Who Are You in the Dark?

Who Are You in the Dark?

April 21, 2019*

Easter Sunday

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 20:1-18                          Acts 10:34-43

 

What do you do when you are alone?

When Patti (my wife) is working, or out of the house, and I am home alone, I admit that I sometime don’t really do anything at all.  But other times, I use her absence as an opportunity to do chores in the garage while her car is out of the way or, despite the fact that Patti doesn’t mind that I have hobbies, I sometimes take time, in her absence, to engage in hobbies, or work on my projects, without worrying about what other chores might need done around the house.

But what we do when no one is watching can be revealing.

C.S. Lewis once said, “Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching”

And 19th century evangelist D. L. Moody said that “Character is what you are in the dark.”

It is by that measure that we discover a revealing piece of the Easter story.  In John 20:1-18, we meet Mary Magdalene…

…in the dark…

20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

On Sunday morning, the first day of the Jewish week, the earliest that it was permitted to do work after the sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene is up before the sun and already on her way to the tomb where Jesus had been buried on Friday.  In an era thousands of years before the invention of the alarm clock, Mary is up and dressed and out of the house while the roosters are still asleep.  It is almost certain that she has been awake for most of the night.  And, while it is still dark, she discovers that the stone has been removed, the tomb is empty, and Jesus’ body is missing.  In her despair, she runs to find Peter and John, and they return with her to investigate, only to find that everything is just as she had described. 

After confirming what Mary had said in the first place, Peter and John go back to the places where they had been staying during Passover, but Mary did not.  Mary could be in no other place than the place where she had last seen Jesus.  She had followed him alongside the disciples for years, she had followed him and watched his trial, she had followed him and watched his crucifixion when almost everyone else had fled, and she had followed him that evening as he was buried in a rush before sundown.

But now, Jesus was gone.

And Mary could think of no place that she’d rather be than the last place that she had seen him.  And so, she sat beside his grave… and she wept.  But pausing to look inside the tomb again, perhaps for the twentieth or thirtieth time, each time hoping to see something different, but each time seeing the same empty tomb, and suddenly… there is something different.  Angels.  And the angels ask, “Why are you crying?”  And as she turns away from the tomb she sees, but does not recognize, Jesus.  Possibly because she was looking through her tears, and possibly because she simply didn’t expect to see a dead man to be standing upright and asking her questions.  But everything changes with a single word.

“Mary.”

Only Jesus spoke to her that way.  Only Jesus had that voice.  Only Jesus used that tone.  It was a voice that she knew so well, and had heard so often, that it was utterly unmistakable.  And she knew.

She knew.

Mary may not have yet understood how, or why, but she knew that Jesus was alive.

And in the last moment that we see Mary Magdalene in all of scripture, she goes to tell the disciples what she had seen and what she had heard.


Think about that for a moment.  After spending three years preaching, eating, sleeping, walking, and living with the disciples, Jesus appears first to Mary and not to any of the disciples.  In a culture that was all about men, Jesus appears first to a woman.  Surrounded by healthy people, Jesus announces his return to a woman who had been afflicted with, and whom he had cured from, demonic possession.  This is one of the pieces of the story that help us to believe that it must be true, because it is completely counter-cultural.  If you intended to write a fictional story in order to establish a new religion, this is clearly not how you would have written it.  Unless it was true.

Jesus was alive, Mary becomes the first missionary of the Resurrection, and I think that it’s quite likely that it had everything to do with Mary’s faith.  I suspect that these events may have been on Peter’s mind when he gave his great speech in Acts 10:34-43.

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

God does not show favoritism but accepts everyone who fears him and does what is right.  We must go out into the world and tell everyone that we can find about the Gospel message, the Good News, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ because we are witnesses.  We may not have been standing beside Mary or been in the room when she told the disciples, but we have surely seen the evidence of how Jesus has changed our lives and we know the miracles that he has done in our families and in the lives of the people around us.

We are witnesses.

Jesus has commanded us to preach, and to testify, that he is the one who God has appointed as judge, it is about him whom the prophets have written, and those that put their faith in him will be forgiven of their sins.

We know that Mary Magdalene probably came from a family that had money, but her life was anything but easy.  When she came to Jesus she was described as having the worst case of demon possession of anyone that the disciples had met.  She was said to have had seven demons, or allegorically speaking, a perfection of demon affliction.  But unlike nine out of ten lepers that Jesus healed, unlike the thousands of others whom Jesus healed of various afflictions, and unlike even the disciples themselves, Mary Magdalene did the thing that Peter promised and couldn’t deliver.  She stayed.

Mary.  Never.  Left.

Throughout his ministry, throughout his trial, throughout his crucifixion, Mary was there.

And in the dark of that Saturday evening, and the dawn of Sunday morning, Mary was there.

And so, if D. L. Moody was right, if “Character is what you are in the dark,” then on this Easter Sunday morning we know what kind of character that Mary Magdalene had but all of us are confronted with this question:

Who are you in the dark?

 

 

 


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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.

Five Lights for Dark Days

“Five Lights for Dark Days”

February 21, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-21                  Philippians 3:17 – 4:1                        Luke 13:31-35

 

Have you ever gone outside at night and just looked up at the stars?

It is nothing short of amazing,

But as amazing as that sight can be, it is magnified tenfold when you can do the same thing in a place that is far from the city where you can find real darkness.  When I have been places out in the country, even in places where you could see the city far in the distance because of the halo of light that it emitted, the stars in the heavens are a wondrous sight.

