The Scandal of Christmas

Note: This was originally a Facebook post back in 2014 and I’ve repeated it there occasionally, but I thought that it was also worth sharing here.

 

We’ve made Christmas pretty with twinkly lights, shiny decorations and well dressed characters in the nativity but we forget that Christmas was and is a story of scandal.

A baby born to poor, unmarried parents who were themselves descended from prostitutes, foreigners, adulterers, murders, and the absolute WORST king that Israel had ever had, a man who was describes as more evil than Israel’s enemy the Ammonites.

His birth was announced to shepherds, people at the very bottom of the social order. The rich, the important, and the popular were excluded.

Everything about the story is aimed at reminding us that God uses the weak, the small, the outcasts, the unpopular and the people that others call failures to do his greatest work.

The coming of the the Messiah was not the triumph of the establishment, but an invitation to everyone who has ever felt like they weren’t good enough, or rich enough, or just simply not “enough.”

The scandal of Christmas is that God came to earth to invite us all, regardless of wealth, race, popularity, nationality, or even goodness. He came to redeem and transform us, at his expense, so that we could *all* be invited into his house.

Never forget the scandal of Christmas because it was that very scandal that invited us in to become sons and daughters of God.

Merry Christmas everyone.

 

 

 

 


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A Righteous Branch

Christmas-treeA Righteous Branch

December 02, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

 

 

 

Jeremiah 33:14-16                 Luke 21:25-36                        1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

 

Hope.

As we begin the season of Advent today the word we remember, and the word that we will repeatedly encounter, is… hope.

But that the same time, we remember that the first Sunday of Advent is traditionally celebrated as the one in which we remember the contributions of the prophets of old.  These two themes are inextricably intertwined because it is in the prophecies of old, and in the faithfulness of God, that leads us to have hope for the future.

That may seem to be a little vague, but let’s begin with the prophecy and the promise of God found in Jeremiah 33:14-16 where we hear these words:

14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘In those days and at that time
    I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
    he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

We remember from last week, that God’s promise, his sacred covenant, with King David, was that one of his descendants would rule over the people of Israel in righteousness forever.  And now we hear Jeremiah say that God intends to keep that promise, that God is raising up a righteous branch from David’s family tree, a man that would do what is just and right, so that Judah and Jerusalem will live in safety.  Jeremiah also tells us that God has named that man, that righteous branch, the Lord, Our Righteous Savior.

Who else could this be but Jesus?  And as we begin our preparations for Advent and Christmas, it seems especially obvious that this must be Jesus.  But when we realize that this is Jesus, then we also remember that God has been faithful and has done what he had promised to David, to Jeremiah, and to the people of Israel.  You see, it is in remembering the faithfulness of God that we discover hope.

It is in remembering the faithfulness of God that we discover hope.

 But how?  How does remembering the past help us to have hope?  And the answer to that is found in reading the words of Jesus found in the New Testament, but today we specifically look at Jesus’ words to the disciples found in Luke 21:25-36 where we hear this:

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Jesus, the Son of Man, promises his disciples that that there will be signs that will precede his return to the earth and people who are alert and watching for those signs will know, just as we see the signs and know that spring is coming, we will know that his return is near.  But Jesus doesn’t just declare that he will return, he proclaims that when he comes, he will return, not as a suffering servant that obediently submits to torture and crucifixion, but with power and great glory as a conquering king.

But what does he mean when Jesus says, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.”?  Part of our problem in understanding comes about because we started reading in the middle of the story.  In the beginning of the conversation, the disciples were marveling over how beautiful the temple and the surrounding buildings were, and Jesus said that soon all of them would be torn down with not a single stone left upon another.  And so, as we read this part of that conversation, Jesus is explaining that the destruction of the temple was so close at hand, that most of them would live to see it.  But we can also understand that the coming of the kingdom of God begins with the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is because, as you will remember from last week, we have been called to be a kingdom and priests. 

