Fear and Peace

Fear and Peace

April 11, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 20:19-31                                    Acts 4:32-35                           1 John 1:1 – 2:2

In his description of soldiers at war, in his novel “War and Peace,” Leo Tolstoy describes how disciplined and trained soldiers would be marched into battle, but once they came under fire would be seized by fear, become a disorganized rabble, and chaotically flee for their lives.  But, once having reached the rear, and being no longer afraid, would once again fall under the discipline of their command, reorganize, and march forward into battle.  But, once they came under fire, would again be seized by fear, and the process would repeat itself.  This observation led Tolstoy to conclude that,,,

“Man cannot possess anything as long as he fears death. But to him who does not fear it, everything belongs.” (Leo Tolstoy, “War and Peace”)

While the resurrection story doesn’t contain the same sort of warfare that Tolstoy was describing, we do see many of the same human reactions to fear at the beginning.  However, the power of Jesus’ resurrection allows us to see a transformative change in the disciples and other followers of Jesus, particularly as it relates to fear.  We rejoin the gospel story on Easter Sunday evening as described in John 20:19-31.

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

When we join the disciples, they are hiding behind locked doors because they are afraid that the church leaders who had rigged an illegal trial to convict Jesus would be looking for them next.  But in the middle of their fear, Jesus arrives and his first words to them are, “Peace be with you.”  Jesus knows that the disciples were missing something, and immediately shares two things with them.  First, Jesus gives them purpose by declaring that the mission that God had given to him was now being passed on to them, and second, Jesus gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit that will empower them and give them the strength that they will need to do that work.

But not everyone was there.  Thomas was not among them when Jesus appeared and, as clearly as they tried to explain it to him, and regardless of the trust that they had built among one another over the last three years of their ministry together with Jesus, he remained skeptical.  And his skepticism remained until he met Jesus for himself and put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand where the spear had pierced him.  But Jesus knew that not everyone would be able to see him and touch him to cure them of their skepticism.  And of those people, to whom the disciples would be sent, Jesus declares a blessing for their ability to overcome doubt and skepticism and find faith.

John declares that his reason for writing this gospel was so that those people, people like us, could hear the story from the eyewitnesses who, saw it, felt it, and lived it, and believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing might find life that was unafraid, bold, and courageous.  That transformed life, that started in fear of the church leaders, ended with disciples and followers of Jesus who were unafraid to preach the gospel and share the stories about the things that they had seen, heard, and lived.  And Luke describes how that transformation changed them, as individuals, and as a group, in Acts 4:32-35 saying…

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

One transformation that was caused by the three years of living beside Jesus, and of the resurrection, was that the disciples and followers of Jesus became a family that not only shared their life experiences together, but a family that shared their finances together.  They shifted from claiming that they individually owned their possessions, to recognizing that God owned everything and entrusted their possessions to them.  I don’t think that’s the same as declaring that all their possessions were owned collectively, because the owners of those lands and houses still oversaw and administered the wealth and the possessions that they had, but they now shared that wealth in a new, and deeply generous, way so that everyone in their community of faith was cared for and had the things that they needed.

In 1 John 1:1 – 2:2, a letter that was written to circulate among established churches and gathering places of believers, the apostle John wrote:

1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make ourjoy complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from allsin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

John reminds the churches that from the beginning, the disciples, apostles, and followers of Jesus took up the mission of sharing what they knew.  They shared their experiences, what they had seen, what they had heard, and what they had lived, with the people, and the world around them.  They shared the story of Jesus Christ, they shared the story of the resurrection, and they shared the stories and lessons that Jesus had taught them.  John particularly notes that they do these things, not only as an act of obedience, but that by sharing their stories, and by sharing the story of Jesus, they receive joy.  It makes them happy to share with others the things that they had been given.

And just to be sure that no one was confused about what he was talking about, John drills down to the specifics, that the message we share is the message that we heard from Jesus, that God is light and cannot have any part with darkness.  That means that if we want to be a part of what God is doing, and be a part of God’s kingdom, and a part of God’s church, then we must do our best to walk in the light and live the way that Jesus taught us to live.

At the same time, John is clear that he was not perfect, that we are not perfect, and that the church itself is not perfect, that we sin, and that we fail to live up to the truths that we have learned.  But if we confess our sins, Jesus will forgive us and purify us.  It is John’s hope that the followers of Jesus will not sin, but if, and when, we do, we can find comfort in knowing that Jesus is our advocate.  He paid the price for our sins and stands beside the throne of God to speak for us in our times of need and to speak words of forgiveness when we fall short.

Just as the disciples were transformed by the events of the resurrection, when we put our faith in Jesus, our lives are similarly transformed.  Where we were afraid and tossed about by the events of the world around us, we become unafraid, bold, and courageous.  Our faith leads us to repentance, our repentance brings us forgiveness, and that forgiveness takes us to a place of hope, healing, recovery, joy, and peace.

Tolstoy may have been talking about something completely different, but the gospel story, and the story of Jesus’ resurrection assure us that there was truth in his words.

“Man cannot possess anything as long as he fears death. But to him who does not fear it, everything belongs.”

And, through our faith in Jesus Christ, we no longer fear death, or life, or principalities, or powers, or peer pressure, or anything else because we know that our trust and faith can only lead to joy… and peace.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/M8cRsBa8GVI

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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.

Freedom

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Freedom

April 04, 2021*

(Easter)

By Pastor John Partridge

Mark 16:1-8                           Acts 10:34-43                         I Corinthians 15:1-11

We are three months early.

Three months from today, July 4th, is our nation’s birthday and a grand celebration of freedom and independence.

An in that sense, our celebration today, on April 4th, is three months early.  But our celebration today is the celebration of a freedom that is far grander, and far more amazing, that our independence from King George and the nation of England.

The freedom that we celebrate today has been the subject of our sermons for the last seven and a half weeks and even then, we’ve barely scratched the surface of why our remembrance of this day is the cause of so much joy, gladness, and celebration.  But make no mistake, like the celebration of July 4th for the citizens of the United States of America, the Easter celebration for the citizens of the Kingdom of God and of Jesus Christ, is a celebration of freedom.  I’m going to briefly recap the last seven weeks and remind you of a few of the freedoms that we are celebrating in a little while, but first I want to read words of Mark 16:1-8 and add to our remembrance of the story of Easter that our youth began this morning in our sunrise service.

