Whiners Executed.

Whiners Executed

March 14, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Numbers 21:4-9                     John 3:14-21                          Ephesians 2:1-10

Throughout history, one of the things that human beings seem to be incredibly, repeatedly, and reliably, good at, is complaining.  It isn’t difficult at all to imagine that the soldiers who crowded into the Trojan Horse were complaining about the cramped spaces and the smell of the guys next to them.  We’ve read stories about how even as the troops sailed ever closer to the coast of France on D-day, they complained about the weather and their seasickness.  Any student of history can tell you that no matter what nation you examine, no matter what system of government was in place, the people of every nation have always found reasons to complain about their leadership, and the same is true of virtually every church, every corporation, every union, and every employer… even when we are self-employed.  In good circumstances and bad, in feast and in famine, in joy and sorrow, no matter where humanity finds itself, we always seem able to find something to complain about.

And the people whose lives are recorded in scripture were no different.  But from them, we learn that we should be careful about what we complain about.  In Numbers 21:4-9, we read the story of the people of Israel, recently freed from 400 years of slavery and bondage in Egypt and discover that the joy of receiving their freedom faded quickly from their memory.

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So, Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

For four hundred years, the people of Israel had prayed that God would rescue them and bring them freedom.  But when God answers their prayers, it doesn’t take much time at all before they begin to complain about the conditions of their freedom.  Worse, they blame God, and Moses, for causing their suffering.  As a result of their whining, God sends poisonous snakes to slither among the people, and many of those who are bitten, die. 

The people cry out to Moses, repent of their sin, and in answer to his prayers for the people, God instructs Moses to construct bronze snake, and lift it up on a wooden pole.  And anyone who had been bitten, and had faith in God, could look at the snake and would be saved from death.

The people had sinned when they blamed God for causing their problems by answering their prayers and they suffered and died, because of their sin, when they were bitten by the snakes that came among them.  But God provided a way for the people to be saved if only they would have the faith to believe in the power of God and look up to the bronze figure as God had commanded.  And that imagery is recalled in John 3:14-21 as John compares God’s rescue of Israel in the time of Moses, to God’s rescue of the world through the crucifixion of Jesus.

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

In the time of Moses, anyone who believed that God could save them from the venom of poisonous snakes could look up to the bronze figure of a snake and be saved.  And John says that now, anyone who believes that God can rescue them from sin and death can look up to Jesus on the cross and be saved.  In both cases, God provided a way for his people to be saved, if only they had the faith to believe.  Jesus did not come to earth to condemn us for our sin, but to save us from it.  All that is needed is for us to believe in Jesus and in the power of his death and resurrection to rescue us.  Anyone who believes in Jesus is not condemned but has been given the gift of life for all eternity.

The Apostle Paul explains it this way in Ephesians 2:1-10:

2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Just in case we were tempted to think that we had anything at all to do with out rescue, Paul disabuses of that notion by bluntly saying, “you were dead.”  Much like the people who had been bitten by snakes and already had a fatal dose of venom circulating through their bloodstream, we had already consumed a fatal dose of sin and were just waiting around to die.  Because we lived the way that the culture of the world lives, and lived only to gratify our desires, we were deserving of, and already condemned to, death.  But God chose to be merciful and demonstrate his great love for us through grace.  Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God opened a path for us to be rescued from death.  Paul emphasizes that our rescue is a work of God’s grace, kindness, and love and the only part that we play in our rescue is in looking up to Jesus and placing our faith in him.  Our rescue is God’s undeserved gift to us and not anything that we could ever earn through works of any kind.  And, because our rescue is a work of God, because we are a new creation through the work of Jesus Christ, our life’s purpose is to do good for the people, and for the world, around us.  God has rescued us so that we could do the work that he has planned, prepared, and intended for us to do.

Although human beings have always been extraordinarily good at complaining, and just as good at being selfish, committing sin, and offending God, we need not sit as people condemned and wait for our execution and death.  Instead, we have been rescued by God’s grace, kindness, and love, and have been given a new life, a life whose purpose is to do good and to do the work of the kingdom of God.

During this season of Lent, let us stop complaining and look up to the cross.  Remember God’s grace, mercy, kindness, and love, and recommit ourselves to doing good for the people, and for the world around us, so that everyone might hear the good news, be rescued, and receive God’s incredible gift… of life… and love.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/EmHE8dCyeEc

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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.

Where is Your Center?

Where is Your Center?

March 07, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Exodus 20:1-17                      John 2:13-22                          1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Throughout our lives, there are many times when the center becomes important.

