A Religious Heart Condition

A Religious Heart Condition

May 24, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 14:15-21

Acts 17:22-31 

1 Peter 3:13-22

 

Do you have a heart condition?

Certainly, some of you said yes, but the truth is that we all have some sort of heart condition.  Some of our hearts are strong, others are less so.  Some of our hearts are giving and generous, and others less so.  Some hearts are warm, and others are cold, and so on.  The average person has a resting pulse rate between 66 and 72 beats per minute.  Athletes in endurance sports can commonly have pulse rates between 30 and 40 beats per minute.  Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps’ was said to be 38 beats per minute at his peak, and

Miguel Indurain, an Olympic cycling gold medalist in 1996, and a five-time winner of the Tour de France is said to have registered a resting pulse rate of only 28 beat per minute.  Those athletes were likely in the peak of health and we would probably never describe them as having a heart condition, and yet, if you are I were to go to the doctor with a pulse rate anywhere close to 30, we would probably be in an ambulance before we could blink.  The condition of an athlete’s heart is medically and numerically different than the average person and their doctors understand the difference.

But throughout scripture, we discover that God has a keen interest in the condition of your heart.  In story after story, the message that we hear is much like the messages that we hear from our doctors, and that is, having the wrong kind of heart condition can be both dangerous and fatal.  And in John 14:15-21, Jesus points our that just as we wouldn’t expect someone with a pacemaker to compete in the Olympic games, neither should we expect someone with a spiritual heart condition to be the same as those who do not.  Jesus said,

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Jesus says that the world cannot accept God because they can’t see God.  We can’t expect the world to obey God and act the way that we do, because they don’t have the same heart that we do.  But because we do know God, because we do have a heart for God, then we are expected to obey the commands of God.  And, by loving God, and by obeying God’s commands, we receive the gift of life.  When we obey God, we know that God loves us back and reveals himself to us.

But although it seems like it’s a popular thing to do in our modern culture, simply loving and obeying “some” god, or “some” spirit, and just being generally “spiritual” isn’t enough.  In Acts 17:22-31, Paul explains it this way:

 22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So, you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Our modern culture would not be that unfamiliar to the people that Paul knew in Athens.  Many people were very spiritual, they each chose a god, and a style of worship that they liked, and Paul even found that they had built a place of worship for an “unknown god” just in case they missed one.  But in a message that might just resonate with us while we worry about our safety during this pandemic and shelter in place, Paul’s message is that none of these gods, and indeed none of these places of worship, were necessary.  The God who created the universe doesn’t live in temples or churches, or in anything built by human hands, and doesn’t need anything from us.  But although God doesn’t need anything, he desires that the people of his creation would look for him, find him, hear his voice, repent, and return to a relationship with him.  God doesn’t need us, but what he wants, is a relationship with us, and for us to have a heart for with him.  What God wants, is for us to have the right kind of heart condition.

But what difference does it make?

What difference does it make if we have a heart for God, and the kind of a heart condition that God wants?

The difference has everything to do with fear, freedom, rest, and being comfortable in your own skin and is described by Peter in 1 Peter 3:13-22, where he says:

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

First, Paul notes that people usually notice when you are trying to do good and, most often, no one wants to stop you from doing good.  But, even if you suffer for doing what is right, you can find comfort in knowing that you are blessed.  If you get arrested for feeding the homeless or get beat up because you stopped a bully from beating up the new kid, God still knows that you were doing the right thing.  But Paul also knows that when these things happen, people are going to want to know why you did it and, when they ask, we should be prepared to tell them why we have hope, and why that hope makes us want to do what is right, even when doing right causes us suffering.  And, if you noticed, Paul says that the reason that we do it is that our hearts revere Christ as Lord.  We have a heart condition, but it’s the right kind of heart condition.

If we have hope, if we revere Jesus as Lord, if we do what is right, if we are prepared with an answer, and if we answer with gentleness and respect, then we will have a clear conscience and the people that slander us will ultimately bring shame upon themselves.  The example that we follow is the example of Jesus Christ.  Jesus suffered for doing what was right.  He suffered to make a path for us and bring us to God.  It is because of Jesus death and resurrection that baptism has become the symbol of our rescue and rebirth into a new life and into a new kind of heart condition.  Baptism, Paul says, was never about washing the dirt from our physical bodies, but about our heart condition.  Once we have our hearts in the right place, once we begin to have the heart of Jesus, then our conscience toward God becomes clear.  We live at peace and are at rest because we have a clear conscience toward God.  We become fearless, and experience true freedom, because our conscience is clear.  We become comfortable in our own skin, and with who we are, because we have the right kind of heart condition. 

