Yes, I Can!

 

No, you can’t!
Yes, I can!


February 03, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Jeremiah 1:4-10                     Luke 4:21-30             1 Corinthians 13:1-13

 

Have you ever been irritated when people tell you what can’t do? Or when they decide that you aren’t good enough to accomplish your goals?  You know what I mean.  You’ve heard phrases like, “You aren’t smart enough to do that.” Or, “You should set your sights a little lower.”  Or, “There’s no way that you can do all those things at the same time.”  Often, people are genuinely trying to helpful when they say discouraging things like these because they don’t want us to be disappointed if we fail.  But if we never try, then we’ve already failed, haven’t we?  Even worse, some of these messages come from inside of our own heads.

There’s an old saying that has often been used in the military as well as in business, “The person who says something is impossible should not interrupt the person who is doing it.”  -unknown

We don’t like being told that our dreams, our goals, or our aspirations are impossible.  But hearing these negative messages, whether they come from others or from inside of ourselves, can lead us in in one of two directions.  Either they motivate us to prove them wrong, or they cause us to give up before we even start.

On May 16th, 1946 the musical, Annie Get Your Gun, premiered on Broadway starring Ethel Merman and Ray Middleton.  In the play, there is a musical exchange between Annie Oakley and her romantic interest, sharpshooter, Frank Butler which results in the song, Anything You Can Do, by Irving Berlin.

Anything You Can Do – Irving Berlin

Anything you can do I can do better
I can do anything better than you
No, you can’t
Yes, I can
No, you can’t
Yes, I can
No, you can’t
Yes, I can! Yes, I can! Yes, I can!

So, what does any of this have to do with the Bible or with our church?

Simply put, when it comes to living a life the way that Jesus wants us to live it, we are constantly hearing, “No, you can’t” from others and from inside our own heads.  But that’s not the way it has to be.  We begin this morning listening to the voice of the prophet Jeremiah as he describes the conversation he had with God when God first called him to be his prophet.  (Jeremiah 1:4-10)

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,
    before you were born, I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

God begins by saying, before your parents even met one another, I knew you.  Before I made you, created and crafted you, I knew everything about you.  When you were just a sperm and an egg, I knew who you were and what you would become.  And even then, I called you to be mine and to be my voice to the people, and to the nations, around you.  And Jeremiah, being somewhere between 12 and 20 years old, protests that he is too young and doesn’t have the skills to speak in public.  But God isn’t listening to any of that.  God commands Jeremiah to do it anyway and tells him, “Yes you can.”  Don’t be afraid of church people, or kings, or the strangers that he would encounter on his mission.  And we can hear that same voice as it echoes to us, “Yes, you can.”  Don’t be afraid that you won’t have the right words, or that you are too young.  Don’t be afraid of the mission field, or your coworkers, or your classmates.

God knew you before you were born and had already called you to follow him, work for him, and speak for him.  Maybe not to kings and nations, but to friends, neighbors, and others that might not ever meet Jesus any other way.

And if you’re still worried that people might not like your message, remember that even Jesus spoke to some tough crowds.  In Luke 4:21-30, we hear the story of when Jesus returns to preach in his own home town and in what was probably the synagogue that he grew up in.

21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

As Jesus reads scripture in the synagogue in his home town, the people are amazed, not because of the power that flows behind the words, but simply because they knew his father, and had watched him grow up.  Rather than being impressed, they are incredulous.  They wonder how this guy can speak so well when he, and his father, were just simple, uneducated, poor, working people.  And from that, Jesus anticipates their next question.  Jesus knows that their next question will be to demand that he perform a miracle for them just as he had in other towns.  The thought that dwells on their minds is, “We don’t believe that a poor laborer can ever become anyone of importance.  If this guy is all that great, prove it.”  And even before they can ask the question out loud, Jesus simply says, “No.”  And, as if to add insult to injury, Jesus reminds them about prophets of the ancient world who performed miracles for foreigners, but not for anyone in Israel.

While the people doubt Jesus and seem to say, “No, you can’t,” Jesus, while clearly refusing to perform a miracle in front of them, Jesus is just as clearly saying, “Yes, I can.”

And the people Jesus grew up with tried to throw Jesus off a cliff.