The kingdom of God is not just something that will come on the day of judgement at Jesus’ return, the kingdom of God is something that we do every day.  With the resurrection of Jesus, the kingdom of heaven has been planted on earth, and it is up to us, every day, to live like Jesus, to become more like Jesus, and to make the world around us more like heaven than it was the day before.  It is up to us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to speak for the voiceless, and intervene for downtrodden and the abused and to, as much as possible, make our community, and our world, a better place.

But what would that look like?

In 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Paul has both kind words, and a prayer for the church in Thessalonica.

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Paul compliments the people of the church by saying that he and the others who have ministered there are filled with joy in the presence of God because of them.  They are so proud of what the church is doing for the kingdom of God, and they would be blessed by God simply by knowing that they had played a part of leading the church in that direction.  But Paul’s prayer for the church is that they might be able to return and teach them even more.  And Paul also prays that God would make their love for one another, and for everyone around them, increase and overflow.  That God would strengthen their hearts so that the people of the church would be blameless and holy in the presence of God.

Paul was proud of the work that the church was doing but his prayer was that the people would so filled with love, that the love of Jesus would overflow into the life of the church, but also into the lives of their community and everyone around them.  Paul’s greatest prayer was that the church would become so much like Jesus, that they would be blameless when they stood in the presence of God.  Just as Jesus was raised up as a righteous branch from the tree of David, we too are called to be a righteous branch growing up in the midst of the chaos of our world.

So, you see, God made a covenant with King David that one of his descendants would rule over the people of Israel in righteousness forever and, as he always does, God kept his promise.  And just as God made a promise to David, Jesus has made a promise to each of us.  Jesus has promised that he will return, not in suffering, but in triumph.  But while we wait, we are called to do the work that Jesus began, to be Jesus to the world around us, to be so filled with his love that our love overflows into the lives of one another and into the lives of the people in the community, and the world, around us. 

It is a message of promises kept.  It is a message of prophecy fulfilled, and prophecy yet to come.  It is a message that even today fills the people of God, that fills us, with purpose.

It is… a message of hope.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Purpose. Words. Action.

“Purpose. Words. Action.”

August 26, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43                      John 6:56-69              Ephesians 6:10-20

Have you ever gone on a vacation?

Or, have you ever turned a corner in a part of town that you don’t visit often, and discover that there’s a new building that you’ve never seen before?

Often, for both vacations and construction, as well as almost everything else, things seem to happen suddenly, almost magically.  We even talk about it that way.  We say things like, “We’re going to disappear for the weekend.” Or, “We just took off for a quick holiday.”  But, even something as simple as a weekend getaway doesn’t “just happen.”  We had the idea that we might want to do that, we coordinate schedules, we take time off of work, kennel the dogs, get a cat-sitter, we plan where we’re going, make reservations, pack suitcases, get the car serviced, or at least buy gas, and only after all of that do we “disappear for the weekend.”

Getting from point A to point B takes planning and preparation.

But it also takes purpose.  Before you go on a vacation or build a building, you must have a reason to do so.  It might simply be that you’re tired and need a break, but something made you decide.  You had something in mind as a goal even if your only goal was to relax.  A new building is, from the very beginning, designed with a specific goal in mind and, as a result, a church looks very different than an office building, or a factory, or a doctor’s office.  This idea is so common, that we have an expression for it, “Form follows function.”

The church is no different.  And so, when we read the story about the construction of the temple that Solomon built to honor God, we discover not only the purpose for which the temple was built, but also the purpose that God has for his people and for his church.  (1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43)

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven 23 and said:

“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. 24 You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it—as it is today.

25 “Now Lord, the God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before me faithfully as you have done.’ 26 And now, God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true.

27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. 29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— 42 for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.

I think that it’s worth noting that God promises Solomon that his descendants will continue to sit on the throne and be blessed by God only if they are careful in all that they do and walk faithfully with God as David did.  We must be careful in what we draw from this because none of us are likely to be descendants of King David and this promise is therefore not directly aimed at us, but all the same, as a general guideline, this tells us a lot about how God might choose to disburse his blessings upon his people.  We cannot reasonably expect that God will bless what we do, if we are not careful in what we do and walk faithfully with God.