The most important actor is said to be center-stage.  Children that want to feel important are trying to be the center of attention.  When we ride a bicycle, design, or fly an airplane, the center of gravity is critical.  In rocketry the relationship between the center of gravity and the center of pressure determines whether you fly or crash.  If you are setting a project up on a lathe, you must carefully calculate where the center of the work-piece is or, wherever the chuck and the spindle are set will quickly become the center regardless of whether you intended it to be that way.  If you are trying to walk across a balance beam, or a tightrope, or even just a log across a creek, keeping your center of gravity over the beam, rope, or log is the key to crossing successfully.  In all these things, and in a great many others, it is the center that is important, and keeping the center in the right place is critical to arriving at your destination safely and achieving your goal.  With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that scripture says the same thing.  If we want to arrive at our destination safely, and achieve our goals, it is critical that we center our lives in the right place.

We begin this morning with what many people consider to be some of the simplest rules for life, the Nine or Ten Commandments (depending on how you count them) found in Exodus 20:1-17. 

20:1 And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Obviously, I could preach an entire series of sermons on these basic instructions, but this morning I want to focus on just two or three.  Depending on you how you count them, “You shall have no other gods before me.” and “You shall not make for yourself an image…” is either one, or two, commandments but either way, the instruction is clear.  Our relationship with God is important and God will not accept second place.  And that relationship is also why God sets aside one day each week for us to rest, to remember, and to spend time together when he commands us to, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”

God insists, even requires, that we keep him, and our relationship with him, at the center our lives.

And one of the best-known illustrations of the seriousness with which God takes our obedience to that commandment is found in John 2:13-22, where Jesus arrives in God’s temple in Jerusalem, and finds the Court of the Gentiles, the place of prayer for non-Jews, filled will merchants, bankers, and livestock.

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Jesus came to Jerusalem to celebrate the freedom of the Jewish people and to give thanks to God for his strength, wisdom, and guidance in leading Moses and the people of Israel out of their captivity in Egypt and into the Promised Land.  But in a place that had been deliberately set aside as a place for Gentiles to meet God, Jesus finds it filled with people who have put profit before prayer, wealth before worship, and greed before God.  In this place that was supposed to be the center of praise, prayer, and worship, Jesus finds the leaders of the church breaking commandments 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 10, and, if we include the events of Easter, we can add commandments 6 and 9 as well.

Jesus is so offended by this violation of God’s house that he drives out the animals, scatters the money across the courtyard, and flips over the tables of the vendors and bankers.  And, rather than dispute their wrongdoing or profess their innocence, the offenders ask Jesus what authority he has to rebuke them, and Jesus responds by offering his own death and resurrection as proof.  But, of course, not even his disciples understood his meaning until after the events of Easter had unfolded.  But, when they remembered what Jesus had done, and what he had said, “they believed the scriptures and the words that Jesus had spoken.”

The mistake of the vendors, the bankers, and the church leaders was that they allowed something other than God to become the center.  Certainly, in a temple that was dedicated to the worship of a Jewish God, the court of the Gentiles was used less frequently than any other.  It was entirely possible that, particularly during a Jewish feast or festival such as Passover, that few, if any Gentiles would be using the space set aside for them.  But God had deliberately created a place for them.  And when the church decided to use that space, they moved God aside and placed practicality, profit, convenience, and greed in the center of their lives and in the center of their worship in his place.

It is that idea of centered-ness that helps us to understand some of the other difficult things that we find in scripture as well as in our spiritual lives.  And this is the idea that allows us to understand what Paul is saying to the church in Corinth, and to us, in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 when he says:

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. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

There have been times when I read this passage and puzzled a bit over what Paul meant by destroying the wisdom of the wise when much of scripture points toward, and sings the praises of, wisdom.  Similarly, it is difficult to say bad things about intelligence, or intelligent people, so if I didn’t also know some particularly foolish intelligent people that would also be difficult.  But Paul goes on to criticize the teachers of the law, philosophers, and preachers and it can be hard to make sense of what he’s getting at.  But, if we look at this passage through the lens of centered-ness, it comes into better focus.

The message of the cross is foolishness to the people who are perishing.  Or, put another way, the message of the cross doesn’t make sense to the people who have rejected Jesus.  But while that rejection can come in many forms, and while some of those forms can occasionally be surprising to us, at their core, all of them have the same root cause, the removal, or the absence of God at the center.  Those who seek wisdom without God in the center become foolish.  Those who study to become learned and intelligent but who do not keep God at the center will be frustrated.  The teachers of the law and scripture, who shift God away from the center and allow rules, or politics, or power, or anything else to take God’s place in the center has, ultimately, rejected God.

Without God at the center of our lives, our strength, our philosophy, our wisdom, our religiosity, all fail.

Not only are we commanded to keep God in the center, and not only is Jesus deadly serious about maintaining that centered-ness, but our very lives also depend upon it.

Allowing God to drift away from the center means that we have rejected him and allowed something other than God to take his place.  And rejecting God… is death.

If you are trying to walk across a balance beam, or a tightrope, or even just a log across a creek, keeping your center of gravity over the beam, rope, or log is the key to crossing successfully.  In all these things, and in a great many others, it is the center that is important, and keeping the center in the right place is critical to arriving at your destination safely and achieving your goal.  If we want to arrive at our destination safely, and achieve our goals, it is critical that we center our lives in the right place.