This story should teach us several things.  First, it should remind us that the message of Jesus Christ is a radical message.  Not everyone wants to hear it, and having heard it, not everyone is going to like it.  The people of our churches, and the people of our culture, often think of Jesus as this mellow, likeable, easy-going teacher, but the truth is that his message was so radical that even the people he grew up with tried to kill him.  Second, Luke is clear that we don’t choose when or where God does his work.  It isn’t up to us to demand that God perform miracles when we want them.  God is God and we are not.  God chooses whom he will heal, and whom he will not.  God chooses, who walks in the door of our churches, and God chooses which of our friends might have a receptive heart to accept the message that we share with them.  It isn’t, and never has been, up to us.  Third, we need to remember that if the message of Jesus was rejected even when it was preached by Jesus, then we shouldn’t be surprised if some of the people who hear us share that message reject it as well.  Remember that while the farmer is expected to plant seeds, he doesn’t get to choose which seeds grow.

And after all these lessons, Paul has a few things to say to us also, this time not so much about doing the work of the church, but what kind of people we should be while we do it.  In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes these words (1 Corinthians 13:1-13):

13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I am convinced that in writing these words, Paul is addressing the same sort of people in the church that we still see regularly today, and he is plainly telling them to knock it off.  You know who I’m talking about because you’ve surely met some, or at least seen them on television.  These are the people who somehow manage to make the message of Jesus into something that sounds hateful, hurtful, unloving, restrictive, rule-based, exclusive, and everything that Jesus preached and fought against.  And in answer to these people, Paul preaches a message of love.  No matter what great gifts God may have given to us, they are useless and pointless if we don’t make love a higher priority.  Love must be one of our highest priorities because, at the end of the day, Paul says, only three things are truly enduring, faith, hope, and love.

We live in a world that seems determined to shout us down and tell us that we aren’t good enough, that we aren’t smart enough, or educated enough, or pretty enough, or handsome enough, or rich enough, or powerful enough, or famous enough, or some other thing.  We’ve heard those negative messages so many times that we’ve internalized them, and we hear their echoes coming from inside of our own heads and our shattered self-confidence.  And together they are shouting “No, you can’t.”

But, if we listen, we can hear the voice of God quietly proclaiming to a young Jeremiah, to Jesus, to Paul, and to his followers everywhere, “Yes, you can.”

In scripture, over and over again, God promises that he will equip us for the mission that he has given to us.  When God called Jeremiah to speak, he promised that he would have the words to speak.  God said, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.”  But that doesn’t mean that everyone who hears our message is going to like it or is going to respond the way we hope that they will.  After all, the people that Jesus grew up with tried to throw him off a cliff.  But regardless of their reaction, we are commanded to share our message with them anyway.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, we are called and commanded, to go out into our world and share the good news of the gospel message.  We are called to plant seeds.  We have no idea which seeds will grow, but like every farmer, we must trust that God will use some of those seeds to bring about a great harvest of souls.

Know that God has sent us into our community and into the world to share the message of God’s rescue.

There’s no need to preach at people.  Simply plant seeds of faith, hope and love.

And as you hear the voices in our culture shouting, “No, you can’t,” have courage in knowing that God will give you everything that you need to do what he has sent you to do.

And sing your answer back to the world, “Yes, I can. Yes, I can. Yes, I can.”

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

Eulogy and Obituary for Wayne A. “Moose” Rinehart

Eulogy for

Wayne A. Rinehart

January 16, 2019

By Rev. John Partridge

 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

3:1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

15 Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account.

Matthew 5:1-12

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.

I spent some time talking to Wayne’s friend, Maggie Bugara, yesterday to get a sense of who Wayne Rinehart was.  It didn’t take too long to understand that he was a nice guy and the sort of a man that people respected and liked to be around.  Wayne didn’t ever really have a use for the church so, as a pastor, many of the things that I usually say at funerals feels sort of awkward or out of place.  But as a veteran, I think I have a feeling for who Wayne was at a different level.

Wayne Rinehart, “Moose” to many of his friends, was a kind man.  He was a long-time member, and twice elected commander, of VFW Post 1036 here in Alliance.  He selflessly spent his time, his talent, and his treasure to work for, and to help fellow veterans.  In return, those veterans became friends and loved him back.  And in the last few years, after he had moved to the Danbury, he continued to make friends of both his fellow residents as well as the staff there.  Wayne was a kind, compassionate, and loving man.

But Wayne Rinehart was also a man who loved his family.  He never stopped loving his wife Marjorie, whom he married in 1959, and to whom he remained married for 49 years.  Even after he lost Marjorie in 2008, Wayne never stopped missing her.  Wayne also loved his brothers and sisters and their children, his daughter Sherri, and his granddaughter Ashlyn.