But even more importantly, I think, is that after Solomon prays that God’s name will “be here” in that place, he prays that God would hear the prayers of the foreigners who have come from far away because they had heard of the greatness of Israel’s God.  Solomon prays that God would answer the prayers of the foreigner so that…, and here I need to interrupt myself.  Whenever we encounter words such as “so that” or “therefore” we need to sit up and pay attention because those words signal a conclusion that summarizes everything that came before.  And so, having built a great temple for the God of Israel, and having prayed that God would be present in it, and that God would answer the prayers of his people as well as the prayers of foreigners from far away, Solomon declared that the reason for all of it, is so that all the people of the earth would know God in the same way that the people of Israel knew God and that they would know that the temple that Solomon had built was a place where God was present.  Solomon wants the world to know that this is not Solomon’s temple, but that it is God’s Temple.

Fast forward three thousand years and that same purpose is easily transferable to us.  The purpose of this church, and of this people, is that all the people around us would know God the way that we know God and that everyone who encounters us would know that this is a place of prayer where they can meet God and experience his presence.

The purpose of the church has not changed.

Having established the purpose of the church, let’s return to the story of Jesus as he explains the idea of sharing his flesh and his blood in John 6:56-69.

56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”  And if you remember, last week we learned that John described Jesus by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  And from that we understand Jesus’ references to flesh and blood to be a connection not only to his bodily sacrifice, but to the words that he said and the things that he taught.  Jesus emphasizes this in the passage that we just read when he said, “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.”  We see this again when Peter says, “You have the words of eternal life.”

Even Jesus’ own disciples knew that this was a difficult teaching.  We must feed on the word of God to sustain our spiritual lives, just as we must eat food for our physical bodies to survive.  Jesus has the words of eternal life.  We must always keep this in mind as we set out to be the church and to save the world.  We cannot save the lost, or rescue the hurting, or be a lighthouse of hope, or even truly feed the hungry or clothe the naked unless we share with them the words and the Good News of Jesus.  What good would it be to save physical lives and, at the same time, make no attempt to rescue them for eternity?

But what else?

We know the purpose of the church, and we know that we need to consume the word of God and we know that we need to be about the business of saving the world by sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, and his words, with them.

But what else?

And again, Paul has something to say about that, this time in his letter to the church in Ephesus. (Ephesians 6:10-20)

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Paul emphasizes that our choice is more than just sharing or not sharing, and even more urgent than just reading the word or not reading it.  Paul explains that this isn’t the same as choosing between a stop at Sunoco or a stop at BP for fuel.  This is not a picnic, or even a friendly competition.  When we choose to follow Jesus Christ, we are thrust into the middle of an all-out war.  There can be no casual observers because once we put on the uniform, we have taken sides.  As followers of Jesus, we are identified as such and become the enemies of his enemies.  For our own self-defense, and for the protection of our families, friends, and fellow believers, we must arm ourselves for the fight that rages around us.  Paul urges us to put on the armor of faith, defend ourselves from the enemy, and fight against him with everything that we have within us.  Stand your ground against evil, stand for truth, be righteous and stand for righteousness, be ready, spread peace, have faith and arm yourself with the Spirit of God.  At the same time, pray for your leaders, pray for your pastor, pray for our missionaries, pray for one another, and pray for all of those whom we might reach with the message of God’s rescue.  All of these have already been identified as the enemies of Satan, all of them will fall under the attack of his armies, and all of them are in need of God’s protection.  Your prayers, for yourself, and for others, is needed, necessary, and helpful in the fight against evil and for the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ.

In short, if we know the purpose of the church, and if we are fed with the words of Jesus Christ, we must also know that stopping there simply isn’t good enough.  There is work to do.  We are at war.  And every single soldier is needed for the battle.

Let us encourage one another.

Let us pray for one another.

Let us ready ourselves.

We are at war.

We must take action.

Let’s fight to make a difference.

 

 

 

_________

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_______________

 

 

*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

More Than Family

“More Than Family”

August 12, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

Is your family close?

