Immigration and the Church

Immigrants with Statue of LibertyWhat should we do with immigrants?

What is the right thing to do?

Does the Bible offer any help or insight into this problem at all?

With all the press and politics surrounding the issue of immigration, regardless of our personal feelings, we often wonder what the Bible can tell us about how the church ought to approach the subject.  We might also simply wonder if the Bible has anything to say about immigration at all.

It does. 

The position of the Bible is clear and consistent through both the Old and New Testaments.

Its teaching begins early.  In Deuteronomy 26:4-6, Abraham is described as a “Wandering Aramean” and the people of Israel were commanded to remember it whenever they brought a sacrifice to the Tabernacle.

The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor.

God’s instruction to his people included this instruction so that even generations later, long after they had settled and built houses and cities in the Promised Land, they would remember who they used to be.  God built this into their regular system of worship so that his people would remember that their forefather was an immigrant and they themselves used to be a nation of immigrants, nomads, and wanderers.

Thousands of years later, the writer of Hebrews echoes that same message saying, 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. (Hebrews 11:12-14)

This reminds the people of God that all of us are only passing through this life and that we are fellow travelers as we pass between life and death.   This entire existence is only a temporary stopping point on grand journey through eternity.  Throughout scripture, we are reminded that in God’s eyes we are all foreigners and strangers.

In Hebrews 13:2, the instruction is even more specific saying, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

But in Ephesians 2:18-20, Paul challenges us in another way with these words:

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.

Here, Paul says that not only were all of us foreigners and strangers in the eyes of God, the thing that made us belong to each other wasn’t ever our citizenship in any particular nation.  Instead, what makes us citizens, what makes us belong, what gives us a home, regardless of where we were born, what language we speak, or where we live, is our faith in Jesus Christ.

When we grapple with scripture, we begin to understand the larger picture regarding immigration.  Certainly, there is room for differing opinions about the policies of the United States, or the State of Ohio.  But we realize that no matter what policies we support, those policies absolutely must include treating foreigners and strangers the way that we would hope to be treated if our positions were reversed.  We are called to remember that our forebearers, and all of us, were once wanderers, strangers, and foreigners.  As so, as we meet the people who carry those labels today, we are called, by God, to treat them with humility, hospitality, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and love.

 

 

 

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Blessed Are Those Who Weep

“Blessed Are Those Who Weep”

(Seeing the Invisible)

November 06, 2016

(All Saints Sunday)

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18            Ephesians 1:11-23                             Luke 6:20-31

 

I saw a story this week about an 18 year old that got a birthday letter from her long dead mother.  Apparently, as she was dying, her mother had the chance to write down some things that she wanted her daughter to know, but they were words of wisdom that she knew she wouldn’t live long enough to share.  So, she put pen to paper and began to write down the things that she wanted her daughter to know as she approached adulthood, graduated from high school, and headed for college.  It’s the sort of message that is bound to make an impression.

We wonder what it would be like to be on the receiving end of that sort of message.

But imagine.

If you could send a message to your 16 year old self, what would you say?

We might tell our younger selves to avoid some of our poor choices, or reaffirm some of our best ones.  We might tell them to eat better, or exercise more because of the pain we experienced or the heart attacks we survived.

But, imagine that you could go back in time.  Imagine you could walk into FDR’s, or Harry Truman’s Oval Office and tell them what the future held.  Imagine you could tell the American Indians what lay ahead of them as the Europeans began to land on their shores.  Imagine that you could talk to Amelia Earhart before she left on her attempt to circumnavigate the world, or Abraham Lincoln before he went to Ford’s Theater, or the Donner Party before they left on their journey west.

What would you tell them?  What would you tell them if you had to compact your message into one or two sentences?

Even more difficult, what would you tell George Washington about the Civil War that lay one hundred years in the future?  This is the challenge presented by many of the Old Testament prophets.  They could see what was to come, but in many cases what they saw was generations in the future.  What they saw was sometimes difficult to understand but the message that they carried, although often short on details, emphasized the most important pieces.

In Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18, God’s prophet, who is living in captivity in Babylon, is given a vision of Israel, hundreds of years in the future.  And while it isn’t specific enough to build armies, or develop battle plans, or to change the course of history, it is enough to carry a message of hope to God’s people.

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.

Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.

15 “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. 16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this.

“So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’

The future that Daniel saw would bring four great beasts which would arise.  Simply by his describing them as beasts implies that they were both large and frightening.  And when he asked who or what they were, he was told that these were great kings, with great empires, that would arise over the earth.

If that alone was the end of the prophecy, everyone would have reason to be afraid and to fear the future.  But Daniel is also told that despite the rise of these great kings, God’s people will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever.  Despite Babylon, despite Persia, despite Rome, despite the rise of human empires and kings, God rules over all the earth and the people of God will prevail in the end.

In a moment when Israel’s best days would seem to be behind them, God proclaims that the future will be better.

In the same way, during a time when Christians and Jews were not in the mainstream of society and even outcasts in some ways because of their belief in only one god, and also a time when increasing pressure from society and government was suggesting that open persecution may not be far away, Paul writes a message of hope.  In this case, instead foretelling the future, Paul explains what the coming of Jesus Christ means to the future. (Ephesians 1:11-23)

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Paul says that you were included, you were chosen, to be a part of God’s eternal kingdom at the moment that you believed.  As proof, Paul says that the Holy Spirit was given to us as a deposit in order to demonstrate God’s goodwill and intent to fulfill his promise.  Just as we make a deposit on a large purchase in order to seal the contract and to demonstrate our intent to complete that purchase, God has given us the Holy Spirit as a down payment to demonstrate his commitment to fulfill his promise.  Paul continues by saying that he is praying for three things, 1) that you may know how rock solid, how trustworthy, the future will be, 2) that you may understand how wonderful and how glorious our future will be, and 3) that you might know how powerfully God watches over us.

In a moment when the future seems dark, God says that it’s really better than anything you could have imagined.

And then in Luke 6:20-31, Jesus says this:

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

As crowds gather to hear him speak, Jesus tells them that the world is not as it appears.  The poor will inherit the kingdom of God, the hungry will be satisfied, those who weep will laugh, and when people hate you, or insult you, or reject you, or say that the good things you do are evil, in all those times, you are, in God’s reality, blessed and not cursed.

In the day when the world tells you that you should be sad, rejoice instead because you know that your reward in the kingdom of heaven, is enormous.

But Jesus also warns that those who are well off must be careful because their world is not as it appears either.  When you are rich, or comfortable, or well fed, or surrounded by laughter, you may well be setting up a future that you will weep over.

The path that we must follow into the future, whether we are rich or poor, hungry or well fed, weeping or laughing, hated or loved, is exactly the same. The path that we are to follow into the future is not a path of despair, but a path of hope.  Love your enemies.  Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you.  Give to those who steal from you.  Give to everyone who asks and do for others the things you would like others to do for you.

The way forward, the path that we are to follow into the future has always been a path of hope and a path of compassion.

In a moment when Israel’s best days would seem to be behind them, God proclaims that the future will be better.

In a moment when the future seems dark, God says that it’s really better than anything you could have imagined.

This is a message for All Saints Day as we remember those that we have lost, but also, perhaps, a message for all of us as we approach one of the ugliest, and gloomiest, presidential elections in history.  The message of Daniel, and Paul, and Jesus is that the world has never been quite as it appears because in the end, God wins.

Scripture invites us to see the invisible, to see that in reality, God owns the future.

To see that everyone who has put their faith in Jesus Christ and believed in him is greatly loved by God and the promise of our future has been backed by the deposit of God’s Holy Spirit.

To see that those believers that we have loved have already moved forward into God’s future, and that same future awaits the rest of us.

To see that it doesn’t matter if our nation’s best days sometimes seem to be behind us.    It doesn’t matter if the future seems dark.  It doesn’t matter if our present is unpleasant.  What matters is that God owns the future.

