.  Tina is going to be good at different things than I am, she might not be good at some of the things that I was, she’s going to like, and dislike, different things, she might run meetings differently, and I’m sure that there are a lot of other ways in which the two of us are different.  Only one of those things is our gender.  And after our experience with Pastor Linda, as well as seminary classmates, and other colleagues, I no longer even consider that to be an issue at all.

Different isn’t bad.  It’s just different.

In the last six years, our family has fallen in love with Trinity Church and many of the people in it.  You can be sure that I will be praying for all of you in the days ahead.

I hope that you will do what our church in Akron did.

Just give Tina a chance to be your pastor.

My bet is that you will fall in love with her too.

Blessings,

Pastor John

 

 

_________

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Ghosts and Transformation

“Ghosts and Transformation”

April 22, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Luke 24:36b-48         Acts 3:12-19               1 John 3:1-7

 

 

Have you seen all the paranormal shows on television?  It isn’t just funny movies like “Ghostbusters” anymore, there’s “Ghost Hunters,” “Paranormal Lockdown,” “Ghost Adventures,” “The Dead Files” and something like sixty others that are either currently on television or older series that are sometimes rebroadcast.  With varying degrees of seriousness, these shows describe, or investigate, the activities of supernatural, non-spiritual, beings.  More simply, ghosts.  These ghost hunters or paranormal investigators do not even consider the possibility that the disturbances they are searching for might well be the same sorts of creatures described in the Bible, but in any case there are some things that haven’t changed.

 

In two thousand years of history, there are some things that everyone seems to know about ghosts.  1) Ghosts can pass through walls and locked doors.  2) Ghosts are not bound by the laws of physics as we understand them.  By that I mean that not only can they pass through walls and locked doors, but that they can fly, swim, walk on water, and other things that living people cannot do.  3) Ghosts are generally quiet but can also occasionally communicate with the living.  4) Ghosts are not solid so you cannot shake hands with one and they have been known to pass right through a living person as well as solid objects.  And 5) because ghosts are not solid, they generally can’t move solid objects and certainly can’t eat or drink.

 

Do why does any of this matter?

 

It matters, because there were several moments when Jesus’ disciples thought that Jesus was a ghost, and each time it scared the snot out of them.  You may remember that when the disciples first saw Jesus walking on the water in the middle of a storm, they were frightened because they thought that he was a ghost.  Jesus had to call out to them, calm the storm, and explain that it was really Jesus.  And as we continue reading the Easter story, our first scripture also finds the disciples, shortly after listening to the story told by the men who had returned from Emmaus.  The disciples are afraid because, once again, they think they’ve seen a ghost.   (Luke 24:36b-48)

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

This clearly one of the best arguments that Jesus simply appeared, rather than knocking and being let in through the front door.  Jesus was supposed to be dead, but there he was and the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost.  Jesus shows them his hands, and his feet and lets them touch him.  But just to be sure, he asks for something to eat, is given a piece of fish, and eats it in front of them.  Since everyone knows that ghosts can’t eat solid food, Jesus is obviously trying to calm their fears and convince them that he is not a ghost before he begins teaching.  And once he begins his teaching, he explains from scripture why the Messiah had to suffer, die, be buried, and rise from the dead after three days.  Jesus then explains that because he has done this, the next step will be theirs.  Jesus declares that the news of repentance and forgiveness of sins must be preached to every nation, and that soon he would be sending them out to tell the world.

 

But not yet.

 

For now, Jesus tells the disciples that he is sending them a gift and that they need to stay in Jerusalem for a little longer until it arrives.  While they wait, Peter and the others travel to the temple daily to pray.  And one day, after the events of Pentecost, on the way to the temple, Peter heals a lame beggar that had spent years of his life begging at the same gate to the city.  After he is healed, he is seen running, and jumping, and praising God in the temple courts and that attracts a crowd.  People recognize the beggar that they have often walked past and they wonder if this could be the same man. (Acts 3:12-19)

 

12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 1

 

Remember, that just a month or so before, Peter and the other disciples had met Jesus while they were together in a house in which they had closed the windows and locked the doors.  They were living in fear.  They feared being discovered.  They feared being arrested.  They feared death.  They were afraid of ghosts.  They were afraid that Jesus was a ghost.  And Jesus had to keep telling them, “Peace be with you.”  A month or so earlier, Jesus could not communicate with the disciples without repeatedly telling them not to be afraid.  But now, together they walk boldly to the temple, Peter heals a lame beggar sitting at the gate to the city, and then stands up and witnesses and preaches to the gathering crowd about the risen Jesus.

