No Love Without Risk

No Love Without Risk

April 25, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 10:11-18                                    Acts 4:5-12                             1 John 3:16-24

Would you risk your life to save your kids?

It’s a question that every parent understands and it’s one that Jonathan Honey, a father of three from Carbon County, Pennsylvania answered last week as he died trying to save his family from a house fire.  One child jumped from a second-floor window and was caught, barely, by a neighbor that jumped to meet him in the air, Kierstyn, the mother jumped out of a window cradling and protecting their baby, and Jonathan rushed into the house, found the third child, and put them in a closet before being overcome by carbon monoxide.  Kierstyn and the children are all in the hospital with broken bones or burns, but Jonathan lost his life trying to save his family.

It’s tragic, but nearly every parent has imagined what they would do in a similar situation, and nearly every one of us know that we would, without hesitation, risk our lives to save the life of one our children.  It difficult as it is to think about, we accept this reality, and we understand that there is no mystery to it.  We would risk our lives for our spouses or for our children… because we love them.  Our lives change when we have children.  We do everything differently.  We grocery shop differently, we drive differently, we dress differently, we spend our money and our time differently, we do without things that we like, that we want, and that we are accustomed to having so that our children can have the things that they need.  And we do all these things, we turn our adult lives upside down, because we love them.

And it is that understanding of parental love, and risk, that Jesus uses to describe God’s radical and sacrificial love for us in John 10:11-18 when he says:

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So, when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

After thousands of years of Jewish and Christian influence, in the twenty-first century, we miss the radical nature of what Jesus was saying.  The gods of the world, in the cultures that surrounded Israel were selfish, arrogant, violent, and uncaring.  The gods of the Philistines had routinely demanded that parents sacrifice their children for the fertility of their fields and good harvests, the gods of Greece and Rome considered humans to be inferior, unimportant, and without consequence except for use as pawns as they battled against one another.  It was common in many of the world’s religions to consider human worshippers to be resources to be spent rather than treasure to be valued.  But in that culture, and within that understanding of the relationship between gods and humans, Jesus proclaims a radical idea that he, and Israel’s God, love us in the sacrificial and selfless way that parents love their children.  Jesus says that he, like a true shepherd, is willing to lay down his life to protect his sheep.

And in Acts 4:5-12, Peter also preaches that because our God is a god of compassion and love, his disciples and followers are willing to risk their own security to care for those in need.  Luke writes this story:

The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
    which has become the cornerstone.’

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Peter and John are legally detained by the authorities and forcibly brought in front of the high priest, his powerful family, and the rulers, elders, and teachers of Jerusalem.  All the movers and shakers and powerful people were there.  And the question that they ask is, who gave you the power, or permission, to heal a man who was born lame?  Peter knows that these men have the power to convict them, punish them, or imprison them if they don’t like their answers.  This is a speech that is filled with risk.  And yet, Peter does not mince words and without hesitation, proclaims that they have been dragged into court in retribution for an act of compassion.  Peter goes on to preach and proclaim the name and the power of Jesus Christ and states, unequivocally, that there is no other name than Jesus, there is no other man, and no other god, on the face of the earth that can rescue humanity before God.

Peter and John knew that healing the lame man carried risk.  They knew that telling the truth in front of the power brokers of Israel risked their health and their freedom.  But Jesus taught and demonstrated that love and compassion were always worth the risk.

And in his letter to the churches and believers in Asia, John explains this idea of love and risk in more detail in 1 John 3:16-24 saying:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

John boils it down to the simplest of terms.  Jesus demonstrated to us what love is supposed to look like and Jesus gave up his life for us.  That example means that that we should be prepared to give up our lives, for the people around us.  We must be prepared to risk everything for others.  We can’t hold too tightly to any of our material possessions or even to our own lives.  If fellow believers are in need, we cannot just heartlessly keep what is ours and allow them to do without.  Instead, we must be prepared to risk, to give up some of our possession, some of our creature comforts, some of our rights, or whatever else it might take to meet their needs because Jesus has taught us, and shown us, that this is what true love looks like.  Loving with our words and making grand and eloquent speeches is not enough if we don’t risk the things that we have and demonstrate our love through our actions.

Love, real love, true love, isn’t an idea and it isn’t just a feeling.

True love is an action.

And because actions have consequences, we can’t play it safe.

            There is no love… without risk.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/nvhcnF-CUd4

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.

