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.

Fear and Peace

Fear and Peace

April 11, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 20:19-31                                    Acts 4:32-35                           1 John 1:1 – 2:2

In his description of soldiers at war, in his novel “War and Peace,” Leo Tolstoy describes how disciplined and trained soldiers would be marched into battle, but once they came under fire would be seized by fear, become a disorganized rabble, and chaotically flee for their lives.  But, once having reached the rear, and being no longer afraid, would once again fall under the discipline of their command, reorganize, and march forward into battle.  But, once they came under fire, would again be seized by fear, and the process would repeat itself.  This observation led Tolstoy to conclude that,,,

“Man cannot possess anything as long as he fears death. But to him who does not fear it, everything belongs.” (Leo Tolstoy, “War and Peace”)

While the resurrection story doesn’t contain the same sort of warfare that Tolstoy was describing, we do see many of the same human reactions to fear at the beginning.  However, the power of Jesus’ resurrection allows us to see a transformative change in the disciples and other followers of Jesus, particularly as it relates to fear.  We rejoin the gospel story on Easter Sunday evening as described in John 20:19-31.

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

When we join the disciples, they are hiding behind locked doors because they are afraid that the church leaders who had rigged an illegal trial to convict Jesus would be looking for them next.  But in the middle of their fear, Jesus arrives and his first words to them are, “Peace be with you.”  Jesus knows that the disciples were missing something, and immediately shares two things with them.  First, Jesus gives them purpose by declaring that the mission that God had given to him was now being passed on to them, and second, Jesus gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit that will empower them and give them the strength that they will need to do that work.

But not everyone was there.  Thomas was not among them when Jesus appeared and, as clearly as they tried to explain it to him, and regardless of the trust that they had built among one another over the last three years of their ministry together with Jesus, he remained skeptical.  And his skepticism remained until he met Jesus for himself and put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand where the spear had pierced him.  But Jesus knew that not everyone would be able to see him and touch him to cure them of their skepticism.  And of those people, to whom the disciples would be sent, Jesus declares a blessing for their ability to overcome doubt and skepticism and find faith.

John declares that his reason for writing this gospel was so that those people, people like us, could hear the story from the eyewitnesses who, saw it, felt it, and lived it, and believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing might find life that was unafraid, bold, and courageous.  That transformed life, that started in fear of the church leaders, ended with disciples and followers of Jesus who were unafraid to preach the gospel and share the stories about the things that they had seen, heard, and lived.  And Luke describes how that transformation changed them, as individuals, and as a group, in Acts 4:32-35 saying…

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

One transformation that was caused by the three years of living beside Jesus, and of the resurrection, was that the disciples and followers of Jesus became a family that not only shared their life experiences together, but a family that shared their finances together.  They shifted from claiming that they individually owned their possessions, to recognizing that God owned everything and entrusted their possessions to them.  I don’t think that’s the same as declaring that all their possessions were owned collectively, because the owners of those lands and houses still oversaw and administered the wealth and the possessions that they had, but they now shared that wealth in a new, and deeply generous, way so that everyone in their community of faith was cared for and had the things that they needed.

In 1 John 1:1 – 2:2, a letter that was written to circulate among established churches and gathering places of believers, the apostle John wrote:

1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make ourjoy complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from allsin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

John reminds the churches that from the beginning, the disciples, apostles, and followers of Jesus took up the mission of sharing what they knew.  They shared their experiences, what they had seen, what they had heard, and what they had lived, with the people, and the world around them.  They shared the story of Jesus Christ, they shared the story of the resurrection, and they shared the stories and lessons that Jesus had taught them.  John particularly notes that they do these things, not only as an act of obedience, but that by sharing their stories, and by sharing the story of Jesus, they receive joy.  It makes them happy to share with others the things that they had been given.

And just to be sure that no one was confused about what he was talking about, John drills down to the specifics, that the message we share is the message that we heard from Jesus, that God is light and cannot have any part with darkness.  That means that if we want to be a part of what God is doing, and be a part of God’s kingdom, and a part of God’s church, then we must do our best to walk in the light and live the way that Jesus taught us to live.

At the same time, John is clear that he was not perfect, that we are not perfect, and that the church itself is not perfect, that we sin, and that we fail to live up to the truths that we have learned.  But if we confess our sins, Jesus will forgive us and purify us.  It is John’s hope that the followers of Jesus will not sin, but if, and when, we do, we can find comfort in knowing that Jesus is our advocate.  He paid the price for our sins and stands beside the throne of God to speak for us in our times of need and to speak words of forgiveness when we fall short.

