The Path to Eternity: Submit, Trust, Follow

The Path to Eternity:

Submit, Trust, Follow

October 28, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

Job 42:1-6, 10-17                   Mark 10:46-52                       Hebrews 7:23-28

Have you ever used a map?

Today it seems like everyone uses GPS, or Google Maps, or some other electronic format, but still, it’s a map.  We’ve told our kids that it’s still useful to keep a road atlas in their cars because technology can, and does, fail from time to time.  Batteries die, cell service is lost, cell towers get overwhelmed, and as we’ve seen in Florida recently, disaster does happen.

But, even when the worst happens, perhaps especially when the worst happens, we still need to know how to get from here to there, from where we are, to where we want to go.

And while finding the map that’s been buried under candy wrappers and a pile of gas receipts in the back pocket of the car might be a challenge, that kind of a map isn’t going to help us find our way to our seat at the dinner table of God’s house.  So today, let’s consider that journey for a few minutes.

We could, quite literally, spend days, even weeks, talking about the path to eternity, or how we get from where we are, to where we want to, eventually, be.  But for this morning, we’re just going to hit a few highlights from our scriptures from this week’s lectionary selection and from those, we begin at the end of the story of Job.  In this passage we hear Job reply to God following God’s answer.  All through the story, Job has been demanding justice and demanding that God answer him.  But when God finally answers, he thunders at Job and asks questions like, “Where were you when I laid the cornerstone of the earth?” or, ““Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, 10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, 11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?” (Job 42:1-6, 10-17)

Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. 11 All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.

12 The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. 13 And he also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. 15 Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.

16 After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 17 And so Job died, an old man and full of years.

Job understands God’s message and God’s answer.  Job understands that God is God and we are not.  Job understands that we are in no position to dictate terms to God, that God will do what God will do.  God is not a genie that does our bidding and answers to our beck and call.  The creation of the universe is so far above our pay grade that rather than demand that God behave the way that we want or expect God to behave, God will, instead, behave as God wishes and our place is not to demand, but to submit.

But please note, that in submitting to the will of God, God blesses Job and returns to him twice as much as he had before Satan was allowed to torment him.

From there we jump to Mark 10:46-52 where we hear this story:

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Bartimaeus knew who Jesus was and he knew what Jesus could do.  He calls out to Jesus by addressing him as “Son of David.”  Jesus was, literally a descendant of David by lineage, both from Mary and from Joseph, but this seems to be far more than an identification.  Since Bartimaeus is calling out to Jesus for mercy and, ultimately, for healing, it isn’t difficult to understand that his calling Jesus is an appeal to authority, that he recognizes that Jesus is an heir to the throne of David, but also, perhaps that Jesus is the promised Messiah, or at least a prophet of God who has the power to heal his blindness.  In crying out to Jesus, Bartimaeus has already submitted to God, but when Jesus calls him, he throws aside his cloak in his excitement.  Why is that important?  Let’s consider that for a moment.  Remember that Bartimaeus is blind.  He cannot keep an eye on his coat once it leaves his possession and neither will it be easy for him to find it once he leaves it behind.  But Bartimaeus doesn’t set his cloak aside neatly, or hand it to a friend, or take it with him, he throws it aside and jumps to his feet.  Either Bartimaeus is so excited that he has completely forgotten habits that he had formed over a lifetime, or he already trusted that Jesus was capable of, and likely intended to, heal him of his blindness.  At the very least, Bartimaeus trusted that Jesus would care about his well-being and the return of his cloak.

And Bartimaeus is healed.

But rather than responding to Jesus’ command to “Go” by going home and getting back to his family and the business of living his life, Bartimaeus chooses instead to “Go” and to follow Jesus along the road.  Bartimaeus had no idea where Jesus was going, and it didn’t matter.  He knew who Jesus was, he submitted to Jesus, he trusted Jesus, and he was willing to follow Jesus wherever he went.

And if that is the path, from surrender, to trust, to following, then where does the path lead?

And in Hebrews 7:23-28, Paul answers by describing who Jesus is:

23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests, men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

Jesus is the high priest, the leader of the church, but because his sacrifice was truly and totally perfect, his sacrifice need not ever be repeated.  Jesus’ sacrifice was done once, for all of humanity, for all time.  And for that reason, Jesus has become our high priest, the perfect man, the king of the universe, the leader of the church, the shepherd of his people, and all we need to do, is to trust him, and follow him forever.

Job had no guarantees that God was going to bless him, but he submitted anyway and was willing to follow God no matter where that path took him.

Bartimaeus had no idea where Jesus was going to lead him.  But he trusted Jesus enough to follow him anyway.

Our call, as servants of our great high priest Jesus, isn’t to demand justice, to demand answers, or to demand that God do things our way, our call is to submit to the realization that God is God and we are not.  God will do what God will do.  God will behave as God wishes and our place is not to demand, but to submit.

Our call isn’t to obsess over what heaven looks like, or what we will do, or where we will go, or who else will be there, or what heaven will be like.  Our call is to trust Jesus, our high priest, to stop demanding to get our way, to give up trying to control everything, and to follow him wherever he chooses to lead us both now… and forever.


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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.