As we continue our journey through Lent, I urge you to think about where your heart is and to reflect upon the condition of your inner being as you answer the question of the first four commandments:

Where is your center?


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/g88ngwoGI64

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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.

Lent is For Us

Lent is For Us

February 02, 2021

In just a little over two weeks, we will celebrate Ash Wednesday and begin the church season of Lent.  But what is Lent?  The dictionary definition says this:

noun: Lent

  1. the period preceding Easter that in the Christian Church is devoted to fasting, abstinence, and penitence in commemoration of Christ’s fasting in the wilderness. In the Western Church it runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday and so includes forty weekdays.

In remembrance of Jesus’ forty days of fasting and prayer in the wilderness as he prepared to begin his ministry, we spend forty days in preparation for the celebration of Easter.  Of course, as the dictionary definition pointed out, that is forty weekdays and not forty consecutive days because, traditionally, Sundays are each a “little Easter” and are not counted.

But what difference does it make?

Or, a better question might be, what will you do differently for these forty days?

In our modern era, the most well-known thing to do is to “give up” something for Lent.  For many of us who grew up Protestant, giving up something for Lent might be well-known, but it tends to be poorly understood.  To put it simply, giving up something for Lent, is a form of fasting.  We give up coffee, or chocolate, or buying takeout food as a substitute for fasting, or giving up food entirely, for forty days. 

But still, what’s the point?

The dictionary is not helpful.  The dictionary definition of a fast says, “abstain from all or some kinds of food or drink, especially as a religious observance.”  And, as I noted, simply saying that a fast is a “religious observance” is not helpful in understanding its purpose.  A fast is supposed to be a mechanism to draw us closer to God.  Usually, fasting and prayer are twins of a sort, or something that we would normally do together.  The point of fasting is two-fold, I think.  The first part comes closer to the dictionary definition that it is a part of a religious observance, in that it demonstrates our obedience to God and our desire to know God better.  But as the first twin of the pair, fasting also is a reminder to us to spend time in prayer.  As we fast, whether it is from food, from chocolate, from television, or whatever, we will be reminded to pray whenever we have a desire, out of hunger or out of habit, for the thing from which we are fasting.  Whenever we are hungry, we are reminded to pray.  Whenever we habitually reach for a chocolate bar, or for the television remote, we are reminded to spend time in prayer instead.  During our time of fasting, we fill the time we would have done something else, eating or watching television, etc., with prayer, Bible reading, devotional time, or some other thing that draws us into God’s presence and into a closer relationship with him.

So, do we have to fast during these forty days of Lent?

No, we do not.  While I have, I typically do not.  But, that said, Lent remains a season that is deliberately set aside for us to prepare our hearts, minds, and spirits, for the celebration of Easter.  It is a time for us to reflect, repent, and draw closer to God.  Fasting is just one way of doing that (and it’s a good one). 

As you read this, I urge you to use this season of Lent in the way that it is intended.  If you choose to fast from something, that’s great (but if you want to fast from food, please have a conversation with your doctor before you do).  But whether you fast, I hope that you will find some way of drawing closer to God.  Take the time to reflect, to repent, and to draw closer to God.  Find a good Lenten devotional and spend time, each day, reading it, reading the scriptures that it recommends or suggests, reflecting, repenting, and praying.

Rather than turning the calendar on Easter Sunday morning and saying “Happy Easter” to friends and family like someone crossing the finish line without running the race, I urge you to spend some time in preparation.  I hope that we will each take the time to run the race and spend the season of Lent drawing closer to God and preparing our hearts for Easter.

Lent is not something that God requires of us.  It is a gift that has been given to us.

When we take the time to draw closer to God and prepare our hearts during the season of Lent, Easter becomes even more meaningful and affects us even more deeply.

Lent is a gift.

What will you do with it?

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Ashes Mark the Beginning

crocusOur season of Lent begins this coming Wednesday, February 26th.

But what does that mean?

The season of Lent is a time that we have set aside on our church calendars, to remember and to reflect.  We know that Spring is coming.  And with its arrival, we will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection at Easter.  But in order to better appreciate Easter, to fully participate in, and to better enjoy the celebration, we set aside time to prepare.

If you think about it, we go through this sort of preparation for many things.  Of course, we could do things on the spur of the moment, but many things of importance in our lives deserve more thought.  We plan for vacation by buying tickets, reading travelogues, buying a good summer book to take along,  as well as sunscreen, snacks for the car or the airplane on our journey, and other “essentials” so that we are prepared, both mentally and physically, to fully enjoy our holiday.  We do the same thing was we prepare for scout camp, or for back to school.  We spend time and effort to prepare so that everything will go smoothly and be as enjoyable as possible when the time for those events arrives.