Just as the disciples were transformed by the events of the resurrection, when we put our faith in Jesus, our lives are similarly transformed.  Where we were afraid and tossed about by the events of the world around us, we become unafraid, bold, and courageous.  Our faith leads us to repentance, our repentance brings us forgiveness, and that forgiveness takes us to a place of hope, healing, recovery, joy, and peace.

Tolstoy may have been talking about something completely different, but the gospel story, and the story of Jesus’ resurrection assure us that there was truth in his words.

“Man cannot possess anything as long as he fears death. But to him who does not fear it, everything belongs.”

And, through our faith in Jesus Christ, we no longer fear death, or life, or principalities, or powers, or peer pressure, or anything else because we know that our trust and faith can only lead to joy… and peace.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/M8cRsBa8GVI

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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.

Freedom

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Freedom

April 04, 2021*

(Easter)

By Pastor John Partridge

Mark 16:1-8                           Acts 10:34-43                         I Corinthians 15:1-11

We are three months early.

Three months from today, July 4th, is our nation’s birthday and a grand celebration of freedom and independence.

An in that sense, our celebration today, on April 4th, is three months early.  But our celebration today is the celebration of a freedom that is far grander, and far more amazing, that our independence from King George and the nation of England.

The freedom that we celebrate today has been the subject of our sermons for the last seven and a half weeks and even then, we’ve barely scratched the surface of why our remembrance of this day is the cause of so much joy, gladness, and celebration.  But make no mistake, like the celebration of July 4th for the citizens of the United States of America, the Easter celebration for the citizens of the Kingdom of God and of Jesus Christ, is a celebration of freedom.  I’m going to briefly recap the last seven weeks and remind you of a few of the freedoms that we are celebrating in a little while, but first I want to read words of Mark 16:1-8 and add to our remembrance of the story of Easter that our youth began this morning in our sunrise service.

16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

As the two Marys and Salome walked to the tomb, they were worried about what Jesus body would smell like, they were worried that the stone was too large for the tree of them to move, worried that there might not be anyone to help them move it, and worried that the Roman soldiers, or whomever was guarding it, would refuse to help them, or even refuse to allow them to re-wrap Jesus’ body with the spices, incense, and aromatic tree sap that they had brought with them.  But upon their arrival, the two-thousand-pound stone had already been moved and they worried about why it had been moved.  But when they entered the tomb to look inside, instead of finding Jesus, they found a messenger from God whose first words were, “Don’t be afraid.”  But after he had given them their instructions and sent them on their way, they were still trembling, confused, and afraid.

But that initial reaction changed as they met Jesus face-to-face and realized that Jesus was alive.  As time passed, they began to understand the things that Jesus had taught them, including the things about death, burial, and resurrection that had always been confusing.  They began to understand that everything that they had seen, had happened exactly as Jesus had said that it would happen, and exactly as the ancient prophets had described hundreds of years earlier.  And, by the time that Peter stays in the home of a Roman Centurion named Cornelius in Caesarea, he has processed the lessons that he learned from Jesus in an even deeper way (Acts 10:34-43).

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Peter realized that Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament had begun something entirely new and changed the way that God’s people would engage the world around them and change the way their entire relationship with God.  The new covenant, this new contract with God, was a contract without favoritism, without nepotism, without racism, and without judgement except for the judgement of the one person who understood us best, and who was perfect, just, and infinitely wise.

And just a few decades later, Paul, having learned from the disciples, as well as through his own experience, and having had even more time to process what he had learned, seen, and heard, writes to the church in Corinth to help them to understand what the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus meant to them, and still means to each one of us (I Corinthians 15:1-11).

15:1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Paul reminds us that it was by this gospel, this story of life, death, and resurrection, through which we were saved… if we hold firmly to what we have learned.  Paul knows what his life was like before he met Jesus.  Paul knows that he is utterly undeserving of God’s rescue, let alone the honor of being counted among the disciples of Jesus Christ.  Paul remembers that he had been so anti-Jesus that he had become known as the hunter of Christ followers who had them arrested, tortured, and worse.  And because of who he was, and the life that he had once lived, Paul understands the depth of God’s mercy and grace.

Through the story of Easter, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, Paul had found freedom.  And that freedom has flowed down through history to us.  It is a freedom that is far grander than anything that we celebrate on July fourth.  It is more than our freedom from King George and the nation of England.  It is more than the freedoms enumerated in the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.

The message of the gospel is a message of many freedoms. 

Mary, Mary, and Salome learned that it is a message of freedom from fear.

Peter learned that it was a message of freedom from favoritism, nepotism, and racism.

Paul learned that it is a message of mercy, grace, and freedom from our past.

And as we’ve learned over the last seven and a half weeks, it is a message of freedom from corruption, rescue from the flood, freedom from the Law of Moses, freedom from the demands of other gods, a message of keeping God at the center of our lives, freedom from the misplaced priorities and wisdom of the world, freedom from our failures, freedom from our guilt, freedom from suffering, freedom from sin, and even freedom from death.