 

In the span of a month to a month and a half, the disciples have been completely transformed.  Where they were quiet and afraid, they are now bold, courageous, loud, and in-your-face.  Where they had been afraid to be associated with Jesus, now they are proclaiming it in the center of the temple mount.  So dramatic is the change in the disciples, that one could easily say that they are hardly the same men.  The difference is both stark and dramatic.

 

This is not the change that you would expect if they had seen a ghost.

 

People who see ghosts tend to be more afraid, not less.

 

But meeting the risen Jesus has had quite the opposite effect.  Seeing Jesus, or rather, meeting Jesus, has transformed the disciples from a gaggle of frightened fisherman and businessmen into fearless and passionate witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus.

 

For the disciples, meeting the risen Jesus was a transformational experience.  Their lives were fundamentally and demonstrably changed.  How they acted, what they did, and even where they did it, was dramatically different after the resurrection than before it.

 

But what does that mean for us?

 

We didn’t have the opportunity to walk with, and learn from, Jesus for three years.  Most of us haven’t been to seminary, or to bible college.  So what does it mean for us to follow Jesus and to be his disciples?

 

In what scholars think is probably a letter to churches in Asia, the Apostle John wrote these words:

(1 John 3:1-7)

3:1See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

At first that may not seem to answer our question, but if we look a little deeper, we can find what we were looking for.  First, John reminds us how much God loved us and how much of his love he “lavishly” poured out on us so that we could be called the children of God.  God loved us so much that he stepped down from his throne in heaven, came down to earth, became a human being, suffered alongside of us, and then was tortured, hung on a cross, and died in our place all so that we could be forgiven by, and reconciled to, God.  When we put our trust in Jesus we know that we will one day be like him and live with him in his father’s house in heaven.

 

But John also says that “All who have this hope, purify themselves, just as he is pure.”  John also says, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”  And finally, John says, “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.”   Each of these statements tells us something about who we should be and what we should be doing.

 

John knows what it means to have his life transformed by meeting the risen Jesus.

 

And that’s exactly what he’s describing for the rest of us.

 

Everyone who comes to faith in Jesus begins to pursue purity.  They do not immediately become pure, but begin to work at purifying themselves because our desire is to become more like Jesus.  John also says that if we have seen the risen Jesus or if we even know Jesus, then we will do everything we can to stop sinning.  We want to do what is right, because Jesus has done, and is doing, what is right.  What John is describing for us, is nothing less than the total transformation of our lives.  Meeting the risen Jesus has always been, and remains still, nothing short of a transformational experience.  Once we meet Jesus, we want to become like him and we begin to do whatever we can to do so.

 

Two thousand years ago, the disciples at first thought they were seeing a ghost.

 

But ghosts don’t transform lives.

 

Only a living and resurrected Jesus does that.

 

Two thousand years later, the risen Jesus is still transforming lives.

 

Jesus is transforming lives in this church today.

 

Have you met my Jesus?

 

If you haven’t, I’d love to talk to you.

 

Maybe today is the day, that your life begins to change.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Fear, Respect, and Posers

“Fear, Respect, and Posers”

October 08, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 20:1-20                      Philippians 3:4b-14                           Matthew 21:33-46

 

 

 This morning I want us to begin by using our imagination for a moment.  Imagine if you met someone who referred to themselves as a professional race car driver, but who never drove a car.  Imagine someone who owned a steel company but the factory that they owned never produced a single ton of steel.  Imagine someone who bragged about owning a vineyard but that vineyard never produced a single grape.  In each of these cases, you would quickly begin to doubt their credentials and would suspect that they were posers, faking their way through life trying to make themselves feel important.

 

At the same time, imagine living in a place where the police department was prohibited from making arrests, had no handcuffs, no jail, and had nothing more than balloon animals and water guns to enforce the law.  Instead of stopping criminals, the police spend their time entertaining children at birthday parties.  Obviously, they wouldn’t be much of a police department and no one would take them seriously.

 

With these ideas in mind, we return to the story of the Exodus and the people of Israel.  Today we hear the words of God as he handed down the Ten Commandments to Moses and to the people. (Exodus 20:1-20)


20:1 And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

 

I could present a sermon on each one of those, but for today I wanted to stress the last sentence.  First, Moses tells the people that they should not be afraid, but then immediately says that these commandments were given so that the people would have a “fear of God” that would keep them from sinning.  Doesn’t that sound like two conflicting ideas?  How can we be unafraid, and yet fear God?

 

The simple answer is that although these words translate the same, these two uses of the word fear, and afraid, are used to express two curiously different ideas.  When Moses says “Do not be afraid” that is exactly what he means.  He is telling the people that they needn’t run from God, that they do not need to keep their distance from God, and that simply being in the presence of God is not a life threatening situation in which they must worry, from moment to moment, that God will strike them dead with a thought, a look, or a bolt of lightning.

