Escape from “Try-Fail-Repeat”

Escape From “Try-Fail-Repeat”

July 05, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” – Japanese proverb

 

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67   

Romans 7:15-25a                  

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

 

If you do a search online for quotes about falling down, or about failure, you will be bombarded with results and it isn’t difficult to understand why.  Failure is as common to the human condition as breathing.  We learn to stand, and to walk, by falling down and pushing ourselves back up again.

And often repeated, and likely ancient, Japanese proverb says, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

But sometimes simply trying again isn’t enough.  As much as we might want to win an Olympic gold medal, most of us will never win one.  For couples struggling with infertility, simply trying again may never be enough.  And those of us in the church, who have spent years, even decades, trying to follow the teaching and the example of Jesus Christ have sometimes despaired over our repeated inability to get it right.

So, what should we do?

Are we doomed to continually repeat our mistakes?

Will we ever be good enough?

Is there any hope for us?

Of course, there is.  But first, let’s begin by remembering the story of how Abraham sent one of his servants on a quest to find a wife for his son Isaac.  Knowing that the Canaanite people, among whom he lived, worshipped different gods than he did, and had different values than he did, Abraham sent his servant back to Ur, among the Chaldean people, to Abraham’s own extended family to search for a wife for his son.  And when the servant arrived there, he described his mission this way in Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67.

34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. 36 My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. 37 And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, 38 but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’

 42 “When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘Lord, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. 43 See, I am standing beside this spring. If a young woman comes out to draw water and I say to her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar,” 44 and if she says to me, “Drink, and I’ll draw water for your camels too,” let her be the one the Lord has chosen for my master’s son.’

45 “Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’

46 “She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too.’ So, I drank, and she watered the camels also.

47 “I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’

“She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milkah bore to him.’

 And when her family had heard the story 58 …they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?”

“I will go,” she said.

Why is that important?  Simply because the odds against success of Abraham’s servant were astronomical.  Without GPS, or maps, or telephones, or mail, or photographs, or even a good sketch, the difficulty of even finding Abraham’s family was overwhelming and the chance that a woman there would be suitable, and available, and that both she, and her family, would be agreeable for her to leave them forever and marry a man she had never met, in a country none of them had ever been to, was almost completely impossible.

Failure was almost inevitable.

But Abraham trusted God.

And Abraham’s faith was so obvious, and evident in his daily life, that his servant understood the power of Abraham’s God and the power of an earnest prayer to that same God.  And so, Abraham’s servant prayed… with an almost impossible set of conditions… and God answered.

And, at the end of the day, the family asked Rebekah if she trusted that the servant really was who he said that he was.  Did she trust that her grandfather’s brother really did have a son that was her age?  Did she trust that Isaac was a man to whom she could tolerate being married?  All those things are built into the question when her family asks her, “Will you go with this man?”

And Rebekah trusts God, and says, “I will go.”

The odds of failure were astronomical.

But God.

When the God that created the universe by speaking it into existence is a part of the equation, the odds don’t matter.

And then, with the coming of Jesus, the world begins to understand better how God chooses to use his power and how much God cares for the people of his creation.  In Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, Jesus says:

16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 “‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

 25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus says that the people of his generation acted like the children who played in the marketplaces.  The children weren’t happy because the adults wouldn’t play their games or sing their songs, and the adults weren’t happy because John the Baptist and Jesus wouldn’t play by the rules of their games either.  Much like we often see in our culture today, their critics wanted things both ways and spoke ill of them no matter what they did.  John didn’t drink or socialize, and they said he was a demon.  Jesus drank and socialized, and they said he was a drunkard and a friend of the wrong kind of people.   But Jesus ignores the criticism and invites the world to find comfort and rest by following him. 

Are you tired of trying to live up to everyone’s expectations?  Are you tired of all the arguing?  Are you tired of the Coronavirus?  Are you tired of politics?  Are you tired of the burdens and expectations that government and culture pile on you?  Are just tired of being tired?

There is a different way.

Jesus says, “Come to me” and “I will give you rest.”  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

But how does that work when I seem to keep repeating the same mistakes?

How does that work when I can’t ever seem to be good enough?

Friends, you are not alone.  This is not a new a new question.  In Romans 7:15-25a, the Apostle Paul admitted to wrestling with the same frustrations, inadequacies, and failures and he explains it this way:

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Paul says that as hard as he intends to do good, and as hard as he tries to do good, he cannot manage to do the good things that he wants to do.  And, at the same time, as hard as her intends not to do evil, and has hard as he tries not to sin, he cannot manage to stop sinning.  Paul’s understanding is that human beings are not inherently good, that good does not live, at least exclusively, within us because we are consumed by our sinful nature.  As much as we want to do good, as hard as we try to do good, our lives become an inescapable, rotating carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat.  Paul says that the rules and laws that we know in our mind are at war with the sin that is at work within us.

But as disastrous as this might sound, this is exactly where the story turns around.

There is rescue.

There is an escape.

Our rescue from the repeating carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat is found in Jesus Christ who rescues us from ourselves and the sinful nature that lives within us.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from trying to live up to everyone’s expectations.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from all the arguing.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from the fear of the Coronavirus.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from the drone of politics.

And it is Jesus who can rescue us from the burdens and expectations that government and culture piles on you.

Are just tired of being tired?

Abraham trusted God and sent his servant on an impossible mission.

Abraham’s servant trusted that God could lead him to the woman that God had chosen.

Rebekah trusted that God had brought Abraham’s servant to her and said, “I will go.”

Jesus asks us to do the same.

Jesus says, “Come to me” and “I will give you rest.” 

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

It’s time to get off the carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat.

Come to Jesus.  Trust him.  And discover how good it feels to finally…

               …rest.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 


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

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

A Religious Heart Condition

A Religious Heart Condition

May 24, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 14:15-21

Acts 17:22-31 

1 Peter 3:13-22

 

Do you have a heart condition?

Certainly, some of you said yes, but the truth is that we all have some sort of heart condition.  Some of our hearts are strong, others are less so.  Some of our hearts are giving and generous, and others less so.  Some hearts are warm, and others are cold, and so on.  The average person has a resting pulse rate between 66 and 72 beats per minute.  Athletes in endurance sports can commonly have pulse rates between 30 and 40 beats per minute.  Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps’ was said to be 38 beats per minute at his peak, and

Miguel Indurain, an Olympic cycling gold medalist in 1996, and a five-time winner of the Tour de France is said to have registered a resting pulse rate of only 28 beat per minute.  Those athletes were likely in the peak of health and we would probably never describe them as having a heart condition, and yet, if you are I were to go to the doctor with a pulse rate anywhere close to 30, we would probably be in an ambulance before we could blink.  The condition of an athlete’s heart is medically and numerically different than the average person and their doctors understand the difference.

