I Have Seen; I Am Sending

I Have Seen; I Am Sending

August 30, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Exodus 3:1-15            Romans 12:9-21                     Matthew 16:21-28

Where do you come from?

Many of you have heard me tell stories about my family.  My grandfather fought for Germany in World War I, my father was in the Navy during World War II, my father-in-law was in the Army, stationed in Germany, during the Korean Conflict, my oldest brother was drafted into the Army during Vietnam, and served in the Army Reserves during the 1980’s and 1990’s.  And, of course, our son Noah enlisted in the Marine Corps and this week our son Jonah was commissioned as an armor officer in the United States Army.  The military isn’t all that we are however, and none of us, as yet, have made it a career, but our service is a part of our history and knowing our story, as a family, helps us to understand who we are.

The same is true for us as members of God’s family.  Knowing where we came from and understanding the service and the mission of our historical family members helps us to better understand our service and our mission in this generation.  We begin this morning, as we often do, in the Old Testament as we rejoin Moses as he tends sheep in Midian, forty years after he murdered a man and fled Egypt. (Exodus 3:1-15)

3:1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, youwill worship God on this mountain.”

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.”

First, since I began by talking about military service, it is important to note that Moses was drafted.  Moses had no reason to return to Egypt, he had no desire to return to Egypt, and in fact, since he was wanted for murder in that place, he had every reason not to return to Egypt.

But God had other plans.

After all the persuasion and arguing, God sends Moses to the enslaved people of Israel in Egypt with a message of physical and spiritual freedom.

And then, in Matthew 16:21-28,

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their lifewill lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Several times we are told that Jesus didn’t really want to go to Jerusalem because he knew that he would suffer and die when he did.  But, like Moses, Jesus knew that going to Jerusalem, and suffering many things, was all a part of God’s plan.  Jesus even rebukes Peter for encouraging a selfishness that would choose safety over obedience to God.  Jesus knew that God was sending him to fulfill the promises of scripture and turning away from that responsibility would be the same as open rebellion against God.

So, what does any of that have to do with us?

The stories of Moses and Jesus both point to our need for obedience to God and to the mission and ministry that God has given to the church, and to us, today.  In Romans 12:9-21, Paul explains, in part, this way:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

If we boil it down, in Exodus, God said to the people of Israel, “I am sending Moses.”  In Matthew, God said to the world, “I am sending Jesus.”  And to everyone, everywhere, following the resurrection and Jesus’ return to heaven, God said, “I am sending my church.”  To us, God says, “I am sending you.”

Moses was sent to bring freedom to the captive people of Israel.

Jesus was sent to bring freedom from sin and death to the world.

And we are being sent to share the Good News, to tell the world the story of freedom, and to continue the work that Jesus began.  To heal the sick, bring freedom to the captives, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, cling to what is good, be devoted to one another in love, live lives of humility, joy, hope, patience, and faithfulness, bless those who persecute you, rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn, and live in peace with everyone.

We are called to be agents of mercy, love, and peace to all people regardless of color, nationality, or politics. 

We are called to love our enemies as well as our friends and neighbors.

This world will never be perfect until Jesus returns to make things right, but until then God has sent his people to make the world a better place through the power of forgiveness and love.

This is how you fit into our family history:

Moses didn’t want to go to Egypt, but he went because God sent him.

Jesus didn’t want to go to Jerusalem, but he went because God sent him.

Now, God is sending you.

God is sending each of us into the world to make the world a better place, a more loving place, a more perfect place than it was before.

God is sending you.

What will be your answer?

 

 


 

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

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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.

Slavery and Sacrifice

Slavery and Sacrifice

June 28, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 22:1-14                        Romans 6:12-23

 

There is an old joke that says, “Many people want to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity.”

We’re good at telling God what we think that he should be doing and how he should be doing it rather than accepting the God is God and we are not.  We get stuck in our understanding of scripture, and in our interpretation of modern culture, all because we expect God to do, and to say, what we think God ought to be saying rather than conforming our lives to the things that God actually said.  But as discouraging as that might be, we are comforted, at least a little, by knowing that we are not the first people to do that.