Eulogy and Obituary for Marcene Buchs

Eulogy for Marcene Buchs

October 06, 2018

by Pastor John Partridge

My family and I moved to Alliance during the last week of June.  And so, on Thursday of this week, when Mike and Amy asked me if I had even had a chance to meet Marcene, I honestly wasn’t sure.  Until I stared working on my remarks for today and pulled up her obituary and saw her photograph.  But then I knew.  I knew that I had met Marcene but hadn’t yet had the chance to get to know her.  But many others did.  At church, Marcene was known to be a sweet lady who was always well put together.  She was always dressed fashionably, not to in any way act as if she was better than anyone else, but simply because being impeccably dressed was important to her.  She had flair.  People noticed when Marcene entered a room.  She was known, always, to be a classy lady as well as a person of deep and personal faith.

Marcene Buchs grew up taking care of her dad.  And when she had done that then it was time to take care of her mom, and then it was her Aunt Ellen.  She was a caregiver.  It wasn’t a life that she chose, but she accepted it as her responsibility.  She grew up in Beechwood in a family of farmers.  But she came to Christ United Methodist Church more than 60 years ago when her family moved to Alliance while she was in the fifth grade.  She was both faithful and dedicated to our church and was sure to attend every week for as long as she was able.

Over the years, she worked as a secretary and kept the bills paid.  She didn’t have a fairy tale life by any stretch of the imagination, but she was known for her strength of character, she always took the high road, did things the “right way,” and always did everything well and with excellence.  Although she never felt sorry for herself, sometimes the events and the circumstances of her life led her to feel insecure.  She lived in a small town, and she knew what people said about her, but that, and despite her insecurity, she refused to retreat, and forced herself to participate in the community.

Marcene was always “super-devoted” to her family and to her grandchildren.  She didn’t just care about what they did, she devoted herself to exploring, learning, and doing her very best to understand what they did whether it was sports, or music, or quilting, publishing, or rocket science. Marcene was a reader, and she had always read everything.   But whenever she knew what her family or friends were interested in, she read about that too.  Although she didn’t have a CD player in her home, she did have one in her car.  And so, in order to listen to her grandson Chase’s CD’s, she would get in her car and drive around town so that she could listen to them.  As Mike and Amy went through her things, they discovered that Marcene had kept detailed records of her life and of her family’s life.  Events and projects that they had long forgotten, were carefully recorded and kept in her albums and notebooks.

Marcene Buchs was a minimalist who loved order.  She owned a small number of outfits and when she bought a new one, an old one had to go.  Nothing in her home was out of place.  She appreciated order and she paid great attention to every detail.  But Marcene’s insistence on perfection only applied to herself.  She was forgiving of others and understood that they were different than she was.

Perhaps the most obvious example of who Marcene was, is found in her son Mike.  As the saying goes, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  And Mike didn’t become the caring, considerate, intelligent, driven, and loving person that he is by accident.  He is a living example of Marcene’s influence on his life and a reflection of who she was.

Much of her life was devoted to caring for others and while was greatly loved by others, she loved them all right back.  But, as I noted earlier, Marcene’s faith was important to her.  She made sure that Mike grew up in the church and passed her faith on to him.  And when her grandchildren arrived, she invested herself in them so that they could learn it as well.  As I talked to Mike and Amy, we knew that Marcene would not want this moment to pass without sharing her faith with you as well.  Marcene Buchs put her full faith and trust in Jesus Christ as her savior.  She believed that Jesus died for her sins so that she could, at this very moment, stand before God, forgiven, redeemed, and perfect.  We know where Marcene will spend her eternity, and she wants every one of you to join her there when your day comes.  If you don’t know how to do that, Marcene’s family and I urge you to talk to one of us afterward.

But of all of us, Mike knew her best of all.  And so, although he knew that he wouldn’t be able to stand up here today and share his thoughts, these are his words:

A Son’s Reflections

by Michael Robert Johanson

We are gathered here together to honor and celebrate the life of my mother, Marcene Buchs. My mother was a throwback and maintained the sensibilities of another time always attempting to do the right thing optimistically even when it was not popular or easy. She was not deceived by the complexities in this world and was firmly rooted in the simplicities that are the foundation of our being.  That is her message to us.  She would have loved the flowers in the room today and would remind us all to enjoy the sight and scent.  She would not want any of us to mourn today rather to channel the spirit she has put in all of us to live up to our potential, do the right things, listen, encourage, pick each other up when we fall have hope, faith and leave a positive mark on this world.

I have spent much time this week thinking of what should be said, attempting to properly honor my mom’s memory or even partially convey the wonderful life my family and I were lucky enough to share with her.  Should I list all of her accomplishments which were many?  She was capable far beyond what we all saw – she had a mighty inner strength.  Should I tell stories from the farm in Beachwood?  Those would be funny particularly the “hammer story” (though probably still not funny to her brother my uncle Bob).  Her happiness, optimism and vision of the future during her youth – she always did her very best?  The energy and pride she always exemplified in the workforce?        But all of this can be read in the newspaper this week.  What isn’t there is her devotion and love for her family.  Her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brother and his family, taking care of her mother, father, and her son who were always steadfastly by her side and her by them.  I came along not under ideal circumstances, but you would have never known it. Her devotion and love made my life ideal.