16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

As the two Marys and Salome walked to the tomb, they were worried about what Jesus body would smell like, they were worried that the stone was too large for the tree of them to move, worried that there might not be anyone to help them move it, and worried that the Roman soldiers, or whomever was guarding it, would refuse to help them, or even refuse to allow them to re-wrap Jesus’ body with the spices, incense, and aromatic tree sap that they had brought with them.  But upon their arrival, the two-thousand-pound stone had already been moved and they worried about why it had been moved.  But when they entered the tomb to look inside, instead of finding Jesus, they found a messenger from God whose first words were, “Don’t be afraid.”  But after he had given them their instructions and sent them on their way, they were still trembling, confused, and afraid.

But that initial reaction changed as they met Jesus face-to-face and realized that Jesus was alive.  As time passed, they began to understand the things that Jesus had taught them, including the things about death, burial, and resurrection that had always been confusing.  They began to understand that everything that they had seen, had happened exactly as Jesus had said that it would happen, and exactly as the ancient prophets had described hundreds of years earlier.  And, by the time that Peter stays in the home of a Roman Centurion named Cornelius in Caesarea, he has processed the lessons that he learned from Jesus in an even deeper way (Acts 10:34-43).

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Peter realized that Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament had begun something entirely new and changed the way that God’s people would engage the world around them and change the way their entire relationship with God.  The new covenant, this new contract with God, was a contract without favoritism, without nepotism, without racism, and without judgement except for the judgement of the one person who understood us best, and who was perfect, just, and infinitely wise.

And just a few decades later, Paul, having learned from the disciples, as well as through his own experience, and having had even more time to process what he had learned, seen, and heard, writes to the church in Corinth to help them to understand what the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus meant to them, and still means to each one of us (I Corinthians 15:1-11).

15:1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Paul reminds us that it was by this gospel, this story of life, death, and resurrection, through which we were saved… if we hold firmly to what we have learned.  Paul knows what his life was like before he met Jesus.  Paul knows that he is utterly undeserving of God’s rescue, let alone the honor of being counted among the disciples of Jesus Christ.  Paul remembers that he had been so anti-Jesus that he had become known as the hunter of Christ followers who had them arrested, tortured, and worse.  And because of who he was, and the life that he had once lived, Paul understands the depth of God’s mercy and grace.

Through the story of Easter, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, Paul had found freedom.  And that freedom has flowed down through history to us.  It is a freedom that is far grander than anything that we celebrate on July fourth.  It is more than our freedom from King George and the nation of England.  It is more than the freedoms enumerated in the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.

The message of the gospel is a message of many freedoms. 

Mary, Mary, and Salome learned that it is a message of freedom from fear.

Peter learned that it was a message of freedom from favoritism, nepotism, and racism.

Paul learned that it is a message of mercy, grace, and freedom from our past.

And as we’ve learned over the last seven and a half weeks, it is a message of freedom from corruption, rescue from the flood, freedom from the Law of Moses, freedom from the demands of other gods, a message of keeping God at the center of our lives, freedom from the misplaced priorities and wisdom of the world, freedom from our failures, freedom from our guilt, freedom from suffering, freedom from sin, and even freedom from death.

And that is why we repeat the story every year, and why Easter should be filled with joy.

The message of Easter was a story about freedom long before the events of the Revolutionary War and long before July fourth had any meaning to the citizens of North America.

We celebrate Easter because today is the day when God gave us the immeasurable gift of freedom.

Happy Easter everyone.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/JpemgjB6bIY

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

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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.

Sign of Rescue and Belonging

Signs of Rescue and Belonging

Signs of Rescue and Belonging

February 21, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Genesis 9:8-17                       Mark 1:9-15                           1 Peter 3:18-22

Imagine that you are driving a fifty-three foot long, fully loaded, tractor trailer, weighing thirty-five thousand pounds empty, loaded with forty-five thousand pounds of cargo, for a total of eighty-thousand pounds.  Now imagine that, as you are driving over the mountains of West Virginia, constantly shifting through ten to eighteen gears as you ascend and descend the various mountain ridges along the turnpike, that some critical component of your braking systems fail, and as you steadily gain speed going down one of the biggest and steepest grades on the highway, you now have no ability to slow down. 

Quickly your speed passes the posted legal limit, and you move to the passing lane to avoid crushing a family in a minivan.  You try downshifting but your speed is already too great and still your speed increases.  First eighty, then ninety miles per hour, and now you are desperately flashing your lights, honking your horn, and shouting on your CB radio for other trucks to get out of your way as, despite attempting everything that you can think of, your speed continues to increase.  You do everything that you can to keep your mind on the task at hand and not to think about how this will inevitably end. 

Still your imagination easily pictures mangled cars and a long plummet down the side of forested mountain valley… and then you see it.  A sign along the far side of the road announcing that only a mile away, is a runaway truck ramp.  You see it in the distance and quickly shift your truck back into the right lane as you race towards it… and almost before you think about what will happen, you leave the highway, race up and impossibly steep slope and feel your truck sink into the loose sand as it tears away at the tires and undercarriage.  Small plants, bushes, briars, and grass fly as you plow up the hillside but… finally… your slow… and come to a stop.  Your truck is probably totaled, and it will almost certainly take several wreckers, and maybe a bulldozer and a crane to get your truck off the side of this mountain… but you are alive.

Your day might have ended very differently if it hadn’t been for that small sign at the side of the highway.  That small sign gave you the warning that you needed to be.  That small sign was the symbol of the rescue that waited silently at the side of the road.  It saved your life.

It was the sign of your rescue.

For the rest of your life, whenever you see that sign, or one like it, you will remember.  And you will give thanks, not just for the sign, but for your life that you live, and the rescue that it represents.

Sometimes signs are more than just symbols.

Keep that in mind as we read the conclusion of the story of Noah in Genesis 9:8-17 where it says…

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

As God prepared to destroy a corrupt civilization, he warned the righteous and offered a way in which they might be rescued from the coming flood.  Today, although we argue whether that flood was truly a global event, nearly every culture, on every continent, has tales about a flood that destroyed the world.  But just as God provided a way for Noah and his family to survive, he also promised that there would never be another flood with the same destructive power.  And you can be sure, that every time that Noah and his family saw the sign of God’s rainbow in the sky above them, it was more than just a symbol.  They remembered their rescue… and gave thanks.