In the story of Genesis, more than once, Abraham trusted God in a limited capacity.  What I mean is, despite God’s promises to care for, and protect Abraham and Sarah, on several occasions, not least of which was when he made a baby with his servant, Abraham tried to use his own resources and ingenuity to fix God’s problems rather than fully trusting that God would fulfill his promises.  And although God is omniscient, which means all-knowing, perhaps it is this habit of “helping God out” and not fully trusting that makes God test Abraham’s faith in Genesis 22:1-14.

22:1 Sometime later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

For most of his life, God has asked Abraham to trust him and we remember Abraham because of his great faith and trust, except that despite his trust in God, too often Abraham tried to stack the deck and help God out.  But now, God wants to know, maybe God wants Abraham to know, or God wants future generations, us, to know that Abraham has finally put his whole faith and trust in God… without holding back.  God asks Abraham to sacrifice the one son that he has left, the one son that would be the father of God’s people, the son of Sarah, who was now even five or six years older than she was when Isaac was born.  In asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God is really asking him to sacrifice everything.  Every hope, every promise, everything.  We can only imagine what was going through Abraham’s mind.  It was against God’s own law to sacrifice another human being.  Sarah was now older than she was when we knew that she was old and “far past the age of childbearing” and Abraham was probably now over one hundred years old.  How was God going to keep his promises if Isaac was dead?  How could Isaac become the father of God’s people?  None of it made any sense.

But Abraham trusted.

Abraham did what God told him to do and God worked it all out.  And in the end, the thing that Abraham sacrificed on that mountain wasn’t Isaac, but it was his own, last, tight grip on control.  Abraham finally let go of himself, his need to be sure, and his need to have a backup plan.  Abraham sacrificed an offering of self, and finally put his whole faith and trust in God.

If we’re honest, we will admit that we’re like Abraham.  We like to be sure.  Trusting God is unsettling because there is too much that we don’t know.  But that’s kind of the point of trust, isn’t it?  But the thing is, human beings always seem to want to put their faith in something and trust in something, even if that something isn’t God.  And it is that habit of ours that makes the story of Abraham real and relevant to us three thousand years later.  In Romans 6:12-23, Paul explains it this way:

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We all have a choice.

Paul says that every human being eventually chooses to enslave themselves to someone or to something and our natural desires, given free reign over us, will drive us into slavery to our own selfishness, greed, pleasure, and wickedness.  But, like Abraham, God is asking us to make a sacrifice, to offer ourselves, to offer our desires, dreams, hopes, our everything, to him in exchange for our rescue from death, our second chance, and the new life that we have been given.  Rather than choosing to be slaves to greed, or slaves to selfishness, or slaves to greed, money, and pleasure, God calls us to choose different kind of slavery altogether.  God calls us to give ourselves to him, to put our whole faith and our whole trust in him, so that we become slaves to righteousness, slaves to doing what is right, rather than slaves to wickedness and sin.

The sacrifice in the Genesis story was never really about Isaac.  It was all about Abraham’s stubborn grip on control.

We are all confronted with the same question that confronted Abraham.  Like Abraham, God is asking each of us where our ultimate allegiance lies.  Is our allegiance on self-reliance and control?  Do we swear our allegiance to the security of our bank and investment balances?  Have we put our faith and trust in politicians, political parties, nations, and powerful armies, and overwhelming weaponry?  Will we enslave ourselves to selfishness and sin?  Will we keep our grip on control and hold too tightly to our doubts?

Or will we trust God?

Completely.

May God grant us the grace, and the courage, to surrender ourselves and become slaves to doing right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/epselMx9Ao4

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.

God is Pro-Choice

God is Pro-Choice

March 01, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7                      Matthew 4:1-11                     Romans 5:12-19

If you have ever been around children, you have probably witnessed a moment when they begged you to give them something, often some kind of food, that you knew they wouldn’t like.  But being told that they wouldn’t like it, or that they couldn’t have it, made them want it even more. 

