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.

A Place to Belong

“A Place to Belong”

July 22, 2018*

by Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 7:1-14a              Mark 6:30-34, 53-56               Ephesians 2:11-22

 

What does it mean to belong?

Last week we talked a lot about belonging, and that resurfaces again today, but what does that mean?  How do we know when we belong somewhere?  What is it about a place that tells us that we have found a place to belong?  What is it about our families, or places of business, or our communities, or our churches, that help us to know, or to feel, that we belong?  And even more than that, who is it that can belong there?  Can anyone belong?  Or can only certain kinds of people belong there?

These are tough questions, so let’s take them in smaller bites and walk through it just a step at a time.  We begin this morning once again in the story of David.  This time as David realizes that his house is a lot nicer than the tent in which God “lives” after his arrival in Jerusalem.  (2 Samuel 7:1-14a)

7:1 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son.

There are several points that are worth noting from this passage this morning.  First, as much as David has loved God and been passionate about following and worshipping him, and as joyful as it made him to welcome God into Jerusalem, it only now occurs to David that God’s house isn’t nearly as nice as his own.  And so, David begins planning a new home for God so that God can belong.  To David’s way of thinking, having a home is a part of belonging, but God sets David straight.  For God, having a nice house among his people has never been a priority nor has it ever been a part of belonging.  God says, I have never once lived in a nice house, but I have always been a part of my people.  They have always belonged to me, and I have always belonged to them.

We also notice that God sometimes says no, even to the people that he loves the most.  Remember, this is David, one of the Bible’s greatest heroes and the one who was described as “a man after God’s own heart.”  But God tells David, “No.”  David wants to build a temple for God and God says, “No, not yet. No, not you.”  But if we continue to read, we discover that God says “No” because God wants something that is even better than what David wants.  God intends to give David something better than what David had planned, and God also intends to give a great blessing to David’s son, and to David’s descendants.

From this we can understand two things about belonging.  First, belonging isn’t about a specific place, or about money, or about power.  Instead, belonging is about our relationships with one another.  Second, if we follow the example of God, we know we belong when we discover a place where the people want what is best for us, and we become a place of belonging when we desire what is best for others.

But what does that look like?  What does it look like to be a people who want what is best for others?

And to answer that question, we can have no better example than to look at the life of Jesus.  In Mark 6:30-34, 53-56, we read these words:

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

John Wesley once said:

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

And that’s exactly what we see here.  Jesus was doing ministry.  He was doing all the good he could, for all the people he could, as often as he could.  They were so busy, they didn’t even have a chance to eat.  And even though Jesus was trying to take care of himself, and his disciples were trying to care for him, by taking him to a quiet place to take a break and get some rest, people guessed where he was going and got there ahead of him.  And so, even when he really needed a break to get some rest, and to pray, and to be refreshed, he still had compassion and taught them anyway.  Everywhere Jesus went, people recognized him, and they brought the sick to him.  And even the people who could only reach out and touch the fringe on his robe, were healed.

These are remarkable stories.  But once again, the Apostle Paul teaches us what these stories mean to the church, to us, in the twenty-first century.  In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul says (Ephesians 2:11-22):

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Paul reminds us that all the healing, and all the crowds, and all the ministry of Jesus was a part of God’s invasion of the earth and our culture.  The arrival of Jesus was a demonstration of how God intended for the church to radically upend the culture of the world.  Jesus came to tear down the walls the separated people so that there would no longer be insiders and outsiders, citizens and foreigners, members and strangers.  Each one of us was once a stranger, or a foreigner, or an outsider, and every one of us was invited in by Jesus so that we could belong.  We were invited in to belong to Jesus’ family, belong to Jesus’ church, and belong to Jesus’ mission.  Jesus tore down the barriers that divided people between Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, black and white, the ‘in’ crowd and the outsiders, the ‘A-list’ and the ‘B-list,’ and any other division between us.

Jesus invited all of us to a place where we could belong.

And Jesus intended for the church to be that place.

Paul said that in Jesus Christ we are being built together so that we can become a place where God lives.

This is a big deal.

You see, last week’s message reminded us that we were adopted into God’s kingdom and had been given a place to belong.  But this week’s scriptures remind us that not only were we invited to belong, our mission, as the church of Jesus Christ, is to create a place where others can belong.

But how do we do that?  How do we make our church, our homes, our community, our very lives, a place of belonging?  Let’s review what we already heard today.

First, the story of King David reminds us that we need to start by inviting God to be at the center of our lives and at the center of all that we do.

Second, we need to remember that belonging isn’t about a specific place, or money, or power but it is about relationships with one another.  We become a place of belonging when we build relationships with the people outside the church.

Third, a place of belonging is a place where the people want what is best for us and where we desire what is best for others.  We become a place of belonging when we reach out and help others, lift them up, and help them to become a better version of themselves.

Jesus and John Wesley both taught that while we need to care for ourselves, we need to do all we can, for all the people we can, in all the ways that we can, as often, and as long, as we can.

But Jesus’ life also teaches us that we can’t make distinctions that divide people.  Paul said Jesus came to tear down the walls that divide us and invite the outcasts, and the outsiders, the strangers, and the foreigners, to come in, be a part, and belong.

Our job, our mission, is to become the kind of people, and the kind of church, invites and attracts the community in which we live and the people around us to come in, to belong, and to be adopted, like we were, into God’s family.

My prayer, and I hope yours is too, is that we would all be passionate about becoming the place of belonging that Jesus has called us to be.

 

_________

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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.