But years passed… first decades, then centuries, then millennia, and people forgot.  They forgot the flood, they forgot the ark, they forgot the rescue, and they forgot the promise.  Eventually, a rainbow was just a rainbow.  And then, Jesus began his ministry by submitting to his baptism with John in the Jordan river.  We read that story in Mark 1:9-15.

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being temptedby Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Jesus didn’t need repentance or forgiveness, but he submits to baptism as a sign of his ministry, and as a sign of God’s rescue, to the people of Israel and to the world.  The baptism of Jesus is a sign to the world that God was keeping his promises and that, as he had done for Noah and for his family, God was making a way for us to be rescued from the judgement that was coming.  The Apostle Peter describes it this way in 1 Peter 3:18-22:

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.  It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him.

And so, the disciples themselves understood the connection between the sign of Noah’s rescue and the sign of our rescue with the arrival of the Good News of Jesus Christ and his baptism.  Just as Noah and his family passed safely through the waters of the flood, God promises to bring us safely through our life in this strange, difficult, and sometimes hostile world in which we live.  Just as the ark carried Noah through the flood to the dry land that eventually followed, the gospel message, and our rescue through our baptism into a new life as a part of God’s family is a sign and a symbol of God’s promise to carry us safely through to the other side through the power of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As God prepared to bring judgment upon a corrupt civilization in the time of Noah, he warned the righteous and offered a way in which they might be rescued from the coming flood.  And now, as God prepares to bring final judgement upon all of humanity, he once again brings a warning to anyone who will listen and offers a way in which we might be rescued.  We remember that long ago, when Noah and his family looked into the sky and saw the sign of the rainbow above them, it was more than just a symbol.  They remembered their rescue… and gave thanks.  Like them, as we remember our baptism, while it is a sign and a symbol, it is also so much more than that because we see that sign, and we remember our rescue… and give thanks.

As humanity hurtles down the side of the mountain toward certain doom, there is in baptism, a sign at the side of the road pointing toward one last chance to see tomorrow.  It may not be the most impressive, amazing, or artistic sign, but it is a sign of rescue, a sign of belonging… and a sign of hope.

Let us remember our rescue and give thanks but let us also point as many others toward that sign as we possibly can so that they too can find Jesus, find rescue, find hope, and arrive, with us, on the shores of a new life on the other side.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/0nqL1PsPKp4

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

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

Watch… and Hope

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Watch… and Hope

November 29, 2020*

By John Partridge

Isaiah 64:1-9            1 Corinthians 1:3-9         Mark 13:24-37

Have you met anyone that you know lately?

Many of us have been so isolated because of the coronavirus that we don’t get to talk to very many people but when we do, one of the common thoughts that we share is, “what a strange time this is.”  Our isolation, in fact, is one of the big worries that we have about quarantines, self-isolation, and social distancing.  Social, isolation amplifies our feelings of loneliness, abandonment, depression, and hopelessness which, in turn, increases the likelihood of alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, and suicide.  And all these things, as well as our fear of disease, sickness, and death, are what makes living through a time of pandemic so hard.

But the people of scripture were familiar with hardship.

At the time of Isaiah, the Assyrian empire was on the rise and its armies were marching across the region toward Israel and Judah exactly at a time when those nations were declining in influence and military power.  Worse, Isaiah carries a message from God that Israel will be defeated, destroyed, and her people carried off into seventy years of captivity and slavery in Babylon.  Life was about to get more difficult than anyone had imagined, and everyone’s plans and dreams for the future were about to be erased and dramatically rewritten.  But before Isaiah ends that bleak message, he also includes these words (Isaiah 64:1-9):

1Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
    that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
    and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
    and cause the nations to quake before you!
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
    you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Since ancient times no one has heard,
    no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
    who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
    who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
    you were angry.
    How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
    and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name
    or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
    and have given us over toour sins.

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
    do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
    for we are all your people.

As doom approaches Israel, the prophet Isaiah prays that God would come down and reveal his power to the world just as fire unleashes its power and is revealed to anyone, and anything, that comes close to it.  Fire cannot hide the effects of its heat and, Isaiah knows that likewise, God’s power is so great that its effects cannot be hidden from the world.   When God comes down from heaven, nations quake and mountains tremble.  But Isaiah also knows that our God is different than other gods.  The God of Israel does not use power to bring death and destruction, but to help and to heal people who do what is right and who remember to follow and obey the ways of God.

But God’s love and care for the righteous is exactly the thing that has brought judgement and destruction to Israel’s doorstep.  Isaiah confesses that for too long, Israel has persecuted and sinned against the true followers of God and brought harm to them.  It was that sin against the good and the righteous that angered God against his people and caused him to turn his face from them.  Israel had entered a time when God simply refused to rescue them from themselves and allowed them to stew in the mess that they had created.  As such, Isaiah’s prayer both confesses their guilt, but also begs that God would not stay angry at them forever.  Despite their guilt, Isaiah has hope for the day that God would once again return to rescue them because, regardless of what they had done, they remained God’s chosen people.

And then, in Mark 13:24-37, at a time that was nearly as familiar with difficulty and hardship as in the time of Isaiah, Jesus picks up the Old Testament theme discussing the day of judgment and the coming of the Messiah.  At that time, Israel was no longer captive in a foreign land, but they were ruled by a foreign government, watched over by a hostile army, and paid heavy taxes to Rome.  And in that time, just as they had in the time of Isaiah, the people of Israel prayed for God’s Messiah to rescue them.  And Jesus said…

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that itis near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

Jesus reinforces God’s promise that the Messiah would return in judgement and declares that at that time, God would finally reveal his power and glory to the world and would gather his people from the ends of the earth.  But until then, Jesus reminds us that although no one can know the day or the hour of his return, the end of the world will not come completely without warning.  Just as we watch the trees during the winter, and we recognize that Spring is coming when the trees begin to bud, in the same way we will know that judgment and the end of the world is coming if we are alert and watch for the signs.