Do you love each other?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were created to be more than family.

Let’s act like it.

 

_________

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Karma, Deception, and Grace

“Karma, Deception, and Grace”

August 05, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a                    John 6:24-36              Ephesians 4:1-16

Have you ever heard of Karma?  Most of us have.  It’s a popular idea even if the word is often misused.  In Hinduism and Buddhism, by definition, karma is “the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.”  What that means is, karma is the thing that will punish an evildoer, by guiding them to an unpleasant reincarnation as a poor person, or as a slug, or some other unpleasant experience in proportion to the evil that they did in a previous life.  In popular usage, karma is (wrongly) thought of as “what goes around comes around” or why bad things will, eventually, happen to bad people.

But within Christianity, we don’t believe in karma.  Instead, we believe in a sovereign, all-knowing, all-seeing, God who promises justice and judgement.  In Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a, we rejoin King David’s story as David’s crimes are revealed and his punishment levied.

26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.

12:1 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”

13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Last week we noted that God was undoubtedly disappointed by David’s failure, but we realize, as we read this week’s passage, that “disappointed” doesn’t go far enough.  Our scripture tells us that “the thing David had done displeased the Lord.”  Even David, when presented the facts of his own case simply disguised as a story about a prized lamb by the prophet Nathan, condemns himself and demands that no pity should be taken on such a person.  But in the next moment, David’s sin is revealed as Nathan proclaims, “You are the man.”  Murder by proxy is still murder.  Nathan doesn’t quibble about who “pulled the trigger” or whose hands killed Uriah, Nathan simply says, “You killed him,” and “You took his wife.”  Before announcing David’s sentence.  God declares, “the sword will never depart from your house” or, that violence will always be a part of David’s life, and that members of his own family will one day betray him, and sleep with his wives.  David’s punishment is truly, “what goes around comes around” but it isn’t karma, it’s justice handed out by an all-knowing God.

David, like many people throughout history, including many people in our present-day world, was deceived by money, sex, and power, and began to believe that he was above the law.  He was the king, he was rich and powerful, so he could get away with it.  But in the end, David remembers the truth, that nothing is done that God does not see, that no one is above the laws of God, and that, in the end, no one escapes justice.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that David’s story is a condemnation of rich people.  In John 6:24-35, we hear a familiar story about Jesus in which ordinary people, and a great many of them, suffer from the same kind of deception that David did.

24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

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

An entire crowd of people climbed into boats and went in search of Jesus, but Jesus knew that every one of them had been deceived.  All these people, rich and poor alike, had followed him, not because of Jesus’ miracles, and not because of his teaching, but because they thought that he would keep feeding them.  They weren’t following Jesus the savior of mankind, or even Jesus the great teacher, they were following a meal ticket.  They didn’t follow Jesus because he confronted them with their sinfulness, or because he could help them to get closer to God, or because he would help them to become better people, they followed Jesus because of what they thought that they could get out of him.  In this case, food.

This hasn’t changed.  There are a lot of people who come to church and are known to be good upstanding members of the community and longstanding church members who have been coming to church for entirely the wrong reasons.  They come to church because their parents did, or because that simply “what good people do,” or because it’s “good for business.”  But, just like the crowds that followed Jesus, all these people have been deceived.  They are following Jesus for what they can get out of him.

And Jesus sets them all straight saying: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life.”  Jesus tells the people not to be deceived by food… or by anything that spoils.  Don’t be deceived by money, sex, or power, but neither should we be deceived by more common things like clothes, or cars, nice apartments, houses, prominent businesses, job titles, professional associations, or anything else that disappears like smoke after you die.  Instead, be concerned about things that last for eternity long after your life on earth is over.

Believe in the one that God has sent and make it your business to invite others to know him.  Only your life, and the lives of others, will endure into eternity, and only Jesus can give us the bread of life.

