Actions Reveal Attitude

Actions Reveal Attitude

May 02, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 15:1-8                            Acts 8:26-40                           1 John 4:7-21

“I trust you to make your own decisions” is perhaps one of the most common lies that parents and politicians tell their children and constituents.  We might tell our children that we trust them to make their own decisions, but you know we’re looking over their shoulders so we can intervene if they start making bad ones.  And politicians are worse.  How often have we heard them say that we should let the market decide, and then they pass laws to manipulate the markets.  They say that taxpayers know best how to spend their hard-earned money, but then raise taxes because we aren’t spending in the places that they think we should.  They say that government shouldn’t subsidize corporate interests, but what they really mean is that we should only subsidize the corporate interests that fund their party machine instead of the other party’s political machine.  If you really want to know what a parent, or a politician believes, don’t ask them, watch them.  Don’t listen to what they say, watch them and see what they do.  A politician that really believes in free markets, supports legislation that supports free markets.  A politician that genuinely supports a balanced budget, and I’m not sure that there are any, supports legislation that moves us toward sustainable spending and balanced budgets.  If we watch what politicians support, vote for, and donate toward, with their own time and their own money, we get a clearer picture of where their values lie than if we just listen to their sound bites and press releases.  In the end, this applies to all of us.  Our actions say far more about what we believe that the words that come out of our mouths. 

That hasn’t changed in thousands of years and scripture often describes that same principal.  We find one such instance in John 15:1-8 where Jesus says:

15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunesso that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Jesus says that we are the garden and God is the gardener.  God cuts off, or prunes, the branches that aren’t bearing fruit.  My colleague Allan Bevere commented on this passage and points out that the Greek word here for pruning “is kathairo (καθαίρω) and refers more generally to clearing and in certain contexts cleansing. So, while it is true that pruning, cutting back, is a necessary part of the process of allowing a fruit-producing vine to bear more fruit, John appears to have in mind that is more than simply cutting back a healthy branch in order to produce more; the gardener wants to clear away all the dead vegetation and the clutter that can strangle the branches as well.”   We might think of that as God not only pruning off the unnecessary and unfruitful branches, but also the suckers, opening the canopy to allow more sun to penetrate, pulling the weeds around the bottom and raking away the accumulated leaves and clutter.  Jesus says that God is working, actively, in his garden so that it, so that we, will be productive and fruitful.  If we know him, and if we remain in him, he is working in us, and on us, to make us more fruitful and more productive.  If we do not know him, or if we do not remain close to him, them our ability to do anything useful goes to zero.  Without our connection to him, we wither and die. 

Without our connection to God, we become useless.  We have a yard decoration that was made from vines that were woven together.  It is, obviously, not connected to the vine from which it came and, other than being temporarily decorative, it is entirely useless.  When we lose our connection with God, when we stop living in him, and constantly feeding on the nutrition flowing through the vine, although we might get dressed up, and still be temporarily decorative, we become like that woven vine, decorative, but ultimately useless.

Jesus goes on to say that when we bear fruit, our fruit, and our accomplishment in bearing fruit, is the glory God, and to the credit of God, because God is the gardener that made it happen.  But also, our bearing fruit reveals our discipleship to the world.  Our actions reveal our attitudes, our loyalty, and our heart condition.

We see this same principle in action in several ways in the story of Acts 8:26-40, in which and angel of God sends Philp to meet an important international visitor.

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way, he met an Ethiopianeunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So, he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
    and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
    Who can speak of his descendants?
    For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

This man had come to Jerusalem from Ethiopia which must have been a long and arduous journey.  Since he was an important government official, we can assume that he had been conducting official government business while in Jerusalem.  Further, we know that he had some wealth of his own because, while in Israel, he had purchased an Isaiah scroll.  Such a scroll, being handcrafted and painstakingly handwritten by a trained, professional scribe, would likely have taken nearly a year to produce, and would have cost nearly a year’s wages.  From this, and from Philip’s hearing the man reading the scroll, we know that he was not only interested in the faith of the people of Israel, but he was also desperate to learn about it, and actively demonstrated his desire to know God.  Unfortunately, his desire to learn was not enough because he couldn’t understand what he was reading.