For years, one of his favorite things in the world was to go to fairs and horse shows, and watch Ashlyn show horses.  He was so very proud of her, and almost never stopped talking about his great love, and his pride in her.  Even after he and Sherri were estranged from one another, he never stopped caring, or loving, any of his family.   He missed them and wanted them to be a part of his life.  Even as he neared death, he would call out to them.  In fact, Wayne often wondered what he had done wrong and thought about how things could ever be made right between them again.  Many tears were shed with his friends as he thought about such things and their separation weighed heavily upon him.  In the end, his friends think that Wayne just gave up fighting, and it is entirely possible that Wayne simply died of a broken heart.

But through it all, it is clear that Wayne “Moose” Rinehart touched many lives, and many of you who are gathered here can testify to what he has meant to you in your life.

There’s an often repeated saying that is worth repeating again here:

Cry not because he’s gone.
Smile because he was here.

And now, I’m turning the eulogy over to you, because each of you knew Wayne better than I did.  What is it that you remember?  How did Moose touch your life?  How did he make you smile?  How did he make you laugh?  These are the things that you should remember, hold onto, and treasure.

 

 

Obituary for

Wayne A. “Moose” Rinehart

 

wayne rinehartWayne Allen “Moose” Rinehart, age 86, of Alliance, passed away at 4:35 p.m., Thursday, January 10, 2019, at Danbury Senior Living of Alliance.

He was born August 23, 1932, in Garards Fort, Pennsylvania, to Calvin “Ed” and Gail (Blake) Rinehart.

Wayne served in the United States Army from 1953 to 1955.

He was employed with Highway Asphalt: Division of Kenmore Construction until his retirement.

Wayne joined the International Union of Operating Engineers in 1955, the Masonic Lodge in 1964 and was a lifetime member of the VFW Post 1036, which he served as commander two times.

He enjoyed gambling and loved watching his granddaughter show her horses.
Survivors include his daughter, Sherri (Jim) Pinkerton; granddaughter, Ashlyn Pinkerton; and sister, Carol White, all of Alliance; and close friend and caregiver, Maggie Bugara, of Sebring.

In addition to his parents, Wayne was preceded in death by his wife, Marjorie (McCreery) Rinehart, whom he married July 4, 1959 and who died January 7, 2008; three brothers and a sister.

Services will be held 11 a.m., Wednesday, January 16, 2019 at Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home with Pastor John Partridge officiating. Friends may call from 5 to 7 p.m., Tuesday, January 15, at the funeral home. Interment will be at Highland Memorial Park.
Arrangements are by Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home 75 S. Union Ave., Alliance, OH 44601.

 

 

Costly Love

Costly Love

December 23, 2018*

Fourth Sunday of Advent

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Micah 5:2-5a              Luke 1:39-45              Hebrews 10:5-10

Love.

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent and today is set aside to remember love.  But if there’s one thing that anyone knows about love, its that love isn’t always roses and unicorns, sweetness and light.  Sometimes love is painful and not at all like a sappy Hallmark Christmas movie.

But in particular, because this is church, and because we’re celebrating Advent and the birth of Jesus, the love that we’re talking about is God’s love, and the love of Jesus.  And for that, we begin this morning with the prophet Micah who lived and proclaimed the words of God between 750 and 686 B.C.  And in his writings, Micah tells of a king, a rescuer, whom God would eventually send to reunite the Israelites. (Micah 5:2-5a)

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

And he will be our peace.

Seven hundred years before the Christmas story unfolds, Micah says that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem and hints that he will be a descendant from the line of King David.  But more curiously, Micah declares that the origins of this coming king are from ancient times.  He is, he will be, a ruler who has been known throughout antiquity, perhaps reminding God’s people that he is the rescuer that the prophets had been writing about from the very beginning.

And it is this rescuer, redeemer, messiah, and king that Micah describes as someone who will stand up for his people and protect his flock through the strength of God.  He is the one who will bring security, greatness, honor and glory to his people.  And it is this king who will finally bring the one thing for which everyone had been praying for thousands of years.  Peace. 

“And he will be our peace.”

Fast forward seven hundred years and in Luke 1:39-45 we read these words:

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

From the moment that Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, she knows, as does her unborn son John the Baptist, that Mary’s son will not only be a blessing to God’s people but will also be their king.  Elizabeth knows that it is through Mary, and through her son, that God has chosen to fulfill his promises to his people.

But so, what?

Of course, keeping promises is a good thing, but what difference does it make to us two thousand years later?

And we can find the answer to that in the letter written to the people known as the Hebrews.  Scholars have argued whether the author of this letter is Barnabus or possibly Apollos who travelled with Paul, but in either case, this is what he says about the coming of Jesus in Hebrews 10:5-10.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
    but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you were not pleased.
Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
    I have come to do your will, my God.