And Jesus tells us that the path from where we are to where God wants us to go is a path on which we must show love, compassion, and generosity to everyone…

…even those who don’t deserve it.

 

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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.

The Call of Pain

The Call of Pain
(or, A 2×4 to the Head)
Ohio Northern University Chapel Service
September 24, 2015

Ohio Northern – The Call of Pain

This week, as you continue hearing a series of messages that build your understanding of “The Call” of God, Chaplain MacDonald had invited me to share, but my experience compels me to warn you that…

The call of God is not always a welcome one.

Remember that Moses tried to talk his way out of God’s call. Gideon kept asking for signs to make really, really sure that God wanted him. Esther had to be persuaded that there was absolutely no one else that could to the job, and even though Jeremiah answered God’s call, he was horrifically abused because those in power didn’t like the message that he delivered.

The call of God is not always a welcome one because the call of God often involves pain.

Even Daniel, who we often lift up as a great hero of the faith because of his night in the lion’s den, his confrontations of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, his interpretation of dreams, and his many great prophecies, even Daniel experienced pain. Remember that Daniel was called only after he had watched his city destroyed, many of his friends and family killed, and the treasures of God’s holy temple carried away by the enemy.

3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. (Daniel 1:3-4, NIV)

Daniel answered the call of God, but he lived his entire life as a prisoner of a foreign invader.

Good morning. My name is John Partridge and more than few years ago, I sat where you are now, a student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. From Ohio Northern I moved to Akron, Ohio and worked in Cleveland with the American Gas Association Laboratories as quality engineer and also in research and development. After ten years I moved on to Lectrotherm in North Canton where we manufactured, and remanufactured induction furnaces, control systems and other equipment for the molten metals industry. But sometime around 2002 I got called into my boss’ office. I knew something was wrong because the head of human resources was there with my boss, and that is never a good thing. Without warning, and without a single negative review or job appraisal, I was asked to clean out my office and be gone by the end of the day.

I thought that I was good at that job and, more than that, I liked that job.

Years later, I found out that I was just the first of many who would be let go (and the company eventually went bankrupt), but losing my job was devastating. By this time I was married, owned a home, and had three children so being unemployed was a big deal financially. But losing your job is a big deal emotionally as well. I had gone to school for six years to become an engineer, and I had been employed as an engineer for thirteen years. I was not quite forty years old and for more than half of my life, being an engineer was my identity. Being an engineer was who I was.

So if I was unemployed… who was I?

As college students, most of you were in kindergarten when all this happened and so you probably don’t remember how good the economy was at that time. Business was booming, the stock market had been expanding for twenty years, it was the largest period of economic expansion in the history of the United States, and it was a great time to look for a new job.

Except I couldn’t find one.

Despite the fact that I had a good degree from a good school, despite the fact that the economy was as good as it has ever been, despite the fact that I had marketable skills, solid work experience, and continuing education, I couldn’t even get in the door for an interview.

And so I prayed. I prayed a lot. I yelled at God. I was frustrated, confused and depressed. I studied the Bible. I talked to my pastor. I read books that my pastor recommended.

And I began to wonder if God had a new purpose for my life.

I had left my job at A.G.A. because I wanted to see the results of my work instead of writing reports year after year. I loved my job at Lectrotherm because we built things. Every now and then you could go out to the shop and see a tractor-trailer loaded with things that we had built as it was leaving for a customer. But after September 11, 2001, I had begun to wonder if that was enough. The machines that we were building were replacing the machines that another engineer had designed, and others had built, twenty or thirty years before. And so I wondered what purpose there was for what I was doing. If everything that I was doing would be ripped up and replaced in thirty years, in a hundred years, what difference would my life make? While I was working, these sorts of things just got pushed to the back of my mind.

But during my two years of unemployment these questions came to the surface like never before.

Eventually, I went to my pastor and asked what “this seminary thing” was all about and if it was even possible for an engineer to meet the prerequisites for getting in.

She laughed.

My pastor… laughed at me.

