Religion: Doers or Deception?

Religion: Doers or Deception?

August 29, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Song of Solomon 2:8-13              Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23             James 1:17-27

Have you ever been called a fake?

One of the worst accusations that our friends and acquaintances can level at us, is the accusation of being fake.  We don’t like fakes.  We don’t like fake friends, we don’t want to buy a fake Rolex watch, or a television that’s supposed to be a good name brand that turns out to be a fake.  The government has teams of people that regulate commerce by at least attempting to prevent the sale of fake products and it’s important.  Fake purses or fake watches fraudulently cost consumers money, but fake computer chips, or fake bolts, or fake gas valves, in critical applications can be deadly.  The government even has an entire department, the department of the Treasury, and the Secret Service, whose job it is to prevent people from printing fake money because enough fake currency could potentially destabilize our entire economy. 

The bottom line is that we don’t like fakes.

Fake money can hurt the economy.  Fake products can hurt people.  And fake friends can do serious damage to our psychological and emotional well-being.

But there’s at least one more fake that we need to be concerned about, and that’s fake religion.

But before we get too far in that direction, let’s begin, not by looking at what is fake, but at what is real.  Let’s look at what real religion, real faith, looks like.  And to do that, let’s begin by reading from God’s love story contained in the Song of Solomon 2:8-13.

The voice of my beloved!
    Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
    bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
    or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
    behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
    looking through the lattice.
10 My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
    and come away;
11 for now the winter is past,
    the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
    the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
    is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs,
    and the vines are in blossom;
    they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
    and come away.

The story contained in the Song of Solomon isn’t just about the love that King Solomon had for his bride (or at least one of them) and she for him, but its inclusion in scripture at least hints that this love story might also be an allegory for God’s love for his people and, by extension, the church.  It describes a love that is tender, passionate, and filled with longing.  And, if we understand it this way, at the end of this passage we hear God calling his people to “come away” with him.  But even if, as some interpreters assert, that this is only about love, and not about our relationship with God, it still describes a loving relationship that is passionate, tender, and real.  There is no fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship.  And although he never references the Song of Songs, that kind of pure relationship seems to be exactly what Jesus is getting at in his conversation with the Pharisees in Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

7:1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not liveaccording to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

The Pharisees and the scribes rigorously and religiously adhered to traditions that were not required by scripture, and they criticized Jesus’ disciples for not following them as well.  Their implication was that the disciples, and Jesus, were not sufficiently faithful to God because they failed to adhere to these man-made traditions.  And Jesus’ response was to criticize them for treating the traditions of human beings as if they were the doctrines and teachings of God, and at the same time, ignoring and disobeying the real commandments of God.  Jesus says that the intentions of our hearts matter, what we think about matters, that sex, theft, murder, greed, wickedness, loose living, envy, slander, pride, deception, and sometimes even just foolishness are evil things that come from the inside, and it is those things, the things that that come out of us, that defile us. 

Jesus says that it is the faith of the Pharisees that is lacking and not the faith of his disciples.  Because, while his disciples may have eaten lunch without washing their hands and dishes in exactly the right way, it is the Pharisees who are harboring these sorts of evil desires inside themselves.  For Jesus, real faith is all about what’s inside of us and how that faith is lived out.  Real faith isn’t just an act so that we look good to the people around us.  Real faith isn’t just for show.  Real faith is not about fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship with God.

Jesus’ brother James echoes this same language, and this same understanding, as he describes what real faith looks like in the lives of the followers of Jesus Christ in James 1:17-27 when he says…

17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselvesin a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

In this passage, and in a whole lot of other ones, James makes the argument that faith is not an abstract concept, thought experiment, or something that is only internal and private.  Faith is not something that we do for show, it is not an act, but instead is life changing and transformative.  Faith isn’t something that we can practice in the privacy of our own homes without anyone noticing, but changes who we are, how we think, how we care for ourselves and one another, and is reflected outward in everything that we do.  Faith, James says, is revealed not when we become believers, but when we become doers of God’s word.

The Song of Solomon describes a loving relationship that is passionate, tender, and real.  There is no fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship.

And since we know that faith is an expression of the loving relationship that we have with God, we understand when Jesus says that real faith is all about what’s inside of us and how that faith is lived out.  Real faith isn’t just an act so that we look good to the people around us.  Real faith isn’t just for show.  Real faith is not about fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship with God.

