Rumors, Disappointments, and Trickery

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Rumors, Disappointments, and Trickery

November 06, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Haggai 1:15b-2:9                   Luke 20:27-38                        2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

As I read this week’s scriptures, I was repeatedly struck by how much each one reminded me of an election year and all the ads with which we are bombarded on television, radio, newspapers, internet ads, and junk overflowing our mailboxes.  It doesn’t take a genius to spot half-truths, twisted truths, innuendo, exaggerations, and outright lies by almost everyone running for every party.  Everyone says that they are in favor of “family values” but no one seems to think that integrity is a family value.  No one is ever as good, or as righteous, as they are portrayed in their campaign commercials, and the opposition is never as wrong, greedy, power hungry, or evil, as the candidates want us to believe. 

But life is like that.  Life is not black and white.  None of the candidates are as pure as the driven snow or as evil as the devil incarnate.  None of them are going to bring about socialism, or fascism, or bring about the end of democracy as we know it.  Every candidate, like every one of us, is their own unique mixture of good and evil.  There is some truth in every campaign commercial.  But I doubt that you will find a commercial that is 100 percent truthful and that’s what makes choosing whom to support so difficult.

It has always been like this.  In the very first presidential election, Jefferson’s campaign accused John Adams of being, um, equipped with the reproductive parts of both genders, and Adams’ campaign threatened that Thomas Jefferson would openly promote prostitution, incest, and adultery.  But if you’re like me, you find the whole exercise in election year democracy to be disappointing.  I expected, and I expect, better.  I genuinely desire truth in advertising.  I’d really like to see a debate with real-time fact checking, and Family Feud style buzzers with a big red “X” … or something.  Because the truth gets so intermingled with the spin and the deception that it becomes almost impossible to tell the difference.  I mean, just once, can we have a candidate that tells us what they’re for, without spending half their time telling us what the “other guy” is for?

That’s enough ranting for today, but let’s listen for those same messages, eerily repeated from thousands of years ago, in our scriptures today.  We begin with Haggai 1:15b-2:9, which records for us the thoughts and the feelings of the people of Israel as they have returned from Babylon after seventy years of captivity.  They should have been filled with joy, right?  But one of the first, and principal emotions that the prophet Haggai records for us is… disappointment.

In the second year of King Darius, 2:1 on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea, and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

The people of Israel finally get permission to go home, they leave Babylon, they travel 1600 to 1700 miles, on foot, and arrive in Jerusalem to find it, as it was left, in ruins and now overgrown with vegetation.  It was something of a letdown for all of them even if they expected it.  They had heard the news.  Letters from Jeremiah and others had gone back and forth.  Their minds knew that it had happened, but that didn’t change the reality of the impact that it had when they saw it in person.  And the disappointment was worse for those who had seen, visited, and had lived in, Jerusalem, and knew her magnificence and beauty, before she was destroyed.

 But God’s word to his people is to be strong “for I am with you.” “My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.” And God promises that although the foundations of the new temple didn’t look like much, and although it was politics and the threats of their neighbors that had halted construction so that not a single stone had been moved in two years, what was coming was going to be even better than before.  God owns all the gold, all the silver, and everything else in, on, or under the earth.  And God’s promise was that the glory of this new temple would be even greater than the old one, not just because of its architecture, but because God’s presence would make it a place of peace.  And it was that temple, which was later renovated, redesigned, and expanded by Herod the Great, that still stood in the day of Jesus almost six hundred years later.  And as we see in Luke 20:27-38, they were still playing political games.

27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. 37 But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

The Sadducees, although not technically a political party, was one of the primary factions vying for power, control, and influence in Israel in the time of Jesus.  Knowing that Jesus had things to say about the resurrection and the life to come after death and judgement, and as a group, completely disbelieving in the possibility of resurrection, they come to Jesus with a trick question.  The question is a total set-up.  The plan for this entire encounter is for the equivalent of today’s debate soundbite that makes the other guy look stupid.  They believe that they have designed an impossible question that sounds reasonable on the surface but cannot be answered without looking foolish or making the Sadducees appear to have superior reasoning.

But it doesn’t work.

