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.