Similarly, Jesus warns his followers, and us, that we are like the servants that have been left in charge while the owner of the house is away.  We do not know when he will return, but we must watch for his return, remain at our posts, and continue to do the work that he has given us, so that we will not be found slacking when he returns.

And so, once again, God’s promise and prophecy bring hope to his people, both in the time of the New Testament and in the twenty-first century, as we look forward to the return of God’s messiah the rescue of God’s people, and the final redemption of the world.

But as is often the case, as we look forward, we often worry about how which side we will find ourselves on Judgement Day.  And so, the very passages of scripture that were intended to give us hope, are the very passages that cause us concern and steal our joy.  But Paul knew that people in the church were going to worry about that and so as he wrote to the church in Corinth, in 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, he reassured them by including this reminder:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul reminds us that it in, and through, Jesus Christ that we are enriched in every way and given our abilities to speak, to preach, to tell stories, and to carry the gospel message to the people around us.  It is through God’s gifts of speech and knowledge that God confirms the truth of our testimony.  Further, while we wait for the return of Jesus Christ, we are given all of God’s spiritual gifts to aid us in sharing the gospel and in carrying out the mission and vision of Jesus Christ.  What’s more, Paul says, is that it is Jesus, and his power, that hold us steady and firm in the against the temptations of the world, so that we will be found blameless when Jesus return and we stand in judgement.  And finally, Paul reminds us of the faithfulness of the God who called us to follow Jesus and who adopted us as his children.  If God has done all these things, and if we continue to diligently work for him while he is away, then we have nothing at all to fear when he returns because we know that on that day, the world will finally be put right, justice will be done, the broken will be repaired, the lame will walk, the blind will see, disease, suffering, poverty, and death will come to an end, and the world will finally know… peace.

And that is why, from the time of Isaiah, to the coming of Jesus, and even until today, the consistent message of scripture is that the coming of the Messiah, and the day of judgement, is not a message that should cause us fear or concern.  Instead, the message of the power of God, the birth of his Son Jesus, and the promised day of judgement was, is, and has always been…

…a message of hope.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/9XG6erKs3go

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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.

One Truth, One People, One Mission

One Truth, One People, One Mission

September 22, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1               1 Timothy 2:1-7                     Luke 16:1-13

 

Do you watch the news or read a newspaper, or even just try to keep up with what’s going on by reading an internet news feed of some kind?

No matter how you do it, if you understand the world around you with a Christian worldview, we often cycle between several questions about the insanity that seems to be going on around us.  And, not surprisingly, some of the questions that we ask ourselves are the same questions that the followers of God have been asking themselves for millennia.  Six hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Jeremiah watched as his nation was carried off in to captivity and he weeps, laments, and cries out to God with what I see as two common questions (questions that we still often ask today), and one wish that offers direction to us today.  (Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1)

18 You who are my Comforter in sorrow,
    my heart is faint within me.
19 Listen to the cry of my people
    from a land far away:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
    Is her King no longer there?”

And there is the first question.  Jeremiah says, ‘My people have been carried away into captivity in a faraway land.’ And he asks the question, ‘Has God abandoned us?’  ‘Is God no longer the God in Jerusalem?’

“Why have they aroused my anger with their images,
    with their worthless foreign idols?”

And there we find the second question: ‘Or, have we abandoned God?”

20 “The harvest is past,
    the summer has ended,
    and we are not saved.”

21 Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
    I mourn, and horror grips me.
22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
    for the wound of my people?

9:1 Oh, that my head were a spring of water
    and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
    for the slain of my people.

Jeremiah finds uncertainty amid the chaos of war. The northern kingdom of Israel had been captured more than a hundred years earlier and now he watches as Jerusalem and all of Judea is captured and her people carried off into captivity in Babylon.  But in the middle of his uncertainty, Jeremiah cries out that if all he can do is weep, then his wish is that he might be able to weep even more.  This is powerful.  In the middle of Jeremiah’s powerlessness, his wish is that he might at least be able to do more of the little that he is able to do.  Think about that, because we’re going to come back to that idea before we’re finished.

In one sense, this wish, or this prayer, of Jeremiah has some of the same heart as the shrewd manager in the story told by Jesus on Luke 16:1-13 where we hear this:

16:1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.  “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’  “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’  “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.  “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus is quick to point out that wealth, and wealthy people, isn’t evil just because one person has it and another doesn’t.  Instead, Jesus makes the point that wealth isn’t evil at all if that wealth is used to bring people into the kingdom of God.  And to those of us who fall short of being called wealthy, Jesus emphasizes that the goal isn’t to be rich, but to be trustworthy in handling whatever we have been given.  We cannot serve money, but we can use it as a tool to serve God.

At the end of the day, the manager in Jesus’ story didn’t have much once he knew that he was going to lose his job.  He didn’t have much time, he didn’t have much money of his own, he wasn’t strong enough to work in the fields or as a laborer, he didn’t have any notable skills, but he is commended by his master because he was shrewd enough to use what he had to make place for himself in the homes of several of his master’s customers after he lost his job.  And there is that lesson that we heard in Jeremiah, no matter how much or how little you have, you can use what you have.

But to what end?

What is our purpose?  As the people of God and as the followers of Jesus Christ, what should we be doing?

And that is exactly the question that Paul answers in his letter to his protégé and friend, Timothy, in 1 Timothy 2:1-7.

2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

First, Paul says that we should pray, not just for our friends, and not just for the people that agree with us, and not even just for our allies, but that we should pray for everyone.   Paul says that, even in a world where authority was abused and kings were often terrible, cruel, and violent despots, we should even pray for kings and people in positions of authority, so that we might be left alone and live quiet lives, and spread the good news of Jesus Christ without interference.  Next, Paul reminds Timothy that God wants all people to be saved and come to know one, single, truth: There is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, Jesus Christ.  Jesus came, not to save the rich, or the poor, or the people of Israel, or church people, or even good people.  Jesus’ mission was to give himself as a ransom for all people.

The Old Testament and New Testament are not different stories, they are the stores from different times about the same truth, the first is about the promise of God and the second is about the fulfillment of that promise.

And so, we remember that there is one truth, that there is one God, and one mediator between God and mankind, Jesus Christ who gave himself as a ransom for all people.  There is only one people, the people of God, who know that the rescue of all humanity flows through Jesus Christ and him only.  And there is only one mission, to do everything in our power, whether we have much or whether we have little, to use everything that we do have, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible.