And since Easter is the biggest event of the church year (bookends with Christmas) we do the same thing.  For us to arrive at Easter as spiritually prepared, mature Christians, we shouldn’t try to cram all our preparations into one hurried trip to Wal-Mart the night before.  Instead, let us commit to a season or preparation so that we will arrive on Easter morning renewed, refreshed, equipped, expectant, and joyful.

Join us, so that we can journey together during this season of anticipation.

 

Blessings,

Pastor John

 

 

 

 


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Belief… Matters

Belief… Matters

April 19, 2019*

Good Friday

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Why am I here?

Where did all of this, all of creation, come from?

What is the meaning of life?

What is my purpose on earth?

These are just a few of life’s great questions.  They are questions that human beings have struggled with ever since we stopped looking over our shoulders for saber-toothed tigers and had enough time on our hands to think about anything other than survival.

But one of the questions that rises to the top of that pile is one that we confront at every funeral, and at the death of every friend, relative, and distant acquaintance.  Because we are mortal, we know that one day death will come us.  And as we consider our own mortality we are faced with the question, “What happens after I die?”

And that’s exactly the question that the thief on the cross next to Jesus had as well.  He was already suffering the agony of dying, and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would be dead before the sun reached the western horizon.  Few of us get the chance to be so aware of the timing of our death, and none of us will get the opportunity to ask Jesus face to face about what we can expect.  But this one man, in all of history, did.  And his story is given to us in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion as we read Luke 23:35-41.

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

My undergraduate degree is in engineering, and one of most basic things that I learned is that whenever you have a problem, you should always start by making a list of what you know.  So, let’s do that.  We have several groups of people who are watching the crucifixion for a variety of reasons and their reactions and their comments grow out of where their hearts are.  First, there are the people who just stood and watched.  They thought that they were powerless and all they did was watch what others did.  Second, there were the rulers, the very people who had conspired to trump up false charges against Jesus because he threatened the status quo of the power structures of Israel.  These leaders mocked Jesus and dared him to save himself by using the power that was to be given to God’s messiah.  If he were the messiah, they reasoned, then he had the godly power to come down off the cross.  Third, the soldiers mocked him, and challenged him to save himself using the political power that kings had.  Their thinking was that if Jesus was really a king, then he should use his power to order his followers to rise up and rescue him.  Fourth, one of the men who hung next to Jesus hurled insults at Jesus out of the frustration that he felt in facing his own death.  Not only does he mock Jesus for being just as powerless as he is, but he calls upon Jesus, not only to save himself, but to save all of them.

The funny thing is, although we often lump this man in with all the others who were wrong about Jesus, of these four groups, he is the one who is almost right, and he has no idea just how close to the truth he really is.  In just a few days, the events of the cross would allow Jesus to not only save the men on the cross, but also the soldiers, the church leaders, and all people, everywhere. 

But almost right still isn’t right.

It is only the fifth and last of these that truly understands.  The second thief looks next to him and understands that Jesus is utterly innocent.  Although his comment is short, it is revealing.  From his comment and from his question, we understand that he believed.  He believed in God.  He believed in justice.  He believed that he, and the other thief were being justly punished for the things that they had done.  He believed that Jesus was innocent.  And most importantly, he believed that Jesus really was a king, and not just an ordinary earthly king, but a king whose kingship and authority belonged to God and extended beyond the boundaries of life and death.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

He believed. 

He had faith.

And we know that his faith was rewarded within hours because Jesus answered by saying: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus not only promised him that there was an afterlife, Jesus promised him that he was forgiven of all his crimes, forgiven of all his sins, and that he would, that very day, walk alongside Jesus in paradise.

But what made the difference?

Faith.

The people didn’t believe that their faith made a difference.  The leaders didn’t believe that Jesus was the messiah.  The soldiers didn’t believe that Jesus was a king.  And the first thief didn’t believe that Jesus was any different than he was.  But the second thief believed.

He believed that believing made a difference.

He believed that Jesus was the messiah.

He believed that Jesus was the king.

And he believed that Jesus was not only different than he was, he believed that Jesus had the power and the authority to rescue him even after they were both dead.

And so, after we consider this list of things that we know, we have some answers to the questions with which we started.  Something does happen when we die.  There is an afterlife.  There is a judgement and not all humans will be judged equally. 

And most importantly, what you believe matters.

Whether or not you believe that Jesus is the messiah… matters.

Whether or not you believe that Jesus has the power to rescue you… matters.

Whether or not you trust Jesus enough to trust him with your rescue… matters.

The question that only you can answer is this…

What do you believe?

 

 

 

 


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

A New Commandment

A New Commandment

April 18, 2019*

Maundy Thursday

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Whether or not you grew up in the church, you are likely to have heard of the ten commandments and depending on where and when you grew up, there’s a decent chance that you might even have memorized those ten commandments in Sunday school or in confirmation classes at some point.  The ten commandments were the fundamental building blocks of the law for the Jews, for Christians, and ultimately, for much of our Western legal system.  The ten commandments are those basic instructions that summarize how the followers of God are to treat one another but with the coming of Jesus, other uses of the word “command” begin to enter scripture.