The Power of Hope

Promises, Lawlessness, and the Power of Hope

April 18, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Luke 24:36-48                                    Acts 3:11-19                           1 John 3:1-7

There is a photograph that circulates occasionally on internet forums and viewers are typically encouraged to look at it for five or ten seconds before reading the text that follows.  The photo is of a street scene with passing cars, and, in the foreground, several attractive young ladies dressed in somewhat… revealing attire.  But, after looking at the picture and reading the text that follows, you are asked if you noticed that one of the cars was being driven… by a dog.  Of course, no one usually notices that particular detail and is compelled to look back at the photograph.  Sure enough, right in the center of the picture, the car driving down the street has a dog in the driver’s seat.

But, as unusual as that is, why does almost no one, male or female, notice that the first time?

And the answer if focus.  Our attention is naturally drawn to people and not to machines, particularly cars and other things that we see all the time.  We weren’t looking for a dog driving a car, so we didn’t see one.

It’s the same thing that creates some absolutely hilarious complaints on the comment cards returned to our national parks.  People complain that they weren’t allowed to touch the lava at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, they complain that there was nothing to see but rocks at Arches National Park (which incidentally has some of the most spectacular 65-million-year-old geological features that you well ever see), they complain that watching water boil at home would be more impressive that seeing the geysers at Yellowstone, that the Grand Canyon is just a big hole in the ground, that Sand Dunes National Park is just a “big pile of sand,” that Yosemite’s snow fed waterfalls stop by mid-summer because the Park Service must be turning them off, that some of the roads were closed by snow at Glacier National Park, and many, many, more complaints about bears, rattlesnakes, mosquitos, and other things that most of us would expect from our visits to these spectacular places.

But the reason that these people were disappointed was… focus.

If you expect a national park to have the same amenities as the Ritz Carlton, you are certain to be disappointed.

And it is that idea of focus that brings us to today’s first scripture.  At first, as we read Luke 24:36b-48, it seems to be the same as the passage that we read last week.  And it is similar.  But before we finish reading, we notice that the focus of our reading is different than before.  And that shift in focus becomes even clearer as we read our other scripture selections for today.

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

As we read Luke’s retelling of the resurrection story, the beginning sounds the same as what we read in John’s account last week, but while the point, the focus, of John’s story was the skepticism and doubt of the disciples and the future generations who would hear their story, Luke doesn’t even mention it.  Instead, Luke focuses on how Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s prophecy and how God was keeping his promises to his people.  Jesus asks for, and eats, food in their presence to prove that he is not a ghost or a spirit, but is indeed, a living, physical, flesh and blood human being.  And, while Luke also repeats Jesus offer to touch the nail holes in his hands and feet, this too is offered up as proof of his humanity and not to dispel doubt.  But in the end, the point that Jesus makes in Luke’s gospel story is that everything that God’s prophets had ever written about the coming Messiah, in all of scripture, had been fulfilled through Jesus, and they were witnesses of all that had happened.

What’s more, Luke’s story includes an emphasis, a focus, on reminding the disciples that a message of repentance and forgiveness of sins would be preached, in the name of Jesus, in every nation of the world and would begin in Jerusalem.  And while that part hadn’t happened yet, Jesus still declares that the disciples were his witnesses.  And so, we see that while Luke is obviously telling the same story that we heard from John, the focus of Luke’s story is different and so we see a different message in it.

And even though John’s focus was different, we see from his actions, and those of Peter, in Acts 3:12-19, that they certainly understood Jesus’ message of repentance because of the words that they spoke to the gathered crowd after they healed the blind man at the gates of Jerusalem.

11 While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

Peter and John proclaim to the gathered crow that they understood that the people acted the way that they did, and made the choices that they made, because they were ignorant of the truth.  But, now that they knew the truth, they must repent of their sins, and turn to God for forgiveness.

And even though the focus of John’s gospel story was on the shock, skepticism, and doubt of the disciples, he also understood that the message of sin, repentance, and forgiveness was inseparable from it because in 1 John 3:1-7 he writes these words:

3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

John understands that the most important message of the resurrection story is the message of sin, repentance, and forgiveness but also that having heard that message changes us and how we choose to live our lives.  Once we know, and believe, the story of Jesus’ resurrection, we know that one day we will become as he is, and it is that hope that directs our lives in new directions.  It is that hope that guides our paths away from lawlessness and toward purity and righteousness.

It is that hope that drives us to share our message with the world and with the people around us so that they will no longer be ignorant of the truth, repent, and find forgiveness and hope.

The first step in making the world a better place is for us to become better people.  And the first step we must take to become better people is to repent of our sins, draw close to God, and become, every day, more like Jesus.

That is message that we must share, and that is the message that has, does, and will continue to change the world.

Because while some people will try to describe the message of sin, repentance, and forgiveness as a message of condemnation, in truth it is a message of hope that the world desperately needs to hear.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/0t6-WsacQ0s

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


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

Freedom

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Freedom

April 04, 2021*

(Easter)

By Pastor John Partridge

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

We are three months early.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Easter everyone.


