Birth and Reproduction

“Birth and Reproduction”

May 06, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

John 15:9-17              Acts 10:44-48             1 John 5:1-6

 

 

Have you ever witnessed the delivery of a baby?

 

In the past, fathers paced nervously in the waiting room while mothers gave birth.  In more recent years the fathers were not only invited into the delivery room but participated in Lamaze and other birthing classes that were designed to calm the fears of parents and maybe even help the process a little.  Some families even video the whole thing.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  I can think of few things that would be more embarrassing to watch later in life.  Can you imagine some parent showing that video at their child’s wedding reception?  Yikes.  Patti and I have video of Lina’s delivery, although hers is almost certainly different than most.  In Lina’s video there’s a knock at the hotel room door, Patti answers, and seconds later, she’s holding a baby.

 

Poof.

 

Just like that, we were parents.

 

But why is your pastor talking about babies and delivery videos on Sunday morning? Simply because our connection with the birth of babies, the importance that we put on such events and the emotions tied to them, are decidedly similar to an important spiritual message.  In the physical world, babies most often come into the world because two people loved one another, and the physical expression of that love allowed the creation of a new life.  But some people might be surprised to discover that our spiritual experience is really not so very different.  In John 15:9-17, Jesus says this:

9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

Jesus’ entire focus is on love.  He says, my father loved me, and so I passed that love on to you.  Jesus wants us to stay in love with him and he says the way to do that, is to keep his commands, to actually do the things that he has asked his followers to do.  Jesus says that we are not his servants, because servants act out of blind obedience.  Instead, we are friends, because we have been told about the plans and the business of the one whom we follow.  Everything that God has told Jesus has been told to us.  And all of this results in our selection as people who will go and bear fruit. 

 

Bear fruit.

 

What does that mean?

It really is as simple as it sounds.  In the physical world bearing fruit is often understood to mean some sort of reproduction.  Children are referred to as being the “fruit of their parents.”  Trees, bushes and other plants bear fruit and their fruit contains the seeds necessary to raise up another generation of those same plants.  In the spiritual world, our calling is to produce new spiritual life.

 

But that still seems a little confusing.

 

Most of us understand where babies come from, but how exactly does one go about making spiritual babies?  Once again, despite our initial fear, it isn’t that difficult.  In Acts 10:44-48, we find Peter and some of his friends who have been called by God to visit in the home of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion.  This really is a big deal because a good Jew would never set foot in the home of a Gentile let alone someone who was a representative of the oppressive occupation of the nation of Israel.  But not only did God call Peter to go to such a place, something amazing happens while he is there.

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Peter answers God’s call to come to the home of a Gentile, a Roman Centurion, and preaches there.  Cornelius and his family were god-fearing people and Cornelius himself prayed regularly and gave generously to the poor.  But they did not know about Jesus and so God commanded Cornelius, in a dream, to invite Peter into his home and there Peter tells them the story of Jesus, the crucifixion, and the resurrection.

 

And then, the impossible happens.

 

The Spirit of God descends upon the people gathered in that house, just as it did among the disciples at Pentecost, but this time, the people who received the filling of the Spirit were Gentiles and not Jews.  The Jewish followers of Jesus that had come with Peter were astounded.  The Gentiles were “those people.”  Good Jews weren’t supposed to associate with them.  Gentiles were generally unclean and perhaps even thought of as less than human.  Jesus’ teaching that God loved Gentiles was a radical idea that the Jews wrestled with, but this… this was truly stunning.  Here they witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles, even among their enemies, in a way that only the disciples and earliest followers of Jesus had ever seen.  There could now be no denying that Gentile followers of Jesus were loved every bit as much as his Jewish followers, their belief in Jesus was every bit as genuine, and every bit as acceptable to God, as the Jewish believers.  This was surprising, unexpected, and shocking.  And Peter realizes that he has no choice but to baptize these new believers in the name of Jesus, welcome them into the family, and teach them as much as he could over the next few days.

 

This was a seismic shift in the world of Peter and the disciples.  In that world, gods were often thought of as being local or regional.  People often would change gods when they moved to a new place.  Despite the fact that Israel’s god had always claimed to be, and was always worshipped as, the one god who created the universe and everything in it, many people still thought of God as being only the god of Israel or only the god of the Jews.  And despite Jesus often teaching that God’s love extended to the Gentiles, and despite the fact that Jesus himself had often offered grace and acceptance and even teaching to various Gentiles, this idea of local ownership persisted.  But now, these Jewish followers of Jesus, including their leader Peter, were witnesses to the outpouring of God’s spirit.  There could be no denying that God loved the Gentiles, or that the Gentiles were accepted by God as equals with the Jews, or even that people who had been thought of as their enemies, had been invited to be a part of God’s family.

 

All… really did mean… mean all.

 

Through baptism, these new believers were born into the family of God.  It didn’t happen by accident, but it happened as a result of the love that God had for them, as well as the love that Peter and the other believers had for Jesus.

 

And the result of this spiritual love is the birth of new spiritual life.

 

But once again, we end up asking ourselves, “What does this have to do with me?”

 

And once again, the Apostle John has a good answer. (1 John 5:1-6)

5:1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

John says that everyone who believes in Jesus is born of God, that’s birth.  And everyone who loves God, is God’s child.  And if we love God, then we will love God’s children by carrying out his commands.  This echoes what we have heard in the book of James where we were taught that while we are saved by faith and not by works, we expect that saved people will naturally do good works.  Similarly, John says is that while faith in Jesus Christ is what saves us, saved people will naturally do the things that God has commanded them to do.