But throughout scripture, we discover that God has a keen interest in the condition of your heart.  In story after story, the message that we hear is much like the messages that we hear from our doctors, and that is, having the wrong kind of heart condition can be both dangerous and fatal.  And in John 14:15-21, Jesus points our that just as we wouldn’t expect someone with a pacemaker to compete in the Olympic games, neither should we expect someone with a spiritual heart condition to be the same as those who do not.  Jesus said,

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Jesus says that the world cannot accept God because they can’t see God.  We can’t expect the world to obey God and act the way that we do, because they don’t have the same heart that we do.  But because we do know God, because we do have a heart for God, then we are expected to obey the commands of God.  And, by loving God, and by obeying God’s commands, we receive the gift of life.  When we obey God, we know that God loves us back and reveals himself to us.

But although it seems like it’s a popular thing to do in our modern culture, simply loving and obeying “some” god, or “some” spirit, and just being generally “spiritual” isn’t enough.  In Acts 17:22-31, Paul explains it this way:

 22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So, you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Our modern culture would not be that unfamiliar to the people that Paul knew in Athens.  Many people were very spiritual, they each chose a god, and a style of worship that they liked, and Paul even found that they had built a place of worship for an “unknown god” just in case they missed one.  But in a message that might just resonate with us while we worry about our safety during this pandemic and shelter in place, Paul’s message is that none of these gods, and indeed none of these places of worship, were necessary.  The God who created the universe doesn’t live in temples or churches, or in anything built by human hands, and doesn’t need anything from us.  But although God doesn’t need anything, he desires that the people of his creation would look for him, find him, hear his voice, repent, and return to a relationship with him.  God doesn’t need us, but what he wants, is a relationship with us, and for us to have a heart for with him.  What God wants, is for us to have the right kind of heart condition.

But what difference does it make?

What difference does it make if we have a heart for God, and the kind of a heart condition that God wants?

The difference has everything to do with fear, freedom, rest, and being comfortable in your own skin and is described by Peter in 1 Peter 3:13-22, where he says:

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 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.

First, Paul notes that people usually notice when you are trying to do good and, most often, no one wants to stop you from doing good.  But, even if you suffer for doing what is right, you can find comfort in knowing that you are blessed.  If you get arrested for feeding the homeless or get beat up because you stopped a bully from beating up the new kid, God still knows that you were doing the right thing.  But Paul also knows that when these things happen, people are going to want to know why you did it and, when they ask, we should be prepared to tell them why we have hope, and why that hope makes us want to do what is right, even when doing right causes us suffering.  And, if you noticed, Paul says that the reason that we do it is that our hearts revere Christ as Lord.  We have a heart condition, but it’s the right kind of heart condition.

If we have hope, if we revere Jesus as Lord, if we do what is right, if we are prepared with an answer, and if we answer with gentleness and respect, then we will have a clear conscience and the people that slander us will ultimately bring shame upon themselves.  The example that we follow is the example of Jesus Christ.  Jesus suffered for doing what was right.  He suffered to make a path for us and bring us to God.  It is because of Jesus death and resurrection that baptism has become the symbol of our rescue and rebirth into a new life and into a new kind of heart condition.  Baptism, Paul says, was never about washing the dirt from our physical bodies, but about our heart condition.  Once we have our hearts in the right place, once we begin to have the heart of Jesus, then our conscience toward God becomes clear.  We live at peace and are at rest because we have a clear conscience toward God.  We become fearless, and experience true freedom, because our conscience is clear.  We become comfortable in our own skin, and with who we are, because we have the right kind of heart condition. 

Our goal isn’t to have a resting pulse rate of 40 beats per minute, but like those elite athletes, our goal is to have a different kind of a heart.

Our goal is to have a clear conscience toward God.

Our goal… is to have a heart… like Jesus.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/At65fTeqFOM


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.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


 

 

 

 

 

*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.

The Urgency of the Truth

The Urgency of the Truth

April 26, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Luke 24:13-35                        Acts 2:14a, 36-41                   1 Peter 1:17-23

 

 

Have you ever watched any disaster movies?

 

In just about every one of them, there is either a scientist that knows the truth and is trying to sound the alarm to a world that isn’t listening, or there is someone who has discovered the truth about what is going on and there is a rush to get that information to important decision makers or to the news media.  The message in both cases is clear, lives can be saved if only the truth were known.  That was the message in San Andreas with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and in “Dante’s Peak” with Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton, “2012” with John Cusack and Woody Harrelson, “Independence Day” with Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, and a great many others and all too often that is how things happen in real life as well. 

 

Lives can be saved if only the truth were known.

 

In the world’s current struggle with the Coronavirus pandemic, that’s as true in real life today as it is in the movies and the same has been true throughout history.  The more we know, the better decisions we can make, and sometimes that knowledge saves lives.  And it is that principle that we see in action in the story of the walk to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35 which says:

 

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So, he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

 

In this story, two followers of Jesus are walking home from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus seven miles away.  While they were walking, they were joined by a third man who, at the time, they did not realize was Jesus.  As they walked, Jesus explained all the prophecies of the Old Testament about the messiah and how the scriptures had, centuries earlier, told of his death, burial, and resurrection.  But when they arrived in their village, Jesus continued as if he would continue walking down the road and the two men urged him to stay with them overnight instead.  That part is well explained in the story, but it is important for us to consider why they made this offer to someone they had only just met, and why this offer, and their urgency in making it, is important to the story.

 

Remember that in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, one man, who was walking alone, was attacked by bandits, stripped, beaten, and robbed.  When Jesus told that story, everyone could easily grasp its significance because those sorts of things happened with some regularity.  The trails and paths between towns were often narrow, dark, and passed through hills or mountains where you could easily misstep, and fall to your death, and where bandits could, and did, easily lay in wait for their victims.  Walking those paths, at night, was incredibly dangerous, and doing so alone was doubly dangerous.  Sensible people travelled in groups and only in daylight.  And so, even though these two men had not recognized Jesus, and thought him to be a stranger, they urged him to stay the night with them because, even as a stranger, they cared about his well-being.  It was just too dangerous to walk the road at night.

 

But then, as he breaks bread and give thanks to God, these followers of Jesus realize that it is he who is with them and who has been walking with them for the last few hours.  It is at that moment that they realize the truth and, our story tells us, that they immediately got up and left for Jerusalem… just the two of them… in the dark.

 

But why was it that, only moments earlier, they considered it so dangerous to be out at night that they invited a total stranger to spend the night, but suddenly rush out into the night themselves?

 

And the only reasonable answer is that the information that they had just learned was a matter of life and death.  They suddenly realized the incredible urgency of the truth.  Lives would be saved if only the truth were known.  And so, ignoring the danger, these two followers of Jesus rush out into the night so that they could return to Jerusalem, find the disciples, and tell them what had happened to them.

Like the men who walked the Emmaus road, the disciples also had to decide what to do with this truth and Peter emphasizes the conclusions of the gathered disciples in his summary statement at the end of his speech in Acts 2:14a, 36-41.

 

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.

 

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

 

Peter’s summary begins, as it often does, with the word, “therefore.”   After all that they have seen, and all that they have heard, the disciples now boldly step into the public arena, at the risk of their lives, and conclude that God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah.  With that conclusion, then it is imperative that every brother, sister, Israelite, Gentile, and anyone else be urged to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and in order to receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit.  These words were not just an encouragement, but a warning.  Peter begged and pleaded with the people to hear this message because it was a matter of life and death.