It doesn’t work because Jesus isn’t guessing.  Jesus isn’t theorizing about what the theological implications might be, or whether there is, or isn’t an afterlife, or whether there is, or isn’t a resurrection, or judgement, or whether God’s house is a real place.  Jesus isn’t guessing.  He’s been there.  He’s seen it.  He knows how it works and he knows the rules.  And so, when the Sadducees come to him with a question that they have carefully crafted and spun to push their own narrative, Jesus stops them cold by simply saying that they’ve completely misunderstood the rules.  Marriage was created for us, for humans, to reveal to us a glimpse of what God’s love for us will be like in the next life.  But in the next life, when God’s love has been revealed to us in full, there will be no need for marriage.

Some time later, the church in Thessalonica is being unsettled with internal strife between its members because of theological and politically motivated internal rumors that were designed to divide the church.  Yikes.  But, although our situations are distinctly different, this does sound a little familiar to us in the Methodist Church about now.  In any case, into this internal struggle, Paul writes his second letter to the church and includes these words in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17.

2:1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessnessis revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you, I used to tell you these things?

13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruitsto be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachingswe passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

There were words spoken, letters written, rumors circulated, and even prophetic speeches, which were fake news.  There were stories that were attributed to Paul, Silas, Timothy, or others on their mission team that claimed that the second coming of Jesus Christ had already happened.  Some person, or persons, unknown were, for their own purposes, attempting to deceive the church most likely to gain an audience, or a congregation, or even a group of churches, that they could somehow use for their own benefit.

And Paul answers these rumors by saying yes, there is a day coming when a rebellion against God will happen on earth, and yes, there is a day coming when Jesus Christ will return in judgement over all of humanity, but today is not that day. 

Today, we can expect life to be filled with disappointments when our fellow human beings, and we ourselves, fail to live up to our expectations.  Today, human beings will continue to vie for political power, authority, and influence and continue to use trick questions and twist our words to embarrass us.  Today, there will be rumors, letter writing campaigns, and even prophetic type speeches, and other sorts of fake news designed to divide us and distract us from our mission.  And, as sad as that is, we must remember, and cling to, the good news that we heard in each of these stories.

God’s word to his people today is the same as it has always been.  Be strong “for I am with you.” “My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”  Remember that our God is the God of the living and the dead, that our lives do not end when our hearts stop beating on this earth, but that we have an eternity for which we must, even now, be using our time to prepare.  Remember, that God chose you.  Remember that God called you to this mission, through the gospel message, so that you might share in the glory of Jesus Christ.  Stand firm and hold fast to the teaching that has been passed on to you in your home, in your Sunday school classes, Bible studies, in church, or in what you have read and studied in the scriptures.  Do not be deceived.  Test everything.  Test the rumors against what you know to be true, but also do not be afraid to test your own biases against those scriptures as well, for too many well-meaning people have been suckered into believing a lie because that lie just happened to align with a bias that they already held.

God’s word to his people today is the same as it has always been.  Be strong “for I am with you.”


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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.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Truth, Conspiracy, and Living Worthy (Part 2)

Truth, Conspiracy, and Living Worthy
(Part 2: What is a Worthy Life?)

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July 17, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Amos 8:1-12               Colossians 1:1-14

We live in a nation, a world, and denomination that is filled with division.

That seems obvious to even the casual observer and even more obvious to anyone who reads, or watches, the news.  Last week we talked about how the followers of Jesus Christ are called to live and to love in a divided world, we heard God’s calling to Amos, how God’s patience has limits, how God intended to measure the people with a plumb line to see who was straight and who was crooked, and we heard Jesus’ example of the Good Samaritan that shows us how our love and mercy can, and should flow across the lines of division that surround us.  (All this can be found in last week’s message here: https://pastorpartridge.com/2022/07/10/truth-conspiracy-and-living-worthy-part-1/)

But how else are we called to live?  What is it that God wants to measure in us?  What is it that tries God’s patience?  And what would it look like if we lived our lives in a way that was worthy of the God that we claim to follow?

Those questions cover a lot of ground so let’s get started by hearing God’s explanation to Amos and the charges that God was bringing against his church and his people that we find in Amos 8:1-12.