And that is why we repeat the story every year, and why Easter should be filled with joy.

The message of Easter was a story about freedom long before the events of the Revolutionary War and long before July fourth had any meaning to the citizens of North America.

We celebrate Easter because today is the day when God gave us the immeasurable gift of freedom.

Happy Easter everyone.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/JpemgjB6bIY

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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.

Fear or Faith?

I am not afraid.

If you read my blog last week (Who Will Be the Canary?), you probably noticed that while I look forward to returning to worship in our church sanctuary, I prefer to err on the side of caution.  And, as I noted in my greeting yesterday morning, I find it a little odd that we are being told that it is safe to return to corporate worship (with proper spacing) but day cares, sports teams, and others are being told to limit activities to groups of ten.  Similarly, hospitals nursing homes and other care facilities remain closed to visitors and family members.  In that environment, I am just not convinced that it is responsible to put nearly one hundred of us in a room together.

I realize that there are several schools of thought on this issue.  A few of my colleagues believe, and have made it clear in online forums, that such cautiousness will harm church attendance and membership.  But I am not so sure.  In 2016, the entire Chipotle restaurant chain lost customers and revenue when 55 customers were sickened by the e coli bacteria in seven states.  The damage to sales (attendance) took years to repair.  An outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in your local church would be a major media event and, if we’re going to use church attendance as a measuring stick, would have an even more profound impact than cautiousness.  In any case, while we are making plans to return to corporate worship in our sanctuary, I think it’s more important to put the safety of our members ahead of worries about attendance.

But I am not afraid.

While there have been many posts on social media that churches (and pastors) should simply have faith, and trust that God will protect us, this isn’t an issue of fear versus faith.  While I have seen reminders about how God protected Daniel in the lions’ den or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, I don’t think that they apply here.  Yes, they all had great faith and, yes, God protected them, but at the same time, Daniel didn’t volunteer to be thrown to the lions.  And, realizing that Shadrach and company were bound hand and foot prior to their attempted incineration says something about their willingness to participate in the experience. 

Yes, Bible heroes the likes of Moses, Gideon, and David are lifted up as people of great faith, and they were.  But it pays to remember that they were also cautious.  Moses was content to raise sheep, for forty years, until God commanded him to return to Egypt and promised him divine protection.  Gideon led Israel’s revolt against the occupying Philistine army, but God spent days convincing him that the voice he heard really was God, and that God really was promising that Gideon wouldn’t die in the attempt.  Yes, David volunteered to fight against the giant Goliath, but David had spent years training with a sling and stones and had used them to fight against a lion, a bear, and other wild beasts before he did.

Being cautious doesn’t mean that we lack faith.  It just means that we choose not to risk our lives foolishly. 

Let us take the time to understand our enemy and the weapons we have at our disposal to fight against it.

Let us be careful, cautious, and listen for God’s voice.

The heroes of our faith did these things too.

 

 

 


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Fear and Arrogance (Part 1) – Fear Gives Poor Advice

Fear and Arrogance

Part 1: Fear Gives Poor Advice

March 22, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

1 Samuel 16:1-13                   John 9:1-41               

 

 

If you are a fan of scary movies, there is one thing that nearly every movie, from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, to Jaws, to Halloween and Friday the 13th to the movies of the present day all seem to have in common.  And the thing that they have in common is this: People who are afraid, make poor choices.  That’s why we’re always shouting at the screen “Don’t go back in the house!”  We saw it in Germany as an entire nation allowed the Nazi’s to commit unconscionable acts simply because the people were too afraid to speak up.  In fact, we need look no further that our local grocery store shelves as we’ve entered a time of fear caused by the arrival of the Corona virus.  People are rushing to the grocery stores, and department stores, and even Amazon.com to buy things for which they have no reasonable need.  People are buying food that will certainly spoil before they can eat it all, cases upon cases of water that comes out of kitchen faucet of nearly every home, and enough toilet paper to supply an average college dormitory for a year.  Why?

 

Because fear gives poor advice.

 

None of these things make any sense because people aren’t thinking logically, rationally, or sensibly, they are simply reacting out of irrational fear.  It’s a lot like a cattle stampede.  One cow gets stung by a bee and started running, and the rest of the herd starts running because everyone else was running.

 

And, although sociologists will be talking about our current crisis for generations, fear certainly isn’t anything new.  In 1 Samuel 16:1-13, we hear the story of how God sent his prophet Samuel to anoint a new king over Israel because of the disobedience of King Saul.  And, in that story, we see both the prophet, David’s father Jesse, and the elders of Bethlehem act out of fear before they listen and respond to the calling of God.