Our goal isn’t to have a resting pulse rate of 40 beats per minute, but like those elite athletes, our goal is to have a different kind of a heart.

Our goal is to have a clear conscience toward God.

Our goal… is to have a heart… like Jesus.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/At65fTeqFOM


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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.

The Urgency of the Truth

The Urgency of the Truth

April 26, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Luke 24:13-35                        Acts 2:14a, 36-41                   1 Peter 1:17-23

 

 

Have you ever watched any disaster movies?

 

In just about every one of them, there is either a scientist that knows the truth and is trying to sound the alarm to a world that isn’t listening, or there is someone who has discovered the truth about what is going on and there is a rush to get that information to important decision makers or to the news media.  The message in both cases is clear, lives can be saved if only the truth were known.  That was the message in San Andreas with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and in “Dante’s Peak” with Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton, “2012” with John Cusack and Woody Harrelson, “Independence Day” with Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, and a great many others and all too often that is how things happen in real life as well. 

 

Lives can be saved if only the truth were known.

 

In the world’s current struggle with the Coronavirus pandemic, that’s as true in real life today as it is in the movies and the same has been true throughout history.  The more we know, the better decisions we can make, and sometimes that knowledge saves lives.  And it is that principle that we see in action in the story of the walk to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35 which says:

 

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So, he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

 

In this story, two followers of Jesus are walking home from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus seven miles away.  While they were walking, they were joined by a third man who, at the time, they did not realize was Jesus.  As they walked, Jesus explained all the prophecies of the Old Testament about the messiah and how the scriptures had, centuries earlier, told of his death, burial, and resurrection.  But when they arrived in their village, Jesus continued as if he would continue walking down the road and the two men urged him to stay with them overnight instead.  That part is well explained in the story, but it is important for us to consider why they made this offer to someone they had only just met, and why this offer, and their urgency in making it, is important to the story.

 

Remember that in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, one man, who was walking alone, was attacked by bandits, stripped, beaten, and robbed.  When Jesus told that story, everyone could easily grasp its significance because those sorts of things happened with some regularity.  The trails and paths between towns were often narrow, dark, and passed through hills or mountains where you could easily misstep, and fall to your death, and where bandits could, and did, easily lay in wait for their victims.  Walking those paths, at night, was incredibly dangerous, and doing so alone was doubly dangerous.  Sensible people travelled in groups and only in daylight.  And so, even though these two men had not recognized Jesus, and thought him to be a stranger, they urged him to stay the night with them because, even as a stranger, they cared about his well-being.  It was just too dangerous to walk the road at night.

 

But then, as he breaks bread and give thanks to God, these followers of Jesus realize that it is he who is with them and who has been walking with them for the last few hours.  It is at that moment that they realize the truth and, our story tells us, that they immediately got up and left for Jerusalem… just the two of them… in the dark.

 

But why was it that, only moments earlier, they considered it so dangerous to be out at night that they invited a total stranger to spend the night, but suddenly rush out into the night themselves?

 

And the only reasonable answer is that the information that they had just learned was a matter of life and death.  They suddenly realized the incredible urgency of the truth.  Lives would be saved if only the truth were known.  And so, ignoring the danger, these two followers of Jesus rush out into the night so that they could return to Jerusalem, find the disciples, and tell them what had happened to them.

Like the men who walked the Emmaus road, the disciples also had to decide what to do with this truth and Peter emphasizes the conclusions of the gathered disciples in his summary statement at the end of his speech in Acts 2:14a, 36-41.

 

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.

 

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

 

Peter’s summary begins, as it often does, with the word, “therefore.”   After all that they have seen, and all that they have heard, the disciples now boldly step into the public arena, at the risk of their lives, and conclude that God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah.  With that conclusion, then it is imperative that every brother, sister, Israelite, Gentile, and anyone else be urged to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and in order to receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit.  These words were not just an encouragement, but a warning.  Peter begged and pleaded with the people to hear this message because it was a matter of life and death.

 

We have often discussed the dramatic transformation of the Apostle Peter and the other disciples from fearful and afraid to people of great faith who were bold and courageous, and one critical piece of this is that they considered the news about Jesus Christ to literally be a matter of life and death.  There was and incredible urgency to the truth.

 

 Lives could be saved only if the truth were known.

 

And so, the disciples, and the other followers of Jesus, risk their lives to tell as many people as possible about the Good News of Jesus Christ.

 

But what about us?

 

Why is any of this important to us today?