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

First off, we are reminded that Jesus was quoting the words of King David and Psalm 40 when he spoke about God’s displeasure with the sacrifices of his followers.  Although those sacrifices satisfied the requirements and the specifications of the Law of Moses, they weren’t what God wanted because, although the people were performing the ritual, they were not doing the will of God.  It is as if the people were performing an act of the mind, but not allowing God to reach their hearts.  Beyond that, the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus came to set aside the entire sacrificial system so that he could establish the will of God as the new standard of obedience.   The result, the “so what,” was that where God’s people were once periodically and repeatedly purified, temporarily, through the sacrifice of animals and other offerings on the altar of the Temple, we have now been purified and made holy through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ once, forever.

So, you see, the difference that this makes two thousand years later, the “so what,” of the Christmas story, is the greatest gift that God has ever given to humanity and the most expensive gift ever conceived.  The coming of Jesus, and his sacrifice, death, and resurrection are the gift that brings perfection, purification, and holiness to us imperfect, impure, unholy, and altogether messy human beings. 

The coming of Jesus, son of David, the Prince of Peace, and Lord of lords, is the fulfillment of every prophecy written about the messiah for two thousand years.  The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is a gift that was and is unimaginably expensive, horrifically painful, and inconceivably wondrous, and it represents the epitome, peak and pinnacle, the very embodiment…

…of costly love.

 

 

 

 

 


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

(At Least) Ten Reasons to be Joyful

(At Least) Ten Reasons to be Joyful

(Third Sunday of Advent)

December 16, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

 

Joy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But so, what?

What difference does it make?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11)

This truly is good news, of great joy.

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

 

 

 

 


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

Eulogy and Obituary for Marcene Buchs

Eulogy for Marcene Buchs

October 06, 2018

by Pastor John Partridge

My family and I moved to Alliance during the last week of June.  And so, on Thursday of this week, when Mike and Amy asked me if I had even had a chance to meet Marcene, I honestly wasn’t sure.  Until I stared working on my remarks for today and pulled up her obituary and saw her photograph.  But then I knew.  I knew that I had met Marcene but hadn’t yet had the chance to get to know her.  But many others did.  At church, Marcene was known to be a sweet lady who was always well put together.  She was always dressed fashionably, not to in any way act as if she was better than anyone else, but simply because being impeccably dressed was important to her.  She had flair.  People noticed when Marcene entered a room.  She was known, always, to be a classy lady as well as a person of deep and personal faith.

Marcene Buchs grew up taking care of her dad.  And when she had done that then it was time to take care of her mom, and then it was her Aunt Ellen.  She was a caregiver.  It wasn’t a life that she chose, but she accepted it as her responsibility.  She grew up in Beechwood in a family of farmers.  But she came to Christ United Methodist Church more than 60 years ago when her family moved to Alliance while she was in the fifth grade.  She was both faithful and dedicated to our church and was sure to attend every week for as long as she was able.

Over the years, she worked as a secretary and kept the bills paid.  She didn’t have a fairy tale life by any stretch of the imagination, but she was known for her strength of character, she always took the high road, did things the “right way,” and always did everything well and with excellence.  Although she never felt sorry for herself, sometimes the events and the circumstances of her life led her to feel insecure.  She lived in a small town, and she knew what people said about her, but that, and despite her insecurity, she refused to retreat, and forced herself to participate in the community.

Marcene was always “super-devoted” to her family and to her grandchildren.  She didn’t just care about what they did, she devoted herself to exploring, learning, and doing her very best to understand what they did whether it was sports, or music, or quilting, publishing, or rocket science. Marcene was a reader, and she had always read everything.   But whenever she knew what her family or friends were interested in, she read about that too.  Although she didn’t have a CD player in her home, she did have one in her car.  And so, in order to listen to her grandson Chase’s CD’s, she would get in her car and drive around town so that she could listen to them.  As Mike and Amy went through her things, they discovered that Marcene had kept detailed records of her life and of her family’s life.  Events and projects that they had long forgotten, were carefully recorded and kept in her albums and notebooks.

Marcene Buchs was a minimalist who loved order.  She owned a small number of outfits and when she bought a new one, an old one had to go.  Nothing in her home was out of place.  She appreciated order and she paid great attention to every detail.  But Marcene’s insistence on perfection only applied to herself.  She was forgiving of others and understood that they were different than she was.