 

16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

 

Even before Samuel leaves home, he is already worried.  Samuel is afraid that if he obeys God, and if King Saul hears about what he is doing, Saul will be angry enough to kill him.  But God sends Samuel anyway.

 

Once Samuel arrives, the elders of the town of Bethlehem tremble when they meet him, and they aren’t even sure that they want to let him in, because the prophets of God had a reputation for bringing bad news, curses, and death.  And so, the elders (and this probably included Jesse) won’t let Samuel in the door until they are reassured that Samuel has come in peace.

 

But Samuel is deceived, one son after another, simply because he assumes that God is seeing the same things that he sees.  Samuel sees young men who are tall, handsome, physically fit, and seem like the kind of men that would look good as king.  In fact, David’s own father did the same thing. When Samuel arrives and invites his family to the sacrifice.  Everyone simply assumes that the youngest son, the kid who got left in the fields watching the sheep, isn’t worth anyone’s time and certainly won’t be missed.  It isn’t until God fails to select anyone that Samuel finally asks, “Are these all the sons you have?”  And then declares that they would not sit down to eat until that youngest son, the one everyone was prepared to ignore, finally arrives.  And that son, of course, turns out to be David, the greatest king in the entire history of Israel.

 

During our Bible study this week we talked about how Simon Peter swore that he would stand by Jesus even if he was arrested and put to death.  But when push came to shove, he denied even knowing Jesus not once, but three times.  Why?  Fear.

 

And so, as we shelter in place, and practice “social distancing” in the face of the Coronavirus outbreak, this message from scripture seems especially relevant.  We must not act out of fear because fear gives poor advice.  Fear told King Saul to disobey God (and he listened).  Fear told the prophet Samuel not to even leave the house to anoint David as God’s new king (but he didn’t listen).  Fear told Jesse and the elders of Bethlehem not to even let Samuel in the door, and it told Simon Peter to save his skin and betray Jesus.

 

Instead of listening to our fears, we are reminded to put our faith and trust in God.  God still cares.  God still loves you.  We will get through this difficult time if we listen to, and trust, God and we behave rationally, carefully, and behave prudently.

 

Fear says that it’s not safe to trust God.

Fear says that God will demand too much from you.

Fear says that you might miss out on something else if you follow God.

Fear says that you need to hold back on God so that you can stay in control.

Fear says that you need a year’s supply of toilet paper and ten gallons of hand sanitizer.

 

But fear is a liar.

 

Fear gives poor advice.

 

And so, as we watch the latest news and practice social distancing, let us also remember the words that the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome and the words of the Jesus’ beloved disciple John.

 

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

 

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. (1 John 4:18)

 

And finally, in this time of uncertainty, I want you to hear God’s words from the prophet Isaiah:

 

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

 

Although these are uncertain, and even frightening times…

 

Be encouraged.

 

Don’t be afraid.

 

God still cares.

 

God still loves you.

 

God is in control.

 

 

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 

 


You can find the livestream of this message here: https://youtu.be/MmS9yA5Sfas

To continue to Part 2, click here: https://pastorpartridge.com/2020/03/23/2689/


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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.

Strategic Retreat

Strategic Retreat

December 29, 2019*

(First Sunday after Christmas)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 63:7-9                          Matthew 2:13-23                               Hebrews 2:10-18

 

Shortly after our nation’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Army, commanded by George Washington, was fighting for its life.  The British had landed an overwhelming force on Long Island, defeated the American patriots in Brooklyn, and had nearly 9,000 of Washington’s soldiers trapped against the East River.  British General Sir William Howe prepared to lay siege to the surrounded Americans and was intent on annihilating them to the last man.  But, as General Howe prepared his offensive, General Washington and his troops rounded up all the boats that they could find and, as silently as possible, even using rags to muffle the sound of the oars and maintaining their campfires so to deceive the British, the Americans ferried their army across the river in the dark of night on August 29, 1776.  At sunrise, many remained on the Long Island side of the river, but God, or luck, was on Washington’s side and a dense fog masked the final stages of the withdrawal.  In the end, all 9000 colonists and nearly all their equipment was successfully evacuated, and they lived to fight another day.  Continental officer Benjamin Tallmadge later wrote, “In the history of warfare I do not recollect a more fortunate retreat,”  (This story from History.com – https://www.history.com/news/7-brilliant-military-retreats)

Sometimes, when faced with an overwhelming enemy force, the wisest course is not to stay and fight, but to run away to fight another day.  In those cases, and history records many of them, it is not cowardly to make a strategic retreat.  We find such things even in scripture.  But first, we once again remember the prophecies recorded by the prophet Isaiah.  But in this passage, Isaiah not only writes about the messiah that was to come, but about the deeds that he would do, the emotions that he would have, and the connection that he would have to the heart of God’s people.  (Isaiah 63:7-9)

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
    the deeds for which he is to be praised,
    according to all the Lord has done for us—
yes, the many good things
    he has done for Israel,
    according to his compassion and many kindnesses.
He said, “Surely they are my people,
    children who will be true to me”;
    and so he became their Savior.
In all their distress he too was distressed,
    and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy, he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them
    all the days of old.