Most of the time, the commands of Jesus don’t rise to the level of a “commandment” because it isn’t something that applies to everyone.  Instead, the word “command” is used as emphasis to indicate the strength and intensity of an instruction.  Many times, the commands of Jesus are directed at individuals such as when Jesus instructed the leper he had healed to “Go and show yourself to the priests.”  Other times, Jesus commanded the elements such as when he demanded that the wind and the waves on the Sea of Galilee to “be still.”  And still other times, Jesus gave instructions to a small group.  We recall that several times Jesus commanded his disciples that they should not yet tell anyone what they had seen.

But at the conclusion of the Passover feast, Jesus says something that he intends to be a lasting instruction, an enduring command, a “commandment” if you will, that applied not only to the disciples, but everyone who would ever claim the name of Jesus for all time.  We join the story of Passover in John 13:1-17, 31b-35 where we hear these words:

13:1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Here we skip a few verses where Jesus sends Judas to do what he had already planned to do and then…

31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

In one of his last opportunities to teach his disciples, Jesus begins, as he often had, by modelling something new.  One of the profound lessons of leadership that I learned both in church and in the Army was that you should never ask others to do what you are unwilling to do yourself.  If your platoon sergeant demands that you go dig a ditch, that can be construed to be a punishment, but if she goes and digs a ditch with you, that’s just duty.  Everyone was more willing to follow the instructions of leaders who were willing to get their hands dirty and do the work that we did, even if they didn’t do it as often.  And this is exactly what Jesus does.  Jesus doesn’t simply demand that his followers wash one another’s feet, Jesus washes their feet and then tells them that they need to do the same.  Jesus demonstrates humility, and then explains that living the Christian life is all about the humility of putting the needs of others first.

And then, after Judas has left, Jesus acknowledges that his time is short and, although the disciples still don’t understand, Jesus knows that his death is fast approaching.  And so, in these last few minutes together, Jesus issues a new command, not for one person, and not for a small group, but a command that applies to all of us: Love one another.  Just as Jesus has loved them, just as Jesus was about to show all of us that he loves us more than he loved his own life, we are to love one another.  All of us.  Our love for one another, and our love for others, should be so great that the whole world will notice.  Our love for one another should be so great that this becomes our reputation in our community and in our world.  Jesus doesn’t just call us to love, but to love so extravagantly that when people see us, they will know that we are Christians simply because people know that Christians are the only people who ever love that much.

Pastor and author Francis Chan calls this, “Crazy Love” and he’s not wrong.  If the followers of Jesus Christ begin to take this new commandment seriously, if we love others so extravagantly that love becomes the thing for which we are known, then “crazy” is almost certainly the word that the world will use to describe it.  There’s love, there’s abundant love, even extravagant love, but all those things have been accomplished by people outside the church.  For us to do as Jesus has commanded, for us to be known by the people in our communities and around the world simply because of our love, then we need to love others so much that people think that we’ve gone crazy.

Obeying this commandment of Jesus could be costly.

It could cost us money.  It could cost us our reputations.

But are you willing to be humble enough to surrender what you have to Jesus?

And become known as someone who has…

…crazy love?

 

 

 

Reading #1

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14

12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.

Reading #2

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.

Reading #3

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

 

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

The Celebration and the Coming Storm

The Celebration and the Coming Storm


April 14, 2019*

Palm Sunday

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Luke 19:28-40

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

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

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

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

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

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

34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But why?

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

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

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

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

Jesus must go.

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

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

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

Jesus knew that he would die.

He knew that honoring God would cost him his life.

And he chose to honor God anyway.

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

… inconvenient?

 

 

 


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

The Return of the Rejects

The Return of the Rejects


March 31, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Joshua 5:9-12             Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32              2 Corinthians 5:16-21

 

How often in our lives have we heard phrases like, “You aren’t good enough,” “You aren’t rich enough,” “You aren’t smart enough,” “You aren’t pretty (or handsome) enough,” “You aren’t one of us,” “We don’t want you here,” “Why don’t you and your friends sit… over there.”

Almost all of us, at one time or another, were one of the outsiders.  We didn’t “fit” in the popular group.  We weren’t wanted.  We didn’t measure up to whatever standards that group thought were important.  This sort of thing is so common that the famous comedian Groucho Marx once reversed the whole situation by saying, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”

But even though we make jokes about it, being on the outside looking in is not a fun place to be.  And when we stop talking about social clubs or high school cliques and start talking about whole groups of people that are excluded from entire societies, this isn’t at all funny and can, in fact, be deadly serious.