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

Did you enjoy reading this?

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

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


*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.

Guilt 2.0

Guilt 2.0

March 21, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 31:31-34                 John 12:20-33                                    Hebrews 5:5-10

What is it that makes you feel guilty?

People blame the church, or religion in general, for making them feel guilty and accuse them of manipulating their emotions to benefit themselves.  And, if we’re honest, that does occasionally happen just as, in any other field, human beings have been known to abuse their authority or take advantage of others.  That doesn’t mean that anyone is clamoring to ban MBA’s, or schoolteachers, or accountants, or any other profession in which a few practitioners have been caught doing things that they shouldn’t.  But, in any case, your church, or your religion, isn’t the cause of your guilt. 

But if religion doesn’t cause guilt, who, or what, does?

We will get that… eventually.  But first, let’s think about guilt more broadly.  There are different kinds of guilt.  The guilt I feel when I cheat on my diet by eating ice cream is not the same as being found criminally guilty of something that is against the law.  And that king of guilt isn’t always the same as being in violation of the laws of God.

More confusing still is that the laws of God seem to be different between the Old Testament and the New Testament, so some of us could easily be confused as to what we are supposed be doing and not doing.  And, in fact, many Christian denominations, and our own denomination, argue about some of those things.  But that’s not what we’re here to talk about.

One of the things that we see repeated throughout the Old Testament was that the prophets of God pointed toward a day when God was going to fulfill his promises and change the way in which his people met with God, experienced God, and the very nature of the way in which God’s people experienced a relationship with God.  One such glimpse into the future is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34 where we hear these words from God:

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband tothem,”
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

Through Jeremiah, God says that there is a day coming, a future day, when God is going to bring forth a new covenant that will be different from the covenant of Moses under which Israel lived.  And the reason that God gives for issuing a new covenant, is that God’s people broke the first one and were unable to live according to it’s standards.  In the first covenant, the commandments were written in stone, but the new covenant will be written on the hearts of the people.  Also, God will no longer be exclusive to the people of Israel, instead God will be revealed to everyone.  The rules, and the way in which the people of God lived under those rules, would change dramatically and they changed, of course, with the coming of Jesus, and through his life, death, and resurrection as we hear in John 12:20-33.

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

It is significant that the people who had come to meet Jesus were Greeks.  First, the Greeks would, obviously, been foreigners and were most likely Gentiles and not Jewish.  But second, the Greeks, in general, were known to be process thinkers rather than people who would understand religion as a system of blind obedience.  These two differences alone allow us to understand that Jesus’ instructions and explanations to them were likely different than those that he would normally have given to anyone who had been raised under Judaism or a system of Abrahamic, Mosaic, or rabbinic instruction.  For this audience, Jesus explains that death is like the planting of seeds.  If wheat falls on the ground, it dies.  But if wheat is planted, it grows and reproduces itself and transforms a single seed into many.  Jesus explains that, like those seeds, the people who live for themselves alone will live one lifetime that ends in death.  But anyone who follows Jesus, and spends their life serving him, will grow into a life that lasts for eternity.  Jesus says that this moment, the time leading to his crucifixion, was his purpose in coming to earth from the beginning.  And he concludes by saying that his “lifting up,” his crucifixion and death, will be the moment in history that will attract all the people of the world, and of all time, to see him and worship him.  For the Greeks, this teaching was not only something that they would hear and understand logically from Jesus the teacher, but a lesson that they would likely be able to hear, and to witness with their own eyes in the days ahead.

And, just as God promised in the days of Jeremiah, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus changed everything.  The writer of Hebrews explains this covenantal change in Hebrews 5:5-10:

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,

“You are my Son;
    today I have become your Father.”

And he says in another place,

“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus is different than kings and high priests that inherit their power from their earthly fathers.  While kingships and the high priesthood generally passed from father to son, Joseph held no earthly authority and so Jesus could not inherit it from him, particularly since Joseph was not a descendant of the priestly clan of Levi.  But neither did Jesus simply assume power or authority and claim the high priesthood for himself particularly.  Instead, God confers the priesthood upon Jesus and declares him to be a priest of the order of Melchizedek rather than a priest of the order of Levi or Aaron. 

Let’s unpack what it means for Jesus to be a priest of the order of Melchizedek.  Because the Israelite priesthood was exclusive to the family of Levi, and the high priesthood to the descendants of Aaron, it was, as I mentioned before, an inherited title.  But, since priests were from the tribe of Levi, and kings were the descendants of David, from the tribe of Judah, the high priest and the king could never be the same person.  And that’s why Melchizedek is important.  In the Old Testament, long before Moses or Jacob, or the twelve tribes of Israel, Abraham met, and gave honor and gifts to Melchizedek who was described as both priest and king.  And, according to Hebrews 7:3, since there was no record of Melchizedek’s birth or death, the traditional teaching was that Melchizedek’s priesthood did not end with his death, but that he remains a priest forever.