If she were planning today’s service she would be playing videos in the hall of rockets launching things I’ve built into space.  A spread of magazines that Amy had created that highlighted her handiwork that she was so overjoyed to see on a newsstand.  She would play highlight reels of her grandson Noah throwing a football.  She often went on long drives to listen to songs on the CD player of her grandson Chase that always lift her up and “made the sunshine come out”. Those songs were played today prior to this service per her request and they meant the world to her.  She was very proud of all of Chase’s accomplishments. She would showcase her “superhero” grandson Ellis’s many activities, performances, beautiful voice and intellect and also remark how she was able to get a little piece of her own son back through him.  She would spent endless hours studying and learning about all our interests and made them her own.  And while none of this would be about her.  In her mind it was all about her, and it is.

I found a folder this week in her important papers titled Emotional Serenade.  In this folder of poems and writings I got a chance to get inside my mom’s spirit in ways I had not seen before.  In her writings I think she described who she was far better than I ever could in the following poem:

THE CATALPA TREES ARE BLOOMING ON HAINES AVENUE

The Catalpas are blooming on Haines Avenue;

their snow-like blossoms are fresh and white and new.

They crown the branches of the stately trees

and cover the ground with a summer freeze.

In time, long green beans will appear,

hanging amidst the elephantine leaves part of the year.

This makes Haines different from Wright, Union or Summit,

indeed it is the very best part of it!

The red bricked street of a yesterday,

scene of a childhood summer of play.

I was fresh from the farm and an isolated life

thrust on a sidewalk of kids amidst workman and buses,

backyard cherry trees – neat houses and gardens,

flower bedecked porches, new shoes bought on an

afternoon trip downtown, birthday parties on the lawn,

bank tellers, clothiers, teachers, mailmen, executives

and retirees – a grocery store that smelled so right

with licorice cigars and other delights…

everything so lazy and forever.  Now all gone mainly

BUT THE TREES

I had always known the infinite variety of trees;

all the magical appendages moving in the breeze;

their sudden brilliant hues burning even after the fade;

their wealth worth more than could ever be paid.

Yet I was amazed at the leaves on a hunt for my son

and ran around saying, in effect, “Here’s one, here’s one!”

Then it was the Ginkgo that mesmerized me,

but the Catalpas are a gift by the powers that be

and are for the moment what’s happening on Haines.

They come to me, and the thrill never wanes.

  • BUCHS

My mother was always my unexpected messenger encouraging me (and all of us) to accomplish the impossible and she led by example in ways that I didn’t always understand or comprehend.  But eventually, I would always understand completely.  While her life didn’t always meet the expectations she perhaps had for herself, she made the best of every moment and worked tirelessly to make sure those around her had the best opportunities, were the best prepared, and when we needed a boost, she was there to lift us up.  Though 620 Wright Ave was just a small dot on big planet she always encouraged me to be OPEN and ready to take on the world.  She taught me that if I opened up my mind I could be and do anything.  If I opened up my dreams the impossible became possible. If I opened up my heart I would always be surrounded by the very best people.  If I opened up my eyes the path forward would always be clear.  And if I opened my arms she would and will always be there.

In her notes this week she left me a final piece of advice in her Emotional Serenade folder.  I’m not sure she wrote it but she typed it and put in a place so I would see it first.  I think is a continuing message for all of us:

“People tend to look in each other’s wallets instead of each other’s eyes.  You can’t buy a look into someone’s heart.  Or a loving look.  Or a smile.  The retention of important memories is a gift beyond price.  Memory is where the proof of life is stored.  Unobstructed access to memories is both a sign of good health and a measure of true wealth.  Money can’t buy health and money can’t buy hope.”

I am thankful for the time that we have had on this Earth together, and her passing reminds me to value the time we all have with our loved ones. To allow our ‘time’ on this planet to walk with us rather than be our adversary and to cherish every moment, because they will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we lived, and I know how much my mother loved this life and those of you who shared it with her. So those of us who knew her will understand when I say that her passing to me is truly only that state in which she exists within all of us whose lives she has touched, which is why today is not about an end. I know she lives on within me and my children and that too shall pass to my children’s children. No good-byes mom, just wonderful memories.  You will walk with me always. I will see you again.

-Michael Robert Johanson

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Leader or Servant? – Why Character Matters

“Leader or Servant?”

(Why Character Matters)

September 23, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

Proverbs 31:10-31                 Mark 9:30-37             James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a

Have you ever seen someone use authority well?

Sometime around 1995 I was working in research and development on a new type of control system for residential forced-air heating systems.  We had developed the technology in the laboratory and were ready to install several systems, in various parts of the country, run them in the homes of real people, and collect data on their operation.  One of the homes in which our system would be installed belonged to an executive in major furnace manufacturer which was one of our industry partners.  Everything was proceeding on schedule and under budget until we were within a week or two of the installation.  We had our plane tickets in hand.  The equipment was already on site.  But everything got jammed up when our company lawyers couldn’t agree with their company lawyers over who was liable for what.  As engineers, it was completely out of our hands.  All we could do was watch as faxes and emails went back and forth between us and our partner.

Until our Vice President, who oversaw the entire research department, stepped in.  One day, in the middle of this impasse, he stopped in to ask why nothing was happening.  So, we told him.  By the next day, the contracts were completed, signed, and the project was back on track.  When I asked my manager what happened, he said that our VP had simply called their VP, they both called their respective lawyers, told them that they wanted it done, and POOF!  It got done.

I’ve always remembered that story because it reminds me that a key responsibility of leaders is to work for, to serve, their subordinates.  Our VP rarely involved himself in the daily affairs of engineers, but he reminded us that when we really needed his authority, he worked for us.  By virtue of his position, title, and power, he could get things done that we couldn’t hope to do.  We had no ability to argue with our legal team or to overcome their objections and concerns, but all he needed to do was to tell them to get it done… and it was done.