But if we are to keep our focus on God and not be deceived by “stuff,” then how should we live our lives?  And, once again, in his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul shares what a life lived for God might look like. (Ephesians 4:1-16)

4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it [Psalm 68:18] says:

“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Paul reminds the church that we have been called to follow Jesus, adopted into God’s family, and work alongside Jesus, on his mission, and are empowered by the Holy Spirit, and we ought to live our lives in such a way as to be worthy of that high calling.  We should be completely humble, patient, and loving and make every effort to remain in the unity of the Spirit through the peace that binds us together.  Jesus has poured out grace upon each one of us but in doing so he also gave us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

But why?

Why do we need those people?  Do we need them so that we can delegate the work of the church to them?

Clearly, Paul says, no.  Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are not employees.

Instead, Paul says that all these were called by God and sent by Jesus to equip the church for the works of service that he has called them to do.  And we are to do these works of service to build up the body of Christ until such a time that we all become mature.  And Paul says that we will be mature when we no longer act like children, no longer get tossed back and forth by our culture, no longer deceived by money, sex, power, and the craftiness of deceitful schemes.  The body of Christ, Paul says, is held together by every supporting ligament, it grows, it builds itself up in love, and every single part of the body of Christ does the work that God has called us to do.

Every single part, every single person, every single believer, has work to do.

Every one of us must be out on the field.

There are no spectators.

Maturity doesn’t come because we belong to the church and it doesn’t come simply because we stuck around for a few decades.

The way that we learn not to be deceived like David, or like the crowd that followed Jesus, the way what we become mature, is to listen and to learn from scripture.  To listen and learn from the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers that God has called so that all of us are equipped to do the work that God has called us to do.

And we must persist, we must keep on doing that work until we, eventually, become mature.

 

_________

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

A Place to Belong

“A Place to Belong”

July 22, 2018*

by Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 7:1-14a              Mark 6:30-34, 53-56               Ephesians 2:11-22

 

What does it mean to belong?

Last week we talked a lot about belonging, and that resurfaces again today, but what does that mean?  How do we know when we belong somewhere?  What is it about a place that tells us that we have found a place to belong?  What is it about our families, or places of business, or our communities, or our churches, that help us to know, or to feel, that we belong?  And even more than that, who is it that can belong there?  Can anyone belong?  Or can only certain kinds of people belong there?

These are tough questions, so let’s take them in smaller bites and walk through it just a step at a time.  We begin this morning once again in the story of David.  This time as David realizes that his house is a lot nicer than the tent in which God “lives” after his arrival in Jerusalem.  (2 Samuel 7:1-14a)

7:1 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son.

There are several points that are worth noting from this passage this morning.  First, as much as David has loved God and been passionate about following and worshipping him, and as joyful as it made him to welcome God into Jerusalem, it only now occurs to David that God’s house isn’t nearly as nice as his own.  And so, David begins planning a new home for God so that God can belong.  To David’s way of thinking, having a home is a part of belonging, but God sets David straight.  For God, having a nice house among his people has never been a priority nor has it ever been a part of belonging.  God says, I have never once lived in a nice house, but I have always been a part of my people.  They have always belonged to me, and I have always belonged to them.

We also notice that God sometimes says no, even to the people that he loves the most.  Remember, this is David, one of the Bible’s greatest heroes and the one who was described as “a man after God’s own heart.”  But God tells David, “No.”  David wants to build a temple for God and God says, “No, not yet. No, not you.”  But if we continue to read, we discover that God says “No” because God wants something that is even better than what David wants.  God intends to give David something better than what David had planned, and God also intends to give a great blessing to David’s son, and to David’s descendants.

From this we can understand two things about belonging.  First, belonging isn’t about a specific place, or about money, or about power.  Instead, belonging is about our relationships with one another.  Second, if we follow the example of God, we know we belong when we discover a place where the people want what is best for us, and we become a place of belonging when we desire what is best for others.

But what does that look like?  What does it look like to be a people who want what is best for others?