 

We have often discussed the dramatic transformation of the Apostle Peter and the other disciples from fearful and afraid to people of great faith who were bold and courageous, and one critical piece of this is that they considered the news about Jesus Christ to literally be a matter of life and death.  There was and incredible urgency to the truth.

 

 Lives could be saved only if the truth were known.

 

And so, the disciples, and the other followers of Jesus, risk their lives to tell as many people as possible about the Good News of Jesus Christ.

 

But what about us?

 

Why is any of this important to us today?

 

And Peter explains that in his letter to the church in 1 Peter 1:17-23 where he says:

 

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.   23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

 

Peter reminds us that the Good News of Jesus Christ is still a matter of life and death.  The life that we had before we chose to follow Jesus was empty and led only to death.  But Jesus rescued us from death invited us into his house and gave us an everlasting life.  Our lives were saved because we heard the truth and that means that our lives were not only saved, they were changed.  Peter says that we are different because of what we know.  We no longer “fit in” the way that we used to.  And so, rather than blending in and acting as if nothing ever happened, we live differently than everyone else.  Rather than living as if we belong here, and as if we will be a part of this nation, and a part of this world, forever, instead we live as foreigners who know that this country, and this world, is not our home.  We do not belong here, and one day we will return to our true home in the only nation that is truly just, good, and loving.

 

But until then, we are just like all those scientists in all those disaster movies.  We know how the story ends.  We know the disaster that awaits people who are unprepared. 
We know that…

 

…Lives can be saved if only the truth were known.

 

And so, until it is our time to return to our eternal home, it is our job, just like the people in the movies, to rescue as many people as possible simply by spreading the Good News and sharing the truth with them.  Like the scientists in the movies, we know that not everyone is going to listen.  Not everyone will believe that there is an earthquake, or a volcano, or an alien invasion. Not everyone will believe that God’s judgement is coming.  But just like in the movies, the people who listen can be saved if the truth can be told. 

 

May we all have the courage to share the Good News, to tell the truth to everyone who will listen, and save as many lives as we can.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 


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


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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.

The Wrong Kind of Savior

The Wrong Kind of Savior

April 05, 2020*

(Palm Sunday)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Matthew 21:1-11

 

Before we begin, I want you to shout “Hosanna!” as if we were together in our sanctuary and waving Palm branches together.  Ready?  1-2-3 – now – “Hosanna!” 

 

Okay, maybe that felt a little silly but, just as we would have done if we’d been together, I want you to be ready.  Because when we get to that part of today’s scripture reading, I want you to do that again and shout “Hosanna” along with the crowd.

 

 

A year or two after Patti and I were married, we bought a house near the Summit/Stark County line with seven acres, a barn, and two fenced pastures.  In short order we had a pony, a couple of cows, some rabbits and, of course, various dogs and cats.  But even though this was the kind of a home that Patti and I had both dreamed of owning, since both of us grew up in town, there were a few things that required that we learn a few things.  We learned a lot about raising all those animals, I learned how to turn wrenches and maintain our lawn tractors and small antique farm tractor, how to improve and maintain a fence line, and many other things.  But one of the things that I didn’t really expect, was our war on poison ivy. 

 

There was a spot, at the end of our garden and not too far from our kids’ swing set, that regularly grew a patch of poison ivy.  It took a little while but, with the help of the guys at Copley feed, we finally found an herbicide that worked.  As long as we put in the effort to put on long sleeves and gloves, pull the big stuff by hand, bag it, and throw it in the trash before we sprayed the little stuff, we got that spot under control and kept our kids safe.

 

But none of that was really much help when we discovered that one entire fence line, between our property and the neighbor’s property was absolutely full of a well-established patch of poison ivy.  While there wasn’t any danger that the kids would get in it, that tangle of ivy had thick vines, was in an almost inaccessible thicket, and there was no way that Patti and I could pull it, nor could we afford enough herbicide to spray the entire fence line.  We were stuck for a solution, and all the while, that tangle of poison ivy grew taller, and thicker, and was taking over that entire side of the pasture fence. 

 

But, as it turned out, we were looking for a solution in the wrong place.  You see, once our calves grew larger, we had to alternate them between our two pastures in order to give the grass a chance to grow back on one side while they ate down the grass in the other.  And that is when the cows gave us the solution that we didn’t even realize we needed.  As it turns out, cows really like poison ivy.  They like it more than grass, or almost anything else.  They worked hard at eating our poison ivy and stretched over and through the fence anyway they could, in order to get every leaf they could possibly reach.  They didn’t kill it, but they controlled it so well that we never needed to worry about poison ivy around the pastures ever again.

 

The solution was there all along, but we were looking for it in all the wrong places.

 

That isn’t uncommon.

 

Human beings do things like that all the time.  We look to government to solve our problems when the answer lies in changing our own behavior, or in simply asking our neighbors for a little help.  And the same is often true in our spiritual lives as well.  We want God to wave some sort of magic wand and give us things that we had in our hands the entire time.

 

And that realization helps us to understand what was happening as Jesus entered Jerusalem on the day that we call Palm Sunday.  We read that story in Matthew 21:1-11 where we hear these words:

 

21:1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to Daughter Zion,
    ‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
    and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

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

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

 

[Right NOW! Say it with me… “Hosanna!”]

 

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

 

From the beginning, it is obvious that Jesus knows what lies ahead.  Jesus has been telling his disciples that he would be arrested, crucified, and rise from the dead, and he’s been telling them that for weeks.  Now we see that Jesus not only knows what will happen to him, but that he knows the details of the lives of people and animals that he’s never even met.  Jesus knows that there will be a donkey tied up in the village ahead of them.  He knows that, with the right words, his disciple can borrow them, and he knows that by arriving in Jerusalem in that way, Jesus will fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 which describes the arrival of the messiah.

 

But although Jesus knows that he is fulfilling the prophecies about God’s messiah, it is just as obvious that the expectations that the crowd, and the disciples, have for the messiah, rescuer, and savior of Israel are misguided.

 

Jesus is not what they are expecting.

 

The crowd wants the wrong kind of savior.

 

The people call Jesus the “Son of David!” and, in so doing, use a title of earthly kingship.  They shout, “Hosanna” which means “Save us” because they believe that Jesus is an earthly messiah, a military and political rescuer that will unite their nation, raise an army, and overthrow the Roman occupation.

 

But Jesus isn’t that kinds of savior.

 

Jesus didn’t come to earth to rescue God’s people from Rome.

 

Jesus came to rescue them from something far more sinister, addictive, and deeply personal.  Jesus came to rescue God’s people from themselves, from their unwholesome and unhealthy desires, from their rebellion to God, and from their sin.

 

But it was the people’s dissatisfaction with Jesus, because of their misplaced, misunderstanding of Jesus’ mission, that ultimately led to his betrayal, abandonment, trial, and crucifixion just a few days later.  And even though we live two thousand years later, and even though we are able to read the entire story, and even though the meaning has been explained to us, and even though we understand the events in a different way than the disciples and the people of Jerusalem did that day, we still run the risk of casting Jesus in the role of the wrong kind of savior.