 

And Peter explains that in his letter to the church in 1 Peter 1:17-23 where he says:

 

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.   23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

 

Peter reminds us that the Good News of Jesus Christ is still a matter of life and death.  The life that we had before we chose to follow Jesus was empty and led only to death.  But Jesus rescued us from death invited us into his house and gave us an everlasting life.  Our lives were saved because we heard the truth and that means that our lives were not only saved, they were changed.  Peter says that we are different because of what we know.  We no longer “fit in” the way that we used to.  And so, rather than blending in and acting as if nothing ever happened, we live differently than everyone else.  Rather than living as if we belong here, and as if we will be a part of this nation, and a part of this world, forever, instead we live as foreigners who know that this country, and this world, is not our home.  We do not belong here, and one day we will return to our true home in the only nation that is truly just, good, and loving.

 

But until then, we are just like all those scientists in all those disaster movies.  We know how the story ends.  We know the disaster that awaits people who are unprepared. 
We know that…

 

…Lives can be saved if only the truth were known.

 

And so, until it is our time to return to our eternal home, it is our job, just like the people in the movies, to rescue as many people as possible simply by spreading the Good News and sharing the truth with them.  Like the scientists in the movies, we know that not everyone is going to listen.  Not everyone will believe that there is an earthquake, or a volcano, or an alien invasion. Not everyone will believe that God’s judgement is coming.  But just like in the movies, the people who listen can be saved if the truth can be told. 

 

May we all have the courage to share the Good News, to tell the truth to everyone who will listen, and save as many lives as we can.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 


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


Did you enjoy reading this?

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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.

And She Told Them

And She Told Them

April 12, 2020*

(Easter Sunday)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 20:1-18              Acts 10:39-43

 

 

Well here we are.

 

Happy Easter.

 

Our church is empty… But so is the tomb.

 

Even though we are unable to be together, and even though our entire planet is grappling with fear, isolation, depression, sickness, and death, we rejoice because today reminds us that we are a people who are connected to one another by our celebration of resurrection. 

 

Death itself has been defeated.

 

But, aside from Easter baskets full of candy, a ham in the oven, and maybe, if we can stay six feet apart, a family gathering, what should we take away from today’s celebration?

 

Well, let’s read the story first, and then we can circle back to that.

 

We begin in what we now remember as the first Easter morning, the day after the Sabbath day, where in John 20:1-18, we hear this:

 

20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

 

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

First, I love the way that John finds a way to write this and include a piece of the rivalry that must have existed between him and Simon Peter.  Sure, Jesus told Peter that “on this rock I will build my church,” but in this passage, John always makes sure to refer to himself as “the one Jesus loved” and not once, but three times, John points out that as they raced to the tomb, John was faster than Peter.  I don’t want to dwell on that, but feel free to read that again and count them.  Three times.

 

The second thing to notice is the shift in tense.  Although the disciples don’t yet understand that Jesus has risen from the dead, the crucifixion and even Jesus’ death has shifted to the past tense.  We hear phrases like, “the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head.”  Jesus used to be there, but now he wasn’t, the cloth used to be wrapped around his head, but now it wasn’t.  Although they didn’t yet understand exactly what had happened, clearly something had changed.  And so, Peter and John go to the tomb to check things out, they see that the tomb is empty, and they go back to the house where everyone is staying.  Maybe that house is where the Upper Room was, where they shared that last meal together with Jesus, and maybe it was someplace else, but they go, they see, they go home.

 

But Mary stays.

 

Mary stays by the empty tomb and cries.  She is emotionally lost.  First, she watched as Jesus, her anchor, mentor, rescuer, and friend is arrested, tortured, hung on a cross, died, and was buried.  And now, there isn’t even a place for her to mourn him.  The stone has been rolled away and the body is gone.  She is emotionally adrift.

 

And then two angels show up and ask her one of the most ridiculous questions ever to be asked in a cemetery.  “Woman, why are you crying?”  Seriously, if anyone, ever, sees someone crying in a cemetery, it’s painfully obvious why they are crying.  But not to the angels.  And, if we think about it at all, it’s certainly because they knew the truth.  They aren’t confused as to why someone would be crying.  They’re confused as to why anyone would be crying for a person who was no longer dead.  But when she turns around, she doesn’t see the two angels who were just there, instead she turns and sees Jesus.  But again, blinded by her grief, she doesn’t realize that it is Jesus.

 

Until he says her name.

 

There was only, ever, one person who ever said her name like that.  Maybe her grief allowed her to confuse the sound of his voice when he said the other things, but as soon as he said her name, she knew.

 

But what happens next is deeply meaningful for each one of us and for our understanding of our calling as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ.  Jesus says two things, “Don’t hold on to me,” and “Go and tell.”  Jesus tells Mary that she has to let him go, because he still has work that needs to be done.  She has to let go of the old mission, her old role as his follower, so that both she, and Jesus, can move forward to something new.  The first thing on Mary’s new list is to “Go and Tell.”  And, John says, Mary goes, “and she told them.”