 

John says that Jesus is different because he was born in two different ways; he was born of water, that is, as a human baby to a human mother, and he was born by blood, that is, through death and resurrection.  This uniquely qualifies Jesus to lead us, not only as a human leader, but as a spiritual one.

 

So where are we when we put these simple ideas together?

 

First, when we choose to follow Jesus Christ, we are born as the spiritual children of God.

 

Second, as the children of God, we should naturally do the things that God has commanded us to do.

 

Third, Jesus has commanded us to go and bear fruit.  That might mean that Jesus wants us to display the fruits of the Spirt, such as love, joy peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control, but Jesus is careful to specify that we are to not only bear fruit, but to bear fruit that lasts.  The fruits of the spirit are good, and they should indeed grow out of a life lived in devotion to God, but Jesus specifying fruit “that lasts” leads us to understand that Jesus is talking about the birth of new spiritual life.

 

Fourth, the way that we can bear fruit, the way that we can be a part of God giving birth to new spiritual life, is to obey Jesus’ command to love.  We are called to love one another, to love people who are different from us, to love the outcast, to love the disconnected, and even to love our enemies.  And, while we are loving them, in fact, because we love them, we are, like Peter, called to tell them about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

 

And when, through the power of the Holy Spirit working through you, those people come to faith in Jesus Christ, then spiritually speaking, the love between God and his people results in the birth of a new creation in Christ Jesus.

 

That is the story about the birds and the bees, the story about spiritual birth and reproduction.

 

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last… (John 15:16)

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Courage Unbound

“Courage Unbound”

April 29, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

John 10:11-18            Acts 4:1-12                 1 John 3:16-24

 

 

Where have you seen courage?

 

We’ve all been witnesses to courage at one time or another.  Sometimes it’s as simple as tasting a new food, emptying a mousetrap, or a new parent changing a diaper for the first time.  Sometimes it’s a cancer patient willing themselves to show up for one more chemotherapy treatment, or the parent of sick child putting on a brave face to calm the child’s fears.  But sometimes it’s more than that.

 

During the war in Yugoslavia, a Bosnian Muslim factory manager was captured by Croatian soldiers along with his family and his neighbors.  They were all taken to a makeshift prison camp and after several days, 40 of the prisoners, including this man, his wife, and his five year old twin boys, were taken out of the camp and lined up in a row.  The soldiers brought out a civilian man who was Croatian as they were, and demanded that he choose 12 of the prisoners from the lineup, and decide how they would be killed.  But, although he was ethnically Croatian, he had also been a neighbor to the people who stood before him and the closest friend of the Muslim father.  Rather than follow their orders, the man turned on the soldiers and said, “You should be ashamed of yourselves! These people are innocent. Release them. Let them go home.”  He then turned to his friends and said, “I’m so sorry. This is all I can do. I know they will kill me tonight. I wish all of you the best.”  The soldiers dragged the man off and took the Muslim prisoners back to the prison camp.  That night the Croatian man was killed by the soldiers, but many of the prisoners were later saved through a prisoner exchange.  (Story from Courage Under Fire – https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/courage_under_fire)

 

Imagine the courage that it took for that man to risk his life in order to do what was right?

 

In the last couple of messages, we have paid particular attention to the change that we see in Jesus’ disciples from the time of the crucifixion to the days immediately following Pentecost.   In a way, our scriptures revisit that today, but our focus this time is on us more than it is on the disciples.  We begin this morning with the words of Jesus which are recorded for us in John 10:11-18.

11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Long before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus knew what was going to happen, but he also knew why it was going to happen.  Jesus said that a good shepherd is willing to lay down his life for his sheep.  Someone who is just in it for the money, fakers, thieves, and charlatans, don’t stick around when things get difficult.  Real shepherds are in it for keeps and are ready to stand and fight for their sheep.  But Jesus also says that the relationship goes the other way as well.  Real sheep know the shepherd and they follow him, they listen to his voice, and they join together as one flock.  This is the way that God intended for it to be and Jesus has been given the power and the authority to do everything that God commanded.

 

But Jesus did more than that.  His ability and willingness to sacrifice for his flock was passed on to his disciples.  After Jesus rose from the dead, they began to more fully understand who he was, what he did, and what he had accomplished.  And as they understood, they began to follow his example. (Acts 4:1-12)

4:1The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.

The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

As you will remember from last week, Peter and the disciples are proclaiming the name of Jesus to the crowd that gathered after Peter healed a lame man who was begging by the gate of the temple.  Now, as they preach, they are approached not only by passers-by, but by priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the representatives of the Sadducees and, we are told, they were “greatly disturbed.”  Most likely, if they weren’t being unruly, or causing a nuisance, the captain of the guard wouldn’t be too concerned, but the Sadducees were the political group that did not believe in any kind of afterlife.  They didn’t believe in heaven or hell, in souls, or spirits, and they certainly didn’t believe in resurrection from the dead.  This is most likely why they were greatly disturbed.  The teaching, let alone the existence, of a risen Jesus, was highly damaging to their worldview and to their ability to attract followers.

 

But many believed and the church grew.

 

Peter and John were arrested, thrown in prison, and the next day they were brought, almost certainly under guard, to appear before the high priest, the former high priest, the high priest’s father, all the elders, the teachers of the law, and all the political movers and shakers of the church power structures.