Jesus was heard by God because of his reverent submission, Jesus learned obedience from his suffering, was made perfect, and became the source of eternal salvation and rescue for everyone who chooses to obey him (which, you will remember, is exactly what Jesus told the Greeks in John 12).

But so what does any of that have to do with guilt?

And the answer is… everything.

We read in Jeremiah, that with the arrival of God’s messiah, God would write his words upon the hearts of the people because God’s people had been unable to obey the laws of the first covenant that had been written in stone.  Whenever people disobeyed the laws of the first covenant, they were found guilty and condemned because of their failure.  But with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and with his appointment as our high priest and king forever, Jesus sacrificed his own life, once, and rescued us forever.  The people of the first covenant obeyed in fear that they would break the law and be condemned for their guilt.  That was, if you will, Guilt 1.0.  But now, God has written his name upon the hearts of all humanity.  We feel guilt when we do things that our hearts know is wrong.  But, as the followers of Jesus, we do not obey in fear that we will be condemned, but in gratitude for our forgiveness.  Our obedience and faithfulness grow out of our gratitude rather than out of fear.  That sort of guilt is completely different, and we might call that Guilt 2.0.  That sort of guilt, which is an awareness and a knowledge of forgiveness rather than a fear of failure, is fundamentally different.

I have often used the example of the time my brother and I drove from Akron to Pittsburgh to paint our grandmother’s garage.  We didn’t spend an entire Saturday driving and painting in the heat of summer to earn the love of our grandmother.  We did it because of the love that we already had, and the gratitude that we felt for all the things that she had already done for us.  And that, I think, describes the difference between the covenant of the Old Testament and the new covenant of Jesus. 

Instead of living in fear of condemnation, we are set free from condemnation, set free from fear, and set free from sin.  As the followers of Jesus, rather than be manipulated by our fear, we obey the commands and the instructions of Jesus out of gratitude for our forgiveness, knowing that penalty for our imperfections and failures have already been paid.

We don’t obey so that God will love us. 

We obey because we are grateful for the love and forgiveness that he has already given.

And that is Guilt 2.0.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/ADO8KTfgf2s

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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.

3 Stages of Trust

 

3 Stages of Trust

September 13, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do we trust God enough to follow?

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

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

We will all give an account of ourselves before God.

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

 

 


 

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/ZtrQw5u4chk

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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.

Juggling Justice and Gentleness

Juggling Justice and Gentleness

January 12, 2020*

Baptism of Jesus

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 42:1-9                          Matthew 3:13-17                               Acts 10:34-43

Have you ever been caught watching a juggler who is so good that you just can’t stop watching?  Sure, there are the average “good” jugglers who can get you to watch for a few minutes.  They’re fun to watch in a parade as the go by, or for a moment as you pause on the midway at the fair for a few minutes.  But every once in a while, there’s that one juggler who is so good that every time you think you’re starting to lose interest, they change their act and suck you right back in again.  Some years ago, there was a guy that would show up in television occasionally, and I’m pretty sure that he even made an appearance on the Johnny Carson Show, but he billed himself as the guy who could juggle anything.  He would start his act by juggling, balls, and then juggling pins, then bowling pins, then pieces of silk, feathers (which is pretty tricky), but then he’d mix in knives, swords, things that were on fire, chainsaws and even bowling balls, and finally he’d finish by juggling all those weird things at the same time.  Sure, it takes talent to juggle feathers, or bowling balls, or chainsaws, but in his closing act, he would juggle a feather, a chainsaw, a sword, and a bowling ball all at the same time.  That was impressive to watch. 

But, when we listen to his instructions and commands of God, sometimes it seems like that is the kind of thing that God is asking us to do.

We find this kind of juggling in the words of Isaiah found in Isaiah 42:1-9

42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
    or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
    In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
    who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
    who gives breath to its people,
    and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not yield my glory to another
    or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
    and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
    I announce them to you.”

 

God says that his Spirit would enter into the messiah so that he could bring justice to the nations but, that in doing so, he would not shout, cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.  His coming, and his work, would be so gentle that he would not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick.  But despite his gentleness, he will not falter, or be discouraged, until he establishes justice on the earth and brings hope to his people.

 

To most of us, I think that description sounds both wonderful and just a bit confusing.  We are familiar with justice from watching our law enforcement and legal systems, but much of the justice that we see, as hard as they try, often involves the use of brute strength and a lack of subtlety that clearly does not make us think of things like gentleness, tenderness, and hope.  I’m not saying that members of law enforcement and the legal system are brutes and bullies, or that they aren’t trying to do the very best that they can do, but we all know that circumstances, and the way in which our laws are written, sometimes leave them with few other options.  In the end, trying to bring justice and gentleness at the same time seems as difficult an exercise as juggling feathers and bowling balls.