 

In that moment, Mary is transformed.  Mary’s role, and her mission, is transformed.  Instead of being simply a follower of Jesus, instead of being in charge of cooking, or taking care of the disciples, or whatever else she may have done, Mary now becomes the world’s first Christian missionary, and the first human being, ever, to share the good news of his resurrection.

 

Jesus’ instructions to Mary were to go and tell… and she told them.

 

Mary is the first, but certainly not the last.

 

Jesus’ instructions to Mary overflow into the disciples, and into every person who chooses to follow Jesus.  In Peter’s famous speech in Acts 10:39-43, he says,

 

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.”

 

“We are witnesses.” 

 

“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.”

 

I want you to hear that again.

 

We are witnesses.”

 

On this odd Easter morning when we find our churches empty, we remember what Mary did as she left an empty tomb.

 

“…and she told them.”

 

We must do the same.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

And…

 

Happy Easter!

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/v8w2ohL_my4


Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

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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.

Servant Leaders, Servant Followers

Servant Leaders, Servant Followers

April 09, 2020*

(Maundy Thursday)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

 

 

Why is the Last Supper important?

 

Clearly, whenever we read the story of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, we remember that this is the moment when Jesus institutes the command to share our eucharistic meal, or the Lord’s Table, or the communion meal together at a gathered body of believers to celebrate our new covenant through Jesus Christ.  And, in this setting, our communion feast is connected to Moses and the people of Israel, the first covenant, and the celebration of the Passover. 

 

But there’s more than that.

 

The story of the Upper Room is about communion, but it’s also about us, and about our calling, our role as believers and as followers of Jesus Christ.  Why?  Well, let’s read the story in John 13:1-17, 31b-35 and see for ourselves.

 

13:1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

 

Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

As Jesus addresses the disciples, he knows that he is speaking to the people who will become the leaders of the church, but he is also speaking to us.  Many people want to advance their careers, and to climb the corporate ladder, and to accumulate more power and authority in whatever job they do.  But Jesus says that for us, for the people who follow him and use his name to describe ourselves, we are called to have an entirely different frame of reference.  We are called to remember that God’s own Son, the savior and rescuer of all humanity, found it important, even critical, to take upon himself the role and responsibility of the lowest servant.  Foot washing just wasn’t done by important people.  It wasn’t even done by important slaves if it could be avoided.  It was done by the lowest ranking.  It was the lowest servant, or the least important, or at least the humblest, family member.  But Jesus reframes it and explains that anyone that wants to be important, must be willing to serve the humblest, most demeaning, needs of everyone else. 

 

Leaders must be willing to care for their followers.  And, at least for us, the concept of “servant leaders” or “servant leadership” comes from this story. 

 

But this isn’t just about leaders.

 

Jesus speaks to all of us when he says, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

 

Jesus says that this demonstration was an example that was intended for all of us.  Every follower of Jesus is called to be a servant of others because Jesus was a servant of others.

 

And so, as we move ever closer to Easter, as we continue our social distancing, as we wrestle with what it means to be a virtual church, and to have virtual worship, we are also called to ask ourselves the question that Jesus has been asking for two millennia…

 

“How are we serving others?”

 

“How am I serving others?”

 

Following Jesus isn’t just an act of faith.  It isn’t just an act of church attendance.  It isn’t just participating in communion.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to live lives of service to others.

 

To be the servants of others.

 

Because we remember that Jesus said…

 

… “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

 

 

 

 


You can find the video of this message here: https://youtu.be/TeEQy2-Wnxc


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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.

Enemies No More

Enemies No More

March 15, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Exodus 17:1-7                        John 4:5-26                Romans 5:1-11

Last year, as a part of his activities in ROTC, our son Jonah participated in a competition involving a variety of firearms.  In and of itself, such a competition, for a bunch of young people who are preparing for a career as officers in the United States Army sounds pretty ordinary.  But what made it interesting, at least to me, is that it was possible, if you scored well enough, to earn an award that could be worn on your uniform.  What makes that remarkable, is that the competition is not an American competition and the award is not an American award.  Both the competition, and the award, are a part of the German army.  There are very few, if any, other similar awards, given out by other countries, that can be worn on the uniform of the United States Army and it is that rarity that highlights just how close the United States and Germany have become as allies in the last 60 years.  Imagine how odd that would seem to a time traveler that arrived here from the height of World War Two.  Or imagine their confusion at seeing the United States Navy and the Navy of Japan holding joint war games together.  Or imagine trying to explain to a visitor from the height of the Cold War, how we cooperate with Russia and other members of the former Soviet Union in building and operating the International Space Station. 

The world has changed.

Many of those nations with whom we were once at war, are now some of our closest allies.