In each of our scriptures today we see different types of godly leadership that we can apply to our lives in church, at home, and in our schools and workplaces.  We begin at home, in Proverbs 31:10-31, which is the one chapter of the Bible that is known to be written by a woman.  Proverbs 31:1 says that these words are:

31:1 The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him.

And so, even though King Lemuel put the words on paper, he made sure that everyone knew that these were his mother’s words.  We continue reading in verse ten where it says:

10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff  and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

This passage is sometimes criticized as a description of the expectations placed upon women, but I don’t see it that way.  Instead, I find that this describes a woman of strong character who is, as much as possible in the culture in which she lives, a full and dedicated partner, with her spouse, in the life of their family and in building a life together.  She is, without question, a leader in her community who dedicates her time and effort to lifting up her family, her household, the poor, and her entire community.  She and her husband act as a team.  Their efforts, together, build the respect in the community for both of them and although he must have some sort of employment, she seems to earn just as much for her family and provides for them in ways that he cannot.  Neither of the members of this partnership would do as well without the other.  She is able to do what she does because of him, and he is able to do what he does because of her and each would be severely handicapped without the other.  Because of her hard work, her leadership, and her compassion for others, she is honored and praised by her family, and by the leaders of her community.

But what is it about this woman that makes her good and honorable?

Is it just because she works hard?  And what can we learn from this and apply to our own lives?

In James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a, we hear this explanation:

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

James simply says that character matters.  If you are wise and understanding… prove it.  If you are smart, then your life will show the world that you are smart.  The way that you live, the deeds that you do, the friends that you keep, the actions that you take, the humility that you show in your interactions with others, is the proof that the world will witness.  At the same time, bitter envy and selfish ambition is proof that you are earthly, unspiritual, and even demonic because envy and selfish ambition are not the proof of wisdom, but the hallmarks of disorder and evil.

In contrast, the wisdom that comes from God is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, impartial, sincere, and full of good fruit.  It is the peacemakers, James says, who produce great harvests of righteousness in the lives of others.  Fights and quarrels are the result of conflicting human desires.  Our desires, greed, and covetousness drive us toward evil, violence, and death.  We claim that God doesn’t hear our prayers, but the James says that the real reason our prayers go unanswered is that we ask with the wrong motives.  We ask God to give us stuff so that we can spend what he gives us for our own pleasure and not for the things of God and for God’s kingdom.

James’ recipe for success, is to submit to God.  Men and women must both submit to God.  We must resist the devil, resist evil, come to God, and only then will God come close to us.  We must purify ourselves, our motive must be pure, so that we are not double-minded.  We cannot want what God wants and want what we want.  We cannot pray that God would bless his ministry and grow his church and use his blessings for our own pleasures.

I admit that this is difficult stuff.  James is ruthless and his teaching pierces the hearts of the best among us.  But his message is clear.  A pure heart is a heart that is dedicated to God… alone.

And so, what does any of that have to do with leadership?  How does a heart dedicated to God look to the outside world, or to our church, or to our family?

And for that, we turn to Mark 9:30-37 where we hear the answer from Jesus.

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus says that the hallmark of true, humble, peace-loving, pure, godly leadership is servanthood.  Leaders are called to be servants first and tyrants last.  These are the things that reveal our character.  David fell when he considered his desires ahead of Uriah’s, but also ahead of the needs of Bathsheba, the needs of his nation, or the will of God.  The illustration and visual aid that Jesus uses is the welcoming of little children.  With few words, this speaks volumes about leadership.  Jesus says that leaders do good, even for those who can do nothing for you in return.  This is as far from “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” as you can possibly get.  This says, “I’ll scratch your back, even if you don’t have any arms.”  This says that leaders help others, not because they expect something in return, but simply because they can.  The Vice President of Research had little (something but not much) to gain by helping us break the logjam on our project, but with one phone call, he did what several engineers and two or three managers couldn’t get done in weeks.  He wasn’t a particularly godly man, as far as I know, but I have always remembered this example of leadership.

This is why character matters.  Real leaders are not just leaders.  Real leaders, godly leaders, must be servants at heart.

As leaders, our personal desires must take a back seat to the needs of those whom we lead and serve.

Our priority must always be the mission, but also the care of those under our authority, whether or not they like us, whether or not we like them, and whether or not they can do something for us in return.

And don’t think that you are off the hook because you aren’t a leader.  All of us, in one way or another, are leaders or, at the very least, are training for leadership.  All of us, at one time or another, find ourselves responsible for others.  We teach Sunday school, we parent children, we babysit, and so on.  Many of us are what the military refers to as unofficial leaders, or back-channel leaders.  We are people who others look up to, and respect, simply because we are older, or have done our jobs longer, or because we are known to be honest, or diligent, in our work.  Leadership doesn’t have to come with an official title.

All of us are leaders.

All of us must lead with a servant’s heart.

Because…

…character matters.

_________

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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.

Fools. How Long?

“Fools. How Long?”

September 16, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

Proverbs 1:20-33                   Mark 8:27-38             James 3:1-12

What do you know?

I’m going to guess that whether you went to school or not, every one of you here knows something that the rest of us don’t.  My grandfather never went to college, but he knew things about repairing giant turbine generators that no one else knew, and that no one else ever had the patience to learn from him.

