Live Forward

Live Forward

August 11, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20                    Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16                        Luke 12:32-40

 

When you were growing up, did you ever do things that you thought your parents would never find out about?

Of those times, how often have you discovered that your parents knew about it all along?

More than once, I have reminded our children, particularly now that they are adults, that they really don’t need to tell us everything, but neither should they insult us by assuming that we are stupid.  We may be old now, but we were their age once.  Yes, the world may have changed since we were young, but the things that young people are tempted to do when they are away from their parents have been the same sorts of things for thousands of years.

Likewise, when we read passages of scripture, we often discover that the temptations that face the church, and its people, are often frighteningly similar to the temptations that were faced by the church three thousand years ago.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  We begin this morning in Isaiah chapter one, where we hear the prophet of God condemning the people of Israel for faking their way through church.  Instead of building a genuine relationship with God, they are only going through the motions and putting on a churchy looking show. (Isaiah 1:1, 10-20)

1:1 The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord,
    you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God,
    you people of Gomorrah!
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
    what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
    of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
    in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
    who has asked this of you,
    this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
    Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
    I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
    I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
    I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
    I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
    stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
    you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

The oddest part of understanding this passage, is found in realizing that all of the things that God, through Isaiah, is criticizing, all of the things that God is condemning, are all things that God’s people were commanded to do in the days of Moses.  These things were the worship of the church.  But God says that he has had more than enough of them because they have become meaningless.

So, since we live in a time when the church often argues over what music we should play, and what liturgies we should use, and what style of worship might be best, understanding this passage and what it means to us might well be a vital piece of information.  As we read further, God declares that the reason that he no longer desires their worship, and no longer listens to their prayers, is that their “hands are full of blood.”  Although they are showing up at church, and they are repeating their prayers, and they are bringing the required sacrifices, they are not acting like God’s people.  Their worship is brought to God out of a sense of duty or tradition but their relationship with God hasn’t made a single change in their actions or in their hearts. 

God wants our worship to be an outward expression of the love that we have for him and not something that we do in blind repetition out of a sense of duty or tradition.

Unless we are changed, unless our hearts are changed, then our worship is meaningless, we become a burden to God, and God stops listening to our prayers.  Worship must be, first and foremost, an expression of our love for God and our lives must be lived as an act of worship.

Nearly two thousand years later, we hear Jesus explain this same concept in a different way in the gospel of Luke. (Luke 12:32-40)

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Jesus says that the things that we value most, the things upon which we spend the most time, obsess over, and the things which become the focus of our lives, are our treasure.  And our hearts will live where our treasure lives.  As an example, Jesus explains that waiting for God is sometimes like waiting for a boss who has gone out for the evening.  Those servants who are genuinely concerned about serving their master do so even when he is absent, and even when it seems as if the master has gone missing.  Our calling is to act like Jesus, to act in the best interests of Jesus’ kingdom, to do good and to serve him always, even when he seems absent, even when the world has gone crazy and it seems as if Jesus has forgotten us.

And that’s a critical point.

Yes, we know that the Spirit of God is active in the world in which we live.  Yes, we know that God loves us and cares for us.  Yes, we know that we have occasionally seen God at work in our lives and in the lives of the people around us.  But, at the same time, when we watch the news and we see the pain and suffering, chaos and mayhem, that surrounds us and which seems to engulf our world, we struggle to understand how God can be so conspicuously absent.  Jesus knew that.  That’s why he told the story about the servants who were waiting for their master’s return.  And that’s why Paul relates a similar story in which he reminds all of us about the faith, and the patience, of the heroes of scripture. (Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16)

11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 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. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left; they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Jesus said that we need to wait for God, and continue doing the work of Jesus Christ, even when he seems absent.  Paul reminds us that many of the great heroes of the Bible waited their entire lives and never saw God’s promises fulfilled.  Those promises were kept, but often not within their lifetimes.  This is what faith is all about.

Faith is about remembering the times that God has done what he has promised.  Remembering the times when God has been faithful to us.  Remembering the times that God has been generous to us.  And then trusting that God will be faithful in the things that we can’t see.  Faith reminds us to act like Jesus even when Jesus seems absent.  Faith is living in such a way that life itself becomes an act of worship. Faith is having our hearts changed so that everyone around us can plainly see Jesus in us.  Faith looks forward to the day when God fulfills all of his promises.

Faith is looking forward.

Faith is living forward.

May we strive, every day, to have that kind of faith.