And that idea is a big part of what we see as we read our scriptures for today.  We begin in Exodus 17:1-7, where we hear these words:

17:1 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So, Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah [Massah means testing] and Meribah [Meribah means quarreling] because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

 

For four hundred years, the people of Israel lived as slaves in Egypt and prayed that God would rescue them.  Finally, God sends Moses, they gain their freedom, and they set out across the desert.  They got what they wanted.  They have their freedom.  They have escaped the grasp of the Egyptians.  And still, they complain.  They got what they wanted, but it still wasn’t good enough.  God rescued them, but they didn’t trust God.  They grumbled against Moses and talked about going back because they weren’t sure what God intended.  The people had followed God and Moses, but only half-heartedly.  They couldn’t bring themselves to trust God when things got difficult.  And their doubt caused them to test God by asking, “Is the Lord among us or not?”  And God tells Moses to go out in front of all the people and he provided a very visible and obvious sign so that everyone will know that God is still here, God is with you, and God still cares about you.

 

More than a thousand years later, Jesus arrives with an entirely different way of demonstrating that God is with us.  And with his coming, we receive the comfort of knowing that God cares about us and our entire understanding of what it means to be an enemy is changed.  (John 4:5-42)

 

So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

 

At first, this doesn’t sound nearly as revolutionary as it really was.  Jesus, a Jew, is passing through Samaria because Samaria was in the middle of Israel and the fastest way from the north of Israel to the South of Israel was to go through Samaria.  But it was still a big deal.  For years, the Jews and Samaritans were at war with one another.  They hated one another, and the only reason that they weren’t fighting was because the Romans made certain that they didn’t.  Jewish Rabbis taught that the Samaritans were unclean.  Good Jews generally tried not to have any interaction with Samaritans at all.  Some carried food with them as they journeyed through Samaria so that they didn’t have to talk to Samaritans or buy food from them.  So bitter was their hatred for one another was that devout priests and rabbis would add several days to their journey, and go several times farther, so that they could travel around Samaria rather than through it.  On top of that, good Jewish men often tried to limit their contact with women, and if you take all these things together you begin to see why the Samaritan woman was so surprised when Jesus takes the time to speak with her and have a conversation.  You can almost hear the surprise in her voice.  “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman.  How can you ask me for a drink?”

 

And before their conversation is over, the woman understands that Jesus is the messiah for which both the Israelites and the Samaritans had been waiting, hoping, and praying for generations.  And then, based on her testimony, the entire village comes out to meet Jesus.  In an instant, generations of hatred were erased, and enemies are joined as friends and coworkers for God’s kingdom.

 

But, as I often ask, what does that have to do with us?

 

And, as is often the case, the Apostle Paul can help us to understand.  In Romans 5:1-11, we hear this:

 

5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

 

Paul explains that it wasn’t just the Samaritans and the Jews that came together because of Jesus, the same is true for all of us.  We have been justified through faith and we have peace with God through Jesus Christ.  Not only were human beings constantly at war with one another, we were also enemies of God.  But because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have all been welcomed back into God’s family.  And, because human beings are still just as stubborn as they were in the time of Moses, God offers us a sign, a demonstration, of his love for us just as he did when he caused water to start flowing out of a rock for Moses.  Of course, in this case, the demonstration of God’s love for us is the sacrifice of his own son.  While we were powerless, Christ died for his enemies… us, so that we could be reconciled, and welcomed back into the family of God.

 

Abraham Lincoln had it right when he asked, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”   And that is exactly what Jesus did.  Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection ended our separation from God.  We are no longer the enemies of God once we believe in Jesus.  Just as the coming of the messiah brought the Jews and the Samaritans together, it also offers us hope that the warfare between other groups of humans can also be ended.  Because we are joined with Jesus, we no longer separated from one another.  Whether we are white, black, Hispanic, Indian, Asian, North American, South American, European, African, rich, poor, male, female, Jewish, Christian, rural, urban, suburban, college education, uneducated, or any other division that you can think of, once we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we are adopted by God as brothers and sisters and joined together in a common purpose for the Kingdom of God.

 

We are enemies no more. 

 

We are no longer the enemies of God, nor enemies of one another.

 

And that is the reason that Paul says that “we boast in the hope of the glory of God.”

 

Every day we hear messages of hatred.  “I hate Republicans,” or “I hate Democrats,” or corporations, or rich people, or poor people, or sick people, or the Russians, or the Chinese, or evangelicals, or progressives, or Hollywood, or… whatever.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

 

The Prince of Peace has come to end the fighting and to end the hatred.

 

We have heard the Good News.

 

God is still here.  God is with you.  God still cares about you.

 

We know the truth.