8:1 This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: a basket of ripe fruit. “What do you see, Amos?” he asked.

“A basket of ripe fruit,” I answered.

Then the Lord said to me, “The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

“In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “the songs in the temple will turn to wailing. Many, many bodies—flung everywhere! Silence!”

Hear this, you who trample the needy
    and do away with the poor of the land,

saying,

“When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”—
skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals,
    selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.

“Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn?
The whole land will rise like the Nile; it will be stirred up and then sink like the river of Egypt.

“In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord,

“I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your religious festivals into mourning and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.

11 “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.

God says that his people go to the temple, sing songs of praise to God, leave the church, and then trample the needy and abuse the poor.  They worship God but are impatient and can’t wait for the religious holiday to be over, they can’t wait for the sabbath to be over so they can get back to work and make more money.  And when they go back to work, they lie, cheat, and steal because, to them, money is a greater god than the God of Israel.  They cheat their customers, they cheat the poor, they ignore God’s command to share and to help the poor among them even to the point of sweeping up and selling what’s spilled on the floor rather than allowing the poor to glean it.  So much do they ignore God’s commands about the poor, that they are unforgiving and deliberately drive the poor into bankruptcy so that they can buy the needy as slaves by purchasing debts as small as the cost of a pair of shoes. 

Can you imagine being sold into slavery for a debt as inconsequential as a hundred-dollar pair of shoes?  That was the world in which Amos lived.  And God’s judgement is that he will never forget anything that they have done.  As he always has, God will stand up for the poor and the needy and God will bring punishment to those who have abused them.  God says that he is removing his blessings from them and sending all manner of punishment and declares that there is a day coming when no faithful priests will remain to teach the truth.

God’s patience with his two-faced, hypocritical people is at an end and the poor will be avenged.  When they have lost the money that they desired more than God, through their suffering, perhaps they will learn the meaning of mercy, compassion, and love.

That brings us some clarity and understanding about what tries God’s patience, and how God measures us, but we still need to better understand how that translates into living justly in the twenty-first century.  What would it look like for us to live a life that is worthy of the God we claim to follow?  And for that, let’s turn to Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae found in Colossians 1:1-14, where we hear these words:

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sistersin Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on ourbehalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified youto share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

This is an example of a good church, and it is one with which Paul is pleased, publicly praises, prays for, and for which Paul gives thanks to God.  And it is a church that people are talking about.  While Paul is in prison, or at least house arrest, in Rome, he hears stories about the things that they are doing.  Some of these stories came from Epaphras, a Gentile convert who was mentored by Paul, and who now is a preacher, teacher, evangelist, and church planter in Greece, but Paul’s words make it sound as if this was not the first time that he’d heard good things about what was happening there.  People were telling stories about the church in Colossae, and they were stories about their faith and their love for their neighbors and for one another.  And people weren’t just telling stories about them, the church was bearing fruit, it was evangelizing, sharing the stories of Jesus and the gospels, and people were coming to faith because of the love and the grace that they saw in the people of the church.

That doesn’t mean that they were left on their own.  Paul, Timothy, and their ministry team, continue to pray for them, support them, mentor them, answer questions, guide them, offer advice, and whatever else they can to help them learn and grow.  Paul wants this entire church to become worthy of the Lord, Jesus Christ.  And Paul explains what he means by “worthy” so that everyone will know what that looks like.  Living a life that is “worthy” means living a life that pleases God, that bears fruit by exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit and by reproducing their faith and bringing new people to faith in Jesus.  Living worthy means doing good works, regularly and continually growing in knowledge, building up to great endurance, learning great patience, and giving joyful thanks to God who qualified you to share in his inheritance.

God cares about what his people are doing and how we live our lives.  His patience has limits, and he will measure us with his plumb line to make sure we stay on the straight and narrow and not get warped and crooked.  God calls us to overcome the divisions that surround us by loving the people with whom we disagree, and even loving our enemies, as much as we love ourselves.  But living a worthy life isn’t just a one-time rescue mission or something that we do occasionally.  Living a life worthy of Jesus Christ is a lifetime commitment to pleasing God, bearing fruit, doing good, growing in knowledge, and growing in endurance, patience, and thanksgiving to God.