We laugh a little when kids do it, but we see the same behavior in adults all the time.  The easiest example is to watch Let’s Make a Deal, originally hosted by Monty Hall and now by Wayne Brady.  How often have we seen contestants on that show give up a pretty decent prize for the chance to see what’s behind door number three?  Likewise, we often “window shop” for cars that we can’t afford, but which would also be impractical, uncomfortable, and totally unsuited to the way that we want to use them.  But we want them just because we know we can’t have them anyway.  Human beings have a terrible inclination to want the things that we can’t have.  And that’s exactly what’s behind the story of humanity’s original sin in the story of Adam and Eve where we read this: (Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7)

2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

 

3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so, they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

 

Adam and Eve were given everything in the garden and God met all their needs.  But Satan knew humanity’s weakness and played on it.  He knew that Adam and Eve would want the one thing that they weren’t allowed to have and all that he had to do was to make them think about not being allowed to have it.  God gave them freedom and allowed them to make their own choices…  and they chose poorly.  And in doing so, they established a pattern that humanity has struggled with ever since.  Even when we know what is right and just, we choose poorly.  And far too often, we simply choose poorly just because we want the things that we can’t have for no other reason than we know that we’re not supposed to have them.

 

And that was the pattern, it was normal, and it seemed as if that humans would always be trapped in that same rut.  Until we heard about the story of Jesus’ encounter with the same deceiver that tripped up Adam and Eve in Matthew 4:1-11.

 

4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

 

In this story, Satan makes three offers, or three temptations, to Jesus and, from these, Jesus must make three choices.  The first two, are the same choice that were given to Adam and Eve.  Satan is tempting Jesus by saying something a lot like, “God didn’t really promise to take care of you, did he?”  or, “You don’t really have the kind of power you say that you have, do you?”  Jesus knows that he can do those things, but he knows that he should not, and he must choose to do what is right.  Instead, Jesus makes the right choices for the right reasons.  In the third case, Satan tempts Jesus with two more of humanity’s greatest weaknesses: Greed and Power.  “If you do this one thing for me, I will make your life easy.  I will give you all the money you want, all the women you want, and the power to rule the entire world.”  But again, Jesus chooses what is right, and what God wants, instead of satisfying his human desires.

 

God gives Jesus the freedom to choose.  Jesus was just as human as Adam was, and just as human as we are, and he could have chosen the easy path and satisfied his desires.  But Jesus demonstrates for all humanity, that it is possible for human beings to consistently make good choices. 

 

But why is that important?

 

It’s important because the choices that Jesus made for himself, are the choices that made it possible for us to be reconciled to God.  To be fair, we aren’t the first people to ask why our choices are important.  The church has been asking this question from the very beginning and that’s why the Apostle Paul explained the importance of Jesus’ choices in his letter to the church in Rome in Romans 5:12-19

 

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all people, because all sinned—

13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

 

Paul reminds us that it was the disobedience of Adam and Eve that birthed sin into our world, and from that time until the time of Moses, although no one sinned in the way that Adam did, sin still existed.  No one disobeyed a direct command of God, but people chose poorly, they acted in ways that violated their conscience, they violated other people, or acted selfishly and in doing so made themselves, their needs, and their desires an object of worship.  After the time of Moses, the people had a written law that told them what it was that God wanted, and still humanity failed.  Even knowing what God wanted, humans still made poor choices, still rebelled against God, wanted things that they couldn’t have, sinned against God, and were condemned.

 

But then came Jesus.

 

Jesus made good choices.  Not just in the desert when he was tempted by Satan, but all the time.  Jesus consistently made good choices every moment of every day so that his entire life was sinless and offered up to God and became the perfect sacrifice.  Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, sin flowed out into the entire world, but because of the grace of Jesus Christ, God’s grace overflows into all of humanity. 