And just like a real, tender, and passionate loving relationship, real faith changes us.  We’ve seen it all in the movies as well as in real life.  When two people are really in love with one another, it’s almost impossible to hide it.  Real love isn’t fake or deceptive.  Real love, and real faith, aren’t just words, but are pure, life changing, and transformative.  They change the way that we think, the way that we live, and the way that we act, and they are lived out in everything that we do.

The bottom line is that we don’t like fakes.

We don’t like fake purses, fake watches, fake televisions, fake money, fake friends, or fake relationships.

And the same is true about faith.

Real faith isn’t just and act. 

Real faith isn’t evil.

Real faith can’t have anything to do with fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply grows out of a pure and loving relationship with God and with Jesus Christ.

Real faith produces generosity, truth, patience, righteousness, purity, openness, humility, mercy, compassion, and love that is unstained by the world.

If it’s real, faith isn’t something that we only have in our heads, or even in our hearts.  When its real, faith is transformative and is revealed, and demonstrated to the world in everything that we do.

Let us not only be hearers of God’s word.

Let us instead commit ourselves to being doers of the word so that the world can know that what we have…

…is real.


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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.

Actions Reveal Attitude

Actions Reveal Attitude

May 02, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 15:1-8                            Acts 8:26-40                           1 John 4:7-21

“I trust you to make your own decisions” is perhaps one of the most common lies that parents and politicians tell their children and constituents.  We might tell our children that we trust them to make their own decisions, but you know we’re looking over their shoulders so we can intervene if they start making bad ones.  And politicians are worse.  How often have we heard them say that we should let the market decide, and then they pass laws to manipulate the markets.  They say that taxpayers know best how to spend their hard-earned money, but then raise taxes because we aren’t spending in the places that they think we should.  They say that government shouldn’t subsidize corporate interests, but what they really mean is that we should only subsidize the corporate interests that fund their party machine instead of the other party’s political machine.  If you really want to know what a parent, or a politician believes, don’t ask them, watch them.  Don’t listen to what they say, watch them and see what they do.  A politician that really believes in free markets, supports legislation that supports free markets.  A politician that genuinely supports a balanced budget, and I’m not sure that there are any, supports legislation that moves us toward sustainable spending and balanced budgets.  If we watch what politicians support, vote for, and donate toward, with their own time and their own money, we get a clearer picture of where their values lie than if we just listen to their sound bites and press releases.  In the end, this applies to all of us.  Our actions say far more about what we believe that the words that come out of our mouths. 

That hasn’t changed in thousands of years and scripture often describes that same principal.  We find one such instance in John 15:1-8 where Jesus says:

15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunesso that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Jesus says that we are the garden and God is the gardener.  God cuts off, or prunes, the branches that aren’t bearing fruit.  My colleague Allan Bevere commented on this passage and points out that the Greek word here for pruning “is kathairo (καθαίρω) and refers more generally to clearing and in certain contexts cleansing. So, while it is true that pruning, cutting back, is a necessary part of the process of allowing a fruit-producing vine to bear more fruit, John appears to have in mind that is more than simply cutting back a healthy branch in order to produce more; the gardener wants to clear away all the dead vegetation and the clutter that can strangle the branches as well.”   We might think of that as God not only pruning off the unnecessary and unfruitful branches, but also the suckers, opening the canopy to allow more sun to penetrate, pulling the weeds around the bottom and raking away the accumulated leaves and clutter.  Jesus says that God is working, actively, in his garden so that it, so that we, will be productive and fruitful.  If we know him, and if we remain in him, he is working in us, and on us, to make us more fruitful and more productive.  If we do not know him, or if we do not remain close to him, them our ability to do anything useful goes to zero.  Without our connection to him, we wither and die. 

Without our connection to God, we become useless.  We have a yard decoration that was made from vines that were woven together.  It is, obviously, not connected to the vine from which it came and, other than being temporarily decorative, it is entirely useless.  When we lose our connection with God, when we stop living in him, and constantly feeding on the nutrition flowing through the vine, although we might get dressed up, and still be temporarily decorative, we become like that woven vine, decorative, but ultimately useless.

Jesus goes on to say that when we bear fruit, our fruit, and our accomplishment in bearing fruit, is the glory God, and to the credit of God, because God is the gardener that made it happen.  But also, our bearing fruit reveals our discipleship to the world.  Our actions reveal our attitudes, our loyalty, and our heart condition.