 

But that was precisely what the messiah would be sent to do, and we begin to see how Jesus threads the needle a little bit as he begins his ministry in the story of his baptism contained in Matthew 3:13-17.

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

It’s important we notice that John knows that Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized.  Jesus was the messiah, the one who was sent to bring righteousness and indeed, to be righteousness, so John knows that Jesus ought to be the one who baptizes him, not the other way around.  But Jesus explains that although he doesn’t need to be baptized for forgiveness, or to be symbolically purified, he needs to be baptized because that was what the scriptures said would happen, and that was what tradition and proper religious practices required.  Jesus is balancing, juggling if you will, both who he is, as well as who everyone expected him to be.  And in that moment, God recognizes that he is pleased with what Jesus is doing.

 

And, as we read through the gospels, we often see that Jesus is regularly juggling who he is with the mission to which he was called.  Jesus is constantly juggling the fulfillment of scripture, with the forwarding of his mission, with opposing those who are bent on destroying him, while at the same time offering gentleness and hope to those who have already been wounded by life, by God’s people, and even by the church.  And in many ways, that same juggling act, that same struggle for balance, has been passed on to us.  In Acts 10:34-43, Luke records Peter’s speech where we hear these words:

 

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

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

 

Peter reminds the crowd that they all know what Jesus had done, they had all either seen him or heard the stories about him and many of those gathered had done both.  But because they were the witnesses, because they had seen Jesus with their own eyes, because they had heard him preach, and because they had seen his miracles, they were also obligated to do something about it.  Because they were witnesses, Jesus commanded his followers to preach about Jesus to those who hadn’t heard and who hadn’t seen.   

 

Peter also reminds them that the prophets had promised that people would receive forgiveness of sins through the name of the messiah, Jesus.  But telling others about Jesus’ forgiveness of sins is a part of the juggling act and where we struggle to find balance.  Why? Because God appointed Jesus as the judge of the living and the dead, and because Jesus is the righteous judge, and because people receive forgiveness in the name of Jesus, and because the possibility of forgiveness is often the only thing that offers hope, all of these things must be found together.  We cannot tell the story about forgiveness and hope if we are unforgiving.  No one will listen to stories about a loving Jesus if we are unloving nor will anyone believe the promise of justice if we are not a people of gentleness.

 

No doubt you have all seen people of faith who, with the best of intentions, have attempted to tell the stories of Jesus and to be his witnesses while, at the same time, saying mean, angry, and hurtful things.  It is almost impossible to hear a message from anyone who is hurting you or attacking you.  Instead, we are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to learn the art of balance.  We must juggle justice and gentleness, truth and compassion, so that the world around us can hear Jesus’ message of forgiveness and hope.

 

Sometimes that’s going to feel a lot like juggling feathers and bowling balls at the same time, but as hard as it might be, that is the mission to which Jesus has called us.  We are called to be witnesses and to be loving.

 

We must seek truth and compassion.  Forgiveness and hope.  Justice and gentleness. 

 

 

 

 


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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.

God’s Unwanted Gifts

God’s Unwanted Gifts

October 07, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Job 1:1; 2:1-10                       Mark 10:2-16             Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

 

Have you ever gotten gifts that were more exciting to unwrap than to receive?

You know what I mean.  You’ve opened gifts, and been all excited, and the gift turned out to be an ugly sweater.  Our kids would occasionally get gifts from relatives that were things that they really liked… three years before.  A Dora the Explorer backpack would’ve been welcome in elementary school, but it just wasn’t what our junior high daughter had in mind.  Over the years, I’ve seen a number of those kinds of things in all degrees of severity.  Lovely gifts of wine or scotch whiskey… to friends that don’t drink, hair coloring to people who prefer natural color, a white sweater to a platinum blonde that never, ever wears white, a Bible for an atheist, and so on.  But the next level is when your boss tries to do you a favor and gives you a raise and a promotion, but it means that you must sell your house and move.  You interview for a new job, get hired, and move to a new city, only to discover that the company that just hired you has declared bankruptcy and your new job is gone.

Some gifts are not what we wanted and others, that we thought we wanted, turn out to be much less valuable or pleasurable than we thought they would be when we asked for them.  And the stories that we find in scripture often reflect this same idea, and sometimes we find that the gifts that God wants to give us, are the kinds of gifts that make us run screaming from the room.  We begin in the story of Job.  An honest, upright, and faithful man of God, to whom horrible things would happen, for no apparent reason.  (Job 1:1; 2:1-10)

1:1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.