 

God has always been, and will always be, pro-choice.  That has nothing to do with that other debate, it means that, from the beginning of time, God has never manipulated or controlled human beings in order to force them into one particular way of thinking or specific pattern of behavior.  God has always given human beings the freedom to choose for themselves regardless of the goodness or injustice of their decisions.  At the same time, we remember that one trespass of Adam, one act, one choice, resulted in the condemnation of all people, and one righteous act, one choice, of Jesus brought justification and life for all people.

 

God continues to be pro-choice.  Each of us have the freedom to choose whatever we want.

 

But remember that we often want things that we can’t have or want things that aren’t good for us.

 

We are free to choose, but we must remember that we are accountable for our choices.  One day we will all stand in judgement for the choices that we have made.

 

You are free to choose.

 

You can choose to follow Jesus, or you can choose to go your own way.

 

Choose wisely.

 

 

 

 

 


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

We Shatter Oppression

We Shatter Oppression

January 26, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

Choosing Discomfort

We were cold. But would be hot almost within the hour. The fog was still liftng from the mountan valleys as we walked to breakfast just after dawn. There was a chill in the air and several of us had spent a fitful night tryig to keep warm in our tents. But as we walked to breakfast, we were also aware that soon, almost within the hour, the sun wouold rise above the mountains and temperatures would rise enough to make us sweat. And so, as each of us dressed that morning, we had made choices. We were all faced with the same facts, but each of us had made different choices. One had long sleeves and long pants, another long sleeves and shorts, another long pants and short sleeves, and still another both short pants and sleeves. Would we be comfortablly warm now, and cold later?  Or cold now, and comfortable later? Each of us knew that our choice was transient. Discomfort was inevitable. We were choosing the form of our discomfort. And it was so ordinary that no one gave it a second thought. But in other situations we seem shocked by it… and we shouldn`t be. We wonder why migrants would choose to come across our border when they know that the journey is arduous, that the “coyotes” that guide them vicious, rape ordinary, and often detention when caught. The thing is, many are aware of the dangers before they begin but, when faced with daily violence, death and mayhem at home, they’ve chosen the most comfortable discomfort. The discomfort they face at home seems endless and unsolvable, but the discomfort on the road to citizenship, or even residence, in a foreign country seems like a light of hope at the end of a dark tunnel. We wonder why young people who grew up in the church, and who believe that life begins in the womb, still sometimes choose to end that life through abortion. But often these young people, married and unmarried, are faced with impossible choices, none of which are good. While we may not agree with their choices, we should understand that they are choosing their discomfort. When every possible choice seems to be a path of pain, they must choose which path of pain seems ever so lightly less painful. We wonder why people who have few posessions and little money make choices that seem wasteful and foolish.  But they are doing the same thing.  They are choosing their discomfort.  It can easily be understood that although none of their choices are good, they choose a path that offers a little joy, however transient. We wonder why our friends choose to vote for candidates that do not represent their values, or who are known to act in ways that are contrary to the interests of the voters.  But the same principle applies.  It is often the case that voters are fully aware of the candidate’s failings, faults, and voting patterns.  But, believing that the other candidates are just as flawed, or who violate their conscience in other ways, the voters are compelled to choose their discomfort. Which path of pain seems the most bearable? Which uncomfortable choice offers a chance at hope? I didn`t laugh at my friends on the way to breakfast because I understood that each of us, in our own way, was choosing the uncomfortable path that we though offered the least discomfort. If we can understand that, then shouldn’t we extend the same grace to others who are making harder, more painful choices between their available paths of discomfort? Isn’t that what Jesus taught us? Each of us must make choices that guide us through paths of discomfort. We should have the grace to allow others to do the same. Friends… …always choose grace.    
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What Will You Do With Freedom?

“What Will You Do With Freedom?”

February 04, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

Have you ever heard of a man named Blanche Bruce?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

But what does that look like?

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

But why?

 

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

 

What will I do with my freedom?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And this is where we return to Blanche Bruce.

