Do You Need a “Do Over”?

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Do You Need a “Do Over”?

September 04, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 18:1-11                   Luke 14:25-33                        Philemon 1-21

Have you ever had a chance to have a “do over”?

In the 1991 movie “City Slickers” starring Billy Crystal (as Mitch), four friends decide to get away from the city, and get away from their problems for a few weeks by going out west and joining a cattle drive.  One of the four friends, Phil, has a crisis because he had been caught cheating on his wife and was, to his mind, about to lose everything that he valued and one evening Phil breaks down in tears by the campfire.  Mitch pats Phil’s back and attempts to comfort him saying:

“Hey Phil, come on Philly… It’s OK man, it’s not that bad…”

To which Phil replies, “My life is over! I’m almost 40 years old, and I’m at the end of my life!”

Mitch tries to get Phil’s attention saying, “Phil, hey.” And when Phil looks up, he continues with this:

“You remember when we were kids, and we were playing ball, and we hit the ball over the fence out of bounds, and we yelled, DO OVER? Your life is a do over. You’ve got a clean slate.”

Phil’s life was a do-over.  At 40 years old he was going to start over again and build a new life.  I’m certain that resonates with some of the people in this room, and certainly most of us have family or friends that have lived through divorce, or separation, the death of a spouse, the loss of parents, unemployment, and other situations that led to similar restarts, or do-overs in their lives.  But while naming this sort of situation as a “do-over” might be new, the idea of starting over due to a crisis certainly isn’t.  In Jeremiah 18:1-11 we hear these words:

18:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2“Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so, the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

11 “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So, turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’

At the command of God, Jeremiah goes to the potter’s house and watches as he spins clay on his wheel and begins to form a pot.  But some imperfection marred that pot.  Sometimes a tiny pebble remains undiscovered in the clay and, as it spins on the potter’s wheel, the pebble rises to the surface, catches on the potter’s hands, and carves a groove in the clay, or worse.  But when that happened, the potter simply declares that the pot is a do-over, crushes it back into a shapeless lump, starts over, and begins to form something new.

And God says that this is what he intends to do with the nation of Israel.  Things are not going well.  God has warned them to repent of their evil and they have not, and so God is going to declare a do-over, he is going to allow disaster to befall them, to crush them back into a lump, start over, and build something new with the lives of each person and with Israel as a nation.  God intends to reshape his people into something new, something good, faithful, righteous, and beautiful.

Most often, do-overs are avoidable.  God had warned the nation of Israel more than once about the evil that they were doing and had commanded them to repent.  If they had listened to the warning of God and his prophets, if they had followed the commands of God that were contained in his scriptures, then the do-over, and all the pain that went with it, could have been avoided.  And that’s exactly the point of the illustrations that Jesus uses in the story of Luke 14:25-33 where we hear this story:

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

The reason that Jesus’ illustrations in this story stand out for us today is because of how these stories stand out in contrast to what we just read in Jeremiah.  When we hear Jesus say that someone would consider the cost of building a tower before they started construction, we all think, “Well of course they would.”  And when he describes a king as considering the strength of his army in comparison to the strength of the army that opposes him, we think, “That seems natural and reasonable.”  But although the stakes were astronomically higher, what we saw in Jeremiah was that no one took the time to consider the cost before wandering away from God.  The stakes of their decision were a complete do-over, a total disaster, a complete destruction and restart of their nation, but no one was interested in considering the cost, or in hearing God’s warnings, before it came time to pay the price of their decision.

And Jesus is warning his listeners, and us, of the same thing.  There is a cost of following Jesus.  We might lose relationships with family members, or friends, or coworkers if we choose to follow Jesus.  But, at the same time, there is a cost to not following Jesus just as there was in the time of Jeremiah.

If we want to see an example or two of what it might cost to follow Jesus, we can find them in the letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a man by the name of Philemon 1-21.  In that letter, Paul writes to Philemon, a man that he knew who had come to faith through the ministry of Paul and his associates and had grown in faith by attending worship in Paul’s house church.  And, as he writes, Paul very publicly, asks Philemon to do something surprising.

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

Grace and peace to you[plural] from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

As you may have surmised, Onesimus was a slave that belonged to Philemon but, for whatever reasons, was not a good and obedient slave and eventually ran away.  While Onesimus was on the run, he encountered Paul and began to voluntarily work with, rather than serve, Paul and his team.  We don’t know whether Paul and Onesimus knew one another from the same time that Paul knew Philemon, but we know that Onesimus’ character changed because of the time that he spent working alongside Paul, studying the scriptures, and ministering to others.  In time, Onesimus was convicted by God to return to his master regardless of the consequences and so Paul writes to Philemon and asks him to do the right thing.