 

On the other hand, God has given these commandments, and has revealed his presence on earth, so that we might be prevented from continuing in our sin.  As I noted in my earlier example, imagine what would happen if everyone knew that the people charged with law enforcement were prevented from, and totally incapable of, enforcing the law.  In that case, law breakers would have free reign to do whatever they wanted, and even decent people would be sorely tempted to do things they shouldn’t do.  How many people would follow the speed limit if it were announced that the State Highway Patrol and local law enforcement officers would no longer patrol the interstate highways or give out tickets?  In this case, what Moses is saying is that God is real, God is powerful beyond imagination, but that God is a good god who loves you beyond measure.  At the same time, there is a list of things that humans do that offend God and we would be wise to avoid doing them.  When they are functioning correctly and when our relationship with the police department is the way it’s supposed to be, we are not afraid to meet a police officer on the street.  We know that they are there to protect us and to keep us safe.  But we also have a healthy respect for them and for what they do, and their presence reminds us that it is wise for us to obey the law.  This deep, abiding, and healthy respect for the presence of God is what Moses describes as “the fear of God.”  We need not be afraid of him, or fear to be in his presence, but we should be stopped in our tracks by the thought of offending him and breaking his laws.

 

God’s intent is not to destroy us, but to prevent us from violating his law and thus bring harm to ourselves.

 

By the time of Paul, the commandments and the laws of God had been elevated in status by people, like the Pharisees, to become an object of worship.  The laws became so important that they became idols that distracted people away from the will of God instead of pointing toward the will of God.  And, before his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was one of those people.  But afterward, Paul understood the law in an entirely different way.  In Philippians 3:4b-14 he described his new understanding this way:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 

Paul had spent his life learning the rules, following the rules, respecting the rules, teaching the rules and then enforcing the rules.  The rules were his life’s mission.  And then, after his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul says that he considers everything that he ever did to be garbage, filth, because he now understood that following the rules can never make us good enough, but that we can only become pure because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  He now understood that we can never, on our own, be good enough, but we must continually work to get better, to become worthy of the gift that we have been given by Jesus.

 

But how do we know when we are doing the right thing?  If following a bunch of rules isn’t good enough, then how do we know when we are following Jesus the way that Jesus desires for us to follow him?  And for that, at least in part, we can turn to Matthew 21:33-46, where Jesus tells his disciples what we now call the parable of the landowner.

 

33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

 

Once again, this entire parable was told as a criticism of the leadership of Israel and of Israel’s religious leaders.  They were, in opinion of Jesus, leadership posers.  They were standing in front of the people telling them what to do and how to do it, but they weren’t doing any of the right things themselves.  They were the race car drivers who never drove a single race, steel makers who never produced a single pound of steel, and vineyard owners who never produced a single grape.  Jesus said that the measuring stick to measure a race car driver was to watch him, or her race.  We judge steel makers by how they produce steel, and we measure vineyards by how many grapes are grown.  Likewise, Jesus says, the leaders of the church, and the church itself, are measured by the fruit that they produce.  You can talk about rules all you want, you can talk about churchy stuff all you want, but in the end, the important thing is to measure how many lives have been changed because of what you are doing.

 

Although the Ten Commandments are of obvious importance, the question has never been about how well we follow them, but about why we follow them, and about the results that we get from doing so. Our calling is to follow the law, not because that’s the most important thing, but because we want to be obedient in order to express our gratitude for what Jesus has done for us.  We cannot be posers who pretend to do the work of God in order to make ourselves feel better.  We must measure our success by the people who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, the lives that have been changed, and the souls that have been drawn closer to God.

 

This is our vineyard.

 

This is the fruit that we are called to produce.

 

And Jesus warns us that if we fail, he will move us out and bring in someone else who will.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Doors Flung Open

“Doors Flung Open”

April 24, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: John 13:31-35                                Acts 11:1-18                           Revelation 21:1-6      

 

If I told you that I was going to attend a holiday celebration that included brass bands, John Phillip Sousa marches, parades, and fireworks, which holiday might you immediately think of?

I’m pretty sure that most of you guessed that was thinking about our nation’s July 4th Independence Day celebration.

If I talked about a day where we celebrated by gathering together, throwing a giant feast, and eating enormous quantities of turkey and ham, you would likely think of Thanksgiving.  And if I described a day when we exchanged gifts with our families and filled stockings by the fireplace, we would, of course, think of Christmas.

These days are days of remembrance like the Jewish feast of Passover and Pearl Harbor Day on December 7th. We remember the Alamo on February 23rd, VE Day on May 8th, and VJ Day on September 2nd, and September 11th. These are all days on which we remember specific events.  Some of these days we have deliberately set aside on our national calendars for that specific purpose.

To remember.