But remember that we are the garden and God is the gardener.  God saw his desire to know him as well as how the man had demonstrated that desire through his actions.  And so, God cleared away the clutter, and sent Philip to meet him on the road, at just the right time, explain the meaning to him, and tell him the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that had been foretold by Isaiah.  And again, the man demonstrates his understanding with his actions.  His understanding of Isaiah, and the gospel message proclaimed by Philip, led him insist that he be baptized, and to faith and discipleship in Jesus Christ.

 In his letter to the church and to the followers of Jesus Christ in Asia, John gives examples of how our beliefs, our faith, and our connectedness to God direct our everyday lives and our actions and therefore become visible and obvious to the people around us (1 John 4:7-21).  He says:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Since we are supposed to remain in God, and be connected to God, then God’s nature should flow through us into the people, and into the world, around us.  And, John argues, since God’s nature is love, then that nature should also become our nature as well.  When we are in love with God and when have the love of God in us, then we begin to lose our fear of the future, our fear of current events, and our fear of judgement and punishment.  And that loving nature will be shown, and actively demonstrated, through our actions.  If we are connected to God, and God is love, and if that connectedness flows through us, then it will, logically, flow out of us through our actions.  And when God’s love flows out of us, then hate becomes impossible, and we will love the people around us, all of the people around us, the way that God loves them.

Just like the parents and politicians, it isn’t hard to see where the hearts, minds, values, and attitudes of Christian are if we stop listening to what they say and watch to see what they do and how they live.  Our actions reveal our attitudes.  If we are in love with God, and if we remain connected to Jesus, then his love will flow through us into the world.

Our neighbors will be able to see that we are connected to Jesus by the things that we do, the way that we behave, by our actions, and the way that we live our lives.

And they will know we are Christians…

            …by our love.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/7u25wb0cemQ

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

A New Fruit?

A New Fruit?

This week I was reading Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. This has been repeated so often that many of us have it memorized.  But as I read this familiar passage in the New International Version, one of the fruits was different.  Where I expected to find ““love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control,” instead I found, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.”

Somehow I had never noticed that before.

Where I expected to see “patience,” I found “forbearance” instead.  I thought I understood what patience was, but what the heck is forbearance?  Was King James wrong all these years?  Is patience not a virtue?

Relax.

I looked up forbearance so that I could understand why the translators thought this was a better word than patience.

And I think I agree.

I rather like this definition better.

Forbearance is patience, but not only patience.  Forbearance is “patient self-control; restraint and tolerance.”  The example given was “Her unfailing courtesy and forbearance under provocation” along with a legal definition that I also thought was as meaningful as it was powerful: “The action of refraining from exercising a legal right, especially enforcing the payment of a debt.”

That means, forbearance is if someone hits you, and you have every legal right to hit them back, but you don’t, when you have been wronged and you have the legal right to sue, but you don’t, or when you have the legal right to collect a debt, or to do anything else, but you don’t.

I think this is a fuller, deeper, powerful, and more meaningful definition that not only included everything that “patience” did, but expands on “patience” and makes it richer and more understandable at the same time.

May we not only have patience, but also forbearance.

Birth and Reproduction

“Birth and Reproduction”

May 06, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

John 15:9-17              Acts 10:44-48             1 John 5:1-6

 

 

Have you ever witnessed the delivery of a baby?

 

In the past, fathers paced nervously in the waiting room while mothers gave birth.  In more recent years the fathers were not only invited into the delivery room but participated in Lamaze and other birthing classes that were designed to calm the fears of parents and maybe even help the process a little.  Some families even video the whole thing.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  I can think of few things that would be more embarrassing to watch later in life.  Can you imagine some parent showing that video at their child’s wedding reception?  Yikes.  Patti and I have video of Lina’s delivery, although hers is almost certainly different than most.  In Lina’s video there’s a knock at the hotel room door, Patti answers, and seconds later, she’s holding a baby.

 

Poof.