2:1 On another day the angel came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”

“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

For the record, I understand that it was Satan who afflicted Job and not God, but God knew about it, God knew what Satan intended, and not only did God allow it, God seemed to invite it.  And, while a study of the book of Job can, and has, result in volumes of sermons with a great many valuable lessons, the takeaway here is Job’s rhetorical question, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

If we trust God, and if we trust that God cares about us, knows everything about us, and knows everything that happens to us, then do we demonstrate a lack of faith when we wonder if God is aware, or if God cares, when we go through times of trouble?  Job’s question is as relevant to us as it was to his wife, if we accept good from God how can we not accept trouble as a gift from God when it comes?  Trouble, pain, suffering, difficulty, and trials are not gifts that we ask for, and are sometimes gifts that cause us to run screaming from the room, but many times, not always, but many times, these difficult situations are indeed gifts from God that are intended for a higher purpose.

In Mark 10:2-16 we find a story that may give us some insight into how we accept difficulty in our lives.

10:1 Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again, crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

“What did Moses command you?” he replied.

They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

This passage seems a little odd because it starts with a conversation about divorce, but if we take a moment to consider what it meant to the people in the story, it helps us to understand it better.  The pharisees were having an argument over what criteria needed to be met in order to grant a divorce.  Historically, some rabbis made the case that the slightest infraction, like burning your breakfast, was enough, but others argued for a much higher standard.  Jesus rightly points out that all of this came about because Moses had said that it was okay for people to divorce and the rabbis throughout history had argued over how high a standard should be met before giving permission to do so.  But Jesus wades into the dispute like a bull in a china chop and upsets every vested interest, by saying that God is never okay with divorce, that it is always a sin, and that Moses only allowed it because human beings, even faithful, churchgoing humans, are a miserable, stubborn, disobedient, hardhearted bunch and would disobey God no matter what he said.

Ouch.

Instead, Jesus says, we ought to be more like the children that came to meet them.  The kingdom of God, Jesus says, belongs to people who are like children and, what’s more, if we don’t receive the kingdom like a little child, we can’t enter the kingdom at all.

So, what does that mean?  Let’s unpack it a little bit.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time at all with children knows that children are both innocent and trusting.  If you say come, they come.  If you say go, they go.  If tell them to do this, or don’t do that, they do what you tell them to do (certainly not always, but as a rule, they are far more trusting than adults).  For our purposes today, it’s important to note that children accept teaching, rebuke, and correction from their teachers, mentors, and parents better than adults.  In short, they are teachable and correctable and if we adults want to get into the kingdom of God, we need to be like them.

In this passage of scripture, Jesus contradicts the teaching of the pharisees on the subject of divorce, but this isn’t unique.  Time after time, Jesus makes it clear, that we aren’t as good as we thought we were.  The rules are stricter, and God’s standards are higher, than we thought they were.  Over and over again, Jesus makes it clear that we aren’t as perfect as we thought we were or as good as we imagined ourselves to be.

But if God is so demanding, and we are so deeply flawed, shouldn’t we despair and give up even trying to be good?  No.  And in Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12, Paul explains why.

1:1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

2:5 It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honor
    and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

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

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

Paul reminds us that Jesus came to earth to provide purification of our sins before God.  Jesus now rules over the angels in heaven because he suffered death for us, to pay the price for our sin and rebellion against God.  Jesus was, and is, the pioneer of our salvation and rescue so that we could be made perfect through suffering.

But if we read Paul’s words carefully, it says, “10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.”  Paul is reminding us that Jesus was the pioneer, the first, and through him God chose to make our salvation perfect through suffering.  But by using the word “pioneer,” in this way, it seems as if Paul is also reminding us that suffering was not unique to Jesus.  Jesus made us perfect, in the eyes of God, through suffering, but we face our own suffering and at times, God intends for our discomfort, our inconvenience, our pain, and our suffering to change us.  Sometimes, pain and suffering cause us to leave our comfort zones and discover new truths, sometimes suffering leads us to new discoveries about ourselves, about others, about our world, and about God’s mercy, grace, and love.  And sometimes, our pain and suffering are the means that God uses to move us toward perfection, toward a better version of ourselves, toward the person that God created us to be, and toward the person that God needs us to become.

Trouble, pain, suffering, difficulty, and trials are not gifts that we ask for, or gifts that we ever wanted.  But rather than fight God tooth and nail, rather than demanding that God immediately rescue us, consider that we might want to be like little children before God and consider that God has indeed given these to us as a gift.  Consider that God may intend for us to learn something from our pain.  Remember that God loves us enough to sacrifice his own son, loves us enough to personally suffer the agony of persecution, flogging, crucifixion, and death.  If we trust God, and if we trust that God cares about us, then we should consider that no matter what joy or sorrow, pleasure or pain, comfort or suffering, that God allows into our lives, each of them is a gift that is intended to shape us into something better.

