Failing Church

 

Failing Church

September 06, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Exodus 12:1-14          Romans 13:8-14                     Matthew 18:15-20

Now that schools are starting again, despite the unusual differences in procedure due to the Coronavirus, most of us are happy to have left that chapter of our lives behind us.  While we might look back fondly on our school friendships, or on our school activities, few, if any, of us really enjoyed taking tests.  And, although as adults, they come to us less frequently, we still don’t like tests.  And maybe that’s one of the things that we like about church.  We can still develop close friendships, participate in many enjoyable activities, learn new things, study what we want and when we want, show compassion for others, and a host of other things, but, and this is important… we don’t have tests.

Or do we?

There are, repeatedly, throughout scripture, quizzes, tests, plumb lines, measuring sticks, or whatever you want to call them, that we can hold up as we look at ourselves in the mirror.  Most often, these are the tools that we use to check ourselves, and to measure our progress, as followers of God and as followers of Jesus Christ.  These are the ways that we measure how we are doing, and how well we are progressing on our journey to be more like Jesus and the people that God created us to be.  But sometimes these tests are not only for our personal use but are important measures that God intends for wider use in our homes, businesses, and communities as well as how God may evaluate our progress.

The first of these we will examine this morning is found in Exodus 12:1-14, as the people of Israel prepares for their liberation from 400 years of slavery in Egypt:

12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lambfor his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.

God commands his people to prepare a meal as a visible sign to themselves, and to all the people around them, in a way that was different from ordinary meals.  Everything about this Passover meal is designed to imply speed and haste.  The animals are cooked over the fire nearly whole, with the organs still inside, without bothering with pots of boiling water or separating the meat from the fat.  Bread is made without yeast to save time waiting for it to rise, leftovers are burnt rather than trying to save them, and the people eating are dressed as if they are to immediately depart on a journey with their cloak tucked into their belts, sandals on their feet, and a walking stick in their hands.  Today’s version of this might be a command to eat with your raincoat tied around your waist, your running shoes or hiking boots on your feet, and your car keys in your hand.  The picture is not only one of a people ready to leave at a moment’s notice, but one that was different from the ordinary and one that any observer would be certain to notice.  Sure, we might be dressed that way as we grabbed some carryout from McDonalds, but that isn’t how we’d typically eat at home or at a church dinner. 

God not only commands the people to do these things for the night of their liberation, but for them to celebrate that liberation every year forever.  And the Jewish people have done so… for the thirty-five hundred years.  This Passover celebration then becomes measuring stick.  It is an outward and visible sign of obedience to God that is different from the world around them as well one that can be seen by everyone.

And if you are tempted to think that such things are limited to the Old Testament, look at the difficult measuring stick that Jesus left for us in Matthew 18:15-20 where he says:

15 “If your brother or sistersins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will bebound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will beloosed in heaven.

19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Jesus tells his followers that correcting one another is not only normal, it should be expected, and that it is the task of every person, as well as the task of the entire gathered church body, to see to it that we all follow Jesus with diligence and that we all get along with one another.  This is a difficult teaching for us.  We don’t like confrontation, but Jesus commands us to confront one another with our sins, as a visible sign of obedience, so that the followers of Jesus will be visibly, and increasingly, different than the people around us.  Long before the term was attributed to modern efforts at quality assurance, the followers of Jesus Christ were called to subscribe to a regular cycle of continuous improvement.

And that cycle of improvement isn’t just something that we should do casually, but as a serious occupation of our minds.  In Romans 13:8-14, Paul says:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Paul reaffirms Jesus’ instructions for his followers to settle the differences between them so that we can build bonds of love and trust between the members of the church and between other believers.  Once again, these things are visible signs of obedience to God.  Our efforts to settle the differences among us, correct one another when we stray, and our love for one another should all be visible signs to the people around us that our relationship with Jesus Christ makes our community of faith different from the rest of the world.  These things are to be active practices within the body of Christ.

It is as if they are a test, or a measuring stick, for us individually and as the church.

Paul says that it is time for us to “wake up” from our slumber and take action because the return of Jesus Christ is nearer now than it ever has been.  We cannot sleep our way through the Christian life, but we are called to action, to “clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”  For the followers of Jesus, these things are to be like the annual Jewish Passover celebration.  We are called to be different.  We are commanded to practice outwardly visible signs of our obedience in ways that make us stand out as different from the rest of the world.  We are to be united in our faith, argue less, love one another, and love others more than the people around us.

As much as we worried about taking tests in school, we really should worry about this.

After all, whether individually, or collectively, the last thing we want to do, is to fail at being the church.

 

 

 


 

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/3CuJTJZEkl4

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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 Difference Making Difference

A Difference Making Difference

May 31, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 20:19-22        Acts 2:1-21      1 Corinthians 12:4-13

 Whether we hear it from retiring Baby Boomers or job-changing Gen-Xers, Millennials, or GenY or GenZ workers looking for better, or more fulfilling work, one of the phrases that we often hear is “I want to make a difference.”  I have known Baby Boomers to walked away from six figure jobs to go back to their roots and do basic research, or to take jobs at non-profits so that they could focus on doing what they loved, or on making the world a better place rather than just trying to make as much money as they could.  Many of us either won’t have that opportunity, or we can’t afford to make those kinds of decisions, but many of us do find the time to volunteer in our free time in food pantries, to ring bells for the Salvation Army, or train lifeguards for the Red Cross, teach CPR, or volunteer for other charities so that we can help others and give back to our communities.