 

Just like that, we were parents.

 

But why is your pastor talking about babies and delivery videos on Sunday morning? Simply because our connection with the birth of babies, the importance that we put on such events and the emotions tied to them, are decidedly similar to an important spiritual message.  In the physical world, babies most often come into the world because two people loved one another, and the physical expression of that love allowed the creation of a new life.  But some people might be surprised to discover that our spiritual experience is really not so very different.  In John 15:9-17, Jesus says this:

9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

Jesus’ entire focus is on love.  He says, my father loved me, and so I passed that love on to you.  Jesus wants us to stay in love with him and he says the way to do that, is to keep his commands, to actually do the things that he has asked his followers to do.  Jesus says that we are not his servants, because servants act out of blind obedience.  Instead, we are friends, because we have been told about the plans and the business of the one whom we follow.  Everything that God has told Jesus has been told to us.  And all of this results in our selection as people who will go and bear fruit. 

 

Bear fruit.

 

What does that mean?

It really is as simple as it sounds.  In the physical world bearing fruit is often understood to mean some sort of reproduction.  Children are referred to as being the “fruit of their parents.”  Trees, bushes and other plants bear fruit and their fruit contains the seeds necessary to raise up another generation of those same plants.  In the spiritual world, our calling is to produce new spiritual life.

 

But that still seems a little confusing.

 

Most of us understand where babies come from, but how exactly does one go about making spiritual babies?  Once again, despite our initial fear, it isn’t that difficult.  In Acts 10:44-48, we find Peter and some of his friends who have been called by God to visit in the home of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion.  This really is a big deal because a good Jew would never set foot in the home of a Gentile let alone someone who was a representative of the oppressive occupation of the nation of Israel.  But not only did God call Peter to go to such a place, something amazing happens while he is there.

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Peter answers God’s call to come to the home of a Gentile, a Roman Centurion, and preaches there.  Cornelius and his family were god-fearing people and Cornelius himself prayed regularly and gave generously to the poor.  But they did not know about Jesus and so God commanded Cornelius, in a dream, to invite Peter into his home and there Peter tells them the story of Jesus, the crucifixion, and the resurrection.

 

And then, the impossible happens.

 

The Spirit of God descends upon the people gathered in that house, just as it did among the disciples at Pentecost, but this time, the people who received the filling of the Spirit were Gentiles and not Jews.  The Jewish followers of Jesus that had come with Peter were astounded.  The Gentiles were “those people.”  Good Jews weren’t supposed to associate with them.  Gentiles were generally unclean and perhaps even thought of as less than human.  Jesus’ teaching that God loved Gentiles was a radical idea that the Jews wrestled with, but this… this was truly stunning.  Here they witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles, even among their enemies, in a way that only the disciples and earliest followers of Jesus had ever seen.  There could now be no denying that Gentile followers of Jesus were loved every bit as much as his Jewish followers, their belief in Jesus was every bit as genuine, and every bit as acceptable to God, as the Jewish believers.  This was surprising, unexpected, and shocking.  And Peter realizes that he has no choice but to baptize these new believers in the name of Jesus, welcome them into the family, and teach them as much as he could over the next few days.

 

This was a seismic shift in the world of Peter and the disciples.  In that world, gods were often thought of as being local or regional.  People often would change gods when they moved to a new place.  Despite the fact that Israel’s god had always claimed to be, and was always worshipped as, the one god who created the universe and everything in it, many people still thought of God as being only the god of Israel or only the god of the Jews.  And despite Jesus often teaching that God’s love extended to the Gentiles, and despite the fact that Jesus himself had often offered grace and acceptance and even teaching to various Gentiles, this idea of local ownership persisted.  But now, these Jewish followers of Jesus, including their leader Peter, were witnesses to the outpouring of God’s spirit.  There could be no denying that God loved the Gentiles, or that the Gentiles were accepted by God as equals with the Jews, or even that people who had been thought of as their enemies, had been invited to be a part of God’s family.

 

All… really did mean… mean all.