But before I get off track, here’s the follow-up question.  Have you ever tried to explain something, something that you knew from experience or education?  Have you ever tried to explain something to someone who was wrong and who didn’t want to be corrected?  If you listen, much of our national political conversation sounds like that.  We often find that the truth lies somewhere in between the two “sides” that are arguing with one another and no one wants to be bothered with the truth.  Everyone is quite happy with their version of the story, even if its demonstrably wrong, and they only get angry if, and when, you try to tell the truth.  As soon as you disagree, for any reason, you are labelled as the enemy and each “side” thinks that you belong to the “other side” even if you remain completely neutral, simply because you disagree.

Does that sound familiar?

But as silly, ridiculous, and tragic as this is, it isn’t new.  And politics isn’t the only place that we find this sort of thing to be true.  In Proverbs 1:20-33, wisdom is described as a living person who is trying to speak truth into the world, and the world chooses to ignore her because they are happy with their ignorance.

20 Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,
she raises her voice in the public square;
21 on top of the wall she cries out,
at the city gate she makes her speech:

22 “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
23 Repent at my rebuke!
Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my teachings.
24 But since you refuse to listen when I call
and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,
25 since you disregard all my advice
and do not accept my rebuke,
26 I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;
I will mock when calamity overtakes you—
27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
when distress and trouble overwhelm you.

28 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
they will look for me but will not find me,
29 since they hated knowledge
and did not choose to fear the Lord.
30 Since they would not accept my advice
and spurned my rebuke,
31 they will eat the fruit of their ways
and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety
and be at ease, without fear of harm.”

Lady wisdom, who is the personification of learning and intelligence, asks “How long will you fools hate knowledge?”  God pours out his thoughts and makes his teachings known, but ignoring his wisdom causes people to be destroyed by avoidable troubles and disasters.  The stubborn will eat the fruits of their stubbornness, the rebellious will be killed by their rebellion, and the smug confidence of fools will destroy them.  But those who listen to God, and accept God’s wisdom, will live in safety without fear of harm.

But what is it that separates the fools from the faithful?

What is it that makes one person wise and another a fool, or worse?

In Mark 8:27-38, Jesus has a conversation with his disciples that answers that very question.

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Peter was almost there.  Peter saw what many other people had failed to see.  Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah, the savior of the world, and the one that God had promised for generations.  But Peter couldn’t accept that Jesus had to die.  Peter wanted Jesus to be his king, and he wanted Jesus to do things the way that Peter wanted them done.  Peter couldn’t take that last step and accept that God would do things the way that God intended to do them.  Jesus says, “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  The key, Jesus says, is to have enough faith that you want what God wants and trust God enough to do things God’s way.

And that’s hard.

Even the disciples struggled with it.

And along the way, there are a great many ways that we can, and often do, fall short.

In James 3:1-12, we hear these words:

3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

James says, even if we get our act straight, and get our whole life together, we still often stumble when we fail to keep a tight reign on the words that come out of our mouths.  But what comes out of our mouths reveals the truth of what is in our hearts.  James says that what comes out of our mouths can set our entire lives on fire.  We can’t have it both ways. We can’t praise God and curse at our neighbors.  We can’t love God and hate the poor, or Democrats, or Republicans, or communists, or Antifa, or anybody else.  You won’t ever pick figs from an olive tree, and you won’t draw fresh water from the Atlantic Ocean.  When you give your heart to God, you need to give God your whole heart, your whole body, mind, and spirit.

You need to be sold-out for God.

You need to be all in.

When we choose to follow God and put our faith in Jesus Christ, we can’t do it half way.

We can’t give God ninety-five percent and hold five percent back for ourselves.  As we see from James’ description, a rudder isn’t very big, but it steers the largest ships.  A bit is tiny compared to a horse, but it takes the rider wherever she wants to go.  Our tongues are small in comparison to the rest of our bodies, but they can destroy everything that we spent our lives working for.  They can destroy every bit of Christian witness that we tried to build with 30 years of church attendance.  So, if we are truly going to put our faith in God, we need to give God everything that we have.

We cannot be fools who ignore God’s wisdom and focus only on our human concerns.

How long will we wait?

We need to want what God wants, and trust God enough to do things God’s way.

We need to listen to what God’s wisdom teaches, learn from it, accept it, and do it.

We need to love our neighbors the way that God loves them even if they are Muslim neighbors, or Democrat neighbors, or Republican neighbors, or Mexican neighbors, or gay or lesbian neighbors, or anything else.

We can’t hold anything back.

Following Jesus was, is, and always will be a radical thing to do.

Are you ready to be all in?

_________

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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.

Karma, Deception, and Grace

“Karma, Deception, and Grace”

August 05, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a                    John 6:24-36              Ephesians 4:1-16

Have you ever heard of Karma?  Most of us have.  It’s a popular idea even if the word is often misused.  In Hinduism and Buddhism, by definition, karma is “the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.”  What that means is, karma is the thing that will punish an evildoer, by guiding them to an unpleasant reincarnation as a poor person, or as a slug, or some other unpleasant experience in proportion to the evil that they did in a previous life.  In popular usage, karma is (wrongly) thought of as “what goes around comes around” or why bad things will, eventually, happen to bad people.

But within Christianity, we don’t believe in karma.  Instead, we believe in a sovereign, all-knowing, all-seeing, God who promises justice and judgement.  In Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a, we rejoin King David’s story as David’s crimes are revealed and his punishment levied.