Isaiah says that it was the actions of God for which he was normally remembered, but also that God had done these things because of his kindness, and compassion.  As the savior of his people, God was distressed when his people were distressed.  God rescued and redeemed his people because of the mercy that he had for them and the love that he felt for them.  And those feelings continue even as the messiah arrives upon the earth.  In Matthew 2:13-23, as the messiah begins God’s invasion of our world, we hear the story of God’s greatest strategic retreat.

13 When they [the wise men] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

This is all good stuff but remember that Isaiah said that God was remembered for the deeds that he did, and for things like kindness and compassion.  So, as we think about the story about Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ flight to Egypt, I want to particularly listen for two things: First, listen for what people did and second, pay attention to what emotions they must have felt. 

At the beginning of our story, I’m just going to guess that Mary and Joseph were tired.  This part of the story doesn’t immediately follow the Christmas story and could happen as much as two years later.  So, as we begin, Mary and Joseph have made a home in Bethlehem, or elsewhere, and are raising a toddler.  But Joseph is still a faithful man of God who both hears from and listens to God.  This is important because when God comes to Joseph in a dream, Joseph pays attention.  Now, I’m willing to grant that this was probably no ordinary dream, but still, how easy would it have been for Joseph to simply write it off as the result of some bad fish, or something he ate the night before? 

But Joseph immediately understands that this dream is from God and he immediately understands the importance of it.  He awakens Mary, in the middle of the night, they wrap up the baby, and apparently without even saying goodbye to their neighbors, family, and friends, they left town.  In two sentences they’ve gone from just being a couple of tired parents, to being terrified and fleeing for their lives because the King and his entire army want them dead. 

Herod, who was emotionally unstable, and who, at the very least, suffered from severe paranoia and who had no qualms at all about committing the vilest atrocities in order to remain in power, is incredibly angry.  Herod realizes that the Magi saw through his “I just want to worship him” act and is furious that they left the country without telling him where the baby was.  But, because Herod is both paranoid and a cold-blooded killer, he sends his army to Bethlehem with orders to kill every male child that was two years old or younger.  If Herod can’t be sure which child the Magi visited, his plan is to just kill all of them.

It is easy to understand that this mass execution of babies terrorizes the entire village and has every mother in the town out in the streets weeping and mourning just as the prophet Jeremiah has foretold hundreds of years earlier.  And then, several years later, Herod the Great dies, and the areas over which he had ruled were divided up among several of his sons.  When that happens, God once again calls upon Joseph in a dream and tells him that it is time to come home.  But even as they journey back, they hear that one of those sons, Herod Archelaus, who by some accounts was even more cruel and despotic than his father, is now the ruler over Judea, which included both Bethlehem and Jerusalem.  With that news, Mary and Joseph are once again afraid for their lives and for the life of their child, so they choose to bypass Bethlehem and make their way north instead to the area of Galilee and Nazareth which was ruled over by Herod Antipas, another son of Herod the Great.

But so, what?  Why is any of that important? 

Make no mistake, it is important, but before I explain why, let’s first look at something that we find in Hebrews 2:10-18.

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
    in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

And again, he says,

“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

The writer of Hebrews wants to be certain that we understand the importance of Jesus’ suffering.  It is the suffering of Jesus that reminds us of his humanity and what assures us that Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters.  He says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”  And he goes on to say that “he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”  And finally, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  The writer of Hebrews is insistent that the humanity of Jesus is not only important, it is vital, critical, and indeed, the whole story falls apart without it.

And that is also exactly why it’s important to focus on what Mary and Joseph did, and the emotions that they felt.  Too many times we hear people write off parts of the gospel message or discredit important parts of Christian faith by saying that Jesus wasn’t completely human in one way or another.  Some say that Jesus was only an idea and not a real person, or that he was only a spirit and not entirely a creature of flesh and blood, or that he was partly God and partly human and that’s the only reason that Jesus was able to live a perfect and sinless life. 

But none of those things fit with the story of scripture.