That means, that like Jeremiah, we should pray that we could do more with what little we have.  That means that like the shrewd manager, we should use whatever we have, whatever we have been given and whatever lies at our disposal, to serve God, and gain friends that can be with us in eternity.

There’s nothing wrong with being rich, if you use your money for God.

Most of us will never be rich.

But you don’t have to be rich.

You just need to be smart and use what you have.

 

 

 


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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.

Yes, I Can!

 

No, you can’t!
Yes, I can!


February 03, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Jeremiah 1:4-10                     Luke 4:21-30             1 Corinthians 13:1-13

 

Have you ever been irritated when people tell you what can’t do? Or when they decide that you aren’t good enough to accomplish your goals?  You know what I mean.  You’ve heard phrases like, “You aren’t smart enough to do that.” Or, “You should set your sights a little lower.”  Or, “There’s no way that you can do all those things at the same time.”  Often, people are genuinely trying to helpful when they say discouraging things like these because they don’t want us to be disappointed if we fail.  But if we never try, then we’ve already failed, haven’t we?  Even worse, some of these messages come from inside of our own heads.

There’s an old saying that has often been used in the military as well as in business, “The person who says something is impossible should not interrupt the person who is doing it.”  -unknown

We don’t like being told that our dreams, our goals, or our aspirations are impossible.  But hearing these negative messages, whether they come from others or from inside of ourselves, can lead us in in one of two directions.  Either they motivate us to prove them wrong, or they cause us to give up before we even start.

On May 16th, 1946 the musical, Annie Get Your Gun, premiered on Broadway starring Ethel Merman and Ray Middleton.  In the play, there is a musical exchange between Annie Oakley and her romantic interest, sharpshooter, Frank Butler which results in the song, Anything You Can Do, by Irving Berlin.

Anything You Can Do – Irving Berlin

Anything you can do I can do better
I can do anything better than you
No, you can’t
Yes, I can
No, you can’t
Yes, I can
No, you can’t
Yes, I can! Yes, I can! Yes, I can!

So, what does any of this have to do with the Bible or with our church?

Simply put, when it comes to living a life the way that Jesus wants us to live it, we are constantly hearing, “No, you can’t” from others and from inside our own heads.  But that’s not the way it has to be.  We begin this morning listening to the voice of the prophet Jeremiah as he describes the conversation he had with God when God first called him to be his prophet.  (Jeremiah 1:4-10)

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,
    before you were born, I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

God begins by saying, before your parents even met one another, I knew you.  Before I made you, created and crafted you, I knew everything about you.  When you were just a sperm and an egg, I knew who you were and what you would become.  And even then, I called you to be mine and to be my voice to the people, and to the nations, around you.  And Jeremiah, being somewhere between 12 and 20 years old, protests that he is too young and doesn’t have the skills to speak in public.  But God isn’t listening to any of that.  God commands Jeremiah to do it anyway and tells him, “Yes you can.”  Don’t be afraid of church people, or kings, or the strangers that he would encounter on his mission.  And we can hear that same voice as it echoes to us, “Yes, you can.”  Don’t be afraid that you won’t have the right words, or that you are too young.  Don’t be afraid of the mission field, or your coworkers, or your classmates.

God knew you before you were born and had already called you to follow him, work for him, and speak for him.  Maybe not to kings and nations, but to friends, neighbors, and others that might not ever meet Jesus any other way.

And if you’re still worried that people might not like your message, remember that even Jesus spoke to some tough crowds.  In Luke 4:21-30, we hear the story of when Jesus returns to preach in his own home town and in what was probably the synagogue that he grew up in.

21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

As Jesus reads scripture in the synagogue in his home town, the people are amazed, not because of the power that flows behind the words, but simply because they knew his father, and had watched him grow up.  Rather than being impressed, they are incredulous.  They wonder how this guy can speak so well when he, and his father, were just simple, uneducated, poor, working people.  And from that, Jesus anticipates their next question.  Jesus knows that their next question will be to demand that he perform a miracle for them just as he had in other towns.  The thought that dwells on their minds is, “We don’t believe that a poor laborer can ever become anyone of importance.  If this guy is all that great, prove it.”  And even before they can ask the question out loud, Jesus simply says, “No.”  And, as if to add insult to injury, Jesus reminds them about prophets of the ancient world who performed miracles for foreigners, but not for anyone in Israel.

While the people doubt Jesus and seem to say, “No, you can’t,” Jesus, while clearly refusing to perform a miracle in front of them, Jesus is just as clearly saying, “Yes, I can.”

And the people Jesus grew up with tried to throw Jesus off a cliff.

This story should teach us several things.  First, it should remind us that the message of Jesus Christ is a radical message.  Not everyone wants to hear it, and having heard it, not everyone is going to like it.  The people of our churches, and the people of our culture, often think of Jesus as this mellow, likeable, easy-going teacher, but the truth is that his message was so radical that even the people he grew up with tried to kill him.  Second, Luke is clear that we don’t choose when or where God does his work.  It isn’t up to us to demand that God perform miracles when we want them.  God is God and we are not.  God chooses whom he will heal, and whom he will not.  God chooses, who walks in the door of our churches, and God chooses which of our friends might have a receptive heart to accept the message that we share with them.  It isn’t, and never has been, up to us.  Third, we need to remember that if the message of Jesus was rejected even when it was preached by Jesus, then we shouldn’t be surprised if some of the people who hear us share that message reject it as well.  Remember that while the farmer is expected to plant seeds, he doesn’t get to choose which seeds grow.

And after all these lessons, Paul has a few things to say to us also, this time not so much about doing the work of the church, but what kind of people we should be while we do it.  In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes these words (1 Corinthians 13:1-13):

13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I am convinced that in writing these words, Paul is addressing the same sort of people in the church that we still see regularly today, and he is plainly telling them to knock it off.  You know who I’m talking about because you’ve surely met some, or at least seen them on television.  These are the people who somehow manage to make the message of Jesus into something that sounds hateful, hurtful, unloving, restrictive, rule-based, exclusive, and everything that Jesus preached and fought against.  And in answer to these people, Paul preaches a message of love.  No matter what great gifts God may have given to us, they are useless and pointless if we don’t make love a higher priority.  Love must be one of our highest priorities because, at the end of the day, Paul says, only three things are truly enduring, faith, hope, and love.