26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.

12:1 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”

13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Last week we noted that God was undoubtedly disappointed by David’s failure, but we realize, as we read this week’s passage, that “disappointed” doesn’t go far enough.  Our scripture tells us that “the thing David had done displeased the Lord.”  Even David, when presented the facts of his own case simply disguised as a story about a prized lamb by the prophet Nathan, condemns himself and demands that no pity should be taken on such a person.  But in the next moment, David’s sin is revealed as Nathan proclaims, “You are the man.”  Murder by proxy is still murder.  Nathan doesn’t quibble about who “pulled the trigger” or whose hands killed Uriah, Nathan simply says, “You killed him,” and “You took his wife.”  Before announcing David’s sentence.  God declares, “the sword will never depart from your house” or, that violence will always be a part of David’s life, and that members of his own family will one day betray him, and sleep with his wives.  David’s punishment is truly, “what goes around comes around” but it isn’t karma, it’s justice handed out by an all-knowing God.

David, like many people throughout history, including many people in our present-day world, was deceived by money, sex, and power, and began to believe that he was above the law.  He was the king, he was rich and powerful, so he could get away with it.  But in the end, David remembers the truth, that nothing is done that God does not see, that no one is above the laws of God, and that, in the end, no one escapes justice.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that David’s story is a condemnation of rich people.  In John 6:24-35, we hear a familiar story about Jesus in which ordinary people, and a great many of them, suffer from the same kind of deception that David did.

24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

An entire crowd of people climbed into boats and went in search of Jesus, but Jesus knew that every one of them had been deceived.  All these people, rich and poor alike, had followed him, not because of Jesus’ miracles, and not because of his teaching, but because they thought that he would keep feeding them.  They weren’t following Jesus the savior of mankind, or even Jesus the great teacher, they were following a meal ticket.  They didn’t follow Jesus because he confronted them with their sinfulness, or because he could help them to get closer to God, or because he would help them to become better people, they followed Jesus because of what they thought that they could get out of him.  In this case, food.

This hasn’t changed.  There are a lot of people who come to church and are known to be good upstanding members of the community and longstanding church members who have been coming to church for entirely the wrong reasons.  They come to church because their parents did, or because that simply “what good people do,” or because it’s “good for business.”  But, just like the crowds that followed Jesus, all these people have been deceived.  They are following Jesus for what they can get out of him.

And Jesus sets them all straight saying: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life.”  Jesus tells the people not to be deceived by food… or by anything that spoils.  Don’t be deceived by money, sex, or power, but neither should we be deceived by more common things like clothes, or cars, nice apartments, houses, prominent businesses, job titles, professional associations, or anything else that disappears like smoke after you die.  Instead, be concerned about things that last for eternity long after your life on earth is over.

Believe in the one that God has sent and make it your business to invite others to know him.  Only your life, and the lives of others, will endure into eternity, and only Jesus can give us the bread of life.

But if we are to keep our focus on God and not be deceived by “stuff,” then how should we live our lives?  And, once again, in his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul shares what a life lived for God might look like. (Ephesians 4:1-16)

4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it [Psalm 68:18] says:

“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 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. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Paul reminds the church that we have been called to follow Jesus, adopted into God’s family, and work alongside Jesus, on his mission, and are empowered by the Holy Spirit, and we ought to live our lives in such a way as to be worthy of that high calling.  We should be completely humble, patient, and loving and make every effort to remain in the unity of the Spirit through the peace that binds us together.  Jesus has poured out grace upon each one of us but in doing so he also gave us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

But why?

Why do we need those people?  Do we need them so that we can delegate the work of the church to them?

Clearly, Paul says, no.  Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are not employees.

Instead, Paul says that all these were called by God and sent by Jesus to equip the church for the works of service that he has called them to do.  And we are to do these works of service to build up the body of Christ until such a time that we all become mature.  And Paul says that we will be mature when we no longer act like children, no longer get tossed back and forth by our culture, no longer deceived by money, sex, power, and the craftiness of deceitful schemes.  The body of Christ, Paul says, is held together by every supporting ligament, it grows, it builds itself up in love, and every single part of the body of Christ does the work that God has called us to do.

Every single part, every single person, every single believer, has work to do.

Every one of us must be out on the field.

There are no spectators.

Maturity doesn’t come because we belong to the church and it doesn’t come simply because we stuck around for a few decades.

The way that we learn not to be deceived like David, or like the crowd that followed Jesus, the way what we become mature, is to listen and to learn from scripture.  To listen and learn from the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers that God has called so that all of us are equipped to do the work that God has called us to do.

And we must persist, we must keep on doing that work until we, eventually, become mature.

 

_________

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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.

A Place to Belong

“A Place to Belong”

July 22, 2018*

by Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 7:1-14a              Mark 6:30-34, 53-56               Ephesians 2:11-22

 

What does it mean to belong?

Last week we talked a lot about belonging, and that resurfaces again today, but what does that mean?  How do we know when we belong somewhere?  What is it about a place that tells us that we have found a place to belong?  What is it about our families, or places of business, or our communities, or our churches, that help us to know, or to feel, that we belong?  And even more than that, who is it that can belong there?  Can anyone belong?  Or can only certain kinds of people belong there?