 

And Peter unapologetically preaches to them all.  Peter is bold and courageous and “in-your-face.”

 

Remember, that just a few weeks ago, this is exactly what Peter and the other disciples were so afraid of.  They were afraid that people would overhear.  They were afraid that the leaders of the temple would hear about them.  They were afraid that they would be arrested or manhandled by the temple guards.  They were afraid that they would be forced to appear before the leaders of the temple.  And now, that exact scenario has happened.

 

And at every step, the disciples are no longer afraid.

 

Why?

 

Peter’s explanation rocks the world of the temple leaders when he says, “Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

 

Peter essentially says that even though the temple leaders rejected him, Jesus is the cornerstone on which God’s church must be built.  Jesus has authority over life and death itself and nothing else matters because no one else, no other religious leader, no other political leader, no other church, matters because Jesus is the only one who can save them.

 

The disciples are no longer afraid because they know, without a shred of doubt, that Jesus is in control.

 

The courage of the disciples came from knowing, and trusting, that Jesus was in control and had authority over everything, even life and death itself.  And that courage was transformational.  It changed their lives.  It changed everything.

 

But so what?

 

That was still two thousand years ago.  What does that have to do with us?

 

And again, John has the answer.  In 1 John 3:16-24, we hear these words:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

John says the reason that we know what love is, is because Jesus showed us.  Because Jesus was willing to give up his life for us, we ought to be willing to give up our lives for the people around us.  But love isn’t just risking our lives for people, it’s being willing to give up material possessions as well.  We aren’t just called to love other when it doesn’t cost us anything; we are called to love others when loving them means that we give up some of the stuff that makes us comfortable.  Love, John says, is demonstrated not by the words that we say, but by our actions toward others.  And it is our actions toward others that tell us that we belong to Jesus.  We know that we belong, when we act like Jesus.  We know that we belong, when our hearts tell us that we are right.  We know that we belong, when our hearts do not condemn us for being selfish, or greedy, or guilty of other sins against God.

 

A significant part of our transformation as Christians comes as we grow in courage, and that courage comes to us because, like the disciples, we know that Jesus is in control and has authority over everything, even life and death itself.  John reminds us that God forgives our past but we must live in such a way that we do not feel guilty for our actions.  “The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him.”  And we know that God lives in us because we live like Jesus.  We know that God lives in us because we love like Jesus…

…even when that love costs us something.

 

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are transformed by meeting the risen Jesus because in meeting him, and knowing him, we are given the gift of courage.

 

We are transformed because we have the courage… to love like Jesus.

 

 

 

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

 

Transitions

change aheadChange.

As much as we sometimes say otherwise, most of us struggle with change.

And we know that in just a few weeks, we all have to figure out how to deal with some big changes.  My family is already packing boxes and donating other things as we prepare to move into a new house and prepare to attend a new church, find a new mechanic, a new grocery store, a new favorite gas station, and on and on it goes.  Thankfully, at least this time we don’t need to worry quite so much about changing school districts.

Here at Trinity, your changes will be somewhat less, but I know that there are a few of you who really struggle with far smaller changes.  More than one person has confided in me that they are uncertain about having a female pastor.  I understand that Trinity Church has never had a female pastor and that many of you haven’t either.  But I was in your shoes once and as folks have shared their concerns with me, that is the story that I’ve been telling them.  Since I’ve heard about those kinds of concerns more than once, I thought that I should share that story with all of you.

Back in the mid to late 1990’s Patti and I were still attending the church in South Akron where we met and where we were married.  This was the church where my father had been the pastor in the early 1980’s and that’s how I had begun my membership there.  After several more male pastors had succeeded by father, the bishop and the cabinet announced that our next pastor would be female.  There were many concerns expressed throughout the church.  It was nearly a shockwave of concern.  Some of the leading families in the church were known to be very conservative and at least one of the patriarchs of those families was rumored to be openly racist.  People thought at a woman simply would not be welcome as a leader of the church and many feared that her appointment would divide the church and that whole families would quit together.

But they were willing to give the new pastor a chance.

And, as far as I know, not one person left the church.  Because you see, although Pastor Linda was a woman (obviously), she was found to be more conservative in many things, than several of the male pastors that had been at our church.  She didn’t come to our church with an axe to grind or anything and more than that, she did something else.

She loved us.

Linda just loved on the entire congregation and many (okay, all) of the old curmudgeons that we worried wouldn’t like her, fell in love with Linda too.  In the end, Pastor Linda stayed at that church longer than any other pastor in the history of the church.

There were changes that we had to adapt to though.  Some because we had a female pastor, others because every pastor has their own unique personality, and still others because Pastor Linda’s husband, Pastor Mike, was appointed to a church across town.  Where we had grown accustomed to the pastor’s family attending our church, Linda’s didn’t.  Pastor Mike rarely ever came to our church.  I think I saw him two or three times in five or six years other than when we visited them in their home.  When Mike and Linda’s kids were in town, they most often attended Mike’s church, if at all.  It wasn’t what I expected.  It was different.

But different isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just different.

For many of the same reasons, you will find that things here at Trinity will be different.  Tina is going to be good at different things than I am, she might not be good at some of the things that I was, she’s going to like, and dislike, different things, she might run meetings differently, and I’m sure that there are a lot of other ways in which the two of us are different.  Only one of those things is our gender.  And after our experience with Pastor Linda, as well as seminary classmates, and other colleagues, I no longer even consider that to be an issue at all.