For Onesimus, honoring God and honoring the law of Rome, meant returning to his master and risking that Philemon would treat him fairly.  The risk that he took in doing so was that his master would be angry and could treat him harshly, beat him, or even kill him.

For Philemon, honoring God and honoring his mentor and pastor, Paul, meant losing money and risking the condemnation of his peers and his community for freeing his misbehaving, law breaking slave.  The Roman world ran on a culture of law, honor, and patronage.  Philemon would, understandably, lose the money that he had invested in purchasing Onesimus, but in addition to that, while freeing a slave was certainly legal, and not at all uncommon, his peers may not have appreciated the example and precedent that Philemon would be setting, and their displeasure, as well as the potential displeasure of Philemon’s patrons, might cost him a great deal of business.

Both Onesimus and Philemon had a chance at a do-over.  They both had a chance to start their relationship with one another over again.  But starting over carried risks and rewards for both men.  The risks we already mentioned, but the rewards were that their new relationship, outside of slavery, would be more amicable, less hostile, more productive, more profitable, and, most importantly, closer to the will of God.

There is a cost to following Jesus.  But there is also a cost to not following Jesus.

Is it time for a do-over in your life that will bring you closer to God?

There will undoubtedly be costs that must be considered.

But as we saw in the story of Israel that we read in Jeremiah, the danger of not starting over is that sometimes God will do it for you.


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

An Unexpected, Unconventional, Unorthodox God

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An Unexpected, Unconventional, Unorthodox God

May 22, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 14:23-29              Acts 16:9-15          Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5

Have you ever thought about the gods of the ancient world? 

I remember taking mythology in high school and although many of my classmates didn’t like it, and seemed to think that it was weird, I found it to be interesting, and I enjoyed it.  But, although those ancient Greek and Roman gods, as well as the gods of Israel’s neighbors, are not something we think about often, they can add to our understanding of the God of Israel that we find in the Old and New Testaments.   The reason that the gods of the ancient world add to our understanding, is because when we spend all our time studying and discussing the God of Israel, we are deceived into thinking that Israel’s God was normal.  So, let’s be clear, Israel’s God is not normal.

The gods and goddesses of the ancient world, like Zeus, Poseidon, Demeter, Mars, and the rest, often behaved badly, cheated, had affairs and illegitimate children, acted on whims and were often moody, and unpredictable.  These gods ruled by intimidation and fear and demanded sacrifices and gifts simply to appease them.  Failing to appease them could mean that they would be angry and refuse to help.  The same was true for Baal, the god of the Philistines, as well as other gods of that region such as Chemosh, Dagon, and the fertility goddess Ashtoreth.  These gods demanded sacrifices, sometimes blood or human sacrifices, to ensure safety or a good harvest.

But Israel’s God was different.  From the beginning, particularly as we watch the story of the family of Abraham, the God of Israel begins his relationship with his people from a position of love and compassion.  God cares about his people and their children and does good things for them long before they do anything for him in return.  We see this difference illustrated in the gospel of John 14:23-29 as he shares these words of Jesus:

23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away, and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

Jesus says that if we love him, we will obey his teaching.  Jesus doesn’t say that if we fear him, we will obey, or if we want a successful harvest, or if we want safe travel, or if we want to appease an angry god, then we should do these things.  Jesus says that our obedience should grow, not out of fear or intimidation, but out of love.  And, when Jesus explains that he is leaving, he promises to send the Holy Spirit to teach us all things and remind us of everything that Jesus said to us.  The Spirit of God is sent, and does its work, before we even have the opportunity to do anything in return.  Moreover, Jesus says that the gift that he leaves with his followers, is not a gift of victory, wealth, abundance, or safety, but instead is the gift of peace and the absence of fear. 

In the world of history, and among the gods of the world, our God is unconventional.  In fact, our God is so unorthodox, that even those who have dedicated their lives to following and to studying, are still surprised by the way God chooses to do things.  In Acts 16:9-15, the Apostle Paul, and those who traveled with him, were surprised because, once again, God chose to turn their preconceived notions of orthodoxy on their heads.  Luke records this story:

During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony, and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

There are several things in this story that are surprising and/or unexpected.  In Paul’s vision, he is called to Macedonia by a man and so he almost certainly expects to find one there when he arrives, but no one introduces themselves, and unlike the stories we’ve heard in recent weeks of both Paul’s Damascus road experience and Peter’s call to preach to the Gentiles, no one in Macedonia introduces themselves, and God does not direct them to anyone specifically.  Failing that, Paul and his team wait until the Sabbath and visit the river because traditionally, persons of the Jewish faith would meet at the river, likely because it was peaceful, but also because it was “living water” and provided a means of purification before worship. 