We see this same principle in action in several ways in the story of Acts 8:26-40, in which and angel of God sends Philp to meet an important international visitor.

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way, he met an Ethiopianeunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So, he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
    and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
    Who can speak of his descendants?
    For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

This man had come to Jerusalem from Ethiopia which must have been a long and arduous journey.  Since he was an important government official, we can assume that he had been conducting official government business while in Jerusalem.  Further, we know that he had some wealth of his own because, while in Israel, he had purchased an Isaiah scroll.  Such a scroll, being handcrafted and painstakingly handwritten by a trained, professional scribe, would likely have taken nearly a year to produce, and would have cost nearly a year’s wages.  From this, and from Philip’s hearing the man reading the scroll, we know that he was not only interested in the faith of the people of Israel, but he was also desperate to learn about it, and actively demonstrated his desire to know God.  Unfortunately, his desire to learn was not enough because he couldn’t understand what he was reading.

But remember that we are the garden and God is the gardener.  God saw his desire to know him as well as how the man had demonstrated that desire through his actions.  And so, God cleared away the clutter, and sent Philip to meet him on the road, at just the right time, explain the meaning to him, and tell him the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that had been foretold by Isaiah.  And again, the man demonstrates his understanding with his actions.  His understanding of Isaiah, and the gospel message proclaimed by Philip, led him insist that he be baptized, and to faith and discipleship in Jesus Christ.

 In his letter to the church and to the followers of Jesus Christ in Asia, John gives examples of how our beliefs, our faith, and our connectedness to God direct our everyday lives and our actions and therefore become visible and obvious to the people around us (1 John 4:7-21).  He says:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Since we are supposed to remain in God, and be connected to God, then God’s nature should flow through us into the people, and into the world, around us.  And, John argues, since God’s nature is love, then that nature should also become our nature as well.  When we are in love with God and when have the love of God in us, then we begin to lose our fear of the future, our fear of current events, and our fear of judgement and punishment.  And that loving nature will be shown, and actively demonstrated, through our actions.  If we are connected to God, and God is love, and if that connectedness flows through us, then it will, logically, flow out of us through our actions.  And when God’s love flows out of us, then hate becomes impossible, and we will love the people around us, all of the people around us, the way that God loves them.

Just like the parents and politicians, it isn’t hard to see where the hearts, minds, values, and attitudes of Christian are if we stop listening to what they say and watch to see what they do and how they live.  Our actions reveal our attitudes.  If we are in love with God, and if we remain connected to Jesus, then his love will flow through us into the world.

Our neighbors will be able to see that we are connected to Jesus by the things that we do, the way that we behave, by our actions, and the way that we live our lives.

And they will know we are Christians…

            …by our love.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/7u25wb0cemQ

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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.

Present, Half-Present, or False Presence?

October 11, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Exodus 32:1-14                      Philippians 4:1-9                   Matthew 22:1-14

Have you seen the television commercials for car insurance that has a salesman that travels with a partner that is an emu?  In one of those commercials, the salesman recalls having a conversation, about insurance naturally, with a guy on an elevator who was listening to the radio with earbuds and was never even aware that the salesman had been talking to him.

It’s (a little) funny.  But has that ever happened to you?

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and, after talking to them for a while, turned and discovered that they had left the room and you had been talking to no one?  Or, have you had a conversation with one of your children, or your spouse, or a co-worker, and discovered, at some point, that they were so distracted by something else, that they had no idea what you had been saying, or perhaps even been aware that you had been talking to them?  It’s a but like talking to a wall.

As odd as it may seem, scripture tells us that God has these same kinds of interactions with his people, times when we simply aren’t present, and others when we’re only half there.  But God doesn’t want followers who… well, maybe if we listen to this story from Exodus 32:1-14, we might understand better.

32:1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us godswho will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

“I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

The people of Israel started coming unglued as soon as they thought Moses was overdue in coming back down the mountain.  For them, Moses had come to represent God.  They were, in effect, following Moses instead of God.  If Moses had gone missing then, by their reasoning, so was God.  The people depended on the presence of Moses rather than on the presence of God.  And so, rather than fall to their knees and pray, or to seek out God’s presence in some other way, they created a false god and a false presence to take God’s place.  And that, as you know, did not go well.  Our God is a jealous God and does not permit dual loyalties or a people who are not fully present.  God does not share his presence with other gods, nor with people who do not follow him, nor does he allow his followers to split their presence, or their loyalties, with other gods.