She said that she had known for over a year that God was calling me to ministry, but that she was afraid that if she had said anything out loud to me she might mess up whatever God was doing in my life.

What God was doing, was hitting me upside the head with a two-by-four.

My father had been a pastor. And so I had grown up in a pastor’s house. And I had sworn, for forty years, that I would never be a pastor.

But God had other ideas.

It is often said that God speaks with a “still small voice.” That idea comes from this story from the life of the prophet Elijah:

…and a great and strong wind rent the mountains… but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire
a still small voice. (1 Kings 19:11-13, NIV)

    Because of that story, people often believe that God speaks to us in a soft, quiet, librarian voice and I suppose that is true… sometimes.

But some of us are stubborn enough, and thick-headed enough, and just deaf enough, that we will never hear that still small voice. And in those cases, God is not afraid to get our attention with a two-by-four to the head.

This is, theologically speaking, the call of pain.

My call of pain led me to seminary and then to ordained, pastoral ministry.

Pain has a way of getting our attention. Pain has a way of focusing our attention in ways that no other form of motivation ever will. Pain can call us to ministry, but it can also call us away from unhealthy lifestyles, away from jobs, away from all sorts of sinful things, and away from the people, places, and things God chooses to call us away from. I want to be clear, pain isn’t always from God. Sometimes we experience pain simply because we have made bad choices, or just because we live in a fallen world and sometimes life just stinks. But whenever you experience pain, it is worth your time to consider whether or not God has allowed your pain for some purpose. Whenever you find your life is bringing you pain, it is worth your time to consider that God may have something to say to you.

God may speak to you in a quiet moment with a still small voice, but if you are anything like me, and you find ways to ignore him long enough, he will find a way to get your attention.

And in that case, no matter how thick-headed and stubborn you might be, you might want to spend some time listening to what God is trying to tell you.

Because, trust me on this, the sooner you listen…

…the less it hurts.

Nowhere to Run

“Nowhere to Run”
August 23, 2015
By John Partridge

Scripture:     1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30               Ephesians 6:10-20               John 6:56-69

Have you been reading about all that has been happening in the Middle East since the Arab Spring? There has been a rise in radicalism throughout the region that is not limited to ISIS. There are dozens of radical groups fighting against the government, and against one another, in Syria, Iran is becoming even more anti-western and anti-Christian than ever before, and although many good people are trying to help, radical groups in Egypt have dramatically escalated their attacks on Christians (who are known as Copts, or Coptic Christians in Egypt) and on Coptic Churches. Throughout the Middle East, and in many parts of North Africa, Christians are being persecuted and killed far more than they have been in generations. Ships full of refugees are arriving daily in Europe seeking asylum.

And yet, interesting stories are emerging from that part of the world that tell us that God is alive and well and still involved in the world in which we live.

Before I elaborate, I want to remember the story of Jonah. We aren’t going to read it today, but remember that God called Jonah and sent him on a mission. But Jonah didn’t want to go and, for whatever reason, Jonah thought that if he could just get far enough away, God wouldn’t be able to find him. And so, Jonah looked at the map, picked the port that was farthest away on the map. Jonah bought a ticket to Tarshish, a city in North Africa on the Atlantic coast that appeared to be at the end of the world, and ran away.

But you cannot run from God.

Although many of the gods of other nations were known to be regional gods who cared only for a certain, limited, part of the world, the God of Israel is the god who created the heavens and the earth and all that is.

There is nowhere to run.

You cannot run from a God who is everywhere.

And so, in the Middle East where many violent people are doing their best to say that the God of Israel isn’t real, that the Jesus of the Christians was nothing more than a prophet, and are trying to destroy, by any means possible, the witness of the church, people are discovering the same thing that Jonah found something like four thousand years ago.

You cannot run from God.

Despite the violence, Christians are taking a stand. The witness of persecuted Christians is being noticed. And I have heard several stories of Muslims who have encountered the risen Christ in their dreams or who have heard a voice who told them to learn more about Issa (the Muslim name for Jesus). With and without the efforts of missionaries and other believers, the name of Jesus is being made known. In fact, according to a witness quoted in a recent issue of Charisma magazine, in some churches as many as 80 percent of those in attendance will say that they came to Christ because of a dream. Veteran missionaries say that more people are converting from Islam to Christianity than in any other time in history.