 

 

 


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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  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Near-Sighted Death

Near-Sighted Death

August 04, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:17-23        Colossians 3:1-11         Luke 12:13-21

 

broken-glassesHow many of you wear glasses or contact lenses?

Of those, are you near-sighted?  Or far-sighted?  If you forget which-is-which, just remember that if you can read without glasses, you are near-sighted and if you can drive a car without glasses, you are far-sighted.

Those of us who wear glasses are constantly aware that driving without our glasses would be dangerous to ourselves and others.  Even the Bureau of Motor Vehicles thinks so and they put a restriction on our driver’s license that declares it to be a legal offense to drive without our glasses.

But although we know that near-sightedness can be dangerous, that isn’t the kind of near-sightedness that we need to talk about.  Although it might be described as near-sightedness, the vision problem that we are warned about in scripture is an entirely different, and far more widespread, problem than the one that can be corrected with eyeglasses.

We begin this morning with a reading from the book of Ecclesiastes, a book that was likely written by the wise King Solomon, but as we read it, we quickly discover that Solomon must have been in a very dark emotional place while he was writing. (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:17-23)

1:2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

1:12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

2:17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

Up until the end of our reading, Solomon is focused entirely on what the world can give him.  The word the he often repeats is, “meaningless” and, in Hebrew, this can be understood to mean something that is empty, futile, or transient.  Solomon knows that everything that he, and his father, have worked so hard to accomplish will one day be left to someone else who may, or may not, care about him, his goals, his values, or his legacy.  But this is what you see when your vision sees no further than your own mortality.  This is a deadly kind of near-sightedness.  But in the verses and chapters beyond these, Solomon begins to understand that finding meaning in this life depends entirely on understanding that there is something, and someone, that is greater than ourselves.  Finding meaning depends on understanding that there is more to life than just sixty or eighty years of this mortal life. 

In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus encounters a man who is struggling with the same problem and provides a prescription for the deadly near-sightedness of our fleshly humanity.

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Someone in the crowd asks Jesus to arbitrate a dispute between him and his brother.  This wouldn’t necessarily be out of line because it’s conceivable that rabbis might occasionally do such things.  But Jesus isn’t interested because he has far more important issues to address than whether, or not, one brother is dividing his father’s estate “fairly.”  The person in the crowd is basically saying that he isn’t getting enough of the money for which his father had worked and toiled.  Worrying about how large your inheritance is, or how much stuff you have, or how much money you have in the bank, is the kind of greedy, near-sighted thinking that Jesus cautions us to guard against.

In Jesus’ parable, a rich man keeps building bigger barns in which to store stuff so that he can continue to accumulate more rather than sharing what he has with the poor or donating even a portion of it to the church, or to any other cause.  Jesus echoes Solomon by saying, once you are dead, “then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”  Does your wealth bring you meaning if you’re dead?  Life is meaningless for whomever stores things up for themselves. 

A life of meaning only comes when we share our riches with God and with others.

But besides sharing our stuff with God, how do we, as followers of Jesus Christ, live lives of meaning every day?  In Colossians 3:1-11, Paul explains it this way:

3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.  7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Living a life that is meaningful and rich toward God is more than just sharing our stuff or sharing our money, it’s a lifestyle that is far-sighted instead of near-sighted.  Instead of focusing on our 60 or 80 years of mortal life, focus instead on a life lived for eternity.  Realize that our entire lives on earth are just an instant compared to the forever that comes next.  Realize that people who are different from us, people from the other side of the tracks, from different social and economic circumstances than ours, people who like different music, people that live on the other side of the planet from us, who speak different languages, and who have a different color skin, may well be our next door neighbors, co-workers, mentors, and friends when we move into our new homes in heaven.

Living a life that is meaningful and rich toward God is beginning your eternity now, by putting to death those things that are near-sighted and focused on your own personal satisfaction, and pleasure such as sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Paul says that greed isn’t just bad, but greed is, in fact, idolatry because greed puts money and self in the place of God.  Get rid of anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lies so that you can become more like the person that God created you to be, and the person that you will one day become.

Setting your sights only on your life on earth is a near-sighted recipe for destruction, meaninglessness, and death.  Instead, we must set our sights on God, on eternity, and a life in heaven that will be lived alongside people of every tribe, every nation, and every language.  To live a life of meaning, we must be a people who are far-sighted.  Because, by seeing the distant and eternal future, we can put today’s problems, fears, social tension, injustice, needs, wants, desires, and everyday ordinary decisions of every kind in their proper perspective.

May we all live deeply meaningful lives that are rich toward God in every way.

