Suffering, Joy, and a Promise Kept

Suffering, Joy, and a Promise Kept

December 15, 2019*

(Third Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 35:1-10                             Matthew 11:2-11                               James 5:7-10

What feelings come to mind as you think about Christmas?

What emotions get stirred within you?

Most of us immediately begin to think of gamily gatherings around the Christmas tree, and opening presents, and families that get along with one another and are reunited at Christmas time.  For many of us the Christmas carol, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen sounds about right when it says…

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Tidings of comfort and joy sounds like a good summary for our feelings as well as for the message of the Christmas story.  And, quite often, that’s close to the truth for some of us.  Naturally, there are those among us whose childhoods were not idyllic, or who are struggling with unemployment, or homelessness, or divorce, or any number of other things that tend to make our emotions complicated.  But the message of scripture reminds us that Christmas itself, although filled with “good news of great joy,” is also more than just a story of comfort and joy. We begin, once again, with the promises of God given through the prophet Isaiah.  (Isaiah 35:1-10)

35:1 The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
    the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
    the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
    wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
    nor any ravenous beast;
    they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10     and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Isaiah declares that the coming of the messiah will be a time of gladness, rejoicing, and joy and compares it to rain in the desert that brings hidden flowers to bloom which is, once again, a symbol of resurrection with life exploding out of what looked lifelessness.  But while Israel waits for the coming of the messiah, Isaiah urges them to “be strong, do not fear, your God will come.”  Be strong, be patient, because we worship a God who always keeps his promises.  And then, in verse five, Isaiah shares the memorable words that Jesus would use to reassure an imprisoned John the Baptist.  Jesus uses these words of Isaiah to tell John that he is indeed the messiah that God had promised.  We hear that story in Matthew 11:2-11:

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

The Messiah had come, John the Baptist announced his arrival, but John was not experiencing comfort and joy.  Instead, he was rotting in prison.  I’ve visited the site where John is reputed to have been imprisoned, and whether that’s the actual site or if it was remotely similar, it was basically just a cave with bars on the door that would be cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and would probably have pools of water on the floor whenever there was a hard rain.  And in that environment, John begins to worry that Jesus isn’t doing the things that he thought the messiah was supposed to be doing. 

But rather than reassure John that comfort and joy would be coming soon, Jesus simply tells John’s followers to say that Isaiah’s words were being fulfilled.  The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, lepers are healed, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  The messiah had come, but that didn’t guarantee that the suffering of the world was going to end (just yet) or that John, or anyone else, was going to find comfort and joy.

Jesus then speaks to the crowd and declares that John is the greatest prophet, indeed the greatest human being, ever born in Israel or anywhere else.  And yet, John would endure suffering, imprisonment, and death before he received any kind of comfort and joy.  How do we make sense of that?  If the coming of the messiah was the fulfillment of God’s promises, why don’t God’s people find the comfort and joy we thought we were supposed to get?  At least a part of the answer comes from James, the brother of Jesus in James 5:7-10 where we hear this:

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

The coming of the messiah is not the end, but it is the beginning of the end.  James says that it’s like a farmer planting crops.  The seeds have been planted but now we must wait for the harvest.  While we find comfort and joy in knowing that the crops have been planted, we still must wait, patiently, until the harvest.  In the same way, we are comforted in knowing that God has already begun to fulfill his promises.  The messiah has come.  We do find comfort and joy in the story of Christmas.  But, at the same time, just as a farmer must wait for the rain, we must continue to wait patiently for coming of the messiah.  On that day, we will receive unimaginable gifts of comfort and joy, but until then we understand that life will still be full of discomfort, pain, and suffering.

Our calling, today, is to be patient, not to grumble, but to care for one another. 

Be patient.

Stand firm.

Because the Lord is near.

“Fear not then”, said the Angel
“Let nothing you affright
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure Virgin bright
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan’s power and might”
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Now to the Lord sing praises
All you within this place
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

 

 

 

 


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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.

So, What Do We Do on a Mission Trip?

So, What Do We Do on a Mission Trip?

img_20190812_181931226I know that a lot of people have never gone on a mission trip.  And because I know that, I understand why people often seem puzzled by what we could possibly do there, or how they might ever be able to contribute if they went on such a trip.  Despite my annual announcement that The Joy Center, our host in Big Creek, deep in the Kentucky mountains, always has a list of projects that need done, and will always find something for us to do regardless of who comes with us, and regardless of the skills (or lack of them) that we have.  And so, rather than just saying that there are all sorts of things that need done, this year we made a list of all the things that we did, and a couple that were left undone when we ran out of time.  What follows is a list of nineteen (19) projects that were on our to do list.  Most of them got done, but a few didn’t.  I’m including the projects that didn’t get done so that you might better understand how, if even one more person (like you) had gone with us, we might have been able to do even more.

  • Inspect, repair, scrape, and paint the emergency exit stairs in the back of the church sanctuary.
  • Inspect, repair, and seal the deck on the back of the church img_20190816_150950078parsonage.
  • Make an opening through the stone foundation in the back of the Joy Center building so that a vent could be added under the building to dry out the crawl space.
  • Install a vent fan in the sale room (Undone)
  • Mow grass (there is a LOT of grass, and even with their new mower, it takes someone several hours)
  • Clean the center section of the tool barn and throw out broken or unusable items. (Undone)
  • Paint the benches in the outdoor worship area of Mount Joy.
  • Trim trees along the playground of the Child Development Center.
  • Repair, replace, and paint trim around the church windows first and second floor).img_20190816_163600461
  • Weed flower beds, put down landscape fabric, and add new mulch.
  • Trim bushes in front of the church parsonage.
  • Replace oven burner in Nancy’s (their full-time volunteer) stove.
  • Fix storm door (replace door closer).
  • Trim and cut down trees above Mount Joy and behind the tool barn.
  • Move fire pit.
  • Paint benches at the ball field.
  • Help sort clothing at the sale room in preparation for their monthly sale.
  • Unload our trailer full of donated furniture, clothing, and other items.
  • Hold a card making class for interested persons in the community.

