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.

Escape from “Try-Fail-Repeat”

Escape From “Try-Fail-Repeat”

July 05, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” – Japanese proverb

 

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67   

Romans 7:15-25a                  

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

 

If you do a search online for quotes about falling down, or about failure, you will be bombarded with results and it isn’t difficult to understand why.  Failure is as common to the human condition as breathing.  We learn to stand, and to walk, by falling down and pushing ourselves back up again.

And often repeated, and likely ancient, Japanese proverb says, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

But sometimes simply trying again isn’t enough.  As much as we might want to win an Olympic gold medal, most of us will never win one.  For couples struggling with infertility, simply trying again may never be enough.  And those of us in the church, who have spent years, even decades, trying to follow the teaching and the example of Jesus Christ have sometimes despaired over our repeated inability to get it right.

So, what should we do?

Are we doomed to continually repeat our mistakes?

Will we ever be good enough?

Is there any hope for us?

Of course, there is.  But first, let’s begin by remembering the story of how Abraham sent one of his servants on a quest to find a wife for his son Isaac.  Knowing that the Canaanite people, among whom he lived, worshipped different gods than he did, and had different values than he did, Abraham sent his servant back to Ur, among the Chaldean people, to Abraham’s own extended family to search for a wife for his son.  And when the servant arrived there, he described his mission this way in Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67.

34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. 36 My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. 37 And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, 38 but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’

 42 “When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘Lord, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. 43 See, I am standing beside this spring. If a young woman comes out to draw water and I say to her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar,” 44 and if she says to me, “Drink, and I’ll draw water for your camels too,” let her be the one the Lord has chosen for my master’s son.’

45 “Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’

46 “She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too.’ So, I drank, and she watered the camels also.

47 “I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’

“She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milkah bore to him.’

 And when her family had heard the story 58 …they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?”

“I will go,” she said.

Why is that important?  Simply because the odds against success of Abraham’s servant were astronomical.  Without GPS, or maps, or telephones, or mail, or photographs, or even a good sketch, the difficulty of even finding Abraham’s family was overwhelming and the chance that a woman there would be suitable, and available, and that both she, and her family, would be agreeable for her to leave them forever and marry a man she had never met, in a country none of them had ever been to, was almost completely impossible.

Failure was almost inevitable.

But Abraham trusted God.

And Abraham’s faith was so obvious, and evident in his daily life, that his servant understood the power of Abraham’s God and the power of an earnest prayer to that same God.  And so, Abraham’s servant prayed… with an almost impossible set of conditions… and God answered.

And, at the end of the day, the family asked Rebekah if she trusted that the servant really was who he said that he was.  Did she trust that her grandfather’s brother really did have a son that was her age?  Did she trust that Isaac was a man to whom she could tolerate being married?  All those things are built into the question when her family asks her, “Will you go with this man?”

And Rebekah trusts God, and says, “I will go.”

The odds of failure were astronomical.

But God.

When the God that created the universe by speaking it into existence is a part of the equation, the odds don’t matter.

And then, with the coming of Jesus, the world begins to understand better how God chooses to use his power and how much God cares for the people of his creation.  In Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, Jesus says:

16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 “‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

 25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus says that the people of his generation acted like the children who played in the marketplaces.  The children weren’t happy because the adults wouldn’t play their games or sing their songs, and the adults weren’t happy because John the Baptist and Jesus wouldn’t play by the rules of their games either.  Much like we often see in our culture today, their critics wanted things both ways and spoke ill of them no matter what they did.  John didn’t drink or socialize, and they said he was a demon.  Jesus drank and socialized, and they said he was a drunkard and a friend of the wrong kind of people.   But Jesus ignores the criticism and invites the world to find comfort and rest by following him. 

Are you tired of trying to live up to everyone’s expectations?  Are you tired of all the arguing?  Are you tired of the Coronavirus?  Are you tired of politics?  Are you tired of the burdens and expectations that government and culture pile on you?  Are just tired of being tired?

There is a different way.

Jesus says, “Come to me” and “I will give you rest.”  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

But how does that work when I seem to keep repeating the same mistakes?

How does that work when I can’t ever seem to be good enough?

Friends, you are not alone.  This is not a new a new question.  In Romans 7:15-25a, the Apostle Paul admitted to wrestling with the same frustrations, inadequacies, and failures and he explains it this way:

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Paul says that as hard as he intends to do good, and as hard as he tries to do good, he cannot manage to do the good things that he wants to do.  And, at the same time, as hard as her intends not to do evil, and has hard as he tries not to sin, he cannot manage to stop sinning.  Paul’s understanding is that human beings are not inherently good, that good does not live, at least exclusively, within us because we are consumed by our sinful nature.  As much as we want to do good, as hard as we try to do good, our lives become an inescapable, rotating carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat.  Paul says that the rules and laws that we know in our mind are at war with the sin that is at work within us.

But as disastrous as this might sound, this is exactly where the story turns around.

There is rescue.

There is an escape.

Our rescue from the repeating carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat is found in Jesus Christ who rescues us from ourselves and the sinful nature that lives within us.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from trying to live up to everyone’s expectations.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from all the arguing.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from the fear of the Coronavirus.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from the drone of politics.

And it is Jesus who can rescue us from the burdens and expectations that government and culture piles on you.

Are just tired of being tired?

Abraham trusted God and sent his servant on an impossible mission.

Abraham’s servant trusted that God could lead him to the woman that God had chosen.

Rebekah trusted that God had brought Abraham’s servant to her and said, “I will go.”

Jesus asks us to do the same.

Jesus says, “Come to me” and “I will give you rest.” 

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

It’s time to get off the carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat.

Come to Jesus.  Trust him.  And discover how good it feels to finally…

               …rest.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 


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

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.