 

Jesus is not the savior who can be called upon like a genie in a bottle to grant all our wishes and make our lives painless and perfect.

 

Jesus wasn’t then, and still is not a nationalistic savior that came to rescue his, or anybody’s nation.  Jesus didn’t come to save the United States of America or to make America great, or to transform the United States into the New Jerusalem.

 

Jesus is not the savior that came to make his followers rich, or even healthy.  In fact, one of the few things that Jesus promised, was that life would be painful and difficult.

 

But the best news is still the Good News as long as we remember what kind of a savior Jesus is.

 

Jesus is our savior, our redeemer, and our rescuer.

 

Jesus came to rescue us from our sins, to redeem us in the eyes of God, to restore us to God’s family, and to call us to a life of purity, holiness, service, love, and outreach.

 

Jesus is that kind of savior.

 

And thankfully, that’s the kind of a savior that we need the most.

 

I hope that each of you know Jesus in that way.  I hope that you have already answered his call to follow him.  But if you haven’t, I hope that you will talk to me, or email me, so that we can talk about how you can belong to God’s awesome family too.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the livestream of this message here: https://youtu.be/VXrvfleMohI

A longer version with music can be found here: https://youtu.be/aU0ofTV9c6Y


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.

Enemies No More

Enemies No More

March 15, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Exodus 17:1-7                        John 4:5-26                Romans 5:1-11

Last year, as a part of his activities in ROTC, our son Jonah participated in a competition involving a variety of firearms.  In and of itself, such a competition, for a bunch of young people who are preparing for a career as officers in the United States Army sounds pretty ordinary.  But what made it interesting, at least to me, is that it was possible, if you scored well enough, to earn an award that could be worn on your uniform.  What makes that remarkable, is that the competition is not an American competition and the award is not an American award.  Both the competition, and the award, are a part of the German army.  There are very few, if any, other similar awards, given out by other countries, that can be worn on the uniform of the United States Army and it is that rarity that highlights just how close the United States and Germany have become as allies in the last 60 years.  Imagine how odd that would seem to a time traveler that arrived here from the height of World War Two.  Or imagine their confusion at seeing the United States Navy and the Navy of Japan holding joint war games together.  Or imagine trying to explain to a visitor from the height of the Cold War, how we cooperate with Russia and other members of the former Soviet Union in building and operating the International Space Station. 

The world has changed.

Many of those nations with whom we were once at war, are now some of our closest allies.

And that idea is a big part of what we see as we read our scriptures for today.  We begin in Exodus 17:1-7, where we hear these words:

17:1 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So, Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah [Massah means testing] and Meribah [Meribah means quarreling] because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

 

For four hundred years, the people of Israel lived as slaves in Egypt and prayed that God would rescue them.  Finally, God sends Moses, they gain their freedom, and they set out across the desert.  They got what they wanted.  They have their freedom.  They have escaped the grasp of the Egyptians.  And still, they complain.  They got what they wanted, but it still wasn’t good enough.  God rescued them, but they didn’t trust God.  They grumbled against Moses and talked about going back because they weren’t sure what God intended.  The people had followed God and Moses, but only half-heartedly.  They couldn’t bring themselves to trust God when things got difficult.  And their doubt caused them to test God by asking, “Is the Lord among us or not?”  And God tells Moses to go out in front of all the people and he provided a very visible and obvious sign so that everyone will know that God is still here, God is with you, and God still cares about you.

 

More than a thousand years later, Jesus arrives with an entirely different way of demonstrating that God is with us.  And with his coming, we receive the comfort of knowing that God cares about us and our entire understanding of what it means to be an enemy is changed.  (John 4:5-42)

 

So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

 

At first, this doesn’t sound nearly as revolutionary as it really was.  Jesus, a Jew, is passing through Samaria because Samaria was in the middle of Israel and the fastest way from the north of Israel to the South of Israel was to go through Samaria.  But it was still a big deal.  For years, the Jews and Samaritans were at war with one another.  They hated one another, and the only reason that they weren’t fighting was because the Romans made certain that they didn’t.  Jewish Rabbis taught that the Samaritans were unclean.  Good Jews generally tried not to have any interaction with Samaritans at all.  Some carried food with them as they journeyed through Samaria so that they didn’t have to talk to Samaritans or buy food from them.  So bitter was their hatred for one another was that devout priests and rabbis would add several days to their journey, and go several times farther, so that they could travel around Samaria rather than through it.  On top of that, good Jewish men often tried to limit their contact with women, and if you take all these things together you begin to see why the Samaritan woman was so surprised when Jesus takes the time to speak with her and have a conversation.  You can almost hear the surprise in her voice.  “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman.  How can you ask me for a drink?”

 

And before their conversation is over, the woman understands that Jesus is the messiah for which both the Israelites and the Samaritans had been waiting, hoping, and praying for generations.  And then, based on her testimony, the entire village comes out to meet Jesus.  In an instant, generations of hatred were erased, and enemies are joined as friends and coworkers for God’s kingdom.

 

But, as I often ask, what does that have to do with us?

 

And, as is often the case, the Apostle Paul can help us to understand.  In Romans 5:1-11, we hear 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; perseverance, 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.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

 

Paul explains that it wasn’t just the Samaritans and the Jews that came together because of Jesus, the same is true for all of us.  We have been justified through faith and we have peace with God through Jesus Christ.  Not only were human beings constantly at war with one another, we were also enemies of God.  But because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have all been welcomed back into God’s family.  And, because human beings are still just as stubborn as they were in the time of Moses, God offers us a sign, a demonstration, of his love for us just as he did when he caused water to start flowing out of a rock for Moses.  Of course, in this case, the demonstration of God’s love for us is the sacrifice of his own son.  While we were powerless, Christ died for his enemies… us, so that we could be reconciled, and welcomed back into the family of God.

 

Abraham Lincoln had it right when he asked, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”   And that is exactly what Jesus did.  Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection ended our separation from God.  We are no longer the enemies of God once we believe in Jesus.  Just as the coming of the messiah brought the Jews and the Samaritans together, it also offers us hope that the warfare between other groups of humans can also be ended.  Because we are joined with Jesus, we no longer separated from one another.  Whether we are white, black, Hispanic, Indian, Asian, North American, South American, European, African, rich, poor, male, female, Jewish, Christian, rural, urban, suburban, college education, uneducated, or any other division that you can think of, once we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we are adopted by God as brothers and sisters and joined together in a common purpose for the Kingdom of God.

 

We are enemies no more. 

 

We are no longer the enemies of God, nor enemies of one another.

 

And that is the reason that Paul says that “we boast in the hope of the glory of God.”

 

Every day we hear messages of hatred.  “I hate Republicans,” or “I hate Democrats,” or corporations, or rich people, or poor people, or sick people, or the Russians, or the Chinese, or evangelicals, or progressives, or Hollywood, or… whatever.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

 

The Prince of Peace has come to end the fighting and to end the hatred.

 

We have heard the Good News.

 

God is still here.  God is with you.  God still cares about you.

 

We know the truth.

 

We have hope.