These are tough questions, so let’s take them in smaller bites and walk through it just a step at a time.  We begin this morning once again in the story of David.  This time as David realizes that his house is a lot nicer than the tent in which God “lives” after his arrival in Jerusalem.  (2 Samuel 7:1-14a)

7:1 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son.

There are several points that are worth noting from this passage this morning.  First, as much as David has loved God and been passionate about following and worshipping him, and as joyful as it made him to welcome God into Jerusalem, it only now occurs to David that God’s house isn’t nearly as nice as his own.  And so, David begins planning a new home for God so that God can belong.  To David’s way of thinking, having a home is a part of belonging, but God sets David straight.  For God, having a nice house among his people has never been a priority nor has it ever been a part of belonging.  God says, I have never once lived in a nice house, but I have always been a part of my people.  They have always belonged to me, and I have always belonged to them.

We also notice that God sometimes says no, even to the people that he loves the most.  Remember, this is David, one of the Bible’s greatest heroes and the one who was described as “a man after God’s own heart.”  But God tells David, “No.”  David wants to build a temple for God and God says, “No, not yet. No, not you.”  But if we continue to read, we discover that God says “No” because God wants something that is even better than what David wants.  God intends to give David something better than what David had planned, and God also intends to give a great blessing to David’s son, and to David’s descendants.

From this we can understand two things about belonging.  First, belonging isn’t about a specific place, or about money, or about power.  Instead, belonging is about our relationships with one another.  Second, if we follow the example of God, we know we belong when we discover a place where the people want what is best for us, and we become a place of belonging when we desire what is best for others.

But what does that look like?  What does it look like to be a people who want what is best for others?

And to answer that question, we can have no better example than to look at the life of Jesus.  In Mark 6:30-34, 53-56, we read these words:

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

John Wesley once said:

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

And that’s exactly what we see here.  Jesus was doing ministry.  He was doing all the good he could, for all the people he could, as often as he could.  They were so busy, they didn’t even have a chance to eat.  And even though Jesus was trying to take care of himself, and his disciples were trying to care for him, by taking him to a quiet place to take a break and get some rest, people guessed where he was going and got there ahead of him.  And so, even when he really needed a break to get some rest, and to pray, and to be refreshed, he still had compassion and taught them anyway.  Everywhere Jesus went, people recognized him, and they brought the sick to him.  And even the people who could only reach out and touch the fringe on his robe, were healed.

These are remarkable stories.  But once again, the Apostle Paul teaches us what these stories mean to the church, to us, in the twenty-first century.  In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul says (Ephesians 2:11-22):

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Paul reminds us that all the healing, and all the crowds, and all the ministry of Jesus was a part of God’s invasion of the earth and our culture.  The arrival of Jesus was a demonstration of how God intended for the church to radically upend the culture of the world.  Jesus came to tear down the walls the separated people so that there would no longer be insiders and outsiders, citizens and foreigners, members and strangers.  Each one of us was once a stranger, or a foreigner, or an outsider, and every one of us was invited in by Jesus so that we could belong.  We were invited in to belong to Jesus’ family, belong to Jesus’ church, and belong to Jesus’ mission.  Jesus tore down the barriers that divided people between Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, black and white, the ‘in’ crowd and the outsiders, the ‘A-list’ and the ‘B-list,’ and any other division between us.

Jesus invited all of us to a place where we could belong.

And Jesus intended for the church to be that place.

Paul said that in Jesus Christ we are being built together so that we can become a place where God lives.

This is a big deal.

You see, last week’s message reminded us that we were adopted into God’s kingdom and had been given a place to belong.  But this week’s scriptures remind us that not only were we invited to belong, our mission, as the church of Jesus Christ, is to create a place where others can belong.

But how do we do that?  How do we make our church, our homes, our community, our very lives, a place of belonging?  Let’s review what we already heard today.

First, the story of King David reminds us that we need to start by inviting God to be at the center of our lives and at the center of all that we do.

Second, we need to remember that belonging isn’t about a specific place, or money, or power but it is about relationships with one another.  We become a place of belonging when we build relationships with the people outside the church.

Third, a place of belonging is a place where the people want what is best for us and where we desire what is best for others.  We become a place of belonging when we reach out and help others, lift them up, and help them to become a better version of themselves.

Jesus and John Wesley both taught that while we need to care for ourselves, we need to do all we can, for all the people we can, in all the ways that we can, as often, and as long, as we can.

But Jesus’ life also teaches us that we can’t make distinctions that divide people.  Paul said Jesus came to tear down the walls that divide us and invite the outcasts, and the outsiders, the strangers, and the foreigners, to come in, be a part, and belong.

Our job, our mission, is to become the kind of people, and the kind of church, invites and attracts the community in which we live and the people around us to come in, to belong, and to be adopted, like we were, into God’s family.

My prayer, and I hope yours is too, is that we would all be passionate about becoming the place of belonging that Jesus has called us to be.

 

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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.

What Will You Do With Freedom?

“What Will You Do With Freedom?”

February 04, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 40:21-31                              Mark 1:29-39                         1 Corinthians 9:16-23

 

 

Have you ever heard of a man named Blanche Bruce?

 

Bruce was born in 1841 to Polly Bruce, a domestic slave, and her master Pettis Perkinson, a white plantation laborer.  As a slave, Blanche Bruce’s upbringing was comparatively privileged.  His father raised him alongside his legitimate half-brother and allowed him to be educated with him by their private tutor.  As he reached adulthood, his father legally freed him so that he could pursue an apprenticeship, but when the Civil War broke out many freed slaves were being returned to slavery and Bruce fled to Kansas.