As you can see, we did all kinds of things using a great variety of skills.  Some projects were difficult, others required only the ability to use a paint brush, a sledgehammer, or img_20190812_143955410even a pair of scissors.  What’s more, for the last several years, we’ve somehow managed to take along a volunteer that loved to cook and who just took over our evening meal preparation.  But this year we didn’t have anyone like that, so someone would always have to stop working an hour or so before dinner so that there would be something to eat when the rest of us quit for the day.

And none of those things include the personal conversations that we have with the people of Big Creek, and the encouragement that we are to them as they are reminded that God, and God’s people, haven’t forgotten them.

Certainly, there are things on this list that you would be able to do.  And, while I have no idea what next year’s list is going to look like, you can be sure that it too will include things that you can do.  There is always more to do at The Joy Center mission than the few volunteers there have time to do by themselves.  Anything and everything that we do is a huge help and encouragement to everyone there. 

Why not come with us next year?

 

 


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(At Least) Ten Reasons to be Joyful

(At Least) Ten Reasons to be Joyful

(Third Sunday of Advent)

December 16, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

 

Joy.

In this third Sunday of Advent, we celebrate Joy.  But what is that?

Sometimes we struggle to understand the difference between happiness and joy and, honestly, sometimes there isn’t any.  Happiness and joy are not mutually exclusive.  They often happen at the same time, but not always.  I remembered hearing a good definition once, so I started searching to see if I could find it this week.  I didn’t find the one I remembered, but I did find a couple of explanations that I thought would be helpful to share with you.

“Psychologies” magazine from the United Kingdom said that “Joy and happiness are wonderful feelings to experience, but are very different. Joy is more consistent and is cultivated internally. It comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are and how you are, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts and events.”

Rev. Dr. Christopher Benek wrote in The Island Packet that while happiness is an emotion in which we experience a wide range of feelings, “We experience joy when we achieve selflessness to the point of personal sacrifice.”  He goes on to say that “happiness, as a feeling, is not predicated on something necessarily being good for us. Joy, on the other hand, is at least grounded in the idea that something is good for someone else. We have joy when — even in our suffering — we are acting toward someone else’s well-being.”

I think that the both definitions miss the mark but, together they get close.  The first one says that joy is something that we cultivate internally and comes when we are at peace with who, why, and how we are.  But, at the same time, a big part of being at peace with ourselves is in what, how, and why we do things for others.  And I would also add that our ability to feel at peace comes when we grow in confidence that we are living our lives in line with the commands, and the call, of God.  We will never be at peace, or truly joyful, when we live our lives in opposition to the will of God.

But why should this special season bring us joy and happiness?  What is it that really makes Advent and Christmas special?  And, as always, we can find some good answers in scripture.  Long before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Zephaniah spoke to the people of Judah who were in rebellion against God.  Zephaniah writes to proclaim the coming destruction of their nation and the captivity of the people in Babylon.  But at the end of his proclamation of destruction, doom, and death, Zephaniah reminds the people that there are still reasons to be joyful. (Zephaniah 3:14-20)

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

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

And by my count, there are at least ten reasons that, despite the warnings of punishment and destruction, that the people can still remember joy and not only do these apply to us today, but in many of them we can see the coming of the Messiah, Jesus.

Zephaniah says, God has taken away our punishment, has turned away our enemies, and stands with us.  There is no reason to ever live in fear, God will remove our mourning from us, and God will deal with everyone who has oppressed his people.  God intends to rescue the handicapped, gather in everyone who has been driven from his land, or driven from his people, and give them praise and honor.  Not only that, but God will gather together all of his people, bring them home, and restore what was taken from them. 

It is important to remember that the people to whom Zephaniah was writing were about to experience horror, terror, slavery, destruction, and death, but even in the midst of circumstances that would, undoubtedly make them miserable, there were still good reasons to remember joy.

But so, what?

What difference does it make?

And both John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul offer some explanation of how our joy ought to be revealed in our daily lives.  In Luke 3:7-18, we remember this story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John was preaching to crowds that had come to hear him in the desert wilderness and his message was that the messiah was almost here.  Everyone should get ready and prepare for his arrival.  This was incredible, fantastic, long-awaited news that had been anticipated for centuries. And now it was finally happening.  And as they rejoiced, John explained that they needed to repent of their sins, to share what they had, to obey the commandments, and to be content with what they had. (That last one kind of sticks in the throat of a society that encourages us to “ask Santa” for a new laptop and a big screen TV, and a new BMW doesn’t it?)

But Paul also answers this question in Philippians 4:4-7 where he says:

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

Paul says that we should always rejoice.  Always rejoice.  And growing out of our joyfulness, should be an inescapable gentleness that everyone around you finds to be unavoidably obvious.  Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything.”  In other words, “Relax!”  Instead of getting stressed, give your problems to God through prayer, petition, and thanksgiving.  

So, you see, while there are some people who say that joy and happiness are the same thing, the evidence says that they are not.  While joy and happiness do often run together, there are other times when joy coexists with disaster, mayhem, and death.  In either case, scripture makes it plain that we have much for which to be thankful, and many things (far more than ten) over which we should rejoice.  But as we rejoice in the things that God has given to us, we must allow our joy to guide us toward repentance, obedience, bravery, contentment, inescapable gentleness, compassion, generosity, mercy, and love that overflows into the people, the community, and the world around us.

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. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11)

This truly is good news, of great joy.

The question is, what are you going to do with it?

 

 

 

 


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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.