The writer of Hebrews wanted to be sure that we understood that, and so did Matthew.  Matthew takes the time to tell the story of this strategic retreat so that we understand the people in it and the emotions behind it.  Mary and Joseph were poor, but they were also people of a deep and devout faith and trust in God.  And not only did they know the struggle of daily survival and living, they understood fear.  When God told them to run, they didn’t wait until morning and say goodbye, they ran for their lives in the middle of the night.  The idea that King Herod wanted their baby dead, and maybe them as well, was terrifying.  Everyone knew the horror that Herod was capable of.  There were no mixed messages about Jesus in the minds of Mary and Joseph.  They knew that he was a human being in every respect.  A baby that wet the bed, a toddler that forgot his shoes and wandered off when you weren’t watching closely enough.  They knew that Jesus wasn’t godlike.  They knew that Jesus didn’t have any godly power that would protect them from Herod’s soldiers.  They knew that Jesus was no vaporous spirit, but that he was 100 percent flesh and blood just like them, and just like us, in every respect.

And because he was, he is able to help us.

Because he was human, he became a merciful and faithful high priest that made atonement for the sins of his people.  Without Jesus’ humanity, he would not have been able to rescue us.

But he was and he did.

And the unrelenting, overwhelming fear of Mary and Joseph is proof of Jesus’ humanity.

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

No Fear, No Dogma, No Excuses

No Fear, No Dogma, No Excuses

August 25, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Jeremiah 1:4-10                     Hebrews 12:18-29                 Luke 12:49-56

Have you ever asked someone to do something, and you just knew that they were making excuses to avoid saying “no” to your face?  You know what I mean.  How many times can someone need to wash their hair when you ask them out on a date?  Or be out of town every single time you ask them to help with something?  Look, if you don’t want to go on that next mission trip, just tell me that you don’t want to go, and I’ll quit bothering you about it.  But, can you imagine how many excuses God has heard when he asks his people to do stuff?  And, don’t you think that God knows that we’re just making excuses?  Of course, he does.

And in Jeremiah 1:4-10 we hear exactly that kind of a discussion as God calls Jeremiah to be his prophet in Israel and in Judea and to speak God’s words to humanity.

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Some theologians have estimated that Jeremiah could have been as young as twelve when God called him to be his prophet.  Of course, it would seem strange to hear the words of God from the mouth of a twelve-year-old, of course the King would be unwilling, or at least unlikely, to listen to a twelve-year-old tell him what to do.  Jeremiah wasn’t stupid.  He knew that he would have a hard time because of his age, especially as someone who had not trained as a public speaker and who didn’t have any experience speaking in front of anyone, let alone princes and kings.

But God basically just commands Jeremiah to stop making excuses.  God tells him not to say that he is too young, or too inexperienced, or too unskilled, to even too afraid.  Instead, just do what God has called you to do, just go to the places that God has called you to go to, and just stop making excuses.  God knows what he is doing and if God has called you, then God still knows what he is doing and has a plan to do it that involves you… even if you’re too  young, or too old, or too inexperienced, or too unskilled, or too untrained, or too afraid. 

Even if you are afraid, even if you are all those things, just do it anyway and trust that God knows what he is doing.

Jeremiah was afraid that people wouldn’t listen to him or respect him, and he was right.  He was often disrespected and, for the most part, no one listened to him.  But that wasn’t just because he was young.  The people who have carried God’s messages have often, if not always, had that problem.  Prophets, teachers, preachers, and evangelists of all kinds have had similar experiences. 

Even Jesus.

In Luke 13:10-17 we hear yet another story of when the leaders of the church criticized Jesus for doing the things that God had called him to do simply because they had made “the rules” more important that God.

10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So, come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Jesus is criticized for doing work on the Sabbath because he healed someone who had been crippled and suffering for eighteen years.  Holy cow!  Can you imagine the relief that she felt?  Can you imagine the joy?  And can you imagine what was going through her mind as her own church leaders criticized Jesus for doing the thing that brought her that joy?  Can you imagine what she felt as she realized that if Jesus had only followed the rules, he probably would have left town before he could heal her?  And even if not, she would have suffered for at least another day. 

But Jesus has a different answer. 

Jesus’ answer is that it was the teachers and the leaders who were wrong about God.  Yes, God has rules.  Yes, we are expected to obey them.  But those rules should never become so important that they become unchangeable dogma that overwhelms the heart of God.  Yes, we are called to keep a Sabbath and take a day of rest and spend time with God.  Yes, we should avoid work if we’re going to try to get some rest.  But (and this is vitally important) healing is not work.  Freedom is not work.  Mercy, decency, kindness, compassion, and love are not work.  These are the things that reflect the heart of God, and all these things are far more important than some religious doctrine, dogma, or some arbitrary set of rules that were written by human beings.  Just this week I heard stories about churches who criticized people because they were divorced, or remarried, or had tattoos, or showed too much skin, or had a big bosom, or because they accidently took a new medication incorrectly.  As a church, before we ever get too involved in enforcing “the rules,” we would do well to look deeper to see exactly who wrote them and how they compare to the heart of God.