Different isn’t bad.  It’s just different.

In the last six years, our family has fallen in love with Trinity Church and many of the people in it.  You can be sure that I will be praying for all of you in the days ahead.

I hope that you will do what our church in Akron did.

Just give Tina a chance to be your pastor.

My bet is that you will fall in love with her too.

Blessings,

Pastor John

 

 

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Resurrection: Then What?

“Resurrection: Then What?”

April 08, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

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

                       

 

Today is the second Sunday of Easter or, a part of the church’s Eastertide celebration.  Today, and during the next few weeks, we will be remembering what happened after the resurrection and the events leading up to Pentecost.  This is important stuff.  This is the story of the disciples and the early church as they discovered what it meant to serve a Jesus that had risen from the dead.  It was one thing to be a follower of a rabbi, or teacher, that preached throughout the countryside and challenged  their church leaders to be ethical, moral, and actually do what scripture taught.  But following Jesus the rabbi and teacher, and following the Jesus that had defeated sin and death were two very different things.

 

In these next few days and weeks, everyone’s understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus was changing.  Everything that they thought they knew, and much of what they believed, was challenged.  Everything that they thought they understood about the mission of the church, and their role in that mission, was being deconstructed and rebuilt into something new.  After the death and resurrection of Jesus, everyone was starting over and their lives would never be the same again.  We begin our story today in John 20:19-31, when the disciples meet the risen Jesus for the first time:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The disciples were together, probably talking about the wild stories that the women had told them about seeing angels and a risen Jesus.  Since the crucifixion, they had been trying to figure out what to do next.  They had left their jobs, careers, and families behind to follow Jesus and now he was gone.   They were filled with grief and confusion.  Their lives were in turmoil… and now this!  What did it really mean that the tomb was empty?  Was it possible that Jesus had risen from the dead?  Had the Romans, or the Pharisees, or someone else, stolen Jesus’ body?  Did they suspect each other?  Were the disciples asking one another if they had done it for some reason?  We don’t really know.  But what we do know is that they were together, and that they were afraid of being discovered together, or at least afraid of being discovered by the Pharisees or the Sadducees and arrested, or worse.  They were so afraid of being discovered, or overheard by neighbors, that they had closed all the windows and locked all the doors.

 

And suddenly, Jesus appeared among them.

 

And in the midst of their confusion, and pain, and grief, and fear, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you.”  Jesus’ first gift to them is to comfort them, calm them, and assure them that he was not gone and that all would be well.  But Jesus also says that just as God had sent him to earth, Jesus is sending his disciples out as well.  And not only is he sending them, he breathes on them and offers them the gift of the Holy Spirit (these acts are connected because in both Greek and Hebrew, the words for “breath,” “wind,” and “spirit” are the same word).  And to make absolutely sure that no one was left out, Jesus returns to make sure that Thomas is included and all of the disciples (other than Judas) are working together.  In the span of a single week, Jesus moves the disciples from a place of fear, confusion, grief, and turmoil to a place of unity, belief, understanding, and growing confidence.  And going forward, that is what the church begins to look like as well.  In Acts 4:32-35, Luke says this:

 

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

 

The followers of Jesus Christ were so unified in their belief, so focused on their mission, and so trusting of one another, that they shared everything that they had.  That doesn’t necessarily imply that they were living in a commune or were supporting communism, because many of them still owned land and houses, and presumably in some cases, businesses.  Luke doesn’t say that these people sold everything that they owned, but that those who had something made sure that they shared what they had with those who had nothing.  It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that the followers of Jesus didn’t share what they had or give money to the poor because they got a tax deduction for doing so.  A believer in Jesus Christ shares what they have with others, and gives to the church, simply because the Spirit leads us in that direction and because God has asked us to do so.  Any tax benefit that results from our generosity and obedience is clearly not something that the disciples ever considered.

 

And as we heard last week, and many times before that, the mission of the church was clear from the beginning.  In 1 John 1:1 – 2:2, it sounds like this:

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

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

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

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

John again repeats, several times, the core mission of the church.  We have heard, we have seen, we have touched, and we must tell the world what we have learned so that others may have what we have.  We must share the good news of Jesus so that others can come out of darkness and live in the light.

 

But.

 

Isn’t there always a “but?”

 

John says “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

 

And as he explains further, what he is saying is that if we follow Jesus, we will walk in the light and Jesus will purify us, and he will be at work perfecting us.

 

But.

 

While these things are all true, if we follow Jesus then we must do our best to act like it.  We cannot claim that we are perfect or without sin, because we are not, but we try as hard as we can not to sin and trust Jesus for forgiveness when we do.

 

And so we see that from the very beginning, the followers of Jesus Christ had several core beliefs that directed their entire lives.  First, trust that Jesus loves you and is in control of your life.  Second, believe that Jesus has defeated sin and death and has paid the price for your sin through his suffering, death and resurrection.  Third, we must focus on the mission together.  We must care for the poor, feed the hungry, lift up the brokenhearted, cloth the naked, be a voice for the voiceless, and in all things have compassion for others and be Jesus to the people around us.  Fourth, because we have heard the good news, because we have seen the power of Jesus to change lives, and because we know the truth, we must tell the world what we have learned so that others may have what we have.  We must share the good news of Jesus so that others can come out of darkness and live in the light.  And finally, we must live and we must lovetogether.  We must resist sin and live lives that honor God, and we must act as if the teachings of Jesus are important.