There is something in us that wants to be a part of something outside of ourselves, to give of ourselves for something other than our own pleasure or profit, and to make life better for someone else.  But sometimes we just aren’t sure how to do that or, we are trapped by the inertia of our lives, or by indecision, and we just get carried along with the flow of life and we get stuck. 

But we are meant to spend our lives stuck in a rut.

Remember that after Jesus’ resurrection, he came to his disciples and told them about a gift.  You might remember that we read the story of John 20:19-22 a few weeks ago:

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Remember that in both Greek and Hebrew, the words for breath, wind, and spirit are the same word.  And so, Jesus breathed on them and told them about the holy breath, the holy wind, and the holy Spirit.  And then in Acts 1: 4-5, just before Jesus left the earth and ascended into heaven, he told them not to leave town until his gift would finally arrive.

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

And so, the disciples, and the followers of Jesus, stayed in Jerusalem, praying, and worshipping, and sharing stories about what they had done, and what they had learned from Jesus.  And they kept doing that… until the Day of Pentecost.  And we read that story in Acts 2:1-21.

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

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

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

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

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

Although we read this passage every year, we must resist the temptation to think that this is ordinary.  The gift of the Spirit of God was nothing short of transformational in every way.  Everyone changed.  Everyone was empowered.  Everyone was used by God, and everyone used their gifts for the Kingdom of God.  We can see that when they received the gift of the Spirit they immediately went out into the streets and began to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with people who had come to Jerusalem, from across the known world, to celebrate the Jewish holiday.  But Peter’s transformation was the most exceptional of all.  Peter, the disciple who denied he knew Jesus three times, the follower who went home to Galilee after the crucifixion, the one who, with the other disciples, would only meet after the resurrection in a house with the windows closed and the doors locked.  Peter was a man who feared being arrested and crucified for following Jesus and he allowed his fear to drive him to deny Jesus, to run away, and to hide behind locked doors. 

But all that changed at Pentecost.

In recent weeks we have seen that after Jesus’ resurrection Peter had begun to change and was becoming increasingly bold and fearless.  And, with the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost, that transformation is complete.  With the other followers who were gathered in that room, Peter goes out into the streets of Jerusalem, addresses the entire crowd who had gathered around them, and he proclaims that this is the fulfillment of scripture, that the last days foretold by the prophets had arrived and that the Spirit of God had come and was now living in, and among, the people of God.

But impressive as that is, what difference does it make to us?

It certainly might be interesting and exciting to read about the transformation of Peter, the disciples, and the other followers of Jesus in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago, but what does that have to do with us here in the twenty-first century?

And the answer, again, is everything.

In in letter to church in Corinth, more than two decades after Pentecost, Paul explains it this way:(1 Corinthians 12:4-13)

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

 12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Remember that Paul is writing to a church in Greece, almost two thousand miles from Jerusalem, and more than twenty years after Pentecost.  But he still speaks about the gift of the Spirit of God being distributed to the followers of Jesus Christ and, he says, “it is the same Spirit” that distributes them.  The story of the disciples at Pentecost cannot be disconnected from our story, nor can we discount the story of Pentecost because it was far away and long ago.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, the Spirit that came to rest upon the disciples at Pentecost, is the same Spirit that comes to us today. 

In the church of the twenty-first century, the Spirit of God still brings gifts to the followers of Jesus and, while those gifts might not be the gifts of speaking in tongues (though they might), we are assured that the gifts of God, to each one of us, are given to us for the common good.  We are given gifts that are to be used for the common good of the church, for the common good of our communities, and for the common good of the Kingdom of God.  Those gifts might be any of the examples that Paul gave, such as wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discernment, as well as gifts of service and work.  Those broad categories allow for us to receive gifts that Paul could have never understood.  We might receive gifts of facility with computers or social media, gifts of healing through the use of modern medicine, gifts of auto repair, or any other kind of work or service to others.  But regardless of what gifts they might be, we can be certain that the Spirit of God is still in the business of giving these gifts to all the followers of Jesus Christ.

On the Day of Pentecost, these gifts were transformational.  Once they received the gifts of the Spirit, the followers of Jesus were transformed and changed.  The Spirit made a difference in their lives, and that difference allowed them to make a difference in the world around them.  Two thousand years later, we haven’t simply inherited the gifts that the disciples received, the Spirit of God has carefully selected gifts for each person, and gives those gifts to the followers of Jesus for the common good of the church, for the common good of our communities, and for the common good of the Kingdom of God. 

So, what difference does it make?

The Spirit of God is the difference that makes a difference.

The Spirit makes a difference in each one of us, so that we can make a difference in the world around us.

So many people are saying, “I want to make a difference.”  Some quit their jobs, or change jobs, or work on their time off, but many are confused or frustrated because they don’t know how.  The answer is simple.  God has given you gifts.  Take the time to discover the gifts that you have been given.  And then ask God to show you how you can use them for the common good.

You can make a difference.

God intends for you to make a difference.

God’s Spirit has already equipped you to make a difference.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.

 

Let’s get busy.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


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

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


 

 

 

 
*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.