And just in case we are tempted to say that this somehow exclusive to the Old Testament, we see exactly the same thing in Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew 22:1-14 where we hear these words:

22:1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

In Jesus’ parable, the King, whom we know is God, prepares a wedding banquet for his son and invites his most favored subjects to attend.  Remember, that in that day, and even somewhat in the twenty-first century, the invitation of the king is much like a command performance.  An invitation from the king is not really something that can, or should, be refused or ignored.  But still, they refuse to come.  And so the king sends even more servants proclaiming how awesome the food will be at the banquet, but some were not present, they ignored the servants and they ignored the invitation, and others were openly hostile and murdered the servants in an attempt to silence the invitation.  And the king was so angry, at both groups, that he sent his army to destroy them all and burn their city to the ground.

But the story doesn’t end there.  After the king wipes away all those who ignored his invitation, he invites the uncommon people, the unfavored subjects, the people who are ordinarily ignored and forgotten.  Since the movers and shakers and most favored subjects wouldn’t come to his banquet, the king invites the people of the streets, the poor, the ordinary, the street sweepers, laborers, criminals, and anyone else that they could find.  And, most likely, since they were the people without much money, the king offered them clothes worthy of a king’s banquet for them to wear.  And they wore them.  At least they all wore them except for one man who tried to have things both ways.  He was half-present.  He physically came to the banquet, but he refused to wear the wedding clothes that the king provided.  He was trying to be both a part of the king’s banquet and yet still clinging to a part of his ordinariness.  He was, in other words, lukewarm in his support of the king.

And that didn’t go well either.  The king had him tied up and thrown out of the palace into the darkness because, as we have already seen, he was a jealous king who does not permit dual loyalties or a people who are not fully present. 

And that brings us to a situation that we find in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi.  In Philippians 4:1-9, we read these words:

4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Paul describes Euodia and Syntyche using words like “companion,” “at my side,” and “co-workers.”  These women were truly present for Paul and present as servants of God.  Paul urges the people of the church to be present through their gentleness (because you just can’t be “virtually” gentle), to be present with God through requests, prayer, petition, and thanksgiving and, in exchange, God will be present in their lives by pouring out peace and by guarding their hearts and minds.  Paul says that if we focus our thoughts on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy, and if we put into practice the things that we have learned from our teachers, then we will truly be living lives that are present with God.  Simply put, whenever we act, or think, like Jesus, we are present with God.  And, by doing so, we will discover that God is present with us.

We worship a jealous God.

God will not talk to the wall.

We cannot be absent.

We cannot fake our presence.

We cannot be half-present or have divided loyalties.

We must live lives that are truly, and fully, present with God.


 

 

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

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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.

Reward, Rejection, and Role Models

Reward, Rejection, and Role Models


March 17, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18                      Luke 13:31-35                        Philippians 3:17 – 4:1

 

Have you ever made a plan for your life?

You know what I mean.  At some point many of us have sat down with a parent, school guidance counselor, or career counselor, faculty advisor, or mentor and mapped out how to get from where we were, to where we wanted to be.  If you want to be a nurse or a doctor, the classes that you take and the experiences that you need, are very different from those needed to become and engineer or a tool and die machinist.  Some of us sat down with a military recruiter and discussed our skills and education, and what training options were open to us.  In some cases, in both our civilian and military careers, there were rewards that were promised for reaching our goals or at various points along the way. 

But in real life, the path from here to there is never as easy as it looks when you sit down to plan.  We fail required classes, lose time because of circumstances that are beyond our control, school takes longer, and costs more than we planned, and recruiters are known to be less than truthful or to omit important information.  Through it all, reaching the promised goals and rewards that we had in mind at the beginning, can be a lot harder, cost more, and take a lot longer than we probably imagined when we started.  And on top that, along the way we sometimes face detours brought on by marriage, divorce, children, tragedy, unemployment, disaster, and other things.  We might even decide to change our career destinations and goals along the way, causing us to take several steps backward and start a part of the plan over again.

Life is like that.

It’s complicated.  And our spiritual life is no different. 

So how do we get from here to there?  From where we are, to where we want to be?

And for that, let’s begin with the story of Abram, who would later become Abraham, a man who, for three for four thousand years, the followers of God have lifted up as a hero of the faith and a role model for our spiritual lives.  And, as we look, we discover that even for Abraham, the path from here to there was anything but a straight line.  We begin this morning as we read a story from Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 as God repeats a great promise to Abram.