 

It’s a short list.

 

And it’s not easy.

 

But these five things must shape everything we do.

 

 

 

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

 

A Different Spring To-Do List

crocusI know that many of you will be reading this after Easter even though I am writing it in March. But the arrival of Easter and spring often signify a flurry of activity.  Many of us are already making lists of things that need to be done outside in our flower beds, gardens and lawns as well as a host of things that we put off during cold weather. If we have children, there are even more things being added to our schedules with the arrival of spring sports and other activities. But in the midst of all this busy-ness, I hope that you will also take the time to put a few spiritual things on your to-do lists. Spring and Easter are filled with images that remind us of God and of spiritual things. And so, in the midst of our rush to get things done, I encourage you to take some time out to appreciate the gift that spring really is, to “be still” and listen to the heartbeat of God, and to notice the ways in which we are surrounded by the miraculous.

What follows is far from being an all-inclusive list, but are just a few suggestions to get you started.

  • Sit.  That’s all. Just sit. Once it gets warm enough, find a place on your porch or in the back yard, pull up a lawn chair, and just sit. Leave your phone in the house. Feel the sun on your face. Listen to the wind, the birds, the neighbors, squirrels, or whatever it is that’s going on. Now remember the silence of the winter and give thanks. You’re alive and all around you the world is emerging from death and the grave of winter. Remember the resurrection of Jesus at Easter, and imagine what your new birth will be like.
  • Look for the signs. Flowers, trees, and animals of all kinds have been buried in the earth, or been dormant, in hibernation, or have migrated for thousands of miles. Now they are emerging from the earth, reawakening, and returning from far away. Within the boundaries of your lawn you can find dozens of examples of rebirth and resurrection. Give thanks for all of these little miracles.
  • Smell.  Seriously. Take a moment. Snow doesn’t smell like much, but now your yard and your neighborhood smell different. Pause for a moment. Take a deep breath. Smell the fragrance of spring flowers, the aroma of dirt, earth, and grasses that are warmed by the sun. They are alive and growing. Even the more unpleasant smells are new. Rejoice in all the new-ness around you and give thanks that you can smell, that you have life, and health, and can appreciate these gifts.
  • Touch.  Lean down and look at the spring flowers, the buds on the trees, or even the tender shoots of grass. They are so small, so fragile, and so tender that anything but the slightest touch might damage them. And yet they survived the winter, and they’ve pushed their way through the soil or forced open the tips of a woody branch to emerge into your world. Rejoice that you are there to see it but also consider how God has made something so small, so tender, so fragile, and yet at the same time, so determined, so tough, so persistent, and so resilient. Remember that the same God made you. Toughness, resilience, persistence, tenderness, love, and compassion all live within you. Give thanks for the gifts God has given to you and the ways that he has brought you through your wintery trials.
  • Your turn. Contemplate. Be still. Listen. In what other ways will God reveal himself to you?

 

 

 

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In Him… You

“In Him… You”

December 03, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

Today we begin the season of Advent, a time of preparing ourselves, and most importantly, preparing our hearts, for the coming of the Messiah, the Prince of Peace.  Traditionally, our Advent scripture readings include passages from the prophet Isaiah because contained within his words, are prophecies that tell of the messiah that is to come.  But today, as we read Isaiah 64:1-9, we not only see the prophecies of Isaiah’s future, but also a record of the prayers of his people:

 

64:1 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.

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

 

Isaiah tells of the messiah that is to come by remembering the prayers of the past, prayers that God would come to earth once again as he did in the time of Moses, prayers that God would rescue his people from their sin, prayers that God could find a way to forgive them for all the ways that his people had offended him, and prayers that God might be able to shape them, as a potter shapes clay, into a people that were worthy of him.

 

What we might find to be interesting about this is the similarity between these words of Isaiah, and the words of Jesus that we find in Mark 13:24-37.  Here, rather than looking forward to the arrival of the baby Jesus, the messiah born in Bethlehem, we instead look forward to the second coming of Jesus, a day of judgement rather than a day of rescue and forgiveness.

 

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Much like Isaiah, Jesus tells of the day that the messiah will come, but this time he describes the second coming instead of the first.  And in this prophecy, Jesus warns God’s people to be on guard, to keep watch, or to be ready.  Like Isaiah, Jesus warns the people of God that they must be worthy of the one who has called them.

 

This warning to keep watch, or to be ready, is critically important to us, not only as individuals as we face judgement, but to all of us as a church as we attempt to fulfill the mission of Jesus Christ from day-to-day.

 

Why?

 

In just a few words found in 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Paul explains it this way:


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

 

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

 

First, Paul reminds the church that the grace of God has been given to us in the name and in the person of Jesus Christ.  Second, it is in him that you have been blessed, or enriched, with all kinds of speech and with all kinds of knowledge.  There is no spiritual gift that we are missing as we wait for the return of Jesus Christ.  We have everything that we could possibly need in order to do the work that we have been called to do for the Kingdom of God.  Jesus himself lends us the strength that we need to stand firm so that we can stand before God on judgement day and be declared blameless.  We know these things because we know that God is faithful and has called us into fellowship with his Son, Jesus.

 

But there is something else.