 

Neither the Corona virus, nor anything else, can take away our hope, our joy, and our peace.

 

And it’s up to us to share our hope so that everyone else can have hope too.

 

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

God is Pro-Choice

God is Pro-Choice

March 01, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7                      Matthew 4:1-11                     Romans 5:12-19

If you have ever been around children, you have probably witnessed a moment when they begged you to give them something, often some kind of food, that you knew they wouldn’t like.  But being told that they wouldn’t like it, or that they couldn’t have it, made them want it even more. 

We laugh a little when kids do it, but we see the same behavior in adults all the time.  The easiest example is to watch Let’s Make a Deal, originally hosted by Monty Hall and now by Wayne Brady.  How often have we seen contestants on that show give up a pretty decent prize for the chance to see what’s behind door number three?  Likewise, we often “window shop” for cars that we can’t afford, but which would also be impractical, uncomfortable, and totally unsuited to the way that we want to use them.  But we want them just because we know we can’t have them anyway.  Human beings have a terrible inclination to want the things that we can’t have.  And that’s exactly what’s behind the story of humanity’s original sin in the story of Adam and Eve where we read this: (Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7)

2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

 

3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so, they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

 

Adam and Eve were given everything in the garden and God met all their needs.  But Satan knew humanity’s weakness and played on it.  He knew that Adam and Eve would want the one thing that they weren’t allowed to have and all that he had to do was to make them think about not being allowed to have it.  God gave them freedom and allowed them to make their own choices…  and they chose poorly.  And in doing so, they established a pattern that humanity has struggled with ever since.  Even when we know what is right and just, we choose poorly.  And far too often, we simply choose poorly just because we want the things that we can’t have for no other reason than we know that we’re not supposed to have them.

 

And that was the pattern, it was normal, and it seemed as if that humans would always be trapped in that same rut.  Until we heard about the story of Jesus’ encounter with the same deceiver that tripped up Adam and Eve in Matthew 4:1-11.

 

4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

 

In this story, Satan makes three offers, or three temptations, to Jesus and, from these, Jesus must make three choices.  The first two, are the same choice that were given to Adam and Eve.  Satan is tempting Jesus by saying something a lot like, “God didn’t really promise to take care of you, did he?”  or, “You don’t really have the kind of power you say that you have, do you?”  Jesus knows that he can do those things, but he knows that he should not, and he must choose to do what is right.  Instead, Jesus makes the right choices for the right reasons.  In the third case, Satan tempts Jesus with two more of humanity’s greatest weaknesses: Greed and Power.  “If you do this one thing for me, I will make your life easy.  I will give you all the money you want, all the women you want, and the power to rule the entire world.”  But again, Jesus chooses what is right, and what God wants, instead of satisfying his human desires.

 

God gives Jesus the freedom to choose.  Jesus was just as human as Adam was, and just as human as we are, and he could have chosen the easy path and satisfied his desires.  But Jesus demonstrates for all humanity, that it is possible for human beings to consistently make good choices. 

 

But why is that important?

 

It’s important because the choices that Jesus made for himself, are the choices that made it possible for us to be reconciled to God.  To be fair, we aren’t the first people to ask why our choices are important.  The church has been asking this question from the very beginning and that’s why the Apostle Paul explained the importance of Jesus’ choices in his letter to the church in Rome in Romans 5:12-19

 

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all people, because all sinned—

13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

 

Paul reminds us that it was the disobedience of Adam and Eve that birthed sin into our world, and from that time until the time of Moses, although no one sinned in the way that Adam did, sin still existed.  No one disobeyed a direct command of God, but people chose poorly, they acted in ways that violated their conscience, they violated other people, or acted selfishly and in doing so made themselves, their needs, and their desires an object of worship.  After the time of Moses, the people had a written law that told them what it was that God wanted, and still humanity failed.  Even knowing what God wanted, humans still made poor choices, still rebelled against God, wanted things that they couldn’t have, sinned against God, and were condemned.

 

But then came Jesus.

 

Jesus made good choices.  Not just in the desert when he was tempted by Satan, but all the time.  Jesus consistently made good choices every moment of every day so that his entire life was sinless and offered up to God and became the perfect sacrifice.  Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, sin flowed out into the entire world, but because of the grace of Jesus Christ, God’s grace overflows into all of humanity. 

 

God has always been, and will always be, pro-choice.  That has nothing to do with that other debate, it means that, from the beginning of time, God has never manipulated or controlled human beings in order to force them into one particular way of thinking or specific pattern of behavior.  God has always given human beings the freedom to choose for themselves regardless of the goodness or injustice of their decisions.  At the same time, we remember that one trespass of Adam, one act, one choice, resulted in the condemnation of all people, and one righteous act, one choice, of Jesus brought justification and life for all people.

 

God continues to be pro-choice.  Each of us have the freedom to choose whatever we want.

 

But remember that we often want things that we can’t have or want things that aren’t good for us.

 

We are free to choose, but we must remember that we are accountable for our choices.  One day we will all stand in judgement for the choices that we have made.

 

You are free to choose.

 

You can choose to follow Jesus, or you can choose to go your own way.

 

Choose wisely.

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

The Unloving Jesus

The Unloving Jesus

February 16, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Deuteronomy 30:15-20                     Matthew 5:21-37                   1 Corinthians 3:1-9

 

What are the things that you hear people say about God?

Got is great, God is Good, God is love?  Occasionally people try to draw some kind of line between an “Old Testament God” and a “New Testament God” because the God of the Old Testament sometimes sounds mean and vindictive and we have a hard time connecting God’s actions in the Old Testament, with the God that we see in the New Testament.  The problem is that we can’t separate the two and so we are compelled to struggle with our understanding of God so that both things are true.

But the same thing happens with Jesus.

What are the things that you hear people say about Jesus?

They say that Jesus was loving, and caring, and inviting.  Jesus cared for people that the church had forgotten or had thrown out or cast aside.  Jesus welcomed the outsiders and the strangers and all kinds of other people.  And all those things are true.  But it is also important to remember that Jesus was disliked, and even hated by many people of his own time.  In the first century, as well as our twenty-first century, Jesus’ own words sometime sound hurtful, hateful, unloving, unbending, inflexible, and radically conservative.

These words of Jesus can be so difficult to understand, that they are often just set aside or unread because we have a hard time making them “fit” with the Jesus that was loving and compassionate.  But, like God, both of these things are true, and if we want to be honest, we need to wrestle with them and try to understand the whole person of Jesus and not some caricature of Jesus that fits some narrative that we desperately want to be true.

That’s a lot to digest, but I hope these things will become a little clearer as we study together.

Let’s begin this morning by reading the choice that God sets in front of the nation of Israel as Moses (now 120 years old) prepared to hand over his leadership to Joshua.  (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

 

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

 

While at first glance, this might sound harsh, God is giving the people the freedom to choose.  Everyone is welcome to choose for themselves whether or not they want to follow God but, God also makes it clear that there is a cost associated with choosing to walk away from him.  Choosing God is the same as choosing life and choosing to walk away is the same as choosing death and destruction.  God doesn’t threaten that he will destroy them, but simply explains that without his protection they would certainly be destroyed.  With that knowledge, the people were free to choose, and we remain free to make that same choice today.  It isn’t unloving to tell the truth.  It’s the same as when we tell children who can’t swim, not to go in the deep end of the pool.  Without Mom, or Dad, or another strong swimmer, going in the deep end alone will not end well.  And that is the core of what God is saying.  It isn’t mean, it’s just the truth.