But when they walk along the river, with every expectation that they would find worshiping Jews, they, again, find no men.  They do, however, find some women, and one of them, Lydia, is either Jewish, or was otherwise sympathetic to, and a follower of, Israel’s God.  Lydia also is a business owner, a person of some wealth, and the head of her household.  She listens to Paul’s message, comes to faith in Jesus Christ, asks to be baptized, leads here entire household to faith and baptism, invites Paul and his team to stay in her home, and becomes the leader of the new church movement in Macedonia. 

None of this was what Paul or the other Jewish men expected, none of it was traditional, none of it followed the pattern of orthodox Jewish thinking, but it illustrates that our God often works in ways that are unexpected and unconventional.  And that pattern continues throughout scripture and even to the end of time described by John in Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5 where he says:

10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Once again, this is a passage that we’ve read so many times that we no longer notice that there is anything unusual in it.  Through sheer repetition, the extraordinary is reduced to boring and yawn-inducing normality.  So, let’s back up and consider why John’s description is so unorthodox and unconventional.  John’s vision begins normally enough as he is carried to a great high mountain to see the Holy City of God.  That was normal.  The Temple in Jerusalem, as well as the Parthenon in Greece, and many other Jewish and pagan temples and places of worship are found on mountaintops because if the gods lived somewhere “up there” in the sky, then, logically, human beings were closer to the gods when they were on the top of a mountain, right?

But this mountain was not stationary but was coming down out of heaven.  Other than superhero movies and other works of fiction, mountains don’t come down out of the sky.  Even stranger, is that the Holy City doesn’t have a temple.  In John’s world, and in ours, every major city had a temple of some sort, and one would assume that a holy city would have one.  But no.  No temples, no synagogues, no cathedrals, no churches, zip, nothing, nada.  And the reason, is because that God himself, and the Lamb, his Son Jesus Christ, are the temple.  Why go to church to worship Jesus when you can meet Jesus face-to-face? 

And if that wasn’t enough, there is a river that flows out of the throne of God, trees that provide food to eat all year-round, gates that never close because there is no fear of an enemy attack, a tree that offers healing to people and nations, a day that never sees nighttime or darkness, and everything about it represents a place of goodness, righteousness, and purity that is without fear, and where life, the city itself, and everything in it, is designed, and expected, to last forever.

In every generation from Adam, to Abraham, to David, to Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and to us today, our God is different.  Human beings have always tried and have always failed to put God in a box.  Our God doesn’t demand obedience, as a payment in exchange for services.  Our God loves us, first, last, and always.  Our God asks us to follow him, asks us to love him, and asks us to serve him, not because we fear him, but because we’ve grown to love him, trust him, and be grateful to him for the love that God has already shown to us even before we knew him, and even when we were completely unlovable.

Our God isn’t like other gods.

Our God isn’t like the box that we try to squeeze him into.

Our God is unexpected, unconventional, unorthodox, and loves us first, last, and always.

And, when we have felt his love for us, only then can we hear him asking if we might love him in return.

And so, the question that I ask you today is this, do you love God?  Do you love God enough to follow him, and to trust him?  Do you love God enough to obey his instructions and commands?

And, if so, will you love the people around you, people you don’t know, people who are different from you, people who think differently than you, people who you might not even like very much, people in other communities, other states, and other countries?  Will you love them so much that they can feel God’s love for them?

Because only then, will they be able to hear his voice.


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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.

3 Stages of Trust

 

3 Stages of Trust

September 13, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Exodus 14:19-31        Romans 14:1-12                     Matthew 18:21-35

Have you ever ranked your friends by how much you trust them?

There are friends that you trust will show up to have a good time, but there’s completely different, and much smaller, group of friends that will show up to help you move.  There are friends that you trust with a few dollars for lunch until payday, but a completely different, and again, much smaller, group of friends to whom you might consider loaning a few hundred, or a few thousand dollars.  There are friends that you trust enough to chaperone your kids for a few hours on a field trip, and a very select few, maybe only a tiny handful, that you would trust with your children for a few weeks in the event of an emergency.

Last week, we remembered how much we don’t like taking tests.  But this week, we find God pushing us to trust him, and his pushing feels a lot like a test.  God isn’t just asking “Do you trust me?”  God, is asking “How much do you trust me?”  We begin this morning in Exodus 14:19-31, where we find Moses leading the people of Israel as they escape from their slavery in Egypt but with Pharaoh’s armies and chariots pursuing and threatening them from the rear.