 

We have hope.

 

Neither the Corona virus, nor anything else, can take away our hope, our joy, and our peace.

 

And it’s up to us to share our hope so that everyone else can have hope too.

 

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

The Unloving Jesus

The Unloving Jesus

February 16, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Deuteronomy 30:15-20                     Matthew 5:21-37                   1 Corinthians 3:1-9

 

What are the things that you hear people say about God?

Got is great, God is Good, God is love?  Occasionally people try to draw some kind of line between an “Old Testament God” and a “New Testament God” because the God of the Old Testament sometimes sounds mean and vindictive and we have a hard time connecting God’s actions in the Old Testament, with the God that we see in the New Testament.  The problem is that we can’t separate the two and so we are compelled to struggle with our understanding of God so that both things are true.

But the same thing happens with Jesus.

What are the things that you hear people say about Jesus?

They say that Jesus was loving, and caring, and inviting.  Jesus cared for people that the church had forgotten or had thrown out or cast aside.  Jesus welcomed the outsiders and the strangers and all kinds of other people.  And all those things are true.  But it is also important to remember that Jesus was disliked, and even hated by many people of his own time.  In the first century, as well as our twenty-first century, Jesus’ own words sometime sound hurtful, hateful, unloving, unbending, inflexible, and radically conservative.

These words of Jesus can be so difficult to understand, that they are often just set aside or unread because we have a hard time making them “fit” with the Jesus that was loving and compassionate.  But, like God, both of these things are true, and if we want to be honest, we need to wrestle with them and try to understand the whole person of Jesus and not some caricature of Jesus that fits some narrative that we desperately want to be true.

That’s a lot to digest, but I hope these things will become a little clearer as we study together.

Let’s begin this morning by reading the choice that God sets in front of the nation of Israel as Moses (now 120 years old) prepared to hand over his leadership to Joshua.  (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

 

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

 

While at first glance, this might sound harsh, God is giving the people the freedom to choose.  Everyone is welcome to choose for themselves whether or not they want to follow God but, God also makes it clear that there is a cost associated with choosing to walk away from him.  Choosing God is the same as choosing life and choosing to walk away is the same as choosing death and destruction.  God doesn’t threaten that he will destroy them, but simply explains that without his protection they would certainly be destroyed.  With that knowledge, the people were free to choose, and we remain free to make that same choice today.  It isn’t unloving to tell the truth.  It’s the same as when we tell children who can’t swim, not to go in the deep end of the pool.  Without Mom, or Dad, or another strong swimmer, going in the deep end alone will not end well.  And that is the core of what God is saying.  It isn’t mean, it’s just the truth.

 

And that’s the same thing that is going on in Matthew 5:21-37 as Jesus interprets scripture as it applies to several common cultural standards and everyday human interactions.  Jesus said,

 

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

 

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

 

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

 

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

 

The things that he said here, are the kind of things that made the Pharisees, the Sadducees and other leaders of Israel want Jesus to go away… forever.  Jesus starts with something that everyone can agree on, “anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.”  That isn’t the least bit controversial, but then Jesus says that if you call someone a fool, or use an Aramaic term of contempt like “Raca” which, in English could be understood as something like when Yosemite Sam calls Bugs Bunny an “Idjit” and is certainly similar to many of the insults that we see online being traded between Democrats and Republicans, then Jesus says that using these terms to insult people puts us in danger of condemnation and hell.  This matter is so serious that Jesus recommends meeting with your friends and reconciling with them before you walk into church and make an offering to God and settle your disputes before they go to court.

 

That’s hard.  And like us, the people who heard it had a hard time accepting it.  Surely God was more forgiving, loving, and tolerant than that, wasn’t he?  But then, rather than backing off, Jesus turns up the hear another notch by talking about adultery.  Jesus says that just looking at a person of the opposite sex lustfully qualifies as adultery and earns the condemnation of God.  Worse yet, Jesus continues to throw coal on the fire by taking up the issue of divorce.  At the time, much like today, divorce was relatively common.  We know, historically, that the rabbis of the day accepted that divorce was normal but argued between themselves over what offense was needed to justify it.  All agreed that infidelity qualified, but virtually all of them said that offenses far less serious were enough and some rabbis taught that something as minor as burning breakfast was enough to qualify.  But Jesus’s evaluation was far stricter than any of the rabbis of the day.  When Jesus steps into the middle of this argument, he says that nothing short of infidelity was acceptable.  That meant that Jesus was labelling nearly everyone who had been divorced, or who had married a divorced person, which had to be a sizable percentage of the population, including some of the church leadership, as adulterers. 