So, with the coming of Jesus, with his death and resurrection, how do we see the world, and the church differently?  How do we respond to the call of God and how is it different than it was when God called Jeremiah?  The Apostle Paul provides at least a partial answer to that question in Hebrews 12:18-29.

18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Through the stories that we heard about the ministry of Moses and Joshua, and in the centuries since Moses, and especially with the coming of Jesus, we have learned more about the heart of God.  Paul reminds us that we no longer fear God in the way that you would fear a tyrant as people often did in the time of Moses.  Instead, the city of God is known to be a place of peace and joy.  It is the church and the home of Jesus Christ and all the people who have put their trust in him.  When we come to God, we come to the place where the righteous will be made perfect and where Jesus is the mediator and for all of us through the new covenant in which Jesus has paid for our forgiveness and repaired our relationship with God.

And in that place of peace and forgiveness, we should take care not to say “No” to God.  How can we turn away from a God who has already done so much for us?  We are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken and so we should be filled with reverence and awe and be thankful for all that we have been given.  We should stop focusing on the minutia, the details, the doctrine, the dogma, and the rules that God never wrote in the first place and instead focus on his heart.  Like Jeremiah, we must stop making excuses and get on with the work of answering God’s call and telling the world about the healing, freedom, mercy, decency, compassion, and love of God.  We are called to do the work of the kingdom of God. We are called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

Each of us is called to do something for the kingdom of God.  We may not all be called to be prophets, pastors, or evangelist, but all of us are called…

…to have the heart of God.

 

 

 


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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.

Fear

Special General Conference

Fear

This is it.

As I write this, the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church will begin its session at the end of this week.  Delegates from around the world have already begun their journeys to St. Louis for their deliberations.  This appears to be a great watershed moment and the future of the United Methodist Church will be forever changed.

We worry.

Some of us may even experience fear.

I admit to being concerned.  Many of the proposals specifically designed to hold our church together will instead drive the church apart or accelerate its decline. 

So, what will we do?

My advice, to those who have asked me, is to relax (a little).  There are many proposals that the General Conference will consider but they are not obligated to pass any of them.  They might choose one, but it is more likely that they will craft something new from pieces taken from among the various proposals or, at the very least, modify one of those proposals before passing it.  There is also a reasonable chance that they won’t pass anything at all and decide that the best way to keep us together, however unhappily, is not to change anything.  And finally, there is a chance that some elements of whatever may get “kicked down the road” for debate at the regular General Conference in 2020.

But, assuming that the General Conference passes something, then what?

Still, my advice is that we should still not get excited too quickly.

Some proposed changes may require ratification by the annual conferences and that would take a year before the results were known.  But even if a major change were to be passed by the Special General Conference, many of those changes would require Annual Conference action.  And, since our Annual Conference doesn’t meet until June, nothing could happen until then, and understanding the difficulty of preparing that legislation for the Annual Conference, there is a fair chance that we wouldn’t take any action as a conference until June of 2020.  Other actions that are being proposed would open a window for churches to decide and in most cases, we would have a year or so to choose a path forward.

Are you confused?  Of course, you are.

At this point the road ahead looks like a bowl of spaghetti, or a road map of the Los Angeles freeways.  That is precisely why I have been advising folks not to get too excited.  The path ahead, for now, is confusing and unknown.  But, once the General Conference passes something, whether that is next month or in 2020, then the path ahead, and our options, will become much clearer.

And until it does, we will continue to be in ministry to the people around us as Christ Church has for over a hundred years.  For now, we should continue to pray for all of the General Conference delegates.

Trust that God knows what is going to happen.

Have faith that God is in control.

Try not to worry.

And fear not.

 

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

– Isaiah 41:10

 


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Fear, Respect, and Posers

“Fear, Respect, and Posers”

October 08, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 20:1-20                      Philippians 3:4b-14                           Matthew 21:33-46

 

 

 This morning I want us to begin by using our imagination for a moment.  Imagine if you met someone who referred to themselves as a professional race car driver, but who never drove a car.  Imagine someone who owned a steel company but the factory that they owned never produced a single ton of steel.  Imagine someone who bragged about owning a vineyard but that vineyard never produced a single grape.  In each of these cases, you would quickly begin to doubt their credentials and would suspect that they were posers, faking their way through life trying to make themselves feel important.

 

At the same time, imagine living in a place where the police department was prohibited from making arrests, had no handcuffs, no jail, and had nothing more than balloon animals and water guns to enforce the law.  Instead of stopping criminals, the police spend their time entertaining children at birthday parties.  Obviously, they wouldn’t be much of a police department and no one would take them seriously.