At the conclusion to the story of the Exodus of God’s people from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the new Promised land, we hear this story in Joshua 5:9-12.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So, the place has been called Gilgal to this day [“Gilgal” sounds like the Hebrew for “roll.”].

10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. 11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.

After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, and after entering into the Promised land, and after harvesting crops that they didn’t even plant, God tells Joshua that he as “rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.”  God says that he has taken away their label as outsiders, and that the world can no longer say that God’s people are anything less than everything that God wants them to be.  And, on the day after they begin to harvest food from the land of their new home, the manna, that they had seen every day for forty years, suddenly stops.  It is as if God says, you no longer need this miracle, I have brought you home, you have become everything that you dreamed of becoming, you have received everything that you ever wanted, I have fulfilled my promise.

Even though God’s people had lived in Egypt for four hundred years, they were never considered to be Egyptians.  They were never good enough, they were never on the inside, but were constantly persecuted, tormented, and enslaved as perpetual outsiders. 

But no longer.

As they arrived in the Promised Land, God’s promise of redemption is fulfilled.

The outsiders are no longer on the outside but have been invited in by God himself.

But even though this is a foundational story of God’s people, the political and religious leaders of Israel still manage to divide their own people into insiders and outsiders.  Those who were “good enough” and those who weren’t.  But Jesus begins his ministry and immediately sets to work tearing down the barriers between these two groups and regularly invites the outsiders to join him on the inside.  And these actions of Jesus cause the leaders of the insiders to complain about his behavior.  And in response, Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32.

15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable:

11 “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So, he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So, they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So, his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Many sermons have been written about this passage.  In fact, I just preached about it on Monday at the Lenten luncheon at the Vine Street United Methodist Church, but what I want you to see this morning is that Jesus made it his mission to seek out the rejects of the society and the people who had been rejected by the church, and invite them back in again.  The father in the story wasn’t focused on the bad things that his son had done, or the many ways that he had personally insulted and hurt his father, his family, and his culture, the father’s single concern was the love that he had for his child and that he desperately wanted him back.  Jesus’ point in telling this parable was to explain that this is how God feels about us.  The message that Jesus wanted the world to hear is that we’ve never gone too far wrong.  We’ve never been too bad.  We’ve never been too far outside.  As soon as we come to our senses and ask for his forgiveness, God’s single concern is his love for us and how much he wants us to rejoin his family.

But what does that have to do with us?

Honestly?  Everything.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, contained in this passage of 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, we are reminded, once again, that the mission of Jesus Christ has been passed down and is now the mission of the church.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Paul immediately instructs us to view no one in the way that the world sees them, but to see the world, and all the people in it, the way that Jesus sees them.  Everyone who comes to Jesus and asks for his forgiveness is a new creation and must be reconciled, redeemed, restored, and returned to the family.  And that family, is the church, the gathered body of Christ.  Moreover, Paul says, that Jesus has given us the message of reconciliation, we are Christ’s ambassadors, “as though God were making his appeal through us.  Our mission, our job, both as believers in Jesus Christ, and as his church, it to bring people back to God.  Our calling, each and every one of us, is to go out into the world and find the rejects and the outsiders, the people that have been hurt, turned away, cast out, ignored, slighted, and rejected by our culture and by the church. 

Our mission is to find them all and restore them to the family of the father that never stopped looking for them, and never stopped loving them.

So, this week as you go out in our community, and out in our world, try to see the world the way that Jesus sees the world.  Try to see the people around you the way that Jesus sees them.  Not at outcasts, freaks, weirdos, derelicts, or drunks, not as people who aren’t good enough, or smart enough, not as people who don’t work hard enough, not as rejects from a society that lacks compassion, or a church that often alienates the very people that Jesus invited in, but simply try to see them all as family members who are in need of redemption, restoration, reconciliation, and in need of a family who can love them back to wellness and wholeness.

We dream of a world without outsiders.

Let us be the agents of mercy and reconciliation that seek out the rejects of the world and bring them inside.

 

 

 

 


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

Reward, Rejection, and Role Models

Reward, Rejection, and Role Models


March 17, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18                      Luke 13:31-35                        Philippians 3:17 – 4:1

 

Have you ever made a plan for your life?

You know what I mean.  At some point many of us have sat down with a parent, school guidance counselor, or career counselor, faculty advisor, or mentor and mapped out how to get from where we were, to where we wanted to be.  If you want to be a nurse or a doctor, the classes that you take and the experiences that you need, are very different from those needed to become and engineer or a tool and die machinist.  Some of us sat down with a military recruiter and discussed our skills and education, and what training options were open to us.  In some cases, in both our civilian and military careers, there were rewards that were promised for reaching our goals or at various points along the way. 