 

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

 

What will I do with my freedom?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What will I do with my freedom?

 

 

 

 

_________

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Immigration and the Church

Immigrants with Statue of LibertyWhat should we do with immigrants?

What is the right thing to do?

Does the Bible offer any help or insight into this problem at all?

With all the press and politics surrounding the issue of immigration, regardless of our personal feelings, we often wonder what the Bible can tell us about how the church ought to approach the subject.  We might also simply wonder if the Bible has anything to say about immigration at all.

It does. 

The position of the Bible is clear and consistent through both the Old and New Testaments.

Its teaching begins early.  In Deuteronomy 26:4-6, Abraham is described as a “Wandering Aramean” and the people of Israel were commanded to remember it whenever they brought a sacrifice to the Tabernacle.

The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor.

God’s instruction to his people included this instruction so that even generations later, long after they had settled and built houses and cities in the Promised Land, they would remember who they used to be.  God built this into their regular system of worship so that his people would remember that their forefather was an immigrant and they themselves used to be a nation of immigrants, nomads, and wanderers.

Thousands of years later, the writer of Hebrews echoes that same message saying, 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. (Hebrews 11:12-14)

This reminds the people of God that all of us are only passing through this life and that we are fellow travelers as we pass between life and death.   This entire existence is only a temporary stopping point on grand journey through eternity.  Throughout scripture, we are reminded that in God’s eyes we are all foreigners and strangers.

In Hebrews 13:2, the instruction is even more specific saying, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

But in Ephesians 2:18-20, Paul challenges us in another way with these words:

18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

Here, Paul says that not only were all of us foreigners and strangers in the eyes of God, the thing that made us belong to each other wasn’t ever our citizenship in any particular nation.  Instead, what makes us citizens, what makes us belong, what gives us a home, regardless of where we were born, what language we speak, or where we live, is our faith in Jesus Christ.

When we grapple with scripture, we begin to understand the larger picture regarding immigration.  Certainly, there is room for differing opinions about the policies of the United States, or the State of Ohio.  But we realize that no matter what policies we support, those policies absolutely must include treating foreigners and strangers the way that we would hope to be treated if our positions were reversed.  We are called to remember that our forebearers, and all of us, were once wanderers, strangers, and foreigners.  As so, as we meet the people who carry those labels today, we are called, by God, to treat them with humility, hospitality, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and love.

 

 

 

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Christmas Heroes

hero“Christmas Heroes”

December 18, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture:       Matthew 2:1-13

 In 1959 a story appeared in Showcase comics and was retold in a July 1960 magazine entitled “The Planet of the Doomed Men.”  In this story, Abin Sur crashes his alien spaceship in a remote and desolate part of planet Earth.  He is dying.  And as he dies he searches for a man who is, at the same time, most outstanding and quite peculiar.  Abin Sur wears a ring of power that searches the world to find the type of man that he needs – and in all of planet Earth, only two such men are found, Guy Gardner and Hal Jordan.  Because time is of the essence, test pilot Hal Jordan is selected because he can be reached and summoned to the crash site more quickly.

And so, Hal Jordan becomes one of Earths greatest Super Heroes, The Green Lantern.

The thing that made Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner and later John Stewart and Kyle Raynor unique wasn’t their choice of career.  While Hal Jordan was a test pilot, Guy Gardner was a school teacher, Kyle Raynor an artist, John Stewart an architect, and Abin Sur was a professor of history.  Their careers were not what made these men unique.  What made these men worthy of being selected as member of the Green Lantern Corps was something that they lacked.  While every man and woman on Earth experiences fear, a Green Lantern has no such capacity.  Sometimes the banner heading of the comic magazine would say that, “Green Lantern, man without fear.”

 If you hadn’t guessed, I am a fan of Green Lantern, and for many years I collected comic books and there were things that I learned from them.  The comics of the Golden and Silver ages and to a lesser degree, still those of today, teach such things as integrity, chivalry, honesty, patriotism, the value of every intelligent being, teamwork, and freedom.