We live in a world that seems determined to shout us down and tell us that we aren’t good enough, that we aren’t smart enough, or educated enough, or pretty enough, or handsome enough, or rich enough, or powerful enough, or famous enough, or some other thing.  We’ve heard those negative messages so many times that we’ve internalized them, and we hear their echoes coming from inside of our own heads and our shattered self-confidence.  And together they are shouting “No, you can’t.”

But, if we listen, we can hear the voice of God quietly proclaiming to a young Jeremiah, to Jesus, to Paul, and to his followers everywhere, “Yes, you can.”

In scripture, over and over again, God promises that he will equip us for the mission that he has given to us.  When God called Jeremiah to speak, he promised that he would have the words to speak.  God said, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.”  But that doesn’t mean that everyone who hears our message is going to like it or is going to respond the way we hope that they will.  After all, the people that Jesus grew up with tried to throw him off a cliff.  But regardless of their reaction, we are commanded to share our message with them anyway.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, we are called and commanded, to go out into our world and share the good news of the gospel message.  We are called to plant seeds.  We have no idea which seeds will grow, but like every farmer, we must trust that God will use some of those seeds to bring about a great harvest of souls.

Know that God has sent us into our community and into the world to share the message of God’s rescue.

There’s no need to preach at people.  Simply plant seeds of faith, hope and love.

And as you hear the voices in our culture shouting, “No, you can’t,” have courage in knowing that God will give you everything that you need to do what he has sent you to do.

And sing your answer back to the world, “Yes, I can. Yes, I can. Yes, I can.”

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

Foreigners or Family?

“Foreigners or Family?”

January 07, 2018

(Epiphany)

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 60:1-6                          Ephesians 3:1-12                               Matthew 2:1-12

 

 

Since this is the beginning of a new year, let’s take a moment to be introspective.  Let’s take a look deep inside of ourselves. Over the past month or so we’ve discussed the idea of “us” and “them” a few times and we’re going to touch on that one more time today as well.  And so, the question I want you to consider is this: who in your life is “the other?”  Perhaps if you are a college educated person with college educated parents, “the other” is a person who works a blue collar job for an hourly wage.  But if you are a blue collar, union member from a long line of union members, then maybe “the other” is someone who wears a tie to work every day in some high rise building downtown, or in New York or some other big city.  Maybe “the other” person is a CEO, or a multimillionaire, whose job, and entire lifestyle is really more than you can even imagine.  Or maybe your life has been mostly comfortable and “the other” is a homeless person who is so unlike you, and unlike your life’ experiences, that you can’t even imagine how they got there or what it must be like to call a little spot under a bridge “home.”  Many of our families have been living on this continent for so long that we have no idea what it’s like to be someone who was born somewhere else and immigrated here or who has moved here temporarily on a work visa.  In many places that I have lived, and I imagine that this area isn’t terribly different, I knew people who had never left the county they were born in, and quite a few who had never been anywhere outside the state of Ohio.  For them, “the other” can often be people who travel or almost anyone who has come here from Texas, or California, or somewhere else, especially those who have come here from another country.

 

Think about who “the other” might be for you.  Who is it whose life, and whose life experiences, are so vastly different that yours, that you have a hard time understanding the things that they do, how they act, the choices that they make, the things that they like and dislike, and who they are as a person?

 

Who is it that is so different from you that you can barely imagine having a conversation with them, let alone consider the possibility that one day you might be friends?

 

Got it?

 

Now, keep that person in mind as we consider our scriptures for today, which is Epiphany, the day that we celebrate the coming of the Wise Men.

 

We begin once again by reading from the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 60:1-6 where we hear these words…


60:1
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

 

Isaiah writes of a time, in the future, when God’s messiah would come and the entire world would rejoice, bring gifts, and bring praise and worship to God.  From our side of history, we take this for granted, but in the time of Isaiah, and up until the coming of Jesus, Israel was God’s chosen people.  God had made a covenant with Abraham and it was only his family that had a relationship with God.  In order for other people, or other nations to worship Israel’s god, they had to come to Israel and to her temple, and worship there.  In order for them to follow God and to have a relationship with him, they would have to be circumcised (at least the men, obviously) and become practicing Jews, but in order to be a practicing Jew, it was necessary to make occasional visits to the temple to make sacrifices and to celebrate holy days.  While people from other nations occasionally came to faith in Israel’s god and converted to Judaism, it was fairly rare.  For the most part, the people of Israel considered foreigners to be “the other.”  Israel was “us” and everyone else was “them.”  Hundred of years had passed since women like Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba had converted to Judaism, but even though they belonged to the genealogy of King David, they were still referred to as Gentile women.  Gentiles and foreigners were always “the other.”

 

This is one reason that Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy that breaks with tradition and includes five women (women were rarely, if ever included in official genealogies), three of whom were foreigners and Gentiles.  From the beginning, Matthew makes sure that his reader understands that the thing that God is doing is not limited to men, or even limited to the nation of Israel.  And then we come to Matthew 2:1-12, where we hear about the coming of the Wise Men.


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

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

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

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

 

A great deal can be said about the coming of the Magi, but for today it is enough to point out that this is exactly the beginning of what Isaiah was talking about.  Foreigners, Gentiles, people who were clearly “the other” came to Israel from a distant country rejoicing, bringing gifts, and bringing praise and worship to God.  Just as Isaiah had said, “the other” was being invited in.  Two weeks ago, I talked about outsiders who were invited in.  These were people like the shepherds, people who technically belonged but who, for the most part, lived on the fringes of society.  But the Magi are an entirely different class of outsiders.  These aren’t people from the family of Abraham who had taken a bad path, or who smelled bad, or who were cast aside because they were poor, or even because they were unclean, the Magi were totally outside.  The Magi were never a part of God’s covenant.

 

They… were never… us.

 

Until now.

 

In Ephesians 3:1-12, Paul explains just how dramatically, and earth-shatteringly radical and important this really was.