Perhaps the most obvious example of who Marcene was, is found in her son Mike.  As the saying goes, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  And Mike didn’t become the caring, considerate, intelligent, driven, and loving person that he is by accident.  He is a living example of Marcene’s influence on his life and a reflection of who she was.

Much of her life was devoted to caring for others and while was greatly loved by others, she loved them all right back.  But, as I noted earlier, Marcene’s faith was important to her.  She made sure that Mike grew up in the church and passed her faith on to him.  And when her grandchildren arrived, she invested herself in them so that they could learn it as well.  As I talked to Mike and Amy, we knew that Marcene would not want this moment to pass without sharing her faith with you as well.  Marcene Buchs put her full faith and trust in Jesus Christ as her savior.  She believed that Jesus died for her sins so that she could, at this very moment, stand before God, forgiven, redeemed, and perfect.  We know where Marcene will spend her eternity, and she wants every one of you to join her there when your day comes.  If you don’t know how to do that, Marcene’s family and I urge you to talk to one of us afterward.

But of all of us, Mike knew her best of all.  And so, although he knew that he wouldn’t be able to stand up here today and share his thoughts, these are his words:

A Son’s Reflections

by Michael Robert Johanson

We are gathered here together to honor and celebrate the life of my mother, Marcene Buchs. My mother was a throwback and maintained the sensibilities of another time always attempting to do the right thing optimistically even when it was not popular or easy. She was not deceived by the complexities in this world and was firmly rooted in the simplicities that are the foundation of our being.  That is her message to us.  She would have loved the flowers in the room today and would remind us all to enjoy the sight and scent.  She would not want any of us to mourn today rather to channel the spirit she has put in all of us to live up to our potential, do the right things, listen, encourage, pick each other up when we fall have hope, faith and leave a positive mark on this world.

I have spent much time this week thinking of what should be said, attempting to properly honor my mom’s memory or even partially convey the wonderful life my family and I were lucky enough to share with her.  Should I list all of her accomplishments which were many?  She was capable far beyond what we all saw – she had a mighty inner strength.  Should I tell stories from the farm in Beachwood?  Those would be funny particularly the “hammer story” (though probably still not funny to her brother my uncle Bob).  Her happiness, optimism and vision of the future during her youth – she always did her very best?  The energy and pride she always exemplified in the workforce?        But all of this can be read in the newspaper this week.  What isn’t there is her devotion and love for her family.  Her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brother and his family, taking care of her mother, father, and her son who were always steadfastly by her side and her by them.  I came along not under ideal circumstances, but you would have never known it. Her devotion and love made my life ideal.

If she were planning today’s service she would be playing videos in the hall of rockets launching things I’ve built into space.  A spread of magazines that Amy had created that highlighted her handiwork that she was so overjoyed to see on a newsstand.  She would play highlight reels of her grandson Noah throwing a football.  She often went on long drives to listen to songs on the CD player of her grandson Chase that always lift her up and “made the sunshine come out”. Those songs were played today prior to this service per her request and they meant the world to her.  She was very proud of all of Chase’s accomplishments. She would showcase her “superhero” grandson Ellis’s many activities, performances, beautiful voice and intellect and also remark how she was able to get a little piece of her own son back through him.  She would spent endless hours studying and learning about all our interests and made them her own.  And while none of this would be about her.  In her mind it was all about her, and it is.

I found a folder this week in her important papers titled Emotional Serenade.  In this folder of poems and writings I got a chance to get inside my mom’s spirit in ways I had not seen before.  In her writings I think she described who she was far better than I ever could in the following poem:

THE CATALPA TREES ARE BLOOMING ON HAINES AVENUE

The Catalpas are blooming on Haines Avenue;

their snow-like blossoms are fresh and white and new.

They crown the branches of the stately trees

and cover the ground with a summer freeze.

In time, long green beans will appear,

hanging amidst the elephantine leaves part of the year.

This makes Haines different from Wright, Union or Summit,

indeed it is the very best part of it!

The red bricked street of a yesterday,

scene of a childhood summer of play.

I was fresh from the farm and an isolated life

thrust on a sidewalk of kids amidst workman and buses,

backyard cherry trees – neat houses and gardens,

flower bedecked porches, new shoes bought on an

afternoon trip downtown, birthday parties on the lawn,

bank tellers, clothiers, teachers, mailmen, executives

and retirees – a grocery store that smelled so right

with licorice cigars and other delights…

everything so lazy and forever.  Now all gone mainly

BUT THE TREES

I had always known the infinite variety of trees;

all the magical appendages moving in the breeze;

their sudden brilliant hues burning even after the fade;

their wealth worth more than could ever be paid.