 

 

 


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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  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Celebration and the Coming Storm

The Celebration and the Coming Storm


April 14, 2019*

Palm Sunday

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Luke 19:28-40

Have you ever heard the legend about the origin of the “V” for Victory sign?  During WW2 the V for victory symbolism was proposed because the word “Victory” begins with the letter V in both English and French and the word “Freedom” begins with the letter ‘V’ in Dutch.  But in Great Britain, the “V” sign (Americans often call it the “Peace” sign) has an entirely different, and offensive meaning and the legend about that dates to the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.  It helps to understand that the Battle of Agincourt was one of the first battles ever fought after the development of the British longbow.  Further, it was customary at the time for the lords and generals of the warring factions to meet, share dinner, and drink too much wine the night before the battle. 

With that in mind, the legend says that while the French and the English leaders were drinking, one of the French generals threatened that after they had won, they would cut off the two bow fingers of all the longbowmen.  As is often the case, the development of a new weapon proved to be decisive.  The hail of arrows from the English decimated the French troops long before they met the main body of the English swordsmen and, in the end, the French were routed and fled the field.  But, the story goes, as the French fled, the British longbowmen happily held up a “V” for victory sign to remind the French that they were still in possession their two fingers.  Ever since, the British use the “V” sign much the way that Americans tend to use their middle finger.

In any case, what I really wanted to point out was the historic practice of meeting for dinner before a major battle.  Can you imagine trying to celebrate knowing that you might not survive the fighting on the next day?  Can you imagine what it was like, as the allied armies prepared for the D-Day invasion, for those soldiers who had the misfortune to celebrate a birthday a day or two before boarding a landing craft for a beach Normandy?  In many ways, this represents what we find in the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  As we begin the story of Holy Week, of Jesus’ arrest, imprisonment, torture, crucifixion, and death on the cross, Palm Sunday must have felt, to Jesus, like having a party before the battle or a celebration before the invasion.

To see why, we begin by reading the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry in Luke 19:28-40.

28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

Before Jesus set foot in the village, he knew that there was a colt tied up there.  Before he met the owner, or any of the neighbors, he knew what answer would satisfy them that it was okay for a total stranger to borrow their animal.  Jesus’ perception of places and people who were nowhere nearby has always been impressive and is an example of Jesus’ divinity and an expression of his omniscience.  Jesus knew what was beyond his field of vision, he knew the hearts of people that he had never met, and he knew what would happen in the future.  But with that in mind, it makes the next part of the story even more staggering when we understand the story from Jesus’ perspective.

As Jesus crosses over the last hill and comes to the Mount of Olives, he is now within sight of the Temple.  On the road on which he is walking, it is now literally all downhill from the Mount of Olives to a bridge that crosses the valley, and then to the temple gate.  But as Jesus begins his descent of this hill, the people begin to shout, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  The Apostle John records that the people

“took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” [which means “Save us”]

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!”

And as the people did these things, some of the Pharisees ask Jesus to rebuke his disciples and make them stop. Jesus says no.

But why?

Because what the disciples and the people around Jesus are doing could potentially disrupt the status quo of the people in power and trigger a major problem with the occupying Roman army.  To understand better, let’s look at that in a little more detail.

The things that the people are saying, “Hosanna” or “Save us,” “Blessed is the king of Israel,” and “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” are things that were said to kings and conquering generals as they entered the city.  Riding on the back of an unridden donkey was the way that kings were known to enter the city when their intentions were peaceful.  Laying down cloaks or other items of clothing along the road was, again, the way that kings or heroes were greeted, much as we greet dignitaries today with a red carpet.  And waving palm branches was as close as the people could come to waving an Israeli flag.  Taken together, within sight of the Antonia Fortress which adjoined the Temple and was the headquarters for the Roman garrison, the people were publicly, and loudly, proclaiming the arrival of a king to the city of Jerusalem. 

The Pharisees are afraid that at the height of the Passover celebration, these actions might cause the Roman army to do something violent.  But what they probably fear most is the potential political response.  You see, when the Romans took over Israel, they set up a power sharing agreement with the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Sanhedrin.  Rome allowed Israel’s leaders to run the country and to perform their rituals in the Temple, but to ensure that these leaders were under the ultimate control of the Roman government, all the priestly vestments, robes, or uniforms were held under guard in the Fortress Antonia.  If the Romans suspected that Israel’s leaders, or her people, were raising up a new king or acting in rebellion against the Roman government (and all of these things could be interpreted that way) then the Romans would close the doors to the fortress and there could be no daily sacrifice and with tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people in the city for the celebration of Passover, there would be no Passover.