 

Through baptism, these new believers were born into the family of God.  It didn’t happen by accident, but it happened as a result of the love that God had for them, as well as the love that Peter and the other believers had for Jesus.

 

And the result of this spiritual love is the birth of new spiritual life.

 

But once again, we end up asking ourselves, “What does this have to do with me?”

 

And once again, the Apostle John has a good answer. (1 John 5:1-6)

5:1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

John says that everyone who believes in Jesus is born of God, that’s birth.  And everyone who loves God, is God’s child.  And if we love God, then we will love God’s children by carrying out his commands.  This echoes what we have heard in the book of James where we were taught that while we are saved by faith and not by works, we expect that saved people will naturally do good works.  Similarly, John says is that while faith in Jesus Christ is what saves us, saved people will naturally do the things that God has commanded them to do.

 

John says that Jesus is different because he was born in two different ways; he was born of water, that is, as a human baby to a human mother, and he was born by blood, that is, through death and resurrection.  This uniquely qualifies Jesus to lead us, not only as a human leader, but as a spiritual one.

 

So where are we when we put these simple ideas together?

 

First, when we choose to follow Jesus Christ, we are born as the spiritual children of God.

 

Second, as the children of God, we should naturally do the things that God has commanded us to do.

 

Third, Jesus has commanded us to go and bear fruit.  That might mean that Jesus wants us to display the fruits of the Spirt, such as love, joy peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control, but Jesus is careful to specify that we are to not only bear fruit, but to bear fruit that lasts.  The fruits of the spirit are good, and they should indeed grow out of a life lived in devotion to God, but Jesus specifying fruit “that lasts” leads us to understand that Jesus is talking about the birth of new spiritual life.

 

Fourth, the way that we can bear fruit, the way that we can be a part of God giving birth to new spiritual life, is to obey Jesus’ command to love.  We are called to love one another, to love people who are different from us, to love the outcast, to love the disconnected, and even to love our enemies.  And, while we are loving them, in fact, because we love them, we are, like Peter, called to tell them about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

 

And when, through the power of the Holy Spirit working through you, those people come to faith in Jesus Christ, then spiritually speaking, the love between God and his people results in the birth of a new creation in Christ Jesus.

 

That is the story about the birds and the bees, the story about spiritual birth and reproduction.

 

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last… (John 15:16)

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

From Fear to Fruitfulness

“From Fear to Fruitfulness”
December 13, 2015
(Third Sunday of Advent)
By John Partridge

Scripture: Zephaniah 3:14-20    Philippians 4:4-7    Luke 3:7-18

We begin today with an easy question.

Have you ever been afraid?

Almost certainly, every single one of us can answer that “Yes” we have been afraid. But after that simple answer, things quickly get a lot more difficult.

We have all been afraid at one time or another. We might have been afraid of a bully, afraid of losing, afraid of looking foolish in front of our family or friends, when we were expecting babies or held them for the first time we were afraid of what the future might hold, we have been afraid as we watched loved ones spend their last moments on earth or as we attended their funerals and were forced to face a future without them, we were afraid as we sent our children off to school for the first time, or watched them leave for college, or move out of our homes as they started lives and families of their own. There are a great many moments in our lives when fear has crept in.

For the moment, I want you to find one of those places of fear inside of yourself and remember what it was like. Hold on to that feeling for just a moment, and imagine what the people of Israel might have felt as Zephaniah proclaims that God is about to bring judgment upon the nations of the world, Including Judah and Israel, because of their unbelief. At that moment, during the life of the prophet Jeremiah, the Scythians, a nation that had migrated out of what is now Russia, perhaps similar to the Mongols who would come later, had crossed into their nation and had destroyed the fortresses of both Ashdod and Ashkelon and only stopped at the Egyptian border when Pharaoh Psamtik paid them off. Soon, the Babylonians would rise to power, defeat the Assyrians and would also come into the lands of Canaan destroying cities, killing and capturing anyone who got in their way.

Fear was real.

And so, into that environment, Zephaniah pours gasoline on the fire of their fear by proclaiming God’s coming judgment. But… before he is finished, God also gives hope for the future with these words: (Zephaniah 3:14-20).