Yet I was amazed at the leaves on a hunt for my son

and ran around saying, in effect, “Here’s one, here’s one!”

Then it was the Ginkgo that mesmerized me,

but the Catalpas are a gift by the powers that be

and are for the moment what’s happening on Haines.

They come to me, and the thrill never wanes.

  • BUCHS

My mother was always my unexpected messenger encouraging me (and all of us) to accomplish the impossible and she led by example in ways that I didn’t always understand or comprehend.  But eventually, I would always understand completely.  While her life didn’t always meet the expectations she perhaps had for herself, she made the best of every moment and worked tirelessly to make sure those around her had the best opportunities, were the best prepared, and when we needed a boost, she was there to lift us up.  Though 620 Wright Ave was just a small dot on big planet she always encouraged me to be OPEN and ready to take on the world.  She taught me that if I opened up my mind I could be and do anything.  If I opened up my dreams the impossible became possible. If I opened up my heart I would always be surrounded by the very best people.  If I opened up my eyes the path forward would always be clear.  And if I opened my arms she would and will always be there.

In her notes this week she left me a final piece of advice in her Emotional Serenade folder.  I’m not sure she wrote it but she typed it and put in a place so I would see it first.  I think is a continuing message for all of us:

“People tend to look in each other’s wallets instead of each other’s eyes.  You can’t buy a look into someone’s heart.  Or a loving look.  Or a smile.  The retention of important memories is a gift beyond price.  Memory is where the proof of life is stored.  Unobstructed access to memories is both a sign of good health and a measure of true wealth.  Money can’t buy health and money can’t buy hope.”

I am thankful for the time that we have had on this Earth together, and her passing reminds me to value the time we all have with our loved ones. To allow our ‘time’ on this planet to walk with us rather than be our adversary and to cherish every moment, because they will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we lived, and I know how much my mother loved this life and those of you who shared it with her. So those of us who knew her will understand when I say that her passing to me is truly only that state in which she exists within all of us whose lives she has touched, which is why today is not about an end. I know she lives on within me and my children and that too shall pass to my children’s children. No good-byes mom, just wonderful memories.  You will walk with me always. I will see you again.

-Michael Robert Johanson

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Who’s Your Favorite?

“Who’s Your Favorite?”

September 09, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23              Mark 7:24-37             James 2:1-17

A quick quiz.

Which of you were the teacher’s pet?

Which of you were Mom’s favorite? Or, Dad’s favorite?

How many of you can identify, at work, the one person that sucks up to the boss and who, as a result, may or may not be the favorite?

We have names for people who are the favorite.  We may get jealous of others when they are the favorite, but when it occasionally happens to us, it can be kind of nice.

But we have favorites of our own.  That’s why, among all our friends, we have “best friends.”  We have favorite churches, and favorite pastors, favorite restaurants, favorite ice cream flavors, favorite foods, favorite places, favorite soft drinks, favorite candy bars, and all kinds of other things.

But there is danger here.

Simply because we are so accustomed to playing favorites, we are also prone to do so when we really shouldn’t.  We know that as parents, we shouldn’t have a “favorite” child, but many of us probably do anyway.  And the same thing is true spiritually.  Scripture provides clear warning that we need to be careful.

We begin in the book of Proverbs where we find all sorts of reliable “rules of thumb” that can often be used to guide our lives. (Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23)

22:1 A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.

Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken.

The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.

22 Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court,
23 for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.

Obviously, the specific warning that we find here is to remember that all of us are loved by God regardless of our economic circumstances.  Our natural reactions are to be a little in awe of people who have more than we do, perhaps to even be a little star struck by them, to want to be like them, and therefore tend to take their side in disputes, or at least, to stay out of a dispute that involves them.  At the same time, we tend to look down on people who have less than we do, to accuse them of being lazy or not working hard enough.  We don’t like people who don’t dress as well as we do, or who smell bad, or drive fifteen-year-old rust buckets.  We judge people who are missing teeth and can’t afford dentures or a trip to the dentist.

This isn’t something that came to us as adults.  We learned this from adults and from our peers when we saw how people treated the kids who couldn’t afford band camp, or who couldn’t pay for the class trip, or even go to Cedar Point or Kings Island, Kennywood Park, or even to the movies with the rest of our friends.  Our prejudice, and bias against the poor began early.  But that isn’t the example that we have from Jesus.  In Mark 7:24-37, we hear two stories of Jesus’ healing.  And the people that he healed, were not the people that one would necessarily expect.

