Capitol Destruction

Capitol Destruction

January 24, 2021*


By Pastor John Partridge

Jonah 3:1-5, 10                      Mark 1:14-20             1 Corinthians 7:29-31

What does it mean when we say that we are in the hands of God?

Of course, we sometimes joke about being in God’s hands, or about the wrath of God, such as this exchange with the mayor of New York City in Ghostbusters where the Ghostbusters were trying to communicate the seriousness of the situation presented by the appearance of the god Zuul:

Dr Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Exactly.
Dr Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling.
Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes, volcanoes…
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria.

And, as a comedy, it was funny.  We all laughed.  But the real wrath of God is anything but funny.

The early church father Origen of Alexandria, who lived from 184 to 253 AD., once said:

“We speak, indeed, of the wrath of God. We do not, however, assert that it indicates any passion on His part, but that it is something which is assumed in order to discipline by stern means those sinners who have committed many and grievous sins.”

Origen says God’s wrath is an unfolding of discipline directed against those people, and nations, that have committed many and grievous sins.

John Calvin expanded on that by saying, “When God wants to judge a nation, He gives them wicked rulers.”

And, at the founding of our nation, George Washington shared that understanding when he urged his countrymen to build a nation that would remain in God’s good graces by saying:

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the rest is in the hands of God.”

It is worth pausing here to clarify that Washington wasn’t saying that our nation needed to fix something that was broken but was instead using a definition of repair that isn’t quite as common today than it was in the 1700’s.  In this sentence, Washington isn’t saying that our nation is broken, but that we needed to set a standard for government toward which wise and honest people would want to go, or one around which such people would want to rally.  It was Washington’s hope that this new nation would be, as Ronald Reagan described it, “A shining city on a hill,” and “A beacon of hope.”

But why does any of that matter?  Why is that relevant? 

It matters, because people and nations that wander far from God run the risk of falling out of God’s good graces.  In the biblical story of Jonah, we hear the story of the city of Nineveh, and the nation of Assyria which had become almost entirely evil.  And that evil caused God to warn them that, without repentance and change, he intended to destroy them.  Of course, Assyria and Israel were enemies, so Jonah wanted God to destroy Nineveh, but once we get past the story of Jonah’s rebellion and the incident with the whale, Jonah obeys and carries God’s message to the people of Nineveh in Jonah 3:1-5, 10 where we hear this:

3:1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

Nineveh was evil, but their repentance caused God to relent and did not bring upon them the destruction that he had threatened.  At least not right away. In the end, Nineveh and Assyria returned to their wicked ways and the prophet Nahum declares that God intends to bring them to judgement, and not long afterwards, the Babylonian Empire wipes Nineveh off the face of the planet.

Oddly enough, the message carried by Jonah was almost the same message that we hear in Mark 1:14-20 as Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.

19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Rather than declare that God intended to destroy them in seven days, the message of Jesus was that the kingdom of God had come to earth just as God had promised.  The time had come for God’s people to repent of their sins, believe the good news, and follow Jesus.  And, while Jesus calls his disciples, and while many choose to follow Jesus, many in Jerusalem, and in the nation of Israel, do not.  And less than forty years later, Rome levels Jerusalem to the ground, rebuilds it as a new Roman city named Aelia Capitolina with a temple of Jupiter in the place of the Jewish temple, and legally prohibits any Jew from living in Jerusalem for the next six or seven hundred years.

But what does that mean for us in the twenty first century?

Not surprisingly, the church in Corinth was asking a very similar question two thousand years ago and Paul explained it this way in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.

29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

Paul’s point, and the lesson from the previous stories of destruction, is that nothing in this world is truly permanent.  “Stuff” isn’t permanent, family isn’t permanent, even cities and nations are not permanent.  The only thing that lasts, is God.  It isn’t that we cannot enjoy the things that this world has to offer, or that we shouldn’t love and cling to our families, or that we shouldn’t have some loyalty to the nations in which we live, it’s that we should always remember that these things need to be secondary to our relationship with God and to the things that last for eternity.  If we want to be a part of something that lasts forever, we need to invest our time and our resources toward building that kingdom.  If we want our families to last forever, then we need to do things that will guide them into God’s kingdom alongside of us.  And if we want our nations to endure, then we need to do what we can to encourage our leaders, and steer them toward righteousness, so that our nations do not stray too far from God.

As we inaugurate a new president, we know that much will change.  But we also know that every president, and every other elected official, has failings and shortcomings.  None of us is perfect, and wandering from God’s path is, and always has been, entirely too easy.  That is true for each of us as individuals and it is true of governments and nations.  Nineveh repented and God spared them from destruction, until they once again wandered from the truth and did evil in the sight of God.  Even Jerusalem and Israel were not spared when they rejected Jesus and wandered too far from the truth.  God allowed his holy nation to be overcome by both the Babylonians and by the Roman Empire.  If history and scripture teach us anything, it is that must always keep God in the center of everything that we do.

Let us take this time to recommit ourselves to godliness and to prayer.  Let us remember to pray for all our elected officials.  Let us pray that God would grant them the wisdom to lead well, and to lead us to a place of justice and righteousness before God.  But let us also remember to keep the main thing, the main thing.  To keep God in the center of our lives, in the center of our families, and in the center of our loyalties. 

We are not, and never have been, divided by labels like Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or even American, Canadian, European, or African.  We are, instead, united under one banner, one nation, and one kingdom as the children of God and the followers of Jesus Christ.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/QsrfZUR0C5o

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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.



Brotherhood and Betrayal

Brotherhood and Betrayal

August 09, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

  

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28            Romans 10:5-15                     Matthew 14:22-33

  

The news makes me sad.