14 Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
Daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
16 On that day
they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”

18 “I will remove from you
all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,
which is a burden and reproach for you.
19 At that time I will deal
with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame;
I will gather the exiles.
I will give them praise and honor
in every land where they have suffered shame.
20 At that time I will gather you;
at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
before your very eyes,”
says the Lord.

Although judgment is coming, be glad. Although things look grim, do not fear. Never again will God leave you. Never again will you fear harm because God is the Mighty Warrior. God will deal with those who oppress you. God will rescue you and gather those who have been scattered. God says, “I will bring you home.”

Even though God’s people are afraid, and even though the worst is yet to come, God is already moving them toward hope and restoration.

Interestingly, in Luke 3:7-18, as John the Baptist proclaims the coming of the Messiah, his message is very similar. John proclaims the coming of judgment but also offers helpful instruction… and hope.

7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

I cannot remember a single time when I have taken classes on preaching or public speaking, when we have been advised to begin a message by openly insulting and taunting our listeners. In fact, I am virtually certain that this is a bad idea most of the time. But this is exactly what John does. I told the children last week that John was probably considered, by most people, to be pretty weird and this is yet another example of that. John begins by calling everyone snakes, and begins talking about judgment and the wrath of God.
According to John, no one can be saved because they were born in the church, born to people who went to church, or because they themselves go to church. For John, the only real measure of godliness is the fruit that grows out of repentance.

Today, some of us would almost certainly have a follow-up question because we wonder what the fruit of repentance would look like, and the people in the crowd felt exactly the same way. John’s answer to that very question is to share what you have with people who don’t have any. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked. But even that isn’t enough because some people want to know specifics. Tax collectors, who were widely considered to be cheats, scoundrels, and collaborating with the enemy, are told to just do their jobs as honestly as they could. Soldiers, who were, in fact, the enemy, were told to do their job, not to take money they weren’t entitled to take, and not to accuse innocent people. It is interesting to note, that although both of these groups were widely hated because of what they did, John did not advise them to quit or to change jobs, but simply to do them honestly.

John then tells the people of the coming Messiah who will bring judgment as he separates the wheat (which is fruit) from the chaff (which is basically useless). Overall, John encouraged, admonished, advised and appealed to the people that they should hear the good news of the coming Messiah.

As we have been working our way through the Advent season, we have spoken often of repentance and the need to get our hearts right before God, but John tells us that repentance is just the first step. What comes next, producing fruit, is just as critical. Fruit trees without fruit will be cut down and burned in the fire. The wheat and the chaff will be separated and the useless chaff burned in the fire. John warns everyone, including us, that our purpose is to live a life of fruitfulness, to do our jobs well, but honestly, and to willingly share what we have with those who do not have.

But just in case we were still a little unclear on what a life of fruitfulness would look like, the Apostle Paul provides a little more detail in Philippians 4:4-7.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s addition to John’s teaching is to rejoice and give thanks always for the things that God has done and for the things that God is doing. But Paul also says that our gentleness should be obvious to everyone around us, and that is a harder thing for some of us to do. In our culture, many of us have found that weakness is scorned and strength is honored and so we, both men and women, have often cultivated a sort of public fierceness in order to appear strong. Paul’s instruction reminds us that gentleness is also necessary. Jesus was a stone mason. He worked with his hands and was no stranger to hard labor. Jesus was no wimp and was not afraid to defy the Temple guards as he overturned tables and stared down mobs that didn’t like his teaching. But at the same time, Jesus was known for his gentleness and self-control with women and children.

Additionally, the followers of Jesus Christ should not worry about anything but instead spend their time praying about their problems and giving thanks for what God was doing. Paul says that when we do these things, then we will find peace that is far beyond all human understanding.

And so the road that we travel from fear to fruitfulness may not be easy, but it ends in a truly wonderful place.

It is no coincidence that at the end of that journey, the person that we find is the same one of whom the angels sang…

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14, KJV)

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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 http://www.scribd.com/Pastor John Partridge. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.