 

At this point in our story, it’s worth noting that Blanche Bruce wasn’t the only slave, or freed slave, to escape from slavery.  Many people did.  But what makes Blanche Bruce worth remembering isn’t that he was a freed slave or an escaped slave, but what he did with his freedom once he had it.

 

In Kansas, he worked as a school teacher, and when he later moved to Mississippi he arrived there with only 75 cents to his name.  Even so, it only took a few years before he was successful as both a land speculator and as a planter.  His intellect, personality, and charisma also made him a rising star in the Mississippi Republican Party and as such, he became a sheriff, a tax collector, and the superintendent of education in his county.  In 1874 he was elected to the United States Senate by the Mississippi legislature and he became the second black senator in U.S. history and the first to serve an entire six-year term.  As senator, he defended black Civil War veterans, fought segregation, and spoke out for the rights of Chinese immigrants and Native Americans.  After his term as senator, Bruce later served as the register of the US Treasury and thus the first African American to have his signature appear on our nation’s paper currency.

 

While that’s all very impressive, the reason that I’m telling you the story of Blanche Bruce is that, as we read the lessons of scripture, we find that we need to be asking ourselves one of the same questions that he did.  We begin this morning with these words from the prophet Isaiah contained in Isaiah 40:21-31.

 

21 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

 

There are two key points that Isaiah emphasizes in this passage and those same two points underlie everything that we do as followers of God, as Christians, and as a church.  First, God is uniquely powerful.  Our God is the creator of the universe and everything that exists and there is none like him or even remotely close to him.  Second, God is with us.  Our God chooses to care about, and to care for his followers.  Moreover, God chooses to work through his followers for the benefit of the entire world in a way that no other idol, god, or religion does.  We can choose to live our lives without God, but we are strongest with him when we choose to follow him and when we invite God to work with us and through us.

 

But what does that look like?

 

In Mark 1:29-39, we see Jesus ministering in Peter’s hometown, but even at the height of his popularity and when the demand for his ministry was at its highest, he left.

 

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

 

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

 

Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, and then the entire town gathered at the door of the house and Jesus healed diseases, and cast out demons from the people who had come.  But early the next morning, even though more people were coming and everyone was looking for him, Jesus slips out of town to pray and doesn’t go back.

 

But why?

 

I made this point a week or two ago and I need to make it again today.  Jesus was the Son of God, a member of the Trinity, and he literally had the freedom to do anything that he wanted to do.  But the question that he asked himself was the same as the one that Blanche Bruce must have asked himself after he escaped to Kansas.

 

What will I do with my freedom?

 

Jesus explains to his disciples that he had been sent by God, not to minister only to one town, but to travel from town to town and carry the message of God to as many people as possible in all of Galilee and in all of Israel.  Jesus had the freedom to do whatever he wanted, but with that freedom, he chose to do what God had called him to do.

 

Paul wrestled with this question as well and talks about it at some length in 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 where he says:

 

16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

 

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

 

Paul had a number of things to say and all of them are worth noting as we search for answers.  First, Paul explains that he really can’t boast, or even take much credit, for the things that he does because he is compelled, by God to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  But more than that, Paul says that he would suffer if he did not do what God had called him to do.  Second, Paul makes sure that his readers understand that he is a citizen of Rome, and as such, is absolutely free to do whatever he wants to do that is permissible under the law.  He is a slave to no one and in addition, Paul knows that he has been made free from sin through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But, with this freedom, he has chosen to do whatever he can to win souls for the kingdom of God.  Paul is free to do as he pleases, but he will go anywhere, and do almost anything, to rescue the lost.  He is fully committed to the goal of winning souls for Jesus Christ.  And finally,  Paul reminds the people of the church that no matter how committed we are, and no matter how devoted we are, or how much effort we expend, we won’t win every time or every person, but by doing all that we can, we will win some.

 

And this is where we return to Blanche Bruce.

 

As he fled Virginia and travelled toward Kansas, he knew that he could safely live there as a free man.  But remember the question that he had to ask himself along the way.

 

What will I do with my freedom?

 

Today we must each ask ourselves that same question.  Isaiah reminds us that God is not only uniquely powerful, but that our God chooses to care about us.  God is free to do as he pleases, but chooses to work through his people to rescue the lost and to save the world.  Jesus made that same choice.  As a member of the Trinity, Jesus was free to do whatever he wanted, but he chose to do only the will of God.  Paul emphasizes that, as a Roman citizen he had a lot of rights under the law.  He was free to do whatever he wanted within the law.  Paul chose to answer the call of God and to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ with everything that he had at his disposal.  He would go anywhere, do anything, and become whatever he needed to become in order to save as many souls as he possibly could.  Paul understood that he wouldn’t win every single time, but that, with every effort, he would win sometimes.

 

And so, today we are faced with that same question.  We live in of one of the strongest nations on earth.  We are citizens of the greatest empire that has ever existed on the face of the earth.  Much of the world can only dream of things that most of us take completely for granted.  The poorest among us have things that more than half of the world will never have.  We have many basic rights that are guaranteed by the founding documents of our nation and we brag about the freedoms that we enjoy as a nation.

 

But the question we need to answer is the same as the one faced by Blanche Bruce, by the Apostle Paul, and by Jesus Christ.

 

What will I do with my freedom?

 

 

 

 

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