Belonging: A Tale of Two Kings

“Belonging: A Tale of Two Kings”

July 15, 2018*

By John Partridge

 

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19                        Ephesians 1:3-14                   Mark 6:14-29

 

Sometime between 1990 and 1991, just as the U.S. and coalition forces were building up to what would eventually be called Desert Shield, I found myself with a day off in Paris during a business trip.  Wanting to see as much of the city as possible, I bought a map at the first bookstore I found and walked from one end of the city to the other.  I saw the Eiffel Tower and the outside of the Louvre, the palace, and many other places.  But just as I was nearing the cathedral of Notre Dame, I encountered a street full of protesters carrying signs and banners speaking out against American aggression.  I wondered, if I were approached, if I should pretend to be Canadian.  In any case, I took the next right and made my away toward my destination on another street.  Although I was never in any danger, that protest was a reminder that I was far from home.  Later that afternoon, as I walked back to my hotel (in the pouring rain) I went past the US Embassy.  In that place, far from home, even without going in, I felt a renewed sense of safety.  This was a piece of home.  This was a place, where I belonged.

 

About eighteen months ago, while we were visiting Liberia, I had a similar feeling as we passed embassy row.  I never felt as if we were in any danger whatsoever in Liberia, but there, where we could see the stars and stripes flying over the embassy compound, I knew that even though I had never set foot inside, this was a place where I belonged.

 

We all have places where we belong.  We belong to families and to groups of friends, in homes, in schools, in businesses, and hopefully here in this church.  But there is another, far more important, place of belonging that we should know and should never forget.

 

We begin this morning with a story from the life of King David.  The Ark of the Covenant had been stolen by the Philistines and had been kept by them for many years, but wherever they kept it, it brought plague and pestilence.  Eventually the Philistines determined to get rid of it, and although the story is a long one, eventually David determines to bring the ark to the tabernacle in Jerusalem.  This is where we join the story in 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19.

6:1 David again brought together all the able young men of Israel—thirty thousand. He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.

12 So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.

David’s wife, Michal, watched David entering the city and she did not like what she saw.  David was dancing before God with everything that he had.  I suspect that this was not a gentle ballet, but far more energetic like hip-hop, or boogie-woogie, or maybe slam dancing.  There was dancing, and music, and shouting and David gave gifts to everyone in the entire crowd.  And Michal was unhappy with her husband, the king, because his behavior was too passionate and too improper.  David had left his ego behind.  He was so full of joy before God that he poured out his love in ways that she thought made him look foolish and did not conform with how she thought royalty should look or act.  But David knew that the ark of the Lord was a symbol of God’s presence among his people.  For David, they were literally welcoming God into their city and inviting him to live among his people and share life with them.  There could be no better reason to throw an ecstatic, knock-down, drag-out, celebration, and David gave it everything that he had.

But in comparison, let’s look at what I’d like to call, the Nightmare on Herod Street.  This happens immediately after the passage that we read last week in Mark 6:14-29, in which Jesus had been teaching, and performing miracles, and then sent his disciples out, and they also were teaching, and healing, and casting out demons.

14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

For precisely the opposite reasons that David angered his wife, Herod gets in a real mess and it costs John his life.  While David’s joy and passion for God allowed him to leave his ego behind, Herod is so focused on physical pleasure, desire, and lust, that he drools over his niece and offers her, in front of a roomful of people he wanted to impress, “anything she wanted.”  Even though her answer was unexpected, and even though it was something that Herod didn’t want to do, Herod had painted himself into a corner.  He allowed his passions for flesh and power to control him, and now his ego and his embarrassment compel him to follow through so that he can save face.

The difference between these two kings, the difference between these two men, can be seen fundamentally as the difference between the two kingdoms to which they belong.  While David belongs to the kingdom of God, Herod’s loyalties are exclusively and unrepentantly dedicated to the kingdom of the flesh.  While David loves God, Herod loves only himself.  While David is passionate about pleasing God, Herod’s passions are all about money, and sex, and power.  While David’s worship of God allows him to leave his ego behind as he expresses his joy at the arrival of God in Jerusalem, while David is willing to look foolish before men so that he can bring honor to God, Herod is willing to take an innocent life, the life of a man that he knew to be righteous and holy, because his ego demanded it.

So, what does this have to do with us?

Everything.

Three thousand years after David and two thousand years after Herod, we are still divided by our loyalties to these same two kingdoms.  We are constantly pulled back and forth between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of flesh and we struggle to know where we belong. But in his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul reminds us that we need not be confused. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

There are several repeated ideas in this passage.  You are blessed by God.  You are not an accident.  God knew you before the creation of time.  God chose you.  God predestined you, which we understand to mean that God knew, before the creation of time, that you would accept his invitation. God has not only invited you to be a part of his kingdom, he has adopted you, and not just adopted, but “adopted to sonship.”  That means that we are adopted and given full and complete legal rights as if we were genetically, and biologically, born into his family.  Even though we were born two thousand years after Jesus, Paul tells us that we were included in the kingdom of Jesus Christ as soon as we heard the message of truth and the gospel of salvation.  When you believed, God marked you, indelibly and permanently, as his own.  The Spirit of God is a down payment, a deposit, earnest money, guaranteeing our inheritance until we finally arrive in the kingdom to which we belong.

You see, although we have never set foot inside the walls of the fortress of God, it is, absolutely the place where we belong. It is our home.  It is the place where we will meet our extended family and everyone else who has been adopted as brothers and sister of Jesus Christ.  This is the place that God has prepared for us.

But we are constantly pulled between these two kingdoms.  Just like Herod, we feel the pull of the kingdom of flesh, calling us to a life of ego, self, lust, violence and death.  But, like David, we also hear the invitation of God.

The way of Herod leads to death.

But the way of David leads to life eternal.

To which kingdom will you belong?

 

 

_________

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