 

 


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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.

Pay What You Owe!

 

Pay What You Owe!

September 17, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

How many of you have ever seen the 1976 movie, “Rocky” starring Sylvester Stallone?

 

We might be missing some of our younger friends, but I would think that by now, most of us have seen it, if not in movie theaters, then on television or on Netflix, or video, or something.

 

In any case, at the beginning of the movie, we learn that Rocky is a down on his luck, amateur boxer and to emphasize just how far down he is, we see that he makes extra money as a collection agent for a local loan shark.  The trouble is, he is too nice and gets in trouble for not breaking someone’s thumbs as he was told to do.  That is typical of how loan sharks have appeared in movies and television for years.  When you fall behind in your payments to a loan shark, some big thug pays you a visit and reminds you, often violently and painfully, that you are expected to pay what you owe.

 

And if you think about it, that’s something of a common theme in our lives.  We get letters from the bank, and the utility company, and the department store, and the credit card company, the Internal Revenue Service, and all sorts of other places every month that urgently remind us, just as forcefully and only slightly less threateningly, that we are expected to pay what we owe.

 

When people do things for us, whether they loan us money, or mow our grass, shovel our snow, they expect to be paid in return.  We expect the same when we work for others.  Not many of us would show up at work if our boss told us that there was no money to pay us.  But that brings us back to the story of the people of Israel in the land of Egypt.  Today we rejoin their story after they have fled their captivity, but now, having been pursued by the chariots of the army of Egypt, find themselves trapped between the swords and spears of the Egyptians, and the Red Sea. (Exodus 14:19-31)

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

All along, the god of Abraham has been a god of miracles.  He introduced himself to Moses by appearing in a burning bush, gave Moses a staff that turned into a snake so that he could re-introduce himself to the Pharaoh as a person of power, then brought about ten plagues to afflict Egypt until Pharaoh finally consented to allow the Israelites to leave, and finally leads and protects the Israelites with a pillar of cloud and fire.  And now, when it seems that hope is lost and the Egyptian army will either kill them or return them to their captivity, God creates a dry pathway through the sea through which the Israelites cross safely and in which every single Egyptian soldier dies.

 

God has done all these things, and yet he still promises more.  God still intends to keep his promises and lead Israel into the Promised Land where Israel can become a great nation and rule over themselves.  And in exchange for all of these miracles and the display of all of this power, what is it that God wants in return?  What will be required when God asks Israel to pay what they owe?

 

Nothing.

 

God’s generosity toward Israel is a gift and comes not from a desire to be repaid, but from the love that he has toward his people and the honor that God has in keeping the promises that he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The only thing that God gets in return for his generosity… is trust.

 

“And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”

 

But God does want something in return for his goodness.  In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus explains.

 

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

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

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold [ten thousand talents – about 20 years’ wages for a laborers wages] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The story of the Exodus told us that the people of Israel put their trust in God, and Jesus is clear that a part of trusting God is forgiving others in the same measure that we have been forgiven by God.  The debt that God has paid on our behalf is astronomically more than we could ever repay and while God does not send thugs to threaten us to pay what we owe, he does insist that our forgiveness flow down to the people we live with and work with every day.  So important is this principle, that Jesus warns us that failing to forgive others and treating them harshly, will cause God to judge us with the same measure and lack of forgiveness with which we treat others.

 

Finally we come to Romans 14:1-12, where we find Paul’s explanation of how we are to honor God.


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

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

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

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

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

 

We are called to accept those people whose faith is not as strong as ours or whose understanding of scripture, at least in non-essential theology, leads them to a somewhat different interpretation than ours.  In Paul’s time, particularly because most meat was sold by butchers who cut, and resold, meat that had been sacrificed to idols, some Christians felt that it was a sin to eat meat.  Others felt that since idols weren’t real, that the meat was not “tainted” in any way and was acceptable to eat.  Paul’s advice was that these two groups should respect one another and not treat one another with contempt.  This idea of contempt and respect is important and it comes up again later in this same passage.

 

Paul also addresses the issue of which day should be a holy day because believers had come to worship on different days.  Just as Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, and a few others worship on Saturday, while most Protestant churches worship on Sunday, and Catholic churches often have worship on both days.  Paul points out that what is important is that both groups are, in their own way, attempting to honor God.  In fact, the same thing applies to the people that were arguing over meat, each group was, in their own way, doing their best to honor God in the way that they understood scripture.

