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.

Surrender

Surrender


March 06, 2019*

(Ash Wednesday)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17                    Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21                        2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

 

Surrender1It happens every Sunday morning, and it happens in practically every church in the world.  It isn’t peculiar to the United Methodist Church.  It happens in Baptist Churches, Presbyterian churches, Catholic churches, independent churches, and every other denominational and non-denominational church you can find.  It happens in Christian churches, Islamic mosques, Jewish synagogues, and Buddhist temples.  This thing that happens is the offering.  At some point before, during, or after their services of worship, there will be an opportunity for worshipers and visitors to make some contribution toward the organization, for the poor, or at least toward the upkeep of the building.  Despite there being enormous differences between us, one of the things that make us all the same is that no matter where you are, or who you worship, it costs money to maintain the property and keep the lights on.  And so, everywhere we go, even sometimes for secular events, we are asked to sacrifice a little of our hard-earned cash.  It’s so ordinary that we don’t think twice if the American Legion needs to hold a raffle, or the band boosters sell candy bars. 

 

But suddenly we arrive at the season of Lent, and something changes.

 

Because although we will probably still be collecting offerings on Sunday mornings, for the next few weeks an entirely different sort of giving and surrendering becomes the central focus as we spend time preparing our hearts for the resurrection of Jesus.  That change in focus is found today in Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 where we hear these words:

 

2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill.

Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand—
    a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come.

12 “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children,
    those nursing at the breast.  Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
    a byword among the nations.  Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

Through Joel, God warns his people that the day of judgement will be a day of darkness and despair.  But on the day of judgement, no one is going to be looking at your tax statements or your church giving receipts, and no one is really going to care how much you put in the offering plate.  God said, “Rend your heart and not your garments.”  As we read this, we understand that tearing one’s shirt, or robe, or other garment was a sign of mourning, repentance, and humility, but God declares that these outward signs are not enough.  Instead, what God really wants, is a broken heart.  God doesn’t want us to put on a show.  God doesn’t want us to make grand gestures.  What God really wants, is for us to be genuinely sorry. What God wants, is for us to be so sorry, and our hearts broken so badly, that we become changed people who live life differently.  This is so important that God calls for us to declare a fast, call a sacred assembly, gather the people, and call together God’s people to a meeting of the utmost importance.  Even bridegrooms and priests serving in the temple, people who were ordinarily excused from most everything, will not be excused.  Everyone is needed, because this change of heart is vitally important for the continued existence of God’s people and our inheritance from God.

Paul emphasizes this same level of importance in 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10 where he says:

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.


6:1 
As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
    and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul encourages us to be reconciled with God, to be forgiven through the power of Jesus Christ and to become co-workers with God, working toward the same goals and objectives as God himself.  More than that, Paul says that as servants of God we surrender ourselves, through trouble, hardship, distress, beatings, hard work, sleepless nights, hunger, purity, understanding, patience, through dishonor, bad reports, and in many other ways.  Few of the things on Paul’s list are situations that we would ordinarily, on our own, seek out, but he encourages us to set aside our own desires, to surrender ourselves, in order to pursue the goals and objectives of the Kingdom of God.

And finally, in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, we hear Jesus as he challenges his followers to do good, not just for the sake of doing good, but to do good for the right reasons.

6:1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus says that we need to have our hearts in the right place.  We must do good, not for the sake of doing good, and certainly not to do good because it is of benefit to us, but simply to do good for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  This is a little weird, but we are not called to be righteous so that we can go to heaven, we are called to be righteous in order to for God to be glorified.  Our motives are everything, because the condition of our hearts is everything.  Our motives for everything that we do should be God’s motives.  We are called to work, to volunteer, to donate money, to live lives of purity and righteousness, even suffer and die, not because we have any expectation that our lives will be wonderful, or even that there will be some earthly benefit to us.  We are to do these things because our goals are becoming God’s goals, our desires are becoming God’s desires, and so we begin to live our lives in ways that benefit to the Kingdom of God and not necessarily in ways that benefit us.

This is the call of the season of Lent.  To “Rend your heart and not your garments,” to remember that the gift, the offering, that God desires, is not money, or time, or sacrifice, although it might look like any of those.  The gift that God desires is for us to surrender ourselves, to surrender our desires, and to adopt, in their place, the goals and desires of God.

These are the things that we must think upon as we prepare our hearts for Easter.

This is what it means to surrender.

 

 


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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.