19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so, neither went near the other all night long.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward[c] it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.

29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

The situation didn’t look good.  The people had followed Moses out of Egypt and marched toward freedom, but suddenly they were trapped between the swords and chariots of Egypt and the sea.  And in that place, they watched as God intervened, stood between them and the soldiers of Egypt, separated the sea to the right and to the left, led them to freedom, and then destroyed Pharaoh’s chariots and horsemen.  The people saw God’s power, and because of what they had seen, they began to trust.  At first, they trusted God enough to follow, but now they might be ready for more.

The Disciples of Jesus had already left their homes and families behind to follow him, but Jesus wanted them to move to another level.  In Matthew 18:21-35, Peter struggles with forgiveness.  The disciples know that God has commanded them to forgive, but who should be forgiven, and what limits were there?

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of goldwas brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt, and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

“Ten thousand bags of gold” is often translated as ten thousand talents, can be calculated as about 200,000 years of income.  So, since the median income in the United States this year (2020) is $33,706, ten thousand talents would be about $6.7 billion (yes, billion with a ‘B’).  This was, and is, an astronomical sum of money that a laborer, or even a supervisory white-collar worker, would have no hope of ever paying, let alone working for pennies per hour in prison.  The contrast between the two debts is obviously deliberate.  The second man owes the unforgiving servant a hundred silver coins or, a hundred denarii, which is the pay for one hundred days work or, about three to four months wages.  To most of us, three months wages would feel like a substantial amount of money, probably about eight or ten thousand dollars, but nothing compared to 6 billion dollars.  Jesus’ point is that what God has already forgiven in each one of us is so incredibly, outstandingly, magnificent that we have no hope of ever paying it back.  But in return, God asks us to trust him enough to forgive others.

Using this parable, Jesus says to his disciples, and to us, “Yes, I know that you have enough trust to follow, but do you trust me enough to forgive?  And, if that weren’t enough, Paul piles on with yet another question.  In Romans 14:1-12, he writes to a church that is filled with people from different points of view.  Men, women, Jews, Greeks, and people from many different nations, backgrounds, and who had come to faith in Jesus from many different religions.  And to that culturally mixed church, Paul asks why the people condemn one another for being different.  Paul says,

14:1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
    every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

This is even harder than Jesus’ parable about forgiveness.  Paul recognizes that in a diverse church with people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds, people are going to be different and those differences will inevitably lead to different opinions.  And some of those differences of opinion are going to be about how we practice our faith.  But while our opinions about the practice of our faith are important, our differences should not give us reason to despise one another or hold others in contempt.  While the practice of our faith is, and should be, important to us, we are not responsible for how others practice theirs.

In Rome, the church was arguing about whether or not certain foods should be eaten, or which day of the week they should worship or celebrate a holy day, but each of those who were arguing were, to the best of their ability, trying to honor God.  Paul’s assessment of these arguments was that they were reasonably disputable, that faithful people, considering the same information and the same scriptures, could reasonably come to different conclusions.  But once they reached their conclusion, Paul says, then they must each live as faithfully as they could but not judge others for having reasoned differently.  Those who felt that Christians should not eat meat should not judge those who did, and people who wanted to worship on Saturday, or celebrate Christmas in December should not have contempt for people who worship on Sunday or celebrate Christmas in January.

For us in the twenty-first century, we argue about whether we should be Catholic of Protestant, whether there should be baptism for infants, how we should celebrate communion, whether we should ordain pastors who have been divorced, and over a whole host of issues related to sexual orientation.  But today, like in Paul’s church, these issues are reasonably disputable.  Faithful followers of Jesus Christ examine the same facts, and the same scriptures, and arrive at different conclusions.  But despite having reasoned differently, we must each live as faithfully as we can without judging others.  All of us will be judged.  Each of us will give an account of ourselves before God.  But none of us will be judged for the actions and choices of someone else.  Whatever our differences, our calling is to trust God enough to accept one another and to accept and honor our differences.  We must not hold others in contempt for thinking differently.  We cannot judge others for reasoning, or living, differently than we do.  “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

God isn’t just asking us if we trust him.  God is asking us how much we trust him.

Do we trust God enough to follow?

Having been forgiven a great debt by God, do we trust him enough to forgive others?

And do we trust God enough to accept other believers that do not think, or believe the same way that we do?

We will all give an account of ourselves before God.

Will we trust God enough to love the people around us?

 

 


 

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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.