But that magnificent view can rapidly become disorienting and a little frightening when you begin to lose what little light that you have.  In the fall of 1981, my Kenmore High School graduating class was among the first to use the brand new high school building that we had watched them build all during the previous school year.  But we had moved into the new building before the contractors were completely finished with it and some of the remaining “bugs” in the system had to do with the fire alarms and the electrical system.  Of course the school administrators had reassured us that our new school was a state-of-the-art building and even included a back-up generator on the top floor that would allow the school to operate normally in the event of a power failure.  But almost every day the fire alarm would go off at least once, and sometimes several times, each day.  And on one of those days, just as we were all filing out of the building during yet another fire alarm, all of the lights went out.

And it was dark.

But then, the back-up generator started and the lights came back on… for a few seconds… until the generator died.  And then it was really, really, dark.

You should also understand that our new, state-of-the-art building didn’t have any windows.  It was more energy efficient they said.  Also, for some reason, possibly because of overconfidence in the backup generator, neither was new building equipped with batter powered emergency lights.  And so, when the lights went out you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.  And so, while the fire alarm was still going off, and a thousand students were stuck in the pitch black classrooms, hallways and stairwells.

Those of us who were there swear to this day that it was the smokers that saved us all.  In an era long before everyone carried a lighted smartphone, all of the students and teachers who frequented the smoking area outside, pulled out their lighters and stood on the doorways and landings of the stairwells and guided us all out of the building.

When it’s really dark, just a few lights can make a big difference.

And the same is true in our emotional and spiritual lives.  There are days that seem to be filled with joy and light but we also experience seasons of darkness and despair.  And in those seasons of darkness, every little bit of light can make a difference.

And so this morning we will read three scriptures from different times and from different authors and from them we will discover five basic truths that can be points of light in our seasons of darkness.

We begin in Genesis 15:1-12, 17-21 where we find God making the first covenant with Abraham and his descendants long before Abram and Sarai had even had their first child.

15:1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 

 17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

In this passage we see two things and both point to a single guiding principle that all of us should remember.  First, we see the beginning of God’s covenant, contract, and promise with the people of Israel and second, a more personal promise specifically made to Abram and Sarai.  God promises Abram that even though Abram has already given up on having children of his own with Sarai, that family will one day be as uncountable as the stars in the sky.

For those of us who know the stories, we know that God’s covenant with Abram and his descendants lasted for more than two thousand years before the birth of the Messiah and the beginning of the new covenant.  And we also know that while Abram and Sarai were given a son, that son did not arrive until they were both nearly a hundred years old.  And so, from these two promises we learn one guiding principle: God is faithful.  We know that God always keeps his promises even when it sometimes seems that he is taking far too long or has forgotten.  But God does not forget.  God always keeps his promises.

We find our second light in Philippians 3:17 – 4:1 where Paul says this:

3:17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.


4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

Here, Paul reminds the people of the church that we must be careful on whom we choose to model our lives.  We must be careful because… how we live matters. There will always be people who claim to be good but who live as if they are not.  There will always be people who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ but live as if they are not. And even though we might be ridiculed and despised because we choose to live as if our heavenly citizenship matters, we should be encouraged because how we live matters to God.

And then in Luke 13:31-35, we discover three more lights in the darkness.

31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

In the very first verse we discover a huge source of encouragement that we often miss.  Luke says that several Pharisees came to Jesus to warn him that Herod wanted him dead.  But it is the Pharisees that we often believe were Jesus’ enemies and it is the Pharisees who we accuse, as a group, of being the men who accuse Jesus and who themselves want Jesus dead.  So how is this possible that Pharisees come to Jesus in an attempt to save his life?  Some commentators say that these Pharisees just wanted Jesus to go away and go somewhere else.  But another compellingly simple answer is that all of the Pharisees weren’t bad.  Just as you can never say that all of Congress is corrupt, or that all of our enemies are evil, or that all Christians are good, it is unfair, and wrong, to say that all of the Pharisees were of one mind and that all of them believed the same things.  Some of the Pharisees were good, some of them were not out to get Jesus, and in fact there were some of them who were supportive of what Jesus was doing.  And so we find encouragement in understanding that even when you seem to be completely alone, not everyone is against you, and you may even find allies in unexpected places.

The next encouragement immediately follows the last and is similar.  When Jesus is told that Herod, the most powerful man in that part of the world, wants Jesus dead, what does he do?  Does Jesus go into hiding?  Does he do as the Pharisees suggest and go to a different place, perhaps a place where Herod’s power is not so strong?  Clearly, the answer is no.  Jesus tells the Pharisees that they are free to tell Herod to his face that Jesus intends to continue to do what he has already done and not only today, but also tomorrow, and the next day.  And so our fourth point of light comes from Jesus’ example.  When we are doing what is right, and what God has called us to do, we should continue to do it regardless of our opposition and regardless of the threats that might come against us.

Finally, we read the last part of the passage where we hear Jesus weeping over the future of Jerusalem.  Jesus speaks about the destruction and desolation of Jerusalem that will not happen for another forty years.  Jesus sees the future.  And yet, he says “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Jesus sees the future and knows that Jerusalem will be destroyed and left desolate, but he also knows that destruction is not the end of the story.  Jesus knows the future and so he must also know that will soon die.  But even so, he presses on because he knows that the destruction of Israel and even his own death is not the end.

Jesus is not discouraged because he knows that in the end, God wins.

While this is clearly not a complete list of all of the good news, we remember that when it’s really dark, just a few lights can make a big difference.  And so, here are the five encouragements we heard today that can bring a little light into our times of discouragement and darkness:

  • Even when it seems as if he has forgotten, God always keeps his promises.
  • Even when everyone around us seems to only care about themselves, how we live matters to God.
  • Even when you feel alone, not everyone is against you.
  • Even when we face opposition, when we are doing what God called us to do, just keep doing it.

And finally 5) Even when all seems lost, remember that this is not the end…

…because in the end, God wins.

 

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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 http://www.scribd.com/Pastor John Partridge. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.