If the Pharisees and the other leaders of Israel couldn’t control the people, then the Roman army could hold the entire Passover celebration for ransom until Israel found leaders that could.  The Pharisees were afraid that the status quo could be upset, and they could lose their jobs, their status, and even their lives.  This is why the Pharisees tell Jesus to make his disciples and other supporters stop but Jesus knows that what they are doing is in fulfillment of prophecy and says that if the people stop, the stones themselves will cry out so that God’s prophecy will be fulfilled.  And Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is also why they immediately return to the city and begin to plot the murder of Jesus.  He is a danger to the structures of power.  He is a danger to the jobs, position, respectability, and authority of the movers and shakers of Israel.

Jesus must go.

But if we learned anything at all from the simple story about sending two disciples to find a donkey, it is that Jesus knew what the Pharisees were going to do next.  Even before he came to Jerusalem Jesus knew that he would die there.

And so, for Jesus, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem was very much like the officers’ dinner before the Battle of Agincourt or those unfortunate soldiers who celebrated birthdays before the invasion of Normandy knowing full well that they might not survive the day.

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, what we celebrate as Palm Sunday, is a staggering study in contrast because we see Jesus being celebrated as a king and as the messiah, but even as they celebrate, Jesus knows that he will die within hours.

Jesus knew that he would die.

He knew that honoring God would cost him his life.

And he chose to honor God anyway.

And yet, how often do we fail to honor God because doing so might be…

… inconvenient?

 

 

 


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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  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Extravagant Motives

Extravagant Motives

Monday Lenten Luncheon

Vine Street UMC

April 01, 2019

 

If you watch any of the crime dramas on television, and I mean any of the crime dramas, anything from Perry Mason, to Murder She Wrote, to NCIS Los Angeles or Evening Shade, one of the things that you often hear about is “motive.”  Characters often ask, as real law enforcement officers do, “What motive did that person have?”  What reason did they have for committing a crime, what motivation would they have for doing such a thing?  But crimes aren’t the only thing that requires motivation.  Some days we spend more time on the couch than we probably should, simply because we can’t seem to find the motivation to do anything different.  We put off filling out our tax forms until the deadline unless we think we’re getting money back, we procrastinate cleaning the house until it annoys us or until we know that we have guests coming over.  Just about everything we do has motive assigned to it.  We go to work because we need to make some money because we like to have a warm place to live and food to eat.  We eat cookies, because, hey, this isn’t hard, we eat cookies because they taste good.

But sometimes we need to look at what motivates our spiritual lives as well.  That’s a big part of the story that we hear in John 12:1-8, as Jesus shares a meal at his friend Lazarus’ house:

12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Jesus arrives in Bethany and stops in the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.  John, and probably everyone else, notices that Lazarus is the guy that used to be dead.  It’s almost funny, but you must admit, even today that’s the sort of thing that people would talk about.  “Look, Fred!  That’s the guy I told you about.  He’s the one that woke up at the cemetery and climbed out of the casket, three days after the funeral!”

But anyway, between Jesus and Lazarus, this was probably a prominent and well discussed (gossiped) event.  But during the dinner, Mary comes into the room, walks over to where Jesus was reclining (remember that it was traditional at that time to eat in a reclining position, much like sitting in a beach lounger), broke open a bottle of expensive perfume, and poured it over Jesus’s feet.  As you can imagine, the entire house was filled with the smell.  Just imagine if you poured out an entire bottle of Chanel No. 5.  A little dab smells nice, but a whole bottle would almost certainly be overpowering.

There are many ways to interpret what Mary did, and why she did it.  It can be interpreted as symbolic of burial as well as an anointing and consecration to royal service.  But I don’t want to dwell on what it meant today, instead I want to point out that Jesus highlights Mary’s motives as a stark contrast to Judas’ protests about the expense.  Jesus says, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”  Essentially, Jesus is saying, I think, honoring God, at the right time, and for the right motives, is an important value.  There was a limited time to honor Jesus while he was on earth, and Mary chose to do so while he was living rather than save that expensive perfume for his burial.

Chale No. 5But let’s also look at the motivations of Judas.  John calls him a thief whose greed caused him to want that money in his purse, and I think we should take his word for that, but even if he wasn’t, most of us would have been shocked at the extravagance of what Mary did, and I’m certain that many others, besides, Judas, were just as shocked.  Scripture tells us that the perfume that she poured out was worth 300 denarii, or since a day’s wage was one denarius, that’s about a year’s wages for an average laborer.  If we do that same math if modern American economics, we discover that in 2015, the average wage for an average American worker, was $56,516.  Can you imagine how you would feel if you watched someone pour fifty or sixty thousand dollars’ worth of Chanel No. 5 onto the floor?  Even though we may not be thieves, I think that many of us, despite our love for Jesus, would be just as shocked as Judas was.