 

Paul also says that in God, you have been enriched in every way, you have been blessed in every way, with all kinds of speech, and with all kinds of knowledge, and in this way God confirms the message of Jesus Christ among us.  Let me repeat that.  In this way, through the use of our gifts, God confirms the message of Jesus Christ among us.  What Paul is saying is that through the faith of God’s people, and through the actions of God’s people, the truth of the message of Jesus Christ is revealed and confirmed to the world around us.

 

That is the burden that we bear as the church and as the followers of Jesus Christ.  It is through our faith, and it is through our actions, every one of us, that the truth of the message of Jesus Christ is revealed to our family, our friends, our neighbors, and to the world.

 

That is the heart of what Paul means by “In him, you…”

 

And so, as we begin this season of Advent, let us take a long look at ourselves.  Let each of us ask, “Does my faith reveal the truth of the message of Jesus to my neighbors?”  “Do my actions reveal the truth of Jesus to the world?”

 

It is in asking, and in truthfully answering, these questions that we might keep watch, prepare ourselves, and be ready for the coming of the Prince of Peace.

 

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

 

Forever Love

“Forever Love”

November 05, 2017

(All Saints Sunday)

By John Partridge*

 

Revelation 7:9-1                     1 John 3:1-3                           Matthew 5:1-12

 

 

Being the first Sunday of November, today we celebrate All Saints Day and remember all of our friends and family that we have been lost to us.  Already we have named some of them and lit candles in their memory, but each one of us could easily name other friends and other family members that we remember, and think of, daily.  But although they are lost to us, we still remember and we still love.

 

This is not the kind of love that Meatloaf sang about in the 80’s when he wrote Paradise by the Dashboard Light where in one verse he swears that he would love his girl until the end of time, and in the next is praying for the end of time so that he can end his time with her.  When we think about genuine love, about love that lasts, or when we think about “forever love” what we are thinking about is more like the Forever Love that Gary Barlow wrote about when he sang,

 

Now I’m deep inside love and still breathing
She is holding my heart in her hand
I’m the closest I’ve been to believing
This could be love forever

 

Or maybe it’s like the Forever Love that Reba McEntire sang about when she said,

 

The first time I laid my eyes on you I knew

We’d spend this life side by side

I still feel the same though you’re so far away

I swear that you’ll always be my

Forever love

 

But I think even that falls short.  Because in the end, since our marriage vows are “to love and to cherish until death do us part” we are reminded that human love may only last as long as our lives on earth.  But there is yet another kind of love that loves more deeply, and that does last forever.

 

This is the kind of love that Christian artist Francesca Battistelli sings about in yet another song called Forever Love where she sings about God.

 

You are my forever love

From the bottom of my heart I’ll sing to You
From the depths of who I am I love You
With everything inside I’ll run to You
‘Cause all that I’ve become I owe to You

 

Whenever we use the word ‘forever’ we remember that this life is not permanent, but we should also remember that this life is not all that there is.  In the revelation of the Apostle John, he visited the throne room of God and offers us this description (Revelation 7:9-17):


9:1 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.15 Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

 

In this case, “forever” really means forever and “never” really means never.  Those who are in the presence of God will never hunger or thirst, they won’t suffer as much as a hard sweat in the hot sun, and God himself will wipe away all of their tears.  Forever.

 

Although he doesn’t use the word “forever,” in Matthew 5:1-12 that is exactly what Jesus means as he speaks about the future.


5:1 
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

 

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

Rejoice and be glad, because the reward for the people who have suffered for their faith, and for those who have lived a life of faith, will given to them in heaven and that, as we know, is a reward that will last forever.

 

But what does that mean for those of us who have lost our loved ones and who remain on this earth?

 

In 1 John 3:1-3, we hear these words:


3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

 

We are already the children of God.  We have already begun to live a life that will last forever but the day is coming for us when we will become much more than we already are.  This transformation has already happened for those who have gone ahead of us to eternity, they have already been given their new, perfect, and eternal bodies and they can already see Jesus in all of his glory but we know that, sooner or later, our day is coming.  But because we know what we know, we have no need to fear that day because rather than something terrible, we know that despite whatever pain we may face at the end our life on this earth, the transition, at the other side, will be wonderful beyond imagining.

 

But as we wait for that day and as we live out our lives, we are called to dedicate our lives to Jesus Christ, to live our lives as Christ himself modelled for us during his life on earth, to seek peace, pursue justice, and to pour out mercy, compassion, and love into the people and the world around us.  And as we do so, we are called to purify ourselves and live lives that honor God.

 

Although we mourn as we remember those whom we have lost, we rejoice in knowing that they are, today, perfect, holy, and unimaginably blessed in every way as they live in the presence of God.  But at the same time, we also remember our calling to be worthy of the gift that awaits us.  Let us honor God, and honor those that we have lost, by rededicating our lives to God, to his kingdom, to purity, and to all that is good.

 

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

 

A Resurrected Heart

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA“A Resurrected Heart”

(Easter, So What? – Part 3)

May 07, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

Have you ever seen the Loch Ness monster?

What about Bigfoot, a Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, or a chupacabra?

I’m going to guess not.  But even if you saw proof tonight, their existence probably wouldn’t change your life.  Their existence, or non-existence, is only of academic interest to us.

When we learn things that are interesting, but not life changing, we are intellectually stimulated; we take note of the information, think about it, file it away, and go on with our lives.

But how we react to news that has the potential to change our lives is different.