3:1 
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

 

Paul’s message is that with the coming of Jesus, the Gentiles are now not only welcomed into the Temple, but are adopted into God’s family as co-heirs with Israel, members of one body, one church, and one people.

 

For almost everyone in Israel and Judea, everyone who was Jewish, and everyone who worshipped Israel’s God, the Gentiles, more than anyone else, had been considered to be “the other.”  While shepherds, prostitutes, and even those that collaborated with the enemy like tax collectors, and half breeds like the Samaritans, were considered to be aliens and outsiders, they at least had some connection, however distant, to the family of Abraham.  But the Gentiles were the ultimate outsiders.  They were completely outside the family of Abraham.  They weren’t Jewish at all.  They had never belonged.  As much as Israel admired King David and King Solomon, and even though they looked forward to a King that would come from David’s royal family, they still considered women like Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba to be Gentiles and outsiders.  Despite converting to Judaism, despite marrying into the family, despite worshipping Israel’s god, and despite being the matriarchs of one of Israel’s greatest families, they were still thought to be “the other” because they were foreigners.

 

But both Matthew and Paul are very clear that the coming of Jesus changed all that.

 

With the birth of the Messiah, Jesus, there is no longer anyone whom we can consider to be “the other.”

 

The most ‘other’ outsiders that existed had not only been invited in, they had been adopted as brothers and sisters.  And not only were they adopted, they were included as equal in God’s inheritance, co-heirs with God’s chosen people.

 

As followers of Jesus Christ, there is no longer anyone that we can think of as “the other.”  Not the rich, not the poor, not the educated or the uneducated, not city people, not country people, not blue collar or white collar, union or non-union, well to do or homeless, and not American, immigrant, or foreigner.

 

There are no longer outsiders.

 

There is no longer anyone that we can call foreigners.

 

There is only…  family.

 

And Paul says that, as the church, God has given us the mission to make sure that everyone hears the story of Jesus, and feels like family in the church.

 

In this New Year, let us resolve to be that kind of a church.

 

 

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

 

Do the Impossible

“Do the Impossible”

June 18, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 18:1-15                 Matthew 9:35 – 10:8                  Romans 5:1-8

 

 

Have you ever been asked to do the impossible?

 

On this Father’s Day, I suppose it’s fair to ask all of you fathers, just how intimidated you were that first time someone put a tiny baby in your arms and you realized that you were responsible for their life.  Did that seem to be a nearly impossible task at times?

 

One of the challenges facing our president and the Congress of the United States is to find a way to control spending, increase income, or in some other way, or combination of ways, to balance the budget and reduce not only our annual deficit, but to begin to repay the tens of trillions of dollars of our debt before our nation defaults on its obligations.  While some politicians might argue about the necessity of repaying our debts, most politicians, from both major parties, would likely argue that doing what I just described, as an impossible task.  Some mathematicians have already argued that it may soon be mathematically impossible to get out of the hole that we are digging for ourselves.

 

While this is obviously worrisome, many of us understand what it means to be told that something is impossible. Most of us, at one time or another have been asked to do things that were close to, if not totally impossible.  We were frustrated when our bosses asked us to do too much with too little or asked us to convince a client of something we knew they wouldn’t like.  But many of us also know of couples who have been told that they could not have children, and then did.  We know of people who were told that loved ones would not survive, and then did.  But no matter how it happened, we are all well acquainted with what it means to face an impossible task and this is the theme that we find woven throughout today’s message.  We begin with the story of Abraham and Sarah found in Genesis 18:1-15.


18:1 
The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

 

Sarah is not afraid of the difficult.  When three visitors come to their encampment, Abraham sends her to get three seahs of flour and bake bread and, chances are, that when we read this we are unimpressed.  But we should be.  If we take the time to read the marginal notes in our bibles, we discover that three seahs of flour amounts to about 36 pounds and so would make at least a similar amount of bread and perhaps even considerably more after accounting for all the other ingredients.  Imagine not only making thirty six, but perhaps even fifty, loaves of bread, but mixing and kneading them, by hand, and then baking them over an open fire.  While we know that Sarah had servants and almost certainly didn’t do this alone, this was a huge job and probably took the better part of the day to accomplish.  Sarah was not intimidated by hard work or by a difficult task.  But when she hears the Angel of God say that she will bear a child, when she is already well past the age when women have children, Sarah recognizes the impossible when she hears it.  By some accounts Sarah was already almost one hundred years old, the very idea of her getting pregnant and having a baby at that age was so completely preposterous that when she heard it, she laughed at the idea.  And even though she had not laughed out loud, and even though she had kept her thoughts to herself, God knew her thoughts.

 

And God’s question for Sarah was simple.

 

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

 

Clearly, this is a rhetorical question.  Whenever anyone asks a question such as “Is anything impossible for God?” obviously we are intended to understand that the answer is “No.”

 

The God of creation, the God who spoke the universe into existence, is a god who does the impossible.

 

But what does that have to do with us?

 

What difference does it make, in my life, or in the life of the church, that we worship a god that does the impossible?

 

And in order to answer that question, let us first turn to the words of Romans 5:1-8, Paul says this:


5:1 
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

For our purposes today there are two things that I want to point out.  First, we have peace with God, through our faith in Jesus Christ, and second, that the Spirit of God has been given to us, and through him God’s love has been poured into our hearts.  I also want to take a moment to consider what Paul says in verse six as he says, “When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”  Think about that.  What does he mean by saying “when we were still powerless?”  From the context of what Paul has written we can understand that we, the ungodly, were powerless at the time when Jesus gave his life to atone for our sin.  But by saying so, Paul is also communicating that we are no longer powerless, and if we are no longer powerless, then we might wonder what power we now have that we did not have before.  And the answer is one that Paul has already given to us when he said, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

 

We are no longer powerless, because the Spirit of God has been given to us and the love of God has been poured out into our hearts.

 

We are not powerless because God lives within us.

 

And with that in mind we come to Matthew 9:35 – 10:8, where we find Jesus sending his disciples out to continue the work that he had been doing.


9:35 
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”


10:1 
Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

 

Jesus gives his disciples the authority to drive out impure spirits, to heal disease, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, to rescue the lost sheep of Israel, and to proclaim the coming of the messiah.

 

All of these things are difficult.

 

Some would say that many of these things are impossible.