Whether I watch the evening news on television or read it on my computer, in recent months the news just makes me sad.

While our news has almost always been dominated by bad news rather than good news, it seems that, lately, the news stories that we see, and read, are either reporting on, or contributing to, a sense of division within our nation.  We seem to be increasingly divided between white and black, between Christian and non-Christian, religious and non-religious, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, (and whatever else), Conservative and Liberal, masks and no-masks, face-to-face school and distance learning, and on and on it goes.  Things have gotten so bad that it seems like our only options for peace are to only associate with the shrinking number of people who agree with us on everything, or to become media hermits that just start to tune the world out and increasingly retreat into a tiny, quiet world of our own creation.

But are those our only options?

What should we, as individuals and as a church, be doing?

Does God want us to retreat from the world?  Or are we called to do something else entirely?

Let’s begin by returning to the story of Jacob, which has now leapt ahead in time as we hear the story of Jacob’s twelfth son, Joseph. (Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28)

37:1 Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.

This is the account of Jacob’s family line.

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate[a] robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

 12 Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 13 and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied.

14 So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.

When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

16 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

17 “They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”

So, Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— 24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver [about 8 ounces, about $195 at this week’s spot price] to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

Joseph was obviously Jacob’s favorite.  He was, by far, the youngest child and was born to Jacob’s favorite wife, and Jacob gave Joseph a special robe of some kind.  This has been translated as a “coat of many colors” and in this reading it was translated as an “ornate” robe, but the truth is, the word that is rendered as “ornate” or “of many colors” is a word that is otherwise unknown to our modern Hebrew experts.  We don’t know what that word is, exactly, but whatever it is, the coat that Jacob gave to Joseph was special, it stood out, it marked him as the favorite, and it inspired and focused the pettiness, envy, and jealousy of his brothers to the point that they were willing to consider murdering him.  Reuben, the oldest, tries to calm his brothers enough to spare Joseph’s life and throw him into a cistern rather than kill him, and plans to return for him later.  But before he can, the rest of Joseph’s brothers decide to sell him to a caravan of merchants in their way to sell spices and other goods in Egypt.

Clearly, the bonds of brotherhood were betrayed and broken.

But, if you know anything at all about the story of Joseph in Egypt, this story in no way glamorizes that betrayal or the behavior of Joseph’s brothers.  Their actions are surprising, shocking, and become a cautionary tale to the world about the sins of hatred, betrayal, envy, and jealousy and the lifetime of danger, regret, and sorrow that flow from their actions.

In contrast, we can look at any number of stories from the life of Jesus but, for today, let’s look at Matthew 14:22-33, where Jesus and the disciples moving on after the execution of John the Baptist and Jesus’ feeding of fifteen thousand people (which is often called the “feeding of the five thousand.”  Remember that in that story, Jesus was trying to get away from the people to spend some time alone with God, and so after the people are fed, and finally go home, probably as evening and darkness approach, Jesus still wants to spend some time alone with God in prayer.

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

While, at first, this might not sound anything at all like the story about Joseph and his brothers, I want to think about the ways in which Jesus treats the people in this story, and in the story of the Jesus feeding the people who had come to hear him preach.  In every instance, Jesus treats the people in these stories with compassion, sympathy, and love even when the difficulties that the people found themselves in were caused by their own choices.  The people were hungry because they had traveled a considerable distance to see Jesus, stayed longer than they intended and, except for one young boy, did not bring anything with them to eat.  Peter was the one who stepped out of the boat, and it was Peter’s fear and lack of faith that caused him to sink, and yet, Jesus feeds the hungry people and he reaches out his hand and lifts Peter back into the boat.  The disciples, event the fishermen, are all afraid when they think that they see a ghost walking on the water, but Jesus soothes them and calls for them to take courage.  And, because of Jesus miracles, as well as his compassion, concern, and love for them, the disciples know that he must be the Son of God.

But how do we connect these dots?  What do either of these stories have to do with us, particularly in the twenty-first century, in the middle of a global pandemic, and a remarkably divisive culture war?

To connect those dots with today, I want to look at what Paul wrote to the church in Rome in Romans 10:5-15.  The church in Rome was a mixed-race church.  There were not only people who had come from all over the Roman Empire, there were a mixture of men and women, slaves, and free persons, as well as Jews and Gentiles who sometimes struggled to get along and find space for one another without the wrestling with the same kinds of jealousy and envy that Joseph’s brothers had felt.  And one of the things that they wrestled with, was how they should understand the laws of Moses and the writings of the prophets (what we call the Old Testament) and how the law applied to their lives in light of the ministry and teaching of Jesus Christ.  Paul says:

Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Paul explains that the shift from the prophets of old, to the teachings of Jesus Christ, was a shift in the way in which we seek righteousness.  Before, the pursuit of righteousness was an academic one.  We had to remember what all the rules were and how to follow them correctly.  But with the coming of Jesus, our pursuit of righteousness became an issue of the heart.  The word of God now lives in our hearts in such a way that we are saved by faith and express that faith by sharing it with others.  There is no longer a difference between Jews and Gentiles and, because Jesus saves everyone who puts their trust in him, neither group has an advantage over the other.

But Paul’s advice to those fighting against division wasn’t for them to take sides, or for them to retreat from the world, but to send them out into the chaos of the world to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with anyone and everyone who hadn’t yet heard it.

In a world filled with division, strained relationship, envy, arrogance, and chaos, the church, then and now, cannot retreat.  We must, as never before, move forward and share the good news.

Who do you know that needs to hear it?

 

 

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/gwzpTdJV0JU

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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.