And to answer that question, we can have no better example than to look at the life of Jesus.  In Mark 6:30-34, 53-56, we read these words:

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

John Wesley once said:

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

And that’s exactly what we see here.  Jesus was doing ministry.  He was doing all the good he could, for all the people he could, as often as he could.  They were so busy, they didn’t even have a chance to eat.  And even though Jesus was trying to take care of himself, and his disciples were trying to care for him, by taking him to a quiet place to take a break and get some rest, people guessed where he was going and got there ahead of him.  And so, even when he really needed a break to get some rest, and to pray, and to be refreshed, he still had compassion and taught them anyway.  Everywhere Jesus went, people recognized him, and they brought the sick to him.  And even the people who could only reach out and touch the fringe on his robe, were healed.

These are remarkable stories.  But once again, the Apostle Paul teaches us what these stories mean to the church, to us, in the twenty-first century.  In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul says (Ephesians 2:11-22):

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Paul reminds us that all the healing, and all the crowds, and all the ministry of Jesus was a part of God’s invasion of the earth and our culture.  The arrival of Jesus was a demonstration of how God intended for the church to radically upend the culture of the world.  Jesus came to tear down the walls the separated people so that there would no longer be insiders and outsiders, citizens and foreigners, members and strangers.  Each one of us was once a stranger, or a foreigner, or an outsider, and every one of us was invited in by Jesus so that we could belong.  We were invited in to belong to Jesus’ family, belong to Jesus’ church, and belong to Jesus’ mission.  Jesus tore down the barriers that divided people between Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, black and white, the ‘in’ crowd and the outsiders, the ‘A-list’ and the ‘B-list,’ and any other division between us.

Jesus invited all of us to a place where we could belong.

And Jesus intended for the church to be that place.

Paul said that in Jesus Christ we are being built together so that we can become a place where God lives.

This is a big deal.

You see, last week’s message reminded us that we were adopted into God’s kingdom and had been given a place to belong.  But this week’s scriptures remind us that not only were we invited to belong, our mission, as the church of Jesus Christ, is to create a place where others can belong.

But how do we do that?  How do we make our church, our homes, our community, our very lives, a place of belonging?  Let’s review what we already heard today.

First, the story of King David reminds us that we need to start by inviting God to be at the center of our lives and at the center of all that we do.

Second, we need to remember that belonging isn’t about a specific place, or money, or power but it is about relationships with one another.  We become a place of belonging when we build relationships with the people outside the church.

Third, a place of belonging is a place where the people want what is best for us and where we desire what is best for others.  We become a place of belonging when we reach out and help others, lift them up, and help them to become a better version of themselves.

Jesus and John Wesley both taught that while we need to care for ourselves, we need to do all we can, for all the people we can, in all the ways that we can, as often, and as long, as we can.

But Jesus’ life also teaches us that we can’t make distinctions that divide people.  Paul said Jesus came to tear down the walls that divide us and invite the outcasts, and the outsiders, the strangers, and the foreigners, to come in, be a part, and belong.

Our job, our mission, is to become the kind of people, and the kind of church, invites and attracts the community in which we live and the people around us to come in, to belong, and to be adopted, like we were, into God’s family.

My prayer, and I hope yours is too, is that we would all be passionate about becoming the place of belonging that Jesus has called us to be.

 

_________

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

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Merger of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’

“The Merger of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’”

December 24, 2017

(4th Sunday of Advent)

By John Partridge*

 

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16                           Romans 16:25-27                               Luke 1:26-38

 

 

How many of you watch football?

 

For many people in this area, football is important.  In Massillon, for some people it rises to the level of religion or fanaticism, or both.  So can you imagine what football season is like in a home where a graduate of Washington High School in Massillon is married to an alumnus of McKinley?  We know that these things must happen.  You can buy flags for your yard that are half Ohio State and half Michigan with the words “A house divided” appearing at the bottom.  But somehow, at least apart from football season, these folks have found common ground and a way to live, and love, together.

 

Likewise, this is one of the things that makes the present day European Union all the more amazing.  It wasn’t that long ago that my German grandfather fought in the trenches against the French and, historically, parts of Europe have been at war with one another almost continuously from 500 BC and intermittently at least as far back as 5000 BC.  To have arrived at a place where 27 or 28 of these nations not only get along, but have formed a common government that protects and serves their common interests is nothing short of amazing.