If we heard on the news that there was another terrorist attack in France, it would be of academic interest.  But if we had family or friends that lived there, we evaluate the information in a completely different way, and if a member of our family, or one of our friends was present at the time of the attack, or was the victim of the attack, our thinking would take place on an entirely different level that is far from academic.

This is exactly the difference that we witness this morning, as we read the story about the walk to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35.

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

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

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

19 “What things?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

As we read this story we can recognize a four-step process to the thinking of the disciples.  The story begins with them already at the first step.  In that step the disciples simply know the facts about the events that they had experienced.  They knew what had happened in Jerusalem and so did everyone else.  So widespread was this knowledge that they were surprised when they met someone who didn’t seem to know what had happened.  But as they walk, Jesus walks them through the scriptures and brings them to the next level which is an academic understanding of what had happened.  Instead of merely knowing what had happened, they now understood the context of what had happened, they understood how the events of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion fit into the prophecies of Israel and the Messiah for whom Israel had been waiting.

But as Jesus broke bread, they arrived at step three.  Their eyes were opened, they recognized Jesus, and suddenly a connection was made between their minds and their hearts.  Suddenly, what had happened was no longer simply an academic exercise, but a deeply personal experience that made a difference in their lives.  The fourth step came immediately afterward.  Now that they knew academically, and understood in their hearts what had really happened, they also knew what had to be done about it.

What they knew was no longer something that was merely of academic interest.  What they knew was no longer held back by the dangers of traveling a road that was awash with bandits at night.  What they knew was so important, so transformative, and so life changing, that they had to immediately take action and go out into the night, regardless of the danger, to tell the other disciples, and everyone that knew Jesus, what they had seen and heard.

In Acts 2:14a, 36-41, we see the crowd moving through the same steps, but in this case, with the help of Peter’s explanation, they do so much more quickly.

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

 


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

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

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

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

 

The people begin by knowing facts of the story.  But as Peter speaks and explains to them that Jesus was indeed the long awaited Messiah of Israel, the people were “cut to the heart.”  They immediately understand academically, and they connect deeply and personally with what has happened.  What remains, and what they do not understand, is what action that they must take because of it.  And so Peter explains that because they understand, the action they must take is that every one of them must repent of their sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus.

 

But beyond that, as we sit here today, we wonder what happens next.  Many of us have already been baptized and we might wonder why Easter is still supposed to be such a big deal.  The answer to that, at least in part, is also answered by Peter in his letter to the church in Asia Minor. (1 Peter 1:17-23)

 

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

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

 

Peter spells it out for the church this way: Because we belong to a God who is truly and completely impartial, we should live our lives as if our legal status is as tentative as a foreign citizen travelling in the United States with only a passport, or perhaps even without one.  We must live in “reverent fear” by appreciating what we have, but understanding that we must conform our lives to the law and, at the same time, appreciate that we might, at any moment, be called upon to return home and take nothing with us.  We know that our rescue from sin and death has been purchased at the highest possible price with nothing less than the blood of the Son of God.  It is through him, and because of him, that we believe in God and put our faith and trust in him.  We purify ourselves daily by obeying the truths that we have been taught by Jesus and through the scriptures and we obey them so that we can learn to love sincerely, so that we can learn to love one another deeply, and to love from the heart.  Peter reminds us that believing in God, and in his son Jesus, is a heart condition that requires daily attention just as much as those who have medical conditions must pay diligent, daily, attention to their diets and to taking their medication.  In our case, we must work daily to study and obey the word of God, to love one another, and to tell the world what we have learned so that they might also be rescued from death.

 

The story of Easter is far more than a fairy tale, and Jesus is much more than a mythical creature like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot.  Scripture and history tell us clearly that Jesus is real and we believe that the story is true.  But knowing the story is much more than an academic exercise. When we come to faith, we connect with the story at a deeper level and we understand with our hearts as well as with our minds.  This heart connection makes us realize that the story of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, death and resurrection is so important, so transformative, and so life changing, that we must take action.  We must do something with what we have learned.  Believing in Jesus is a heart condition that requires daily attention.

 

The Easter story isn’t a “one and done” kind of a story…

 

…It’s a transformative moment in history that changes us, shapes us, directs us, and calls us to take action every single day of our lives.

 

 

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

 

Alive But Dead

“Alive but Dead”

April 02, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Ezekiel 37:1-14                      John 11:1-45                          Romans 8:6-11

 

As the new United States waged its war for independence with England, Captain John Paul Jones set sail in 1777 with orders to harass, disrupt, and create havoc with British shipping wherever he could.  And so in 1779, sailing a repurposed cargo ship, the Bonhomme Richard, off the coast of Scotland Jones encountered a merchant convoy guarded by two well-armed, and well-trained, British naval vessels.  Jones’ ships were not purpose built fighting ships and his crews were thrown together volunteers from America, France, and many other nations while the British crews were professionals with far superior training.  In the first pass between the Bonhomme Richard and the British frigate Serapis, the American ship was raked with cannon fire, a great many crewmen immediately killed, fires were started all over the deck and below deck.  By all outward appearances, it was already time for Captain Jones to surrender.

 

But when he was asked if he cared to do so, Captain Jones instead proclaimed, “I have not yet begun to fight.”

 

And fight he did.