 The downside is that comic books aren’t real.  There really aren’t superheroes that we can call upon when we are in trouble.  There was no Superman or Green Lantern to help us on 9/11.  And there is no such thing as a man without fear.  There is an old phrase that says, “A hero isn’t a person that isn’t afraid, it’s a person that is afraid but does their duty anyway.”  A hero isn’t someone without fear, but someone who perseveres, who does their duty, who does their job, or who just does what has to be done despite their fear.  I challenge you to read sometime the stories of the men and women who have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Under the circumstances that arose for which they earned their medals, fear was natural and often pervasive.

 The difference is that a hero keeps moving when normal people are paralyzed with fear.

 As we read the Christmas story, we would do well to notice an underlying theme.  It is one that we know but probably haven’t thought about consciously.  Today I want to take a different look at the people of the Christmas story and I suppose the obvious people to start with would be Mary and Joseph.

 These two young people often did not understand what was happening to them, or to the son that God had given to them.  But do you suppose that Mary was afraid of what her father would think of her when she became pregnant before her wedding day?  Do you think that she was afraid that her future husband would demand that she be stoned to death outside the city gate, as was his right?  Do you suppose that she was afraid that Joseph would return her to her father and demand that the bride price be returned to him?  We read a lot about Mary, but we need to remind ourselves that she was still just a tiny, thirteen years old, little girl.  All of these things were real possibilities.  And ye, Mary trusted God and moved forward anyway.

 In Matthew 2:1-13 it says:

 1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

 3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6” ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'”

 7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

 9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

What about Joseph?  Did Joseph worry that his reputation, as well as his father’s and his family’s reputation, would be degraded because his betrothed had become pregnant before their marriage?  I’m sure that he did.  Everything I have read indicates that a family’s reputation, their honor, was literally worth money.  From how you were treated in the legal system, to what kind of kind of loans and interest rates you could get, to what kind of deals that you could make in the public market to whether of not you could do business as a tradesman, all depended on the appearance of your family’s honor.  I say ‘appearance,’ because honor was very much a thing of appearances.

 This system of honor goes a long way toward explaining how the system of law worked, and how even the sacrificial system worked.  If someone did something that dishonored another person, that dishonored the community or that dishonored God, some penalty had to be levied that would the system back into balance and that would restore honor and holiness to the people.  This is why an unfaithful woman could be stoned for bringing dishonor upon her family.  This is why the husband, father and brothers of the woman were permitted to hunt down a rapist and kill him, or demand from him the bride price and possibly, that he marry the girl.  These were all means by which the family’s honor could be restored.

 Did Joseph worry about that?  Was he afraid of what the people of his village would think of him and how it would affect his business?  You can bet that he did.  You can believe that despite the promises of an angel sent by God, that Joseph worried about being able to feed his family and you can be absolutely sure that he was afraid when he heard that Herod was sending his soldiers to kill his son.  Herod had done things like that before… and worse.  This story was entirely believable and their fear caused Mary and Joseph to make good speed in getting out of town in the middle of the night and fleeing to Egypt.  Was Joseph afraid?  I’m sure that he was, but it never stopped him from doing what God told him to do, or from doing what he needed to do.

 Were the shepherds afraid when the angels came to give them the good news of the birth of the savior?  We know that they were.  But were they afraid of what they would find in town?  Shepherds were among the bottom of the social classes right near the prostitutes and the tax collectors.  Shepherds smelled bad and they were most certainly not welcome in town.  Were the shepherds afraid of the reception that they might get in town?  Did they worry that angry townspeople would drive them out of town again?  They had cause to worry.  But the things that the angels had told them were so incredible that they had to see it with their own eyes anyway.