You see, a few verses later, in Colossians 1:28-29, Paul explains that the goal isn’t just for us to become better people, and it isn’t just to love our neighbors.  Paul says:

28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

The end goal of living a life worthy of Jesus Christ isn’t just focused on me and isn’t just focused on the local church.  The end goal isn’t even to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ, although that’s certainly part of it.  The goal of living a worthy life is to present… everyone to God, not just as converts and believers, but to present… everyone… to God as… fully mature disciples.  Paul says that it is that goal toward which he is strenuously working, and toward which the church is called, with all the energy of Jesus Christ that works within us and through us.

The goal isn’t just to be lifeguards that pull drowning people out of the water.  The goal is to pull everyone out of the water, and then train them, educate them, and mentor them, until everyone is a lifeguard.  It is, I admit, and enormous task.  It’s too big for any one of us to accomplish alone.  That’s why we can’t be Lone Ranger Christians.  We must all work together, as the church, through the power of Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of God that lives within us, to make and mature disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

That is how we overcome division.

And that is how we live lives that are worthy of Jesus Christ.


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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.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Truth, Conspiracy, and Living Worthy (Part 1)

Click here to listen to the podcast

Click here to watch the Children’s message: https://youtu.be/QPw59iVqX5I

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Truth, Conspiracy, and Living Worthy

(Part 1: Neighborly Division?)

July 10, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Amos 7:7-17                           Luke 10:25-37                        Colossians 1:1-14

There’s a word that we have been using more in the last few years than we have in the last few decades.  That word is…

…Division.

There are divisions between races, between political parties, divisions over guns, abortion, supreme court justices, election results, inflation, corporate greed, government corruption, as well as the ongoing division within our denomination.  And within those divisions, everyone thinks that they are right, that they have exclusive access to the truth and that any information that disagrees with their viewpoint is part of a conspiracy of some kind.  I’ve seen internet memes about Supreme Court conspiracies, presidential election conspiracies (from at least two entirely different points of view), gun control conspiracies, tax conspiracies, gasoline conspiracies, pandemic conspiracies of all sorts, and there were even a few flat earth and faked moon-landing conspiracies throw in. 

I’m not going to even try to wade into that mess except to say that psychologically speaking, it’s easier to say that something is a conspiracy, than it is to admit that we simply don’t understand how something could, or did, happen.  Instead, this morning I want to look at where the followers of Jesus Christ should be, what position we should take, when everyone around us is drawing lines in the sand and taking sides.  We begin this morning by reading the words of the prophet Amos.  I think the words of Amos sound particularly relevant and familiar to the twenty-first century world that we see in the news every day.  You see, Amos was a sheep herder and a tree trimmer who was called by God to speak the truth to a nation, a church, a government, and a king that didn’t want to hear the truth.  And in Amos 7:7-17 we hear these words:

This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”

“A plumb line,” I replied.

Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

“The high places of Isaac will be destroyed
    and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined;
    with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”

10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:

“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’”

12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say,

“‘Do not prophesy against Israel and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’

17 “Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.  Your land will be measured and divided up, and you yourself will die in a pagancountry.
And Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’”

The first thing we hear is God showing Amos a plumb line.  Not everyone may be familiar with this simple device, but masons, carpenters, and builders of all kinds use these things to make sure that what they are building is straight and not curved, bent, angled, or warped.  God’s patience has limits and God has had enough of the corruption of his church, his priests, his people, and even Israel’s king and says that he is going to measure them all and see who is built the right way.

Once Amos begins to deliver this message from God, Amaziah the priest, who is supposed to be a representative of God, tells the king that Amos is spreading fake news and is raising a conspiracy against the king.  Amaziah continues by telling Amos to go home and make money prophesying somewhere else.  Amos, of course, isn’t paid to preach.  Contrary to Amaziah’s assumptions, Amos isn’t on the government payroll, he isn’t on the take, and he doesn’t prophecy for profit.  But Amaziah, although he is a priest, obviously works for the king and for the government, but not for the truth and not for God.  And, because he wears the robes and vestments of the priesthood, but shills for the government and tells God’s prophet to shut up and go away, God levies a particularly nasty judgement and curse against him.