 

Although Captain Jones’ ship, the Bonhomme Richard, was so badly damaged that it sank and he had to climb aboard another ship, and despite being outgunned, out trained, and out manned, the fire from her guns was so fierce that the crews aboard the Serapis could not and would not venture above deck.  So fearful had the crew of the Serapis become by the end of the battle, that her commander, Captain Pearson, could not persuade a single one of her crew to strike her flag in surrender, and he was forced to climb the mast and do it himself.

 

The Americans were presumed dead, asked to surrender, and persisted with ferocity until they won.

 

This remains one of the most humiliating defeats in British naval history.

 

And all because the Americans had a leader that could see the possibilities beyond surrender and defeat.

 

In Ezekiel 37:1-14, we find a similar story with a different twist.  Here, the people of Israel have been captured and taken into captivity in Babylon.  They are without hope.  They feel as if their God has abandoned them.  They are ready to give up and die.  And in that moment, God comes to the prophet Ezekiel.


37:1 
The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

 

God declares to Ezekiel and to the people of Israel that he holds power over life and death.  Even though Jerusalem lay in ruins and the people had been dragged into slavery in a foreign country, God proclaimed that life would return to their dry bones and that Israel would live again because he would put his Spirit in them.  It was the Spirit of God that made the difference between life and death.  And while this all seems very figurative and philosophical, when we read the story of Lazarus in John 11:1-45, we find that the scriptures are very clear that Jesus, quite literally, has power over life and death.

 

11:1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light.10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”

11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

 

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

 

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

 

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

 

Clearly, Lazarus was dead.  He had been buried, and sealed in his tomb, for four days.  And yet, when Jesus calls to him, Lazarus stands up and walks out of the tomb.

 

What made the difference?

 

How was it that one moment Lazarus was dead and alive the next?

 

We find the answer to that in Romans 8:6-11 where we hear this:

 

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

 

The people of Israel thought that they were dead but through his prophet Ezekiel, God assured them that by putting his Spirit in them, he could return life to the dead.  Lazarus was certifiably dead and had been buried for four days and Jesus commanded him to get up and live again.  And here, Paul explains that living, in order to satisfy the desires of the flesh, is death but living, governed by the Spirit of God, is filled with life and peace.  Paul admits that we all live in a world of flesh, but we can live in the world of the Spirit of God if we belong to Jesus Christ.  The difference between life and death has always been the Spirit of God.  God’s Spirit is what made the difference between dry bones and a living nation of Israel.  God’s Spirit was the difference between a rotting corpse and a living Lazarus.  And God’s Spirit is what makes the difference between life and death today.  There is a difference between appearing alive, and actually being filled with life.  Many of the people who walk the earth are walking corpses.  They appear to be alive, but are, in reality, quite dead.  But those people who have accepted Jesus Christ are filled with his Spirit and already live in the world of the Spirit of God.

 

If you have accepted Jesus, then you have already begun to live forever.

 

We must all choose.

 

Will we live our lives as dry bones?  Or will we answer the call of Jesus as Lazarus did?

 

We are invited to put our full faith and hope in Jesus, be filled with the Spirit of God, throw open our graves, cast aside the clothing of death, and walk free.

 

Lazarus answered and walked with Jesus.

 

Won’t you?

 

 

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

 

Proof

Miracle

Sometimes we are witnesses to proof of God’s existence.

On Sunday (March 19th) I mentioned in both my message, and children’s message, that sometimes, when we pay attention, God provides evidence of his existence through answered prayers and miracles both large and small.  We are witnesses to many “everyday” miracles like the birth of a baby, sunrises, sunsets, and spring flowers but we also see and experience other things that are scarier, bigger, and sometimes simply impossible.  Our family all remembers the near miss that we had on interstate I-70 when a tractor trailer tire bounced across the median, missed our car by only a few feet, struck the cab of the tractor trailer we were passing and absolutely destroyed the left front wheel well like an explosion.  Only the sharp eye of our son Noah and the grace of God brought us home that day instead of to a helicopter trip to a hospital in Columbus.

As I said on Sunday, just in the ten or twelve years that I have been a pastor, I have met several people who ought to be dead, people of whom the doctors said, “We can’t explain why you are alive.”

In our Johnsville church, our lay leader was a dairy farmer by named Jim McWilliams.  One Sunday morning we interrupted our worship service to lay hands on Jim and pray for his brother.  That week, Jim’s brother was as work and was asked to use a cutting torch to cut the stuck lid off of a 55 gallon steel drum.  The labels on the drum and its documentation assured everyone that the contents of the drum were inert.

They weren’t.

Somehow, the documentation was all wrong and the contents of the drum, in reality, were highly volatile.  When Jim’s brother began to cut the lid off of the drum, it exploded and he was rushed to the hospital.  During the investigation they eventually found the lid of the drum.  It had been thrown by the explosion, went through the roof of the building and was found about a half-mile away.  The next week we heard that Jim’s brother, despite standing within inches of the explosion, received only bumps, bruises and minor burns to his face and hands.  When the doctors heard what had happened, both they, and the explosion investigators from OSHA said that they couldn’t understand why he wasn’t dead.

Many of you can tell the same kinds of stories and since that sermon, some of you have shared your stories with me.

This is an invitation.

I would like to share your stories.  I can help you write them and edit them if necessary.  After they are written and edited, I will post them on my blog so that others can be blessed, uplifted, and have their faith reaffirmed through our collective, eyewitness testimony.

Please, even if you don’t think that you are a good writer, put your story on paper (or email) and share it with me.

And together, we’ll share it with the world.