But in real life, the path from here to there is never as easy as it looks when you sit down to plan.  We fail required classes, lose time because of circumstances that are beyond our control, school takes longer, and costs more than we planned, and recruiters are known to be less than truthful or to omit important information.  Through it all, reaching the promised goals and rewards that we had in mind at the beginning, can be a lot harder, cost more, and take a lot longer than we probably imagined when we started.  And on top that, along the way we sometimes face detours brought on by marriage, divorce, children, tragedy, unemployment, disaster, and other things.  We might even decide to change our career destinations and goals along the way, causing us to take several steps backward and start a part of the plan over again.

Life is like that.

It’s complicated.  And our spiritual life is no different. 

So how do we get from here to there?  From where we are, to where we want to be?

And for that, let’s begin with the story of Abram, who would later become Abraham, a man who, for three for four thousand years, the followers of God have lifted up as a hero of the faith and a role model for our spiritual lives.  And, as we look, we discover that even for Abraham, the path from here to there was anything but a straight line.  We begin this morning as we read a story from Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 as God repeats a great promise to Abram.

15:1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,
    your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so, a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

God reminds Abram of his promise to give him a great reward, and Abram’s response is very much along the lines of, “What can you possibly give me that I care about?”  Even if God blesses Abram with land, and animals, and riches, what good is it if he has no children to inherit it when he dies?  And God specifies that he intends for Abram’s descendants to be as countless as the stars in the night sky. 

And Abram believed.

But even in his belief, Abram had doubts, and he asked God how he might know… for certain… that God would do as he had promised.  And in reply, God follows a formula that was well-known in the ancient world.  It was the formula for the execution of a covenant (a binding contract on steroids).  This sort of covenant was often made between parties of differing strength such as a dominant military power and a much weaker nation.  And God was making this same sort of binding agreement with Abram to reassure him that God intended to keep his promise.

Abraham would receive the reward that God had promised and the covenant that was established between them would continue to bless his descendants for thousands of years.  But not everyone was interested in keeping the covenant, maintaining their part of the contract, or being faithful in the way that Abraham was faithful.  Despite their power, position, and authority, some of Israel’s leaders were renegades that refused and rejected their covenant with God and Jesus points to those types of renegades as we remember the story contained in Luke 13:31-35.

31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

The differences that we see in this passage are sharp and the are intended to be so.  Jesus is warned that Herod wanted him dead and Jesus responds by saying that he would continue to do what God had called him to do until he reached his goal of entering Jerusalem.  But Jesus continues by reminding the Pharisees that it was the leaders and the people of Jerusalem that had already established a reputation for killing God’s prophets and stoning the people that God had sent.  This is exactly what is happening again.  God had repeatedly wanted to gather the children of Israel together to comfort them and protect them, but they weren’t interested. 

The people did not want what God had to offer.

They had rejected the covenant.

And Jesus says that the house that they had inherited, God’s house, was an empty house.  The people of Israel would not see the blessings of God until they recognized the messiah that God sent to them.

But what does that mean for us?  If Abram or Abraham was a role model of faith, and if the leaders of Israel were examples of what not to do and how not to live, then what teaching, or what advice, can we follow to prevent us from rejecting God’s blessing?

And in answer to that question, we read Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi (Philippians 3:17 – 4:1) where we hear these words:

17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

Paul’s answer is simplified and boiled down about as far as you can get.  Just as you have looked up to us, find other role models that live like we do and watch how they live.  That’s simple.  Find good quality role models that look like Paul and his friends and watch how they live.  But Paul also warns that there are a lot of people out there, and we can probably assume that he also meant that there are a lot of leaders out there, that live as the enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ.  Notice that he did not say that they represented themselves as the enemies of Jesus, but that the proof was to be found in how they lived.  Just as the leaders of the people of Israel, including the leaders of the church, had rejected Jesus and turned their backs on the covenant that they had with God, in the same way we know that sometimes the leaders of the church in the present day wear the label of Jesus Christ and claim the name of Jesus Christ, but live as enemies of Jesus.  The people that we are to follow, and after whose lives we are to pattern ours, are the people who look like, and who live like Paul, the disciples, and Jesus.  The enemies of the cross of Christ have their minds set on earthly things like food, alcohol, drugs, sex, money, power, pleasure, and the things of earth.  But the followers of Jesus know that their true citizenship is in heaven and as a result, they live lives that reflect the values of that nation and not the values of the nations of earth.

We live in a time and a culture that is far removed from that of Abraham and from that of Jesus and Paul, but the lessons that we learn from them remain the same.  God wants to bless his people and, as he always has, God continues to keep his promises.  But God will not bless those who reject him and turn their backs on him.  And so, if we want to receive the blessings of God, then we must search for, and choose, role models who live their lives like Paul, the disciples, apostles, and Jesus.  Stand firm in your faith.  Do not sell-out to the desires and lusts of the human body.  Do not set your mind on earthly things but remember that heaven is our home.  And the citizenship of our hearts must be revealed to the world through our lives and our actions every day.

It all boils down to this:

You are a child of God.