We set aside time every year to tell the same old stories and to pass them on to a new generation.  We do it every year so that we will not forget and so that our children and grandchildren will commit the stories to memory as well.

We want to remember, and we want future generations to remember, so that as families, as churches, as nations, and as we understand ourselves to belong to particular groups of people, we will never forget the stories that brought us to where we are and the stories that shaped us into becoming who we have become.

Although we do not have a particular date on the calendar to which we can point, our scriptures this morning describe a time that was, for us, just as momentous and just as transformational for us as a people as almost any of these other days.

We begin with the earliest of our scriptures.  It is a moment in which Jesus still lives but also one in which Jesus knows that his time is short.  In this moment, Jesus gives his disciples one of his final commands.  And, in this moment, Jesus intends to shape the character of his people for all time. (John 13:31-35)

31 When he [meaning Judas] was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

The one thing by which Jesus wants his followers to be known… is the love that they have for one another.

The hallmark of the Christian experience is supposed to be love.  If unbelievers know even one thing about the followers of Jesus, it’s supposed to be how loving we are.

This really is huge and it has incredible implications for all of us.  Every decision that we make, both internally and externally, should be measured by asking ourselves, “Is this loving?”

Wow!

That’s just not how the world works.  And so this one thing, if we can do it, sets the followers of Jesus apart from the world, and that is exactly what Jesus intended.

Next, we read this story in Acts 11:1-18 (you might recall that I made reference to this story just last week).

11:1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’

“I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’

“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.

11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter.14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Peter had preached to people who were not Jews and he had shared meals with, and slept in the home of, Simon the tanner.  And then he had done the same thing in the home of Cornelius the centurion, a man who was not even remotely Jewish.  When Peter returned to Jerusalem, the other believers, most likely including several of the disciples, criticized Peter for stooping so low as to defile himself by associating with “those people.”  Everyone knew that God loved the Jews and hated the Gentiles.  What was the point of wasting time with them?  But Peter tells them his story.  Peter tells them how God had spoken to him and sent him there to tell the Gentiles about Jesus.  Peter tells the believers in Jerusalem that not only did he preach to the Gentiles, but that the Holy Spirit, in the presence of Peter and six other Jewish witnesses, had come upon the Gentiles and they began to praise God and speak in tongues just as the believers had on the day of Pentecost.  And suddenly everyone began to understand that a gigantic, cosmic shift had occurred.  Suddenly, they understood that the world had changed, that God was doing something new, and that God really did accept people from every nation if they would follow him and do what was right.

This was a day that changed the world.

And then, finally, in the Revelation of the Apostle, John heard Jesus say that he was making all things new. (Revelation 21:1-6)

21:1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.

Far too often, people ignore the book of Revelation because they think that everything in it happens in the future and that makes it irrelevant to the people of the present age.  But listen carefully to the tense of the verbs in this passage.  John says “I saw” past tense, and a voice from the throne said, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people” – present tense, “He will wipe away every tear” – future tense, and finally, “I am making everything new” – which is a little harder, but, this is the Present-Continuous tense, which means that it is now happening, and it continues to happen in the future.

And so, yes, some of what we read in Revelation is prophecy for the future, but much of it is vitally important to us in the here and now.  What this short passage tells us is that the future will be vastly different than the present, but also that God is, at this very moment, in the process of transforming the entire world.  God no longer lives far away, but even now, makes his home among human beings in the hearts of his followers.  It is no accident that these ideas are presented at the same time.  The presence of God, in the hearts of the followers of Jesus Christ, is intended to be an engine of transformation.  God intends of us to be a part of his plan to dramatically change the world that we live in.

And so, even though you won’t find a day on the calendar for it, these moments are times that we try to regularly remember because these were moments in which the entire world was changed, and these are moments that help us to define who we are, where we come from, and where we are going.

We must always remember that the followers of Jesus Christ, if they are known by anything at all, are to be remembered by how much they love.  Every decision that we make, both within the church and outside of it, should be measured by asking ourselves, “Is this loving?”

We must always remember that there was a time when we were the outsiders.  We were once the people that everybody hated.  We were once the people who everyone was sure would never amount to anything in the eyes of God.  All the good church people were absolutely certain that God hated us and that we were eternally unredeemable.

But God invited us in.

God’s plan was to throw open the gates of the city, and to fling open the doors of his temple so that people from every race, every tribe, every nation, and every language would be welcome.

And more than that, we must always remember that changing the world isn’t something that God intends to do some time in the distant future.  God is changing the world, one life at a time, at this very moment.  God has come down to earth and taken up residence in the hearts of those who love him and God intends for us to be a part of his plan to change to world.

God intends, not only to transform us, but to work through us, so that we become engines of transformation, working together, loving together, to change the world…

…One life at a time.

 

 

 

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