 

But the followers of Jesus Christ have been given the power of the Spirit of God that lives within us and we have been given the authority of Jesus Christ to do the work that he has given us to do.

 

Not only do we worship the God of the impossible, not only is our God the god who does the impossible, but that same God has equipped us and called us to do the impossible through the power of the Spirit of God that lives within us, and through the authority of Jesus Christ that has been given to us.

 

Jesus said, “proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

 

Go.

 

Go, and be good fathers to your children and to the children that you know that don’t have a father of their own.

 

Go and heal the sick, raise the dead, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widows and the orphans, preach the Good News

 

Go, and do the Jesus thing in the Jesus way.

 

Go.

 

Do the impossible.

 

 

 

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

 

Resurrection. Then What?

“Resurrection. Then What?”

February 07, 2016

By John PartridgeU

 

Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-13                      1 Corinthians 15:1-11                       Luke 5:1-11

Have you ever tried to figure out one of those Rube Goldberg machines?  If you aren’t familiar with the name “Rube Goldberg,” these contraptions are those machines that take lots of unnecessary steps to do something simple.  The beginning of the television detective show, “Elementary,” starring Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson begins with that sort of machine. There are many videos on the Internet that show these kinds of machines and a few really incredible ones by the musical group “OK Go.  Years ago, Kermit the Frog used to have one occasionally to talk about “what happens next” and with each step he would talk about, not surprisingly, what happens next.  Whether we are young enough to watch Sesame Street, or old enough to remember when Basil Rathbone was the definitive Sherlock Holmes, watching these sorts of things is fascinating as we all wonder how the builders think and we wonder what will happen next.

It is with this fascination that we look forward to the next book in a series, or the next sequel to our favorite movie.  And it is with this same fascination that we read other stories, including scripture, and we wonder, what happens next.  And so, even though the Easter story of Jesus’ resurrection is the highlight of the Christian year, and the climax of the Biblical narrative, we keep on reading to see what happens next until Jesus ascends into heaven, and then later, the story of Pentecost.

But then what?

When we read the Bible like a story that has a beginning, middle and end, we know that the Old Testament is the beginning and has a lot of the background and back stories that we need to understand the characters.  We understand that the Christmas story is the beginning of the Jesus story and Easter and the resurrection are the climax.  But what happens next?  Is the story over when Jesus returns to heaven?  Obviously, the disciples go out into the world and their story is in the rest of the New Testament, but what is the point?  If the whole story starts in Genesis, and Easter is the climax, then what’s the point?  We read these stories and we often wonder… what happens next?

To answer that, let’s begin once again in Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-13) so we can understand the background that led to the coming of Jesus the Messiah.


6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

He said, “Go and tell this people:

“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’  10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.  Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

11 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”

And he answered:

“Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, 12 until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken.
13 And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

Isaiah proclaims that Israel will be destroyed, the cities left empty, houses deserted, fields and crops burned, and even those who survive will face another round of destruction until even the forests are left with only stumps.  All of Israel is described as a desolate wasteland.

But hope remains.

Isaiah doesn’t describe the stumps of the trees as dead things as most of us would expect, but as seeds.  “The holy seed will be the stump in the land.”  Isaiah wants the people to know that the holy seed, that thing that God is doing, remains in the land.  Although the land is desolate and the people are few, God is not dead.  Instead, both the land and the people of Israel are to endure a time of dormancy.  In more modern language, Isaiah says, “Winter is coming.”  But dormancy and winter, although dreary and dark, still contain a seed of hope… the hope of spring.

And we find the spring in the coming of Jesus.  In Luke 5:1-11 we hear these words:

5:1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken,10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

In this short story, there are several things that reveal who Jesus is.  The fishermen can see immediately that Jesus is able to see things in nature that they cannot.  They see that Jesus can see in each of them, what they could not see in themselves.  They see that God can prepare a blessing for them even though they cannot see it.  And finally, they see that Jesus’ knowledge of the world, and of them, is truly frightening.  For these men there was no doubt that the seed Isaiah spoke of had sprouted, there was no doubt that winter was over, and that the promised Messiah had come.

That was God’s story all along.  Eight hundred years before the coming of Jesus, during the life of the prophet Isaiah, God knew.  God knew that Jesus would stand by that lake; he knew that those fishermen would be there, and he knew that those fish would be where he needed them to be.

God knew.

It was a part of his story.

But where does that leave us?

How does this all lead us to what happens after the resurrection?

And so, let us turn to 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, where Paul is answering a very similar question.

15:1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

At first, this may not seem to answer the question about what happens after the resurrection but it does, so bear with me for just a minute.

Paul says that the story of Jesus, his birth, life, death, and resurrection, is what he has preached, what we have all believed, and that our belief in that story is what has saved us.  Then Paul says that this story, that Jesus died for our sins, is of first importance.

And so what happened after the resurrection of Jesus?

After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to the twelve disciples.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred men and women who believed in him, and then he appeared to Paul and converted him as well.

And if we go one step further, what happened next?

What did the disciples do after they saw Jesus resurrected, alive, and walking the earth?  What did the five hundred do when they heard?  What did Paul do when he heard?  And what did Paul’s church do when he told them?

They all did what Paul was doing.  They all considered that story, the birth, life, death, resurrection of Jesus to be of first importance, to be more important than anything else.  And all of them committed their lives to telling others what had happened so that they could also hear the good news and be saved.  Each generation that has heard this story has believed that it was true, and they took upon themselves that same mission.  Each generation told the next generation until now that story has come down to us.

Every story has a beginning, middle, and end.  God’s story didn’t end with the resurrection.  God’s story is still being written.

“What happens next,” has been happening for two thousand years and is still happening today.

What happens next is that the story that Paul told is still the story of first importance.  The story of the Gospel message is still the most important story ever told, it is still the most important story that we know, and it is still the most important thing that we do.

What happens next is that we must still do what the disciples did, what the five hundred did, what Paul did, and what every generation since then has done.

We are no longer the people who listen; we have become the people who know the story.  And because we know the story, the story that is of first importance, it is our turn, it has become our job, our mission, to share that message of good news with anyone who hasn’t yet heard it.

That is what happens next and that is what happens after the resurrection.

The Gospel story is of first importance.

And sharing that story with others is the first, and the most important, thing that we do.

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