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

Rescued and Grateful

Rescued and Grateful


March 10, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Deuteronomy 26:1-11                        Luke 4:1-13                            Romans 10:8b-13

 

How many of you watch cute cat videos on the internet?

 

How about stories about dogs that almost make you cry?

I saw one of those this week.  It was about a long-distance truck driver who had recently lost one of his favorite dogs and he simply wasn’t the same afterward.  He said that his heart was no longer whole.  But his wife sent him a photo of a dog that was about to be put down, and somehow, in a way that he couldn’t explain, he connected with that dog.  The problem was that he lived in California and the dog was on the east coast.  No matter, he called the pound, paid a deposit so the dog wouldn’t be put down, asked his boss for a haul to New York, and set out, driving over 1,500 miles, to rescue that dog.  And, as strange as it may seem, it appears that the dog knew exactly what that man has done for him.  That dog simply adores his new human and his new life.  He rides in that truck every day, loves on his owner, and gives kisses and hugs to anyone and everyone that he meets.  He is, or at least as much as is possible for a dog, truly joyful and truly grateful.

Now, I know that some people will accuse me of anthropomorphizing, which is attributing human characteristics to an animal that can’t necessarily “feel” the same emotions that we feel.  Maybe.  But as a life long animal lover who has lived with eight dogs, at least six cats, and a whole pile of other animals, it seems obvious to me that even if they aren’t the same as ours, animals clearly feel emotion.  In any case, this is about us, and not my dogs.

Why is it that we do things for our parents and grandparents for free?  My brother and I once drove from Akron to East McKeesport, Pennsylvania (which is just outside of Pittsburgh) because our grandmother needed to have her garage painted.  The two of us were willing to spend an entire day, drive three hours one-way, spend the day in the hot sun scraping and painting an old garage, get home in time to go to bed, hot, sweaty, and tired.  And we were willing to do it all for nothing (but of course grandma insisted on giving us “gas money”).  Why? 

Why were we willing to do this for free, when ordinarily we probably couldn’t be persuaded to do that same thing if someone was willing to pay us?  And the answer is threefold: relationship, love, and gratitude.  We were willing to go to all that effort because of the relationship that we had with our grandmother, because of the love that we had for her, and she for us, and because of the gratitude that we had for all the things that she had already done for us, for our parents, and for our entire family.

And its those same three things that I want you watch for this morning as we read and discuss today’s scriptures for the season of Lent.  We begin in Deuteronomy 26:1-11, where we hear these directions for the people of Israel as they entered the Promised Land:

26:1 When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. 11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.

This entire passage is about gratitude.  Gratitude for a God who keeps his promises and brought his people into the land that he had promised to their ancestors, gratitude for their rescue from slavery, gratitude for a new nation and a new home, gratitude for a successful harvest, and gratitude for the abundance of the land.  And out of that gratitude the people bring to God an offering of the first fruits, the initial and beginning of the harvest, and then, having given a gift of gratitude to God, the priests and the foreigners, the insiders and the outsiders alike, rejoice and give thanks for the things that God has done for them and the gifts that God has given to them.

And with that in mind, we turn to the story of the temptation of Jesus in Luke 4:1-13, where we hear this:

4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:

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

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

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

There is a lot that we could learn within these verses, but considering what we’ve been discussing already, we can see that Jesus knew who had given him everything that he had.  And with that knowledge, every time that Satan tried to tempt him with food, power, authority, fame, fortune, greed, other human lusts, Jesus remembered who it was to whom he should be grateful.  And his gratitude to God led him to honor God by living for him, and returning to God his gratitude, thankfulness, love, respect, relationship, and honor.

But what does that mean to us?

And we find a part of that answer in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome as we read Romans 10:8-13.

But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Paul says that the word of God is as near to us as our own mouth and our own heart.  If you declare with your mouth, and believe in your heart, the message of Jesus Christ, then you know without a doubt, that you are a saved, rescued, redeemed, child of God.  It doesn’t matter if you are an insider, or an outsider, God welcomes all of us, and blesses anyone who puts their faith in him.  Paul wants to give us assurance and confidence that our future is secure, and that we are loved and welcomed into the family of God.

But with that assurance, there is a question that we ought to be asking ourselves.

The people of Israel showed God their gratitude by bringing gifts of the first harvest to the altar of God and by celebrating together and giving thanks for the things that God had given to them.

Jesus showed God his gratitude by faithfully following God and honoring him by living a life that reflected the instructions and the teachings of God without being distracted or led astray by all the temptations that Satan and the world had to offer him.

Paul and the apostles showed God their gratitude by proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to the people in the world around them so that others who hadn’t heard, the outsiders, could know the joy, comfort, and assurance that was to be found in knowing that we are rescued, redeemed, secure, loved, and welcomed into the family of God.  We can’t really lick God’s face, or drive over and paint his garage, but the question that we still need to ask ourselves, is…

… “How am I showing my gratitude?”

 

 

 

 


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