24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.

33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened, and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

The woman in the story was Greek.  A foreigner, an outsider, and a Gentile.  The Jewish people lived alongside of the Greeks and did business with them when the occasion demanded it, but at the same time, considered them to be unclean.  Jesus even compares helping her with giving the meal intended for your children to the dogs.  But her answer shows great faith.  The woman essentially tells Jesus that she knows that his power, and the power of his God, is so great that what she was asking was of no more consequence than the crumbs left under the table after dinner.

And Jesus heals her daughter.

In the second story, someone brings a man to Jesus who is deaf and who can barely speak.  In that society, it is most likely that this man was destitute.  It would have been difficult for a deaf man who could not communicate to find work, or to keep it.  The odds are good that he relied upon the generosity of his family, friends, and community for his very survival.  But Jesus doesn’t count that against him.  Jesus was the man who spent his time with tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, and outsiders.  He was the one who spoke with, touched, cared about, healed, and loved lepers from whom everyone else would run away.  And Jesus was also the person that criticized the rich and the powerful and was so brutal in his estimation of them that he made enemies that would seek to end his life.

And with that in mind, Jesus’ brother James also draws special attention to this same subject and spells out what Jesus’ example should mean to us.  In James 2:1-17 we hear these words:

2:1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Much like our own, the culture in which James lived valued rich people and looked down on the poor.  In fact, Roman culture ran on a system of patronage in which, to get ahead, people put themselves under the influence of wealthier people, helped those wealthy people to make more business contacts, look good in front of others, and get even wealthier.  In return, the wealthy people, or patrons, introduced you to more important and influential contacts, helped you grow your business and get wealthier yourself.  Wealthy patrons were the ones who donated the money to build monuments, or even paid to have major buildings constructed.  King Herod built major improvements to the entire city of Paneas and renamed it Caesarea Philippi to honor his patron Caesar Augustus.  As if that wasn’t enough, Herod also built almost the entirety of the new city of Caesarea Maritima (in which many of the buildings were so opulent\ that they were entirely covered by imported white marble) on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea for the same reason.

This system of patronage was a well-established and rigid system of “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.”  Failing to do what your patron wanted could result in the ruin of everything that you had built.  But James fights against the system.  He insists that giving preference, or showing favoritism, to the rich, or discriminating against the poor was the same as sitting in judgement of them and therefore taking the place of God.  James wants to be sure that we understand that the poor are just as chosen, and just as loved, by God as we are, and just as chosen, and just as loved as the rich are.  What James wants to know, and this applies to us just as clearly as it did to those living under the system of Roman patronage, “Why do you show favoritism to the rich, when it’s the rich people that are taking advantage of you?”  Aren’t they the ones that are suing you and taking your property?  And aren’t they the ones that are blaspheming God and saying horrible things about Jesus?

Instead, James says, we need to listen to the words of scripture.  To love our neighbors, rich and poor alike, just as much as we love ourselves.  Showing favoritism is sin and condemns us just as if we were murderers.  Instead of showing favoritism, James says, we ought to be people who are known for showing mercy.  We should speak, and act, like people who will be judged by God.

Having faith without deeds is dead faith and it cannot save you.

The only faith that can save you is a faith that causes you to act like Jesus and to do what Jesus did.

You can’t play favorites.

Don’t tell a hungry person that you’ll pray for them.  Feed them.

Don’t send “warm wishes” to a cold person. Give them your coat.

Don’t send “good thoughts” or “positive energy” to the grieving.  Comfort them.

Because…

…Faith, without action, is dead.

 

_________

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_______________

 

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

Choices and Hypocrites

“Choices and Hypocrites”

September 02, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Song of Solomon 2:8-13                    Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23                  James 1:17-27

Have you ever loved someone?

This question is particularly addressed to those of you who are married or who might soon be married.

Do you remember what it was like to love your significant other before you became “old married people?”

Do you remember how intense your feelings were?  How powerful your passion for one another was?

It is exactly this passion and intensity that we find in the Song of Solomon.  This poem is all about
Solomon’s love for his bride and her for him.  It’s all about the passion and intensity of love and marriage between a man and a woman, but for thousands of years, in both Jewish and Christian theology, it has also been an allegory about the relationship between God and his people Israel, and between Jesus and his church.