 Were the wise men afraid when they realized that all of their study and all of their data indicated that the new king that they had expected (because of the signs in the stars) would be born in Israel?  These men, government officials for a hostile government, would need to visit the Tetrarch of Judea, Herod, the man who was widely known as evil, vicious and cruel.  They would visit Herod while in the company of a token force of their own military, but while flying the flag of an enemy to Rome and they would visit Jerusalem, a city with an entire Roman legion in and around it.  Were they afraid?  I suspect that they would have been less than wise if they were not, but they pressed on anyway.

 Did Anna worry about how she would live when her husband of only seven years did and left her with no children and no way to support herself?  Did Simeon perhaps worry that he had misunderstood God and that he would not really live to see the salvation of Israel?

 And what about Herod?  Was Herod afraid when he heard the wise men say that a new King had been born?  What about when his own advisors searched their own scriptures and found pretty much the same information?  From everything that we know, from scripture, history and archaeology, Herod was desperate to protect his job.  An appointment within the Roman government was tenuous and subject to removal or assassination.  Herod was constantly afraid of any upset in the peace or in the status quo in the nation of Israel.  If there were unrest or civil war, the Romans would move into Jerusalem in force to restore order, and Herod would be sent back to Rome, or worse.  Was Herod afraid?  Absolutely.

 But here we have a dividing line of sorts.  When Herod was threatened and was afraid, he did not react the way that the other characters in this drama reacted.  Herod’s response to being threatened was to strike back at the source of his fear.  Instead of responding in love or in faith, he responded in violence.  When others were afraid, they prayed and they trusted.  When Herod was afraid he mis-trusted.  When Herod was afraid, his fear and mistrust brought death to hundreds of innocent children in a sleepy town in the middle of nowhere.  When Mary was afraid she trusted and her faith and her trust brought new life and salvation to all people.

 We need to remember that in our real world, babies from the planet Krypton don’t crash to earth.  In our reality Abin Sur didn’t give his ring of power to Hal Jordan, and none of the other amazing superheroes of the comic books are going to come to our aid.

 We do however, worship a powerful God who created the universe, who knows each and every one of us, and who loves us so much that he allowed his only son to die in our place.  We worship a God who orchestrates the movement of the planets and who answers the prayers of little children.  The good news is that although our world doesn’t have Superman or the Green Lantern or even mutant warriors like the X-men, God has sent us heroes.  God has sent us heroes throughout recorded history, people that we know from the Bible and from other books.  Even today there are often even heroes among us.  God has sent us heroes that have shown us how to be faithful and how to make good choices.  From our heroes we learn things like integrity, chivalry, honesty, patriotism, the value of every intelligent being, teamwork, and freedom.  All of us should have a hero.

 But although there is no such thing as a man without fear, the good news is that heroes are very real.

 The key to having worthwhile heroes is in how you will identify them.

Green Lantern Abin Sur searched the world for a hero using his amazing ring of power.

How will you search?

Who will be your heroes?

You might start with the Christmas story.  It’s full of them.

 

 

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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.

Politics, Veterans, and Thanksgiving

“Politics, Veterans, and Thanksgiving”

November 13, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Deuteronomy 26:1-11                   Philippians 4:4-9                            John 6:25-35

None of us could have missed the fact that Tuesday was Election Day.  Thursday was the 241st birthday of the Marine Corps, Friday was Veterans Day (formerly Armistice Day – and my Mom’s birthday), and although the Thanksgiving holiday isn’t officially until next week, Trinity Church will celebrate our Thanksgiving dinner together this evening (except those of us who are attending Charge Conference).  All of these things are important and I could easily discuss any one of them, but our calendar isn’t going to give us time to divide them up this year.  And so the challenge for me this week has been how do I say something about all of these in one message?

Surprisingly, it really wasn’t that hard.

As I read over the scripture passages that are recommended for today, took notes, and considered the events of the last week, I quickly saw theme that binds all of these ideas, and all of us, together. Let’s begin this morning with Deuteronomy 26:1-11, where, moments before the nation of Israel ends its forty years of wilderness wandering, begins its final journey across the Jordan River, and into the Promised Land, God reminds them of where they came from.