 

And that’s the same thing that is going on in Matthew 5:21-37 as Jesus interprets scripture as it applies to several common cultural standards and everyday human interactions.  Jesus said,

 

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

 

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

 

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

 

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

 

The things that he said here, are the kind of things that made the Pharisees, the Sadducees and other leaders of Israel want Jesus to go away… forever.  Jesus starts with something that everyone can agree on, “anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.”  That isn’t the least bit controversial, but then Jesus says that if you call someone a fool, or use an Aramaic term of contempt like “Raca” which, in English could be understood as something like when Yosemite Sam calls Bugs Bunny an “Idjit” and is certainly similar to many of the insults that we see online being traded between Democrats and Republicans, then Jesus says that using these terms to insult people puts us in danger of condemnation and hell.  This matter is so serious that Jesus recommends meeting with your friends and reconciling with them before you walk into church and make an offering to God and settle your disputes before they go to court.

 

That’s hard.  And like us, the people who heard it had a hard time accepting it.  Surely God was more forgiving, loving, and tolerant than that, wasn’t he?  But then, rather than backing off, Jesus turns up the hear another notch by talking about adultery.  Jesus says that just looking at a person of the opposite sex lustfully qualifies as adultery and earns the condemnation of God.  Worse yet, Jesus continues to throw coal on the fire by taking up the issue of divorce.  At the time, much like today, divorce was relatively common.  We know, historically, that the rabbis of the day accepted that divorce was normal but argued between themselves over what offense was needed to justify it.  All agreed that infidelity qualified, but virtually all of them said that offenses far less serious were enough and some rabbis taught that something as minor as burning breakfast was enough to qualify.  But Jesus’s evaluation was far stricter than any of the rabbis of the day.  When Jesus steps into the middle of this argument, he says that nothing short of infidelity was acceptable.  That meant that Jesus was labelling nearly everyone who had been divorced, or who had married a divorced person, which had to be a sizable percentage of the population, including some of the church leadership, as adulterers. 

 

This didn’t win Jesus any friends, and it was language like this that made the leaders of the church want Jesus dead.  In our twenty-first century world, the people on social media would be screaming that Jesus was an inflexible, unloving, unforgiving, ultra-conservative hater.

 

Except that we know he wasn’t.  So how are we to make sense of all that?

 

Ultimately, it’s the same as what we saw in Deuteronomy.

 

Jesus doesn’t warn us about God’s condemnation because he is mean, or unloving but because he knows how high God’s standards and expectations really are.  He doesn’t speak this way because he hates us, but because he, of all people, understands the truth.  It’s just like a lifeguard telling us that there are dangerous riptides and it isn’t safe to go in the water.  The lifeguard doesn’t hate you.  He is aware that you travelled a long distance to be there and had high hopes for a pleasant swim in the ocean.  But he hopes that despite your disappointment in not being able to swim at the beach, the truth will save your life. 

 

The truth might hurt, but it isn’t meant to be hurtful.

 

People got upset when Jesus said that they were murderers, adulterers and sinners.  They were hurt and angry, and some of them decided that they wanted him dead.  But Jesus didn’t say those things to hurt them.  Jesus said those things to save them and hoped that, rather than watering down the word of God and deciding that sin wasn’t really sin, if people were equipped with a better understanding of God’s high standards, they also understand their need for forgiveness and their need for a savior.

 

Jesus says that we should be so dedicated to the truth, that we should not ever need to swear an oath by God, or by heaven, or on the Bible, or on your mother, or even on the hair of your own head.  You should be so committed to the truth that everyone knows that ‘yes’ means yes and ‘no’ mean no.

 

But we aren’t just called to tell the truth, we are called to be mature disciples of the truth and that means something about how we tell the truth.  In Ephesians 4:15, Paul says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”  While we are called to be disciples of, and bearers of, God’s truth, as mature disciples, we must learn to communicate that truth as lovingly as we possibly can.  Not only is that one of the great challenges of Christianity in the twenty-first century, it is often something that Christians are often bad at doing.  In fact, I think that is one of the principle things that has led to the current division in our United Methodist denomination.  Although many of us disagree on what the truth is, I don’t think that’s the problem.  The church has survived disagreements for millennia.  The problem is that somewhere along the line, both sides seem to have abandoned any attempt to speak the truth in a truly loving way.  Regardless of our interpretation of scripture, if we abandon love, no one will ever listen to the message of truth that we carry.

 

No matter how hard it was to hear, and no matter how angry it might have made some of his listeners, Jesus never abandoned the truth, and he never stopped telling the truth to the people around him.  No matter how upset people might get, the lifeguard is not going to stop warning people about the riptides that can kill them.  Jesus knew how dangerous sin really is, and he never stopped warning people about their need for forgiveness.  But, at the same time, Jesus never stopped showing genuine love and concern for the people around him. 

 

Jesus always told the truth, but he told the truth as lovingly as possible.

 

And we must do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

We Shatter Oppression

We Shatter Oppression

January 26, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 9:1-4                            Matthew 4:12-23                               1 Corinthians 1:10-18

 

 

Growing up, many of us watched classic Western’s on television or in the movies and many times there was a tense situation where the good guys were trapped and overwhelmed by the enemy, but just when hope was almost lost, some kind of reinforcements would arrive and rescue them.  So common was this that in the lexicon of American English, we have all come to know what it means when we hear phrases that refer to being rescued by the arrival of the cavalry even when the situation has nothing to do with the American west and when it occurs a hundred years after the military went around on horseback.

 

As we think about scriptures today, I want you to think about how those trapped people might have felt, not just in the American west, but in any number of situations when a very real protagonist appears over the horizon to rescue them.  Imagine how slaves in the American south felt when they were freed by Union soldiers, or how the inmates of German concentration camps felt when Allied soldiers arrived (75 years ago this week), or how today’s victims of human trafficking might feel when law enforcement recognizes who they are and frees them from their captors.

 

Remembering these situations, and thinking about the victims’ feelings, will help us to have a better mental and emotional understanding of what we read in today’s scripture passages such as Isaiah 9:1-4, where we hear these words:

 

9:1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future, he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.

 

Isaiah declares that when the messiah comes, he will end the distress of his people and bring honor to the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali that had once been dishonored.  The transformation would be not only noticeable, but dramatic.  The people who lived in darkness would see a great light, those living in a land of deep darkness would witness the dawn, and those living in captivity and slavery would see the instruments of their oppression torn away and shattered.  Even more than seeing the cavalry ride over the horizon, this is a scene of dramatic rescue as distress is ended, joy returned, and freedom restored. 

 

And it is that same dramatic imagery that is used to connect the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with Isaiah’s prophecy in Matthew 4:12-23 as Jesus begins to call his disciples to follow him.