Let’s begin in Song of Solomon 2:8-13, where we hear these words:

Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattice.
10 My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
11 See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
12 Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”

When used and understood as an allegory, we can see how intensely and passionately God loves his people and his church.  Unlike the repeated theme in The Game of Thrones, winter is not coming.  In Solomon’s story, and in God’s story, winter is over.  Spring has come.  The flowers appear.  Spring is a representation of new life, of reproduction, and a reminder that a healthy love produces fruit.  When we understand our relationship with Jesus Christ in that way, a love that is full of passion and intensity, then we begin to understand that our relationship can, and should, be more that what most of us are experiencing.  Just as the Song of Solomon reminds us that our relationship with our spouse could be stronger if it were renewed and refreshed by remembering the feelings of passion, intensity, and love that we once had, it also reminds us that our relationship with God could likely stand some refreshing as well.

In the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Mark (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23), Jesus confronts a group of church leaders who had forgotten their love for God and who had allowed that relationship to become all about routine, tradition, and rules.

7:1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law criticized Jesus because his followers didn’t wash their hands before they ate as tradition demanded.  Jesus replies with scripture and quotes the prophet Isaiah while at the same time calling these church leaders a bunch of hypocrites.  Isaiah called out the same kind of people in his generation for talking all about their love for God but having hearts that were nothing like the kind of hearts that God wanted.  Instead, Isaiah says, they are totally focused on human rules and Jesus says that the church leaders of his generation had done the same thing.  They had forgotten the important things that God wanted and focused instead on rules that men wanted.

Nothing has changed.

How often do we see churches that are fixated on rules that you can’t find anywhere in the Bible?  Or rules that are twisted to be more important than they ever were when the Bible was written?  There are churches that say you can’t be a Christian if you are a Republican and others that say you can’t belong if you are a Democrat, some that prohibit their members from wearing certain kinds of clothing, or drinking alcohol, or smoking, or attending other churches, or listening to other pastors, and on and on it goes.  If you listen carefully to many televangelists, you’ll find much the same things and this is exactly what you will find with many of the groups that we refer to as cults.  But this sort of thing also creeps into our local churches, and into our personal lives.  And Jesus cautions us to be careful that we keep our focus on our hearts.  We need to have hearts like God and hearts that love the things that God loves.

We are hypocrites if we talk all about God and have hearts that are full of sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and foolish projects.

James spells this out clearly. (James 1:17-27)

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James reminds us all that God does not change.  God sent Jesus, the word of truth, so that we could be born to eternal life.  As the followers of Jesus, we should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry because anger does not draw us toward the things of God but pushes us away from the things of God instead.  Moreover, James has an important word of caution for us as we follow Jesus and try not to become hypocrites like the Pharisees.

James says that we cannot simply come to church and listen to the scriptures being preached, proclaimed, and taught.  Coming to church isn’t enough.  Listening to, or even reading scripture, isn’t enough.  The pharisees heard scripture every day.  They studied it.  They taught it.  They proclaimed it.  The even enforced it.  But that wasn’t enough because the word of God never made it to their hearts.  They insisted that people follow tradition.  They called out people who didn’t follow the rules.  But they didn’t do the things that God wanted.  James says that while listening to the word of God is important, we must also do the things that God has called us to do.

Calling ourselves Christians, and going to church, and reading and listening to scripture doesn’t do us any good at all if we don’t do the things that scripture teaches and act the way that Christians are called to act.  James says that those who fail to do what God commands are like someone who looks in a mirror and immediately forgets what he looks like.  We would describe such a person as a fool, or worse.  But to be blessed, a person must look into God’s word and not forget and do the things that it says.  James says that hypocrites who don’t do what they have been taught, have a religion that is worthless.

So, what does all this mean?

It’s simple.  And it’s difficult at the same time.  The Song of Solomon is a clue, and it reminds us that all of scripture is a love letter from God to his church, and that God’s great desire is for us to love him with the same passion and desire that he has for us.  The closest and best understanding of what that love looks like is the love that a bride and her bridegroom have for one another.

But too often, the people, the church, and even its leaders forget the love that they once had for God and they begin to love their own desires and their own rules more than they love God.  Both Isaiah and Jesus describe such people as those who honor God with their lips but whose hearts are far from him.  They worship God in vain.  They have made poor choices. Their religion is worthless.  They are… hypocrites.

The only defense that we have is to stay in love.  To remember the passion that we once had, and work to return to the lover that loves us back with passion and intensity.  Because if our love is real, then that love will be lived out through our actions.

We are God’s chosen.

We are God’s people.

We are God’s beloved.

We must do the things that that God has taught us to do.

Not because of fear.

Not because of rules.

Not because of traditions.

Not because of obligation.

Not because of duty.

But because of love.

 

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