When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the first fruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the first fruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. 11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.

Given some of the themes that circulated during the election, some of this resonated with me.  God was concerned that once his people reached their new home and settled down, they would forget where they came from.  God tells them to begin their prayers before God by proclaiming that they are the children of a wandering Aramean, that they are in fact, the children of nomads, migrants, and immigrants.  Next, God reminds them that only a generation earlier they had lived, as slaves, in Egypt where they suffered and were worked mercilessly.  They were a people who needed to remember so that they could have sympathy and compassion for those who similarly suffered such abuse and oppression.  God rescued them because he hated such abuses and he wanted to make sure that the suffering of Israel would make them care about others.  In the end, God brought these suffering migrants to a new place that they could finally call home and for that, God asked that they remember and give thanks.

During the presidential election we heard a lot about migrants and immigration and so, particularly in a country where 58 percent of the population claims at least one grandparent was an immigrant, we too ought to remember where we came from.  Ultimately, with the exception of Native Americans, our entire nation is a nation of wandering migrants.  Each of our families has stories to tell about how they survived the Great Depression, or Ellis Island, or World War I, or World War II, or Vietnam, or unemployment, or homelessness, or something else.  Few of our families have escaped hard times.  And so, much like the people of Israel, this time of year ought to be a time for us to remember where we came from and the thankful.

But more than just being generically grateful, we must also remember to whom it is that should give thanks.  In John 6:25-35, we hear Jesus remind the crowd of that very thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus asks the people following him if they are following him because they have come to believe that he is from God, or because they want him to feed them and care for them.  Jesus says that instead of investing our lives working for money, power, pleasure and possessions (in his words, “food that spoils”), we should instead use our strength and resources to grow God’s kingdom.  For us to do the work of God, Jesus says that we must “believe in the one he has sent.”  And finally, as the people ask again for food, because Moses gave their ancestors food, Jesus reminds them that the food never came from Moses.  It has never been the religious or political leaders who have given you what you have.  Instead, all that you are, all that you own, and all that you have, is a gift from God.

And finally, in Philippians 4:4-9, we hear Paul addressing a church conflict that should, once again, teach us something in the aftermath of this presidential election.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

These two women, Euodia and Syntyche, were church leaders who were having a disagreement.  Their dispute had grown to the point where it was damaging the church and someone must have written to Paul to help heal it.  And Paul’s reply is to plead that both of them would be of the same mind and remember that they had worked together in the cause of the gospel.  What was of utmost importance was not their personal differences, but the work that the church must do… together.  We are not who we are because of our differences, but because of what we have in common.  In the church, we are rich and poor, black and white, men and women, Republican, Libertarian, and Democrat, and everything in between, but here, none of those things are supposed to define us.  The thing that defines us is our belief in Jesus Christ and our commitment to grow the kingdom… together.

Our presidential election has given us much to think about and much to remember.  But we should also remember to be thankful that we had the opportunity, and the freedom to vote, in a world where a great number of people do not.  We should remember to be both grateful and thankful for our Veterans who sacrificed and gave of their time, family life and health, not only for themselves, but for all of us.  We should remember that, like the people of Israel, all of our families were once “wandering migrants,” all of us have endured suffering and hard times of one kind or another, and God desires that we remember that history so that we, like him, will have sympathy and compassion for people who are struggling with those same things today.

And the rest of Paul’s advice is a beautiful prescription for us to help speed the healing of broken people, broken churches, and broken nations alike: Rejoice and give thanks for everything, always.  Do not be afraid, but lift your concerns, and your thanks, to God in prayer.  Live the kind of life so that the thing that everyone around notices is… gentleness.  Guide your thoughts so that you dwell on thinks like truth, noble causes, righteousness, purity, beauty, excellence, and the admirable, and praiseworthy qualities of others.

Do these things, and “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

We are indeed blessed, because of our ancestors, because of our veterans, because of our freedom, and for a great many other things.

Let us give thanks to God.

Amen.

 

 

 

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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.