 

This didn’t win Jesus any friends, and it was language like this that made the leaders of the church want Jesus dead.  In our twenty-first century world, the people on social media would be screaming that Jesus was an inflexible, unloving, unforgiving, ultra-conservative hater.

 

Except that we know he wasn’t.  So how are we to make sense of all that?

 

Ultimately, it’s the same as what we saw in Deuteronomy.

 

Jesus doesn’t warn us about God’s condemnation because he is mean, or unloving but because he knows how high God’s standards and expectations really are.  He doesn’t speak this way because he hates us, but because he, of all people, understands the truth.  It’s just like a lifeguard telling us that there are dangerous riptides and it isn’t safe to go in the water.  The lifeguard doesn’t hate you.  He is aware that you travelled a long distance to be there and had high hopes for a pleasant swim in the ocean.  But he hopes that despite your disappointment in not being able to swim at the beach, the truth will save your life. 

 

The truth might hurt, but it isn’t meant to be hurtful.

 

People got upset when Jesus said that they were murderers, adulterers and sinners.  They were hurt and angry, and some of them decided that they wanted him dead.  But Jesus didn’t say those things to hurt them.  Jesus said those things to save them and hoped that, rather than watering down the word of God and deciding that sin wasn’t really sin, if people were equipped with a better understanding of God’s high standards, they also understand their need for forgiveness and their need for a savior.

 

Jesus says that we should be so dedicated to the truth, that we should not ever need to swear an oath by God, or by heaven, or on the Bible, or on your mother, or even on the hair of your own head.  You should be so committed to the truth that everyone knows that ‘yes’ means yes and ‘no’ mean no.

 

But we aren’t just called to tell the truth, we are called to be mature disciples of the truth and that means something about how we tell the truth.  In Ephesians 4:15, Paul says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”  While we are called to be disciples of, and bearers of, God’s truth, as mature disciples, we must learn to communicate that truth as lovingly as we possibly can.  Not only is that one of the great challenges of Christianity in the twenty-first century, it is often something that Christians are often bad at doing.  In fact, I think that is one of the principle things that has led to the current division in our United Methodist denomination.  Although many of us disagree on what the truth is, I don’t think that’s the problem.  The church has survived disagreements for millennia.  The problem is that somewhere along the line, both sides seem to have abandoned any attempt to speak the truth in a truly loving way.  Regardless of our interpretation of scripture, if we abandon love, no one will ever listen to the message of truth that we carry.

 

No matter how hard it was to hear, and no matter how angry it might have made some of his listeners, Jesus never abandoned the truth, and he never stopped telling the truth to the people around him.  No matter how upset people might get, the lifeguard is not going to stop warning people about the riptides that can kill them.  Jesus knew how dangerous sin really is, and he never stopped warning people about their need for forgiveness.  But, at the same time, Jesus never stopped showing genuine love and concern for the people around him. 

 

Jesus always told the truth, but he told the truth as lovingly as possible.

 

And we must do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

We Shatter Oppression

We Shatter Oppression

January 26, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 9:1-4                            Matthew 4:12-23                               1 Corinthians 1:10-18

 

 

Growing up, many of us watched classic Western’s on television or in the movies and many times there was a tense situation where the good guys were trapped and overwhelmed by the enemy, but just when hope was almost lost, some kind of reinforcements would arrive and rescue them.  So common was this that in the lexicon of American English, we have all come to know what it means when we hear phrases that refer to being rescued by the arrival of the cavalry even when the situation has nothing to do with the American west and when it occurs a hundred years after the military went around on horseback.

 

As we think about scriptures today, I want you to think about how those trapped people might have felt, not just in the American west, but in any number of situations when a very real protagonist appears over the horizon to rescue them.  Imagine how slaves in the American south felt when they were freed by Union soldiers, or how the inmates of German concentration camps felt when Allied soldiers arrived (75 years ago this week), or how today’s victims of human trafficking might feel when law enforcement recognizes who they are and frees them from their captors.

 

Remembering these situations, and thinking about the victims’ feelings, will help us to have a better mental and emotional understanding of what we read in today’s scripture passages such as Isaiah 9:1-4, where we hear these words:

 

9:1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future, he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.

 

Isaiah declares that when the messiah comes, he will end the distress of his people and bring honor to the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali that had once been dishonored.  The transformation would be not only noticeable, but dramatic.  The people who lived in darkness would see a great light, those living in a land of deep darkness would witness the dawn, and those living in captivity and slavery would see the instruments of their oppression torn away and shattered.  Even more than seeing the cavalry ride over the horizon, this is a scene of dramatic rescue as distress is ended, joy returned, and freedom restored. 

 

And it is that same dramatic imagery that is used to connect the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with Isaiah’s prophecy in Matthew 4:12-23 as Jesus begins to call his disciples to follow him.