 

12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
    Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.”

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

 

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

 

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

 

The imagery of recalling the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, and Galilee, and the dramatic transformation of a people living in darkness who see a great light or those living in the shadow of death welcoming the dawn all connects Jesus to the prophecies of Isaiah.  In this way, we are told that Jesus is the messiah that God has promised through the prophets, and it is Jesus that is bringing joy, light, honor, and freedom.  But Matthew immediately shifts from what was, to what is, from the past of Isaiah, to the present Jesus, and he begins to tell the story of how Jesus called his disciples to follow him.

 

Jesus first calls Peter and Andrew, who we met last week just a few verses earlier in the story, followed by James and John.  All of them were fishing beside the Sea of Galilee when Jesus called them, and all of them walk away from their work, their trade, their families, and their livelihoods at a moment’s notice.  And as soon as they begin to follow, they find them themselves walking with Jesus while he teaches, and preaches, and heals the sick.  There are two more important points to be made here.  First, is that the traditional understanding of the role of a disciple was to not only to follow, but to learn to be like the rabbi that they followed, to pattern and model their lives on the life of the rabbi, and to take upon themselves the mission and purpose of the rabbi that they followed.  The second thing we notice is that by declaring his intention to send them out to “fish for people,” Jesus is making a promise to teach, and to train, his disciples to do what he is doing.  This isn’t an invitation to watch a show, this is an invitation to an education, and an invitation to become like Jesus, and in a sense, to become Jesus by taking upon themselves the mission of Jesus.

 

And, in a letter to the church in Corinth, Paul reminds the church who it is that we follow, and why Jesus sends us out into the world.  In 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Paul says:

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

 

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

 

As we begin taking that apart, particularly as our own denomination seems almost certainly headed for some form of division or fracture, it’s worth noting, in this case, what specific kind of division that Paul is talking about.  Paul says that there should be no division in the church, but then he explains that what the people of Corinth are fighting over are various cults of personality.  Some people are saying that they are followers of Paul or followers of Apollos, or followers of Peter.  But Paul stresses that none of them belong to the church of Peter, or Paul, or the church of anyone except the church of Jesus Christ.  It was Jesus who was crucified, and it was in the name of Jesus that we have all been baptized. 

 

And, as a disciple of Jesus, Paul has been sent on one single mission, and that mission was to preach the gospel.  Paul freely admits that his preaching does sound like the professional orators and speakers that people sometimes heard in the public square.  Instead, Paul’s preaching often seems to lack wisdom and eloquence, but it is in Paul’s shortcomings that the power of Jesus Christ is revealed.  People are not drawn to his preaching, and lives are not transformed because Paul was such an incredibly fabulous public speaker (he admits that he wasn’t).  It was not Paul’s words that drew people in, and it was not Paul that changed their hearts, it was the power of Jesus Christ that had sent him and it was the power of Jesus Christ that was working through him.

 

When we put these ideas together, we remember Isaiah’s prophecy that the messiah would come to bring light into the darkness of our world, to return honor to the people of God, to bring freedom to the captives, and to shatter the instruments of oppression.  As Jesus came, it was revealed that he was that messiah, and that he intended to accomplish the mission Isaiah had written about.  But Jesus had no intention of fulfilling the prophecies of God as a performer puts on a show.  Jesus called his disciples not to be spectators, but to be learners who would model their lives after the life of Jesus and to take up his mission for themselves.

 

And Paul makes it clear that Jesus’ mission didn’t end with the first twelve disciples but has been passed on to the church and to every generation of disciples throughout history.  Despite our divisions between Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants, despite our divisions between Anglican, Baptist, Brethren, Evangelical, Methodist, Presbyterian, Nazarene, and any number of other denominations past, present, or future, we are united in following one Jesus and in carrying out his mission.  As his disciples, we now carry on Jesus’ mission to bring freedom to those who are captive to slavery, captive to sin, captive to hunger, to human trafficking, to drugs, to alcohol, to uncaring governments, corporate cruelty, bureaucracy, school bullies, and to any other kind of oppression that we might encounter.

 

We might not wear tights or capes or think of ourselves as heroes, but if we call ourselves followers of Jesus, then we accept that it is our job to carry out his mission.  We aren’t here to put on a show.  We are here to share the good news, to tell the story of Jesus Christ.  We are here to fight for freedom.  And we are here to shatter oppression wherever we find it. 

 

Every day, men, women, and children are praying that God would send a hero to rescue them from the giants that oppress them.  Those giants may not look like Roman soldiers, or slave ship captains, or Nazi prison guards but those giants are just as real as they have ever been, and their oppression is just as painful.

 

For them, we might just be heroes they’ve been praying for.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

Because He Did, We Do.

Because He Did, We Do

December 24, 2019

(Christmas Eve)

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7                       Titus 2:11-14                                      Luke 2:1-20

 

MEDITATION:

In case you somehow didn’t notice, this is Christmas Eve.  But so, what?  Why do we come together and retell the story every year?  Why does it matter?  Why do events that happened more than two thousand years ago matter to us in the twenty-first century at all?  I mean, isn’t it just a nice story that we tell children?  Why should a bedtime story be so important? 

But it does matter.  And yes, it does matter to adults and children alike.  And what’s more, not only is it worth repeating, and not only is it foundational to our faith, this story demands something from us.  Because we are the people who walked in darkness and saw a great light.  We are the people to whom a child has been born.  We are the people who have been rescued, by him, from sin and death.  We are the people who have been put under his authority, and when we accepted Jesus as our rescuer and savior, we chose to follow him and obey his commands.

So, what is it that Jesus requires of us?

We all know that’s not a simple question.  We read scripture at home, and we come to church every Sunday, and sometimes more, so that we can study together, and learn together and help one another to do understand and to do what Jesus wants us to do.  But for tonight, let’s listen to the words that we find in Titus 2:11-14, where we hear this:

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Salvation and rescue have been offered to all people.  And because we are the people who said “yes” to Jesus’ offer of rescue, then we are called to say “no” to ungodliness and instead live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives even if, and even when, the world around us preaches that God is dead, and it’s okay to do anything that feels good.

Titus reminds us that Jesus came to earth, lived among us, died, and rose from the dead so that we could be redeemed from a life of wickedness and evil, and so that Jesus could be at work purifying us so that we would be eager to do good.

Although it is a beautiful story, we don’t just celebrate on Christmas Eve because it’s a beautiful story.  We celebrate Christmas Eve because it is important for us to remember what he did and for whom he did it.  The Christmas story is the beginning of God’s invasion of the earth as he works to reclaim his people and call them back to him.  Jesus didn’t just come to save some random shepherds, a handful of disciples, and a few others.  Jesus didn’t come just to fulfill the promises that God gave to the Jews through his prophets.  Jesus came to rescue all of us.  Jesus came to rescue humanity.  Jesus came to rescue everyone.  Christmas brings a message filled good news of great joy for all the people.

But the work of telling all the people about that good news isn’t finished yet.