It’s a difficult thing to compare these two attitudes, the extravagance of Mary and the greed of Judas.  But the comparison comes down to the motives of these two people.  Mary was motivated by her love for Jesus and her desire to honor him in the best way that she could.  Judas’ motives were to honor himself and to put some of that money in his own pocket.

And, as we think about these two people, and as we reflect on their motives, it reminds us that we often need to reflect on our own motives in much the same way.  Honoring God is an important value, but when do we cross a line from honoring God to honoring ourselves?

When we build church buildings, and I admit Christ Church is an enormous and incredibly beautiful building, are we building them to honor God or to honor ourselves?  Do we want to impress people with the awesomeness of God, or are we trying to impress them that we are the ones who attend church in that awesome building?  And what about us personally?  Are we getting dressed up on Sunday morning to honor God in his house or to impress other people?  Do we attend church to worship God, or are we there to “see and be seen,” to network with other local business people, and to make sure that the people in our community see us going to church because it’s good for business or good for our reputation?  Are we putting money in the offering plate because of our love for God or because we’re trying to impress someone?  But, at the same time, if our motivation is that we are truly trying to honor God, are we being extravagant enough?

As we move through this season of Lent and come ever closer to the resurrection and the celebration of Easter, let us look deep inside of our selves and consider our own motives.  Just who am I trying to impress?  Does my life honor God?  Does my giving honor God?  And do I honor God with…

…extravagance?

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Vine Street 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  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

Fear

Special General Conference

Fear

This is it.

As I write this, the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church will begin its session at the end of this week.  Delegates from around the world have already begun their journeys to St. Louis for their deliberations.  This appears to be a great watershed moment and the future of the United Methodist Church will be forever changed.

We worry.

Some of us may even experience fear.

I admit to being concerned.  Many of the proposals specifically designed to hold our church together will instead drive the church apart or accelerate its decline. 

So, what will we do?

My advice, to those who have asked me, is to relax (a little).  There are many proposals that the General Conference will consider but they are not obligated to pass any of them.  They might choose one, but it is more likely that they will craft something new from pieces taken from among the various proposals or, at the very least, modify one of those proposals before passing it.  There is also a reasonable chance that they won’t pass anything at all and decide that the best way to keep us together, however unhappily, is not to change anything.  And finally, there is a chance that some elements of whatever may get “kicked down the road” for debate at the regular General Conference in 2020.

But, assuming that the General Conference passes something, then what?

Still, my advice is that we should still not get excited too quickly.

Some proposed changes may require ratification by the annual conferences and that would take a year before the results were known.  But even if a major change were to be passed by the Special General Conference, many of those changes would require Annual Conference action.  And, since our Annual Conference doesn’t meet until June, nothing could happen until then, and understanding the difficulty of preparing that legislation for the Annual Conference, there is a fair chance that we wouldn’t take any action as a conference until June of 2020.  Other actions that are being proposed would open a window for churches to decide and in most cases, we would have a year or so to choose a path forward.

Are you confused?  Of course, you are.

At this point the road ahead looks like a bowl of spaghetti, or a road map of the Los Angeles freeways.  That is precisely why I have been advising folks not to get too excited.  The path ahead, for now, is confusing and unknown.  But, once the General Conference passes something, whether that is next month or in 2020, then the path ahead, and our options, will become much clearer.

And until it does, we will continue to be in ministry to the people around us as Christ Church has for over a hundred years.  For now, we should continue to pray for all of the General Conference delegates.

Trust that God knows what is going to happen.

Have faith that God is in control.

Try not to worry.

And fear not.

 

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

– Isaiah 41:10

 


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Why Doesn’t God Answer Prayer?

 

Many of us find ourselves asking if prayer is real.  We pray for healing, or for new jobs, or for other things, and God doesn’t seem to do anything at all.  But then again, God isn’t a genie in a lamp from whom we can demand wishes.  Although this is just a short clip, I think that it answers, at least in part, a question that a lot of us ask.

Leader or Servant? – Why Character Matters

“Leader or Servant?”

(Why Character Matters)

September 23, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

Have you ever seen someone use authority well?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of us are leaders.

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

Because…

…character matters.

_________

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_______________

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