 

12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
    Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.”

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

 

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

 

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

 

The imagery of recalling the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, and Galilee, and the dramatic transformation of a people living in darkness who see a great light or those living in the shadow of death welcoming the dawn all connects Jesus to the prophecies of Isaiah.  In this way, we are told that Jesus is the messiah that God has promised through the prophets, and it is Jesus that is bringing joy, light, honor, and freedom.  But Matthew immediately shifts from what was, to what is, from the past of Isaiah, to the present Jesus, and he begins to tell the story of how Jesus called his disciples to follow him.

 

Jesus first calls Peter and Andrew, who we met last week just a few verses earlier in the story, followed by James and John.  All of them were fishing beside the Sea of Galilee when Jesus called them, and all of them walk away from their work, their trade, their families, and their livelihoods at a moment’s notice.  And as soon as they begin to follow, they find them themselves walking with Jesus while he teaches, and preaches, and heals the sick.  There are two more important points to be made here.  First, is that the traditional understanding of the role of a disciple was to not only to follow, but to learn to be like the rabbi that they followed, to pattern and model their lives on the life of the rabbi, and to take upon themselves the mission and purpose of the rabbi that they followed.  The second thing we notice is that by declaring his intention to send them out to “fish for people,” Jesus is making a promise to teach, and to train, his disciples to do what he is doing.  This isn’t an invitation to watch a show, this is an invitation to an education, and an invitation to become like Jesus, and in a sense, to become Jesus by taking upon themselves the mission of Jesus.

 

And, in a letter to the church in Corinth, Paul reminds the church who it is that we follow, and why Jesus sends us out into the world.  In 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Paul says:

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

 

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

 

As we begin taking that apart, particularly as our own denomination seems almost certainly headed for some form of division or fracture, it’s worth noting, in this case, what specific kind of division that Paul is talking about.  Paul says that there should be no division in the church, but then he explains that what the people of Corinth are fighting over are various cults of personality.  Some people are saying that they are followers of Paul or followers of Apollos, or followers of Peter.  But Paul stresses that none of them belong to the church of Peter, or Paul, or the church of anyone except the church of Jesus Christ.  It was Jesus who was crucified, and it was in the name of Jesus that we have all been baptized. 

 

And, as a disciple of Jesus, Paul has been sent on one single mission, and that mission was to preach the gospel.  Paul freely admits that his preaching does sound like the professional orators and speakers that people sometimes heard in the public square.  Instead, Paul’s preaching often seems to lack wisdom and eloquence, but it is in Paul’s shortcomings that the power of Jesus Christ is revealed.  People are not drawn to his preaching, and lives are not transformed because Paul was such an incredibly fabulous public speaker (he admits that he wasn’t).  It was not Paul’s words that drew people in, and it was not Paul that changed their hearts, it was the power of Jesus Christ that had sent him and it was the power of Jesus Christ that was working through him.

 

When we put these ideas together, we remember Isaiah’s prophecy that the messiah would come to bring light into the darkness of our world, to return honor to the people of God, to bring freedom to the captives, and to shatter the instruments of oppression.  As Jesus came, it was revealed that he was that messiah, and that he intended to accomplish the mission Isaiah had written about.  But Jesus had no intention of fulfilling the prophecies of God as a performer puts on a show.  Jesus called his disciples not to be spectators, but to be learners who would model their lives after the life of Jesus and to take up his mission for themselves.

 

And Paul makes it clear that Jesus’ mission didn’t end with the first twelve disciples but has been passed on to the church and to every generation of disciples throughout history.  Despite our divisions between Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants, despite our divisions between Anglican, Baptist, Brethren, Evangelical, Methodist, Presbyterian, Nazarene, and any number of other denominations past, present, or future, we are united in following one Jesus and in carrying out his mission.  As his disciples, we now carry on Jesus’ mission to bring freedom to those who are captive to slavery, captive to sin, captive to hunger, to human trafficking, to drugs, to alcohol, to uncaring governments, corporate cruelty, bureaucracy, school bullies, and to any other kind of oppression that we might encounter.

 

We might not wear tights or capes or think of ourselves as heroes, but if we call ourselves followers of Jesus, then we accept that it is our job to carry out his mission.  We aren’t here to put on a show.  We are here to share the good news, to tell the story of Jesus Christ.  We are here to fight for freedom.  And we are here to shatter oppression wherever we find it. 

 

Every day, men, women, and children are praying that God would send a hero to rescue them from the giants that oppress them.  Those giants may not look like Roman soldiers, or slave ship captains, or Nazi prison guards but those giants are just as real as they have ever been, and their oppression is just as painful.

 

For them, we might just be heroes they’ve been praying for.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.