 

But what happens at Christmas is bigger by far.

 

We begin this morning in 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, where King David decides that he should build a temple for the God of Israel but discovers that God has entirely different plans.


7:1 
After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you

 

Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”

 

As King David relaxes in his new palace, he realizes how much God has blessed him and decides that God ought to have a house as nice, or nicer, than his own.  The prophet Nathan knows that God loves David and has supported David since he was a boy watching his father’s sheep but God has other plans.  God tells Nathan that David is not to build him a house and in fact, God insists that he never asked for house.  Instead, God intends to make David’s name even more well-known and build a nation where the people of Israel can live forever without being disturbed, and be protected from their enemies.  Rather than demand a house or a temple for himself, God intends to build David a house and a nation by promising that David’s family will rule over Israel forever.

 

But it didn’t take long before it appeared that God had forgotten his promise to David.  Ten of the twelve tribes of Israel that were ruled by David rejected his grandson Rehoboam and the kingdom was divided.  The ten tribes who splinter off become the nation of Israel and the two that remain loyal to David’s family becomes the nation of Judah.  But even that doesn’t last very long.  Twelve or fifteen generations later (about 300 years), both Israel and Judah are conquered by Babylon and carried off into captivity where the ten tribes of Israel are lost to history forever.  The two tribes of Judah, those loyal to the family line of King David, eventually return and reestablish the nation of Israel, but after that time Israel is never truly independent and a Davidic king is never anointed as ruler over Israel.

 

It is interesting to note that during the Babylonian exile, the Israelite people continued to make an effort to keep track of who was descended from King David and one of these people, the Exilarch, was the leader of the Jewish people.  The theory was that one day Israel would again become an independent nation and the Exilarch would then be anointed as the King of Israel.  This position of Exilarch was maintained as a descendent of King David for hundreds of years but was finally lost to history around 1154 AD.

 

In any case, by the time that Jesus was born, the people were still hoping that God would keep his promise and raise up a descendent of King David to be their messiah, their rescuer and redeemer.  As we’ve mentioned before, most people thought that the messiah would be a military king that would raise an army, overthrow the Romans, and make Israel into an independent nation once again.

 

And after all of that, we arrive at the story contained in Luke 1:26-38.

 

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

 

God tells Mary that her son, as a descendent from the kingly line of David, would become the king of Israel, rule over the children of Jacob forever, and his kingdom would never end.  God was about to keep the promise that he had made to King David almost a thousand years earlier.  And, although that is a really big deal, it get’s even bigger when we realize something else that the Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 16:25-27 where he says:

 

25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

 

Paul says that we are here only because of the message of the gospel and we have been given the ability to share the Good News of that gospel message to others.  Now, we finally understand the full meaning of the Old Testament prophecies that told us about the messiah that was to come and the King that would rule and reign forever.  But Paul also says that this understanding has come to us so that the Gentiles might come to faith in Jesus Christ and thus become obedient to him.

 

And this is why Christmas is such a big deal.

 

The coming of Jesus not only represents the fulfillment of God’s promise to King David as the descendent that would rule over the people of Israel forever, but also the king that would welcome the Gentiles into that same kingdom.  Since God made a covenant with Abraham and created his Chosen People, humanity had been divided into two groups, “us” and “them.”  You were either a part of God’s covenant and a member of God’s chosen people, or you weren’t.  You were either a Jew or you weren’t and if you weren’t you were therefore a Gentile.  But the coming of Jesus changes all of that.  Jesus came not only to fulfill God’s promise to David, but also to rescue the Gentiles and thus invite the entire world into God’s kingdom.

 

Christmas is a big deal because this is the greatest merger in all of human history.  With the birth of Jesus, there is no longer any “us” or “them.”  There are no longer “insiders” and “outsiders.”

 

All of humanity has been invited into God’s family… forever.

 

We… have been invited in… and have been adopted as sons and daughters of God.

 

And that is worth celebrating.

 

Merry Christmas everyone.

 

 

 

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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.