 

With these ideas in mind, we return to the story of the Exodus and the people of Israel.  Today we hear the words of God as he handed down the Ten Commandments to Moses and to the people. (Exodus 20:1-20)


20:1 And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

 

I could present a sermon on each one of those, but for today I wanted to stress the last sentence.  First, Moses tells the people that they should not be afraid, but then immediately says that these commandments were given so that the people would have a “fear of God” that would keep them from sinning.  Doesn’t that sound like two conflicting ideas?  How can we be unafraid, and yet fear God?

 

The simple answer is that although these words translate the same, these two uses of the word fear, and afraid, are used to express two curiously different ideas.  When Moses says “Do not be afraid” that is exactly what he means.  He is telling the people that they needn’t run from God, that they do not need to keep their distance from God, and that simply being in the presence of God is not a life threatening situation in which they must worry, from moment to moment, that God will strike them dead with a thought, a look, or a bolt of lightning.

 

On the other hand, God has given these commandments, and has revealed his presence on earth, so that we might be prevented from continuing in our sin.  As I noted in my earlier example, imagine what would happen if everyone knew that the people charged with law enforcement were prevented from, and totally incapable of, enforcing the law.  In that case, law breakers would have free reign to do whatever they wanted, and even decent people would be sorely tempted to do things they shouldn’t do.  How many people would follow the speed limit if it were announced that the State Highway Patrol and local law enforcement officers would no longer patrol the interstate highways or give out tickets?  In this case, what Moses is saying is that God is real, God is powerful beyond imagination, but that God is a good god who loves you beyond measure.  At the same time, there is a list of things that humans do that offend God and we would be wise to avoid doing them.  When they are functioning correctly and when our relationship with the police department is the way it’s supposed to be, we are not afraid to meet a police officer on the street.  We know that they are there to protect us and to keep us safe.  But we also have a healthy respect for them and for what they do, and their presence reminds us that it is wise for us to obey the law.  This deep, abiding, and healthy respect for the presence of God is what Moses describes as “the fear of God.”  We need not be afraid of him, or fear to be in his presence, but we should be stopped in our tracks by the thought of offending him and breaking his laws.

 

God’s intent is not to destroy us, but to prevent us from violating his law and thus bring harm to ourselves.

 

By the time of Paul, the commandments and the laws of God had been elevated in status by people, like the Pharisees, to become an object of worship.  The laws became so important that they became idols that distracted people away from the will of God instead of pointing toward the will of God.  And, before his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was one of those people.  But afterward, Paul understood the law in an entirely different way.  In Philippians 3:4b-14 he described his new understanding this way:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 

Paul had spent his life learning the rules, following the rules, respecting the rules, teaching the rules and then enforcing the rules.  The rules were his life’s mission.  And then, after his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul says that he considers everything that he ever did to be garbage, filth, because he now understood that following the rules can never make us good enough, but that we can only become pure because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  He now understood that we can never, on our own, be good enough, but we must continually work to get better, to become worthy of the gift that we have been given by Jesus.

 

But how do we know when we are doing the right thing?  If following a bunch of rules isn’t good enough, then how do we know when we are following Jesus the way that Jesus desires for us to follow him?  And for that, at least in part, we can turn to Matthew 21:33-46, where Jesus tells his disciples what we now call the parable of the landowner.

 

33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

 

Once again, this entire parable was told as a criticism of the leadership of Israel and of Israel’s religious leaders.  They were, in opinion of Jesus, leadership posers.  They were standing in front of the people telling them what to do and how to do it, but they weren’t doing any of the right things themselves.  They were the race car drivers who never drove a single race, steel makers who never produced a single pound of steel, and vineyard owners who never produced a single grape.  Jesus said that the measuring stick to measure a race car driver was to watch him, or her race.  We judge steel makers by how they produce steel, and we measure vineyards by how many grapes are grown.  Likewise, Jesus says, the leaders of the church, and the church itself, are measured by the fruit that they produce.  You can talk about rules all you want, you can talk about churchy stuff all you want, but in the end, the important thing is to measure how many lives have been changed because of what you are doing.

 

Although the Ten Commandments are of obvious importance, the question has never been about how well we follow them, but about why we follow them, and about the results that we get from doing so. Our calling is to follow the law, not because that’s the most important thing, but because we want to be obedient in order to express our gratitude for what Jesus has done for us.  We cannot be posers who pretend to do the work of God in order to make ourselves feel better.  We must measure our success by the people who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, the lives that have been changed, and the souls that have been drawn closer to God.

 

This is our vineyard.

 

This is the fruit that we are called to produce.

 

And Jesus warns us that if we fail, he will move us out and bring in someone else who will.

 

 

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.