 

And this is where Paul returns to that idea of contempt and respect, but here he asks why people judge one another.  This is a little puzzling because only last week we heard Paul say that we should take someone aside if we see them falling in to sin, but here he tells us that we should not judge a brother or sister in Christ.  How can we understand how these two ideas are not in conflict?  If we look closely, Paul associates judgement with contempt and he is also careful to note that these arguments were over what he calls “disputable matters.”  In that regard, it is important for us to distinguish between judgement and discernment, and also between sin, and disputable matters.  Paul wants to be sure that the followers of Jesus do not fall into sin and that we do the things that God has called us to do and avoid those things that God has called sin.  At the same time, Paul understands that not every dispute is critically important theologically.  We are called to be discerning over which disagreements are simply disagreements, and which are clear matters of God’s instruction.  In Paul’s time, some believers thought that eating meat was a sin and others didn’t, while some believed that worshiping on one particular day of the week was critical, while others didn’t.  Today we have similar disagreements between fellow believers.  Methodists believe that everyone should be invited to share at the communion table, while Catholics do not.  We believe that it is possible to turn you back on God and lose your salvation while our Baptist friends do not.  We believe that each individual has the free will to choose whether they will follow Jesus or not, and our Calvinist friends would describe that choice as predestined by God.  The followers of Jesus Christ have many theological disagreements over things that Paul might describe as “disputable matters” or that John Wesley might have described as “non-essentials,” but although we disagree, we are not to judge one another in such a way that we treat one another with contempt.

 

In the end, Paul reminds us that each of us will eventually stand before God and give an account of our lives.  And although we may disagree on how it is to be done, we must all do the best that we can to bring honor to God and to follow his commands.  We must all do the best that we can to treat one another with respect even when we disagree about what things are, and are not, important.  And all of these things are important because God has done so much for us that we can never hope to repay our debt.

 

God is not a loan shark that will send Rocky Balboa or some other thug to insist that you should “Pay what you owe.”

 

But what God wants in return is for us to forgive others and show mercy in the same measure that God has forgiven us and has been merciful toward us.

 

What God wants is for us to trust him enough to live as if scripture matters.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Baltimore – A Rush to Judgement?


I wish everyone would shut up for a minute.

But probably not for the reason you think.

    I waited a long time to write anything about the riots in Ferguson, Missouri because I wanted to try to understand the issues.   
    But this time, after watching and listening to media outlets talk about what is happening in Baltimore I don’t want to wait.  I am posting now, not because I think I understand what is happening, but because I am convinced that almost no one does.
Every media outlet, every reporter, every politician, and a great many bystanders have taken sides.
    Just like the Ferguson case, and the Travon Martin case, and so many others, everyone seems to be absolutely certain that they know exactly what is happening and why.
Everyone is rushing to judgement.
    They judge the police.  They judge Freddie Gray.  They judge the mayor.  They judge the President.  They judge the protestors, the rioters (those are vastly different groups), they judge the victims of the violence, and people are even judging the parents of the people in the streets. 
    Christians are often accused of being judgmental, but this is ridiculous.  Everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike seems to think that they know so much about what is happening hundreds of miles away in Baltimore that they can stand in judgement of people they’ve never met and who they know almost nothing about.
I wish everyone would all shut up and listen for a change.
As I watch and listen to the reporting from Baltimore, all I seem to find is more questions.
What exactly happened in police custody that led to the death of Freddie Gray?
Did Mr. Gray really have surgery on his spine only weeks before his arrest?
Did that matter?
Did the mayor tell the police to allow the mayhem to continue when it might have been stopped much earlier?
I could ask questions all day but it seems clear that, so far, there aren’t very many answers.
    And without answers, all the self-proclaimed experts (left, right and center) should slow down their rush to judgement until they actually have some facts.  Right now there are too many things that we just don’t know.   
Instead of rushing to judgement, why don’t we listen instead?
We all want justice.
    But we should be careful to find the facts so that there can be justice for everyone.  There needs to be justice for the police, the demonstrators, the rioters, the politicians, and especially for the victims.
Investigating, finding, and sorting through the facts are all things that will take time.
While we wait, instead of judging everyone, why don’t we do something helpful?
    Why don’t we try to find ways to help those who lost homes, jobs, and businesses?  Can our politicians and academics find ways to reduce poverty and joblessness instead of just pointing fingers at each other?  Why not volunteer with some charity or aid group to clean up and rebuild Baltimore?  We should all take the time to listen and understand people with whom we disagree.
    Instead of pretending that we know exactly what is going on and who is to blame, our time would be better spent trying to fix the problem and help Baltimore heal.  And while we’re doing that, we should talk less and listen more.
Instead of judging, try donating.
And if you are so inclined, I’m sure that everyone involved could use your prayers.

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