If nothing else, Christmas should remind us of two things.  First, that we are called to live as if our faith is important.  To live the way that Jesus lived.  To set aside the wickedness that is so common to the world and to live godly lives of purity.  Simply put, we need to look like, and live like, Jesus.  And second, because Jesus came to rescue all the people, and all the people haven’t yet heard his story, we must be in the business of making sure that they do.

Because Jesus did, we still do.

We love the Christmas story.  It’s awesome.  It’s far more than just a children’s bedtime story.

It is good news of great joy for all the people.

Every one of us should go out from this place and make sure that everyone, that all the people, hear that good news.

Merry Christmas everyone.

 

READINGS:

Reading 1 – Isaiah 9:2-5

2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood
    shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

Reading 2 – Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Reading 3 – Luke 2:1-7

2:1 
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

 

Reading 4 – Luke 2:8-14

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Reading 5 – Luke 2:15-20

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

 

 

 

 


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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.

Given Grace to Give Grace

Given Grace to Give Grace

December 22, 2019*

(Fourth Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 7:10-16                            Matthew 1:18-25                               Romans 1:1-7

 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to know the future?

Sometimes it might be a good thing.  When we’re going through difficult and challenging times it might be nice to know that things are going to turn out well for us.  When we worry about our children or grandchildren, it might be nice to know that they will eventually find their way, get an education, find a good job, and become responsible, productive, people of faith who love God.  Certainly, if we knew what the stock market was going to do next year, or even next week, we could make a lot of money.

But, on the other hand, would you want to know that your difficult and challenging times were only going to get worse?  Or that your children and grandchildren were not going to find their way?  Would you want to know the future if it was full of bad news?  Probably not.  And that’s exactly why Israel’s kings usually cringed whenever the prophets of God came to visit them.  God’s prophets had a reputation of only showing up when there was bad news and were sometimes thought of as harbingers of doom.  King Obadiah called Elijah the “troubler of Israel.”  God’s prophets knew that it wasn’t popular to know the future if the future wasn’t filled with good news.

And that’s a part of what is going on in the story we’re about to read, as Isaiah shares God’s words with King Ahaz of Judah in Isaiah 7:10-16.

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.

Ahaz remembers that the people of God are not supposed to put God to the test, and that is so ingrained in him that he won’t do it even when God asks him to do it.  God tells Ahaz that he will accomplish whatever it takes to prove to him that the things that Isaiah is saying will truly happen.  But, since Ahaz refuses to ask for such a sign, God names one instead and says that “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” 

Now, if you think about that for a minute, Isaiah’s prophecy sounds a little weird if the only meaning is the one that we remember at Christmastime because a that wouldn’t have answered King Ahaz’s question at all.  But, many of God’s prophecies had not one, but two meanings and two fulfillments.  The first would be one that made sense in the immediate future and the second would make sense in the more distant future.  This is one of those times.  The first meaning was that a young, unmarried woman, quite possibly a woman that both Isaiah and King Ahaz knew, such as the woman who was betrothed to Isaiah, who we would think of as Isaiah’s fiancée, and future wife, would, in a short amount of time, become pregnant and have a baby.  The second meaning, of course, is the one with which we are more familiar and that is one that became understood as something that would happen with the coming of Israel’s messiah.

And so, in this passage, God promises Ahaz that before Isaiah’s baby is old enough the choose right from wrong, traditionally about 12 or 13 years old, those who were attacking him, the kingdoms of Aram and the northern tribes of Israel, would come to an end.  And, while that sounds like good news, if you read the rest of that passage it quickly becomes clear that this is one of those times where things are going to get worse before they get better.  But, in any case, the second meaning is God’s promise of a messiah who would rescue his people for all time.  And it is that fulfillment that we see in the story of Matthew 1:18-25 where we hear these words:

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Just as God had promised to King Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah, the rescuer of humanity, God’s messiah, is born to a virgin.  But Joseph was terrified.  The woman to whom he had been pledged in marriage was pregnant and it was clear that he wasn’t the father.  At that point, Joseph had three choices and none of them were particularly good.  Since having sex before marriage was prohibited under the law of Moses, and it would seem obvious to most people that this is what Mary had done (since that was the ordinary way in which pregnancy happens), Mary would not only be seen as violating the law, but also as bringing disgrace to her family, bringing disgrace to Joseph’s family, and also breaking the contract that bound the two of them together. 

Joseph’s first option, under the law, was to publicly humiliate Mary and announce what she had done, and possibly even have her stoned to death (although that rarely, if ever, actually happened).  The second choice would be to quietly divorce her on the grounds that she had already broken the contract between their families.  The third choice was probably the worst choice of all, and that was to go ahead with their marriage.  This option would bring disgrace, humiliation, and financial hardship to both of their families, and would make Joseph, his father, and all of his family look stupid for going ahead with a marriage to a woman who had violated her promise even before their wedding. 

But even though all these choices seemed like bad ones, Joseph, being a nice guy, thought that he would choose the one that was the least damaging to everyone.

But God had other ideas.

God tells Joseph, in a dream, not to be afraid, that Mary had really not slept with anyone else, that the child she was carrying was actually the child of God and would become the one who would rescue God’s people from sin.  And when he woke up, Joseph did what God told him to do and in doing so, models for us some of the best characteristics of God, God’s people, and humanity.  In order to do what Joseph does requires extraordinary trust, abundant love, a mountain of faith, a pile of forgiveness, a large measure of grace, and more an ample amount of hope.

But what is it that we should take away from these stories?  How does the story of Christmas guide us as we live our lives in the twenty-first century?  And, even though he lived two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul understood a part of that answer as he wrote to the church in Rome as we see in Romans 1:1-7.

1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people:

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

Paul reminds everyone in the church that the Gospel message, the story of the messiah’s birth, death, and resurrection, was a story that God promised, through the prophets, hundreds of years before it happened.  It was because of God’s love for us that he created a way for us to be rescued from our own selfishness and sinfulness.  Just as Joseph rescued Mary by taking her home to live with him, just as Joseph chose hope, love, and grace, so did God.  Just as Joseph showed mercy and grace to Mary, God showed mercy and grace to us by sending his Son to rescue us.  It is through Jesus Christ that we received these gifts from God and, Paul says, because we have received these gifts from God, through Jesus Christ, we are, in turn, called by God to share this Good News with the rest of the world.

Paul is clear that the message of Jesus Christ was never just a message for the Jews, but has always been a message for the Jews, the Gentiles, and for the entire world.  And while I am sure that Paul didn’t intend for this to be Christmas message, it certainly is one because when Paul says that the Gentiles are being called to belong to Jesus Christ it reminds us of this:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:8-10)

Good news.  For all the people.

We have been given grace, so that we might give grace to those around us, to the people we love, to the people we fear, to the people we hate, to the insiders, to the outsiders, to the connected, to the outcasts, to citizens, to foreigners…

…to everyone.

The world would not have heard the message of Jesus if Joseph didn’t have enough faith and trust in God to show mercy and grace to Mary.

And two thousand years of history hasn’t changed that.

One of the clear messages in the story of Christmas is that we are called to share God’s mercy and grace so that everyone around us can hear the message of Jesus.

As we leave this place, let us remember that we are God’s agents of grace.

 

 

 


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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.