15:1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,
    your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so, a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

God reminds Abram of his promise to give him a great reward, and Abram’s response is very much along the lines of, “What can you possibly give me that I care about?”  Even if God blesses Abram with land, and animals, and riches, what good is it if he has no children to inherit it when he dies?  And God specifies that he intends for Abram’s descendants to be as countless as the stars in the night sky. 

And Abram believed.

But even in his belief, Abram had doubts, and he asked God how he might know… for certain… that God would do as he had promised.  And in reply, God follows a formula that was well-known in the ancient world.  It was the formula for the execution of a covenant (a binding contract on steroids).  This sort of covenant was often made between parties of differing strength such as a dominant military power and a much weaker nation.  And God was making this same sort of binding agreement with Abram to reassure him that God intended to keep his promise.

Abraham would receive the reward that God had promised and the covenant that was established between them would continue to bless his descendants for thousands of years.  But not everyone was interested in keeping the covenant, maintaining their part of the contract, or being faithful in the way that Abraham was faithful.  Despite their power, position, and authority, some of Israel’s leaders were renegades that refused and rejected their covenant with God and Jesus points to those types of renegades as we remember the story contained in Luke 13:31-35.

31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

The differences that we see in this passage are sharp and the are intended to be so.  Jesus is warned that Herod wanted him dead and Jesus responds by saying that he would continue to do what God had called him to do until he reached his goal of entering Jerusalem.  But Jesus continues by reminding the Pharisees that it was the leaders and the people of Jerusalem that had already established a reputation for killing God’s prophets and stoning the people that God had sent.  This is exactly what is happening again.  God had repeatedly wanted to gather the children of Israel together to comfort them and protect them, but they weren’t interested. 

The people did not want what God had to offer.

They had rejected the covenant.

And Jesus says that the house that they had inherited, God’s house, was an empty house.  The people of Israel would not see the blessings of God until they recognized the messiah that God sent to them.

But what does that mean for us?  If Abram or Abraham was a role model of faith, and if the leaders of Israel were examples of what not to do and how not to live, then what teaching, or what advice, can we follow to prevent us from rejecting God’s blessing?

And in answer to that question, we read Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi (Philippians 3:17 – 4:1) where we hear these words:

17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

Paul’s answer is simplified and boiled down about as far as you can get.  Just as you have looked up to us, find other role models that live like we do and watch how they live.  That’s simple.  Find good quality role models that look like Paul and his friends and watch how they live.  But Paul also warns that there are a lot of people out there, and we can probably assume that he also meant that there are a lot of leaders out there, that live as the enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ.  Notice that he did not say that they represented themselves as the enemies of Jesus, but that the proof was to be found in how they lived.  Just as the leaders of the people of Israel, including the leaders of the church, had rejected Jesus and turned their backs on the covenant that they had with God, in the same way we know that sometimes the leaders of the church in the present day wear the label of Jesus Christ and claim the name of Jesus Christ, but live as enemies of Jesus.  The people that we are to follow, and after whose lives we are to pattern ours, are the people who look like, and who live like Paul, the disciples, and Jesus.  The enemies of the cross of Christ have their minds set on earthly things like food, alcohol, drugs, sex, money, power, pleasure, and the things of earth.  But the followers of Jesus know that their true citizenship is in heaven and as a result, they live lives that reflect the values of that nation and not the values of the nations of earth.

We live in a time and a culture that is far removed from that of Abraham and from that of Jesus and Paul, but the lessons that we learn from them remain the same.  God wants to bless his people and, as he always has, God continues to keep his promises.  But God will not bless those who reject him and turn their backs on him.  And so, if we want to receive the blessings of God, then we must search for, and choose, role models who live their lives like Paul, the disciples, apostles, and Jesus.  Stand firm in your faith.  Do not sell-out to the desires and lusts of the human body.  Do not set your mind on earthly things but remember that heaven is our home.  And the citizenship of our hearts must be revealed to the world through our lives and our actions every day.

It all boils down to this:

You are a child of God.

Act like it.

 

 

 

 


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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.

Compassion Theater

“Compassion Theater”
November 08, 2015
(Veterans’ Sunday)
By John Partridge

Scripture:  Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17               Hebrews 9:24-28                     Mark 12:38-44

How many of you have taken a vacation in the last ten years?

How many of you have flown on an airplane, either for vacation or for business in the last few years?