You cannot run from God.

And so, with that in mind we begin our scripture reading from the book of First Kings chapter 8 as Solomon dedicates the Temple of God in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30)…

1 Then King Solomon summoned into his presence at Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Zion, the City of David.

6 The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim.

10 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. 11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.

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.

When the Ark of the Covenant is placed in the temple, the presence of God follows. Just as it was in the days of Moses when God went before the people and appeared as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day, God’s presence appears as a cloud, fills the entire Temple, and the priests are forced to leave the building because they cannot see. Solomon understands the nature of God and declares that the heavens cannot contain God. He goes on to say that the people of God, and even those who are foreigners, do not necessarily have to pray in the temple to be heard by God but only to pray toward the temple. Solomon understands that God hears the prayers of all people no matter where they are.

Often, however, this message is difficult to accept. Sometimes we don’t want to do what God asks us to do. In John 6:56-69, we discover that even Jesus’ own disciples had difficulty accepting his message.

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.”

Even the disciples of Jesus, many of those beyond the twelve who were closest to him, had trouble accepting that Jesus was the only path to God. They couldn’t accept that what they had been taught for years might not be complete, that the message of Moses and the prophets and the system of sacrifice in the Temple might not be pointing to something better. But Peter, the twelve, and a few others knew that Jesus spoke the words of God. They knew that if Jesus was truth then there was nowhere else that they could go, even if his words were difficult to hear.

They knew that we cannot hide from God just because he says things that make us uncomfortable.

And, in the end, regardless of how difficult the teachings of God might be, and how we are occasionally convicted by them because of the things we like to do (all of us seem to have a favorite sin do we not?), there is only one place where we can find truth. And with that in mind, we must prepare ourselves to go out into the world. To do so, to prepare our hearts and minds so that we can we a witness to the world without becoming corrupted by it, Paul says this (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.

We have often heard this passage about putting on the armor of God read and explained in such a way as to understand that we are preparing ourselves for battle as the knights of old prepared, by buckling on armor and sharpening our swords, but while there is, obviously, an element of that, I also think that Paul is pointing to something quite different. I think that Paul is using military imagery to point to something that is quite the opposite. Paul emphasizes that our fight is not with a flesh and blood enemy. There will be no clash of swords, no throwing of spears, or the twang of a bow. What we prepare for is not a fight that any of us would ever recognize as a fight at all and our preparations would be utterly strange to soldiers and knights in battle. Our preparations are not directed toward the defeat of an enemy outside of ourselves at all, except for the enemy of our souls because every preparation that Paul describes is not aimed at others, but only within ourselves. The way that we are called to fight is to draw close to God, to open our hearts to truth, to struggle toward righteousness, to stand at the ready in the cause of peace. We are to be armed, not with weapons of destruction but to defend ourselves with peace. Instead of retaliating and returning blow for blow and wound for wound, we are called to defend with the words and the truth of God.

I think that Paul deliberately uses the imagery of conflict to highlight a message of peace.
Instead of raising an army to go out to fight those who attack the cause of Christ, our call is, instead, to lift up our voices in prayer and to proclaim the mysterious and miraculous story of the gospel. Our call is not to prepare for battle, but to prepare our hearts, to prepare ourselves, so that we can become the tools that God needs. Because, in the end, the fight against evil is not ours, the fight belongs to God.

We are thousands of miles from the Middle East. We cannot, nor should we, raise an army to fight against ISIS and others who are persecuting the church, but what can do, what we have been called to do, is to draw closer to God, to purify our hearts, and to pray. God is already at work changing hearts and calling disciples even in places where his people are driven out, silenced, and murdered. We are called to testify, to teach the gospel message, and to pray.

Because no matter where you are and no matter how much evil tries to hide it…

…there is nowhere to hide.

You cannot run from God.