And again, as we live in a world where preachers are accused of being “in it for the money,” where every politician claims that God is on their side, where everyone lays claim to their own individual brand of truth, and where every voice of opposition is labeled as a conspiracy, the words of Amos sound eerily familiar.  But what should we do about it?  What truth should we believe?

A part of our answer for today comes from Jesus’ encounter with a church theologian who specialized in interpreting the Law of Moses.  As we will see, he didn’t come to Jesus because he didn’t know the answer, he came because he wanted Jesus to agree with him and validate his opinion.  We hear these words in Luke 10:25-37:

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

This man is a theological lawyer.  His expertise and experience are likely in interpreting and applying the Law of Moses to modern society and court cases though he is not described as a magistrate or a judge.  And so, as I said, we might best understand his work as both a theologian and a lawyer.  In any case, he didn’t just want an answer, because he understood the scriptures well enough to find the answer for himself, what he really wanted was for Jesus to tell him that he was right.  Our scripture says that “he wanted to justify himself.”  He wanted Jesus to tell him that he was right, his interpretation was right, that his life was right, and that he didn’t need to change anything to gain eternal life.  That’s what he wanted. 

And doesn’t that sound familiar in our twenty-first century world?  How often do we do that as individuals, or see it done by politicians, members of Congress, or even in the church?  How often do we only listen to the echo chambers of social media, or biased news, so that we can hear opinions that agree with our own and confirm that we’re “just fine” the way we are?  It happens constantly.  But Jesus’ answer doesn’t do what the lawyer wanted.  Jesus is not an echo chamber.  Rather than validate the man’s opinion, Jesus exposes his bias and challenges him to examine an entirely disturbing way of looking at things. 

In the traditional scriptural interpretation, your neighbor was any other descendant of Abraham, Israelite, or Jew.  Gentiles, backsliders, sinners and the unclean were not neighbors.  But Jesus creates a story in which an enemy of Israel was the hero of the story who sacrificed his time, his money, and his convenience to show compassion to a Jew and likely to save his life.  In Jesus’ opinion, your neighbor isn’t the person who looks like you, or who goes to church with you, who believes like you, or who even comes from the same country as you.  Jesus turns the rules and the law on its head by saying that our neighbors aren’t even people who like us, but instead are all the people of the world up to, and including, our fiercest enemies.  And folks, if you haven’t already figured it out, the reason that this turns the culture of Jesus’ day on its head, and why it still turns our twenty-first century culture on its head, is that this is not the expected answer and not the way that any of us usually think about the world and our place in it. 

This conversation with Jesus started with a statement of law, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  But if my sworn enemy is my neighbor, if my boss that hates me is my neighbor, if the guy that lets his dog poop in my yard is my neighbor, if abortionists and pro-lifers, black lives matter and the Ku Klux Klan, Iranian, Iraqis, Russians, Ukrainians, Muslims, atheists, Catholics, Presbyterians, United Methodists, Global Methodists and everything in between are all my neighbors, then my life just got a lot more complicated because Jesus wants me to treat them, and love them, the way that I love myself. 

That’s about as far as we’re going to go today, but we will resume, continue, and hopefully conclude, this topic next week.  But for today, let me leave you with these thoughts:

All our divisions, whether they are between political parties, divisions over guns, abortion, supreme court justices, election results, inflation, corporate greed, government corruption or the ongoing division within our denomination, all look a lot different if, and when, we remember that all the people on the “other side” are our neighbors.  And because Jesus says that they are our neighbors, and because we are commanded to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves, it completely re-frames how we treat them and refocuses everything that we do, and how we live our lives.

We live in a nation, and a world, which is filled with division, but we are commanded to love as if it isn’t.


Read the rest of this two-part message, “Truth, Conspiracy, and Living Worthy: What *is* a Worthy Life?” here: https://pastorpartridge.com/2022/07/17/truth-conspiracy-and-living-worthy-part-2/


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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.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.