If you haven’t travelled much lately you might not have noticed, but if you went anywhere near the airport since 9-11 you will have noticed that things are very different than they used to be.

While there used to be security at the airport, since September 11th, 2001 there have been huge changes in the amount, the types, and the locations of security. You now enter security earlier, they check a lot more things, a lot more thoroughly, and they prohibit travelers from taking a lot more things with them. But for all of the expense, and all of the hassle, a lot of people have begun to refer to the entire process as “Security Theater.” The reason it has earned such a nickname is that for all the additional trouble, the process hasn’t really caught, or stopped, any more terrorists than the old system and, in fact, the people in charge of our security have been arrested for crimes many times more often than they arrest anyone else. No other country in the world made the changes we did, and their security is generally better. Worse, by some estimates, the new enhanced security is even less safe, and less effective than it was before they made us take off our shoes and took away our fingernail clippers. Security Theater is very much what the nickname implies. It’s a great show, with marvelous acting. It makes you feel like you are safer, but doesn’t really do much else.

But the same thing happens in a lot of churches. People put on a good show, but don’t really do much else. To better understand what I mean, let’s return to the story of Ruth. Here, after Ruth and Naomi have returned from Moab, to Israel, they struggle, as widows, to survive on the kindness of others but try to find stability and hope for the future. (Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17)

3:1 One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. 2 Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

5 “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. 6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.

4:13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi, was not fake. Her actions were not an act. Because Ruth is not a native of Israel she knows that she doesn’t always understand the language, the culture, or the way people think. But she trusts Naomi with her life and when Naomi comes up with a plan, she agrees to do whatever Naomi tells her to do. Because of her trust, faith and obedience, Ruth and Boaz are married, find the stability and hope that both women were seeking, and Ruth becomes, eventually, the grandmother of King David.

That isn’t theater. That’s the real deal. Ruth’s trust and devotion are real.

But in Mark 12:38-44, Jesus warns his followers about a completely different kind of person.

38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Jesus wanted his disciples to watch some of the church leaders because they were participating in “Compassion Theater.” Instead of being ‘real’ like Ruth, instead of truly having faith, trust, and obedience to the words of God, these men do all that they can to put on a good show so that they look good, despite the fact that, in reality, they are more despicable than many unbelievers. These were men who were more than willing to foreclose on poor widows and steal their houses, but still offered loud and long prayers in public places where everyone could see them.

In total contrast to these men, Jesus points out a poor widow, whose total net worth amounted to two copper coins. This was all the money that she had in the world, and she was willing to give it to God and trust him with her future. Others, rich people, came to give offerings, once again, in public, and gave large amounts of money… because they could. For them, even though the gifts were large, they weren’t costly. They were rich and could easily afford to give large gifts and never miss the money. Their giving was fake and all for show. Their giving never required them to sacrifice anything. But that poor widow was completely real, and gave an offering that represented the sacrifice of all that she had.

So where does that leave us?

What message should we take away from all of this?

Before we get to that, let’s read one more passage of scripture. In Hebrews 9:24-28, we remember the gift that Jesus gave to every one of us.

24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Jesus, the Son of God, the creator of the universe, came to earth to give a gift to the people that he loved. He had everything. He created the universe. The cattle on a thousand hills, and all that exists, belongs to him. And yet, the gift that he gave required sacrifice. Jesus, in order to truly give a gift of love, sacrificed himself.

And so the message we need to digest is to be careful that we do not participate in “Compassion Theater.” We should not give to the poor just because we want others to think that we care. We should not make a show of our faith in public just so people look at us and think that we’re good. Instead, our goal is to be as real as possible, to live a life of trust, faith and obedience to God instead of worrying about how good our charity or church attendance make us look.

We are impressed by the gifts that our veterans have given to us, not because they were drafted or because they volunteered, but because their gifts were costly. They spent years of their lives in service to our country, they spent time away from their families and friends, and they risked their very lives for our protection. Ruth’s gift to Naomi was real trust and devotion that risked everything. Jesus was impressed by the poor widow because her gift represented a significant sacrifice. Jesus could make all of his followers rich, but since he is the creator of everything, that wouldn’t be all that impressive. But we are astounded by Jesus’ gift to us because it represented real sacrifice, even for the King of kings.

As we give gifts to God, whether those gifts are financial or not, we need to ask ourselves if we are doing them to look good, or if we are truly doing them to honor God.

Real gifts, gifts that have meaning, are gifts that cost us something.