Juggling Justice and Gentleness

Juggling Justice and Gentleness

January 12, 2020*

Baptism of Jesus

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 42:1-9                          Matthew 3:13-17                               Acts 10:34-43

Have you ever been caught watching a juggler who is so good that you just can’t stop watching?  Sure, there are the average “good” jugglers who can get you to watch for a few minutes.  They’re fun to watch in a parade as the go by, or for a moment as you pause on the midway at the fair for a few minutes.  But every once in a while, there’s that one juggler who is so good that every time you think you’re starting to lose interest, they change their act and suck you right back in again.  Some years ago, there was a guy that would show up in television occasionally, and I’m pretty sure that he even made an appearance on the Johnny Carson Show, but he billed himself as the guy who could juggle anything.  He would start his act by juggling, balls, and then juggling pins, then bowling pins, then pieces of silk, feathers (which is pretty tricky), but then he’d mix in knives, swords, things that were on fire, chainsaws and even bowling balls, and finally he’d finish by juggling all those weird things at the same time.  Sure, it takes talent to juggle feathers, or bowling balls, or chainsaws, but in his closing act, he would juggle a feather, a chainsaw, a sword, and a bowling ball all at the same time.  That was impressive to watch. 

But, when we listen to his instructions and commands of God, sometimes it seems like that is the kind of thing that God is asking us to do.

We find this kind of juggling in the words of Isaiah found in Isaiah 42:1-9

42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
    or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
    In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
    who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
    who gives breath to its people,
    and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not yield my glory to another
    or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
    and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
    I announce them to you.”

 

God says that his Spirit would enter into the messiah so that he could bring justice to the nations but, that in doing so, he would not shout, cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.  His coming, and his work, would be so gentle that he would not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick.  But despite his gentleness, he will not falter, or be discouraged, until he establishes justice on the earth and brings hope to his people.

 

To most of us, I think that description sounds both wonderful and just a bit confusing.  We are familiar with justice from watching our law enforcement and legal systems, but much of the justice that we see, as hard as they try, often involves the use of brute strength and a lack of subtlety that clearly does not make us think of things like gentleness, tenderness, and hope.  I’m not saying that members of law enforcement and the legal system are brutes and bullies, or that they aren’t trying to do the very best that they can do, but we all know that circumstances, and the way in which our laws are written, sometimes leave them with few other options.  In the end, trying to bring justice and gentleness at the same time seems as difficult an exercise as juggling feathers and bowling balls.

 

But that was precisely what the messiah would be sent to do, and we begin to see how Jesus threads the needle a little bit as he begins his ministry in the story of his baptism contained in Matthew 3:13-17.

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

It’s important we notice that John knows that Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized.  Jesus was the messiah, the one who was sent to bring righteousness and indeed, to be righteousness, so John knows that Jesus ought to be the one who baptizes him, not the other way around.  But Jesus explains that although he doesn’t need to be baptized for forgiveness, or to be symbolically purified, he needs to be baptized because that was what the scriptures said would happen, and that was what tradition and proper religious practices required.  Jesus is balancing, juggling if you will, both who he is, as well as who everyone expected him to be.  And in that moment, God recognizes that he is pleased with what Jesus is doing.

 

And, as we read through the gospels, we often see that Jesus is regularly juggling who he is with the mission to which he was called.  Jesus is constantly juggling the fulfillment of scripture, with the forwarding of his mission, with opposing those who are bent on destroying him, while at the same time offering gentleness and hope to those who have already been wounded by life, by God’s people, and even by the church.  And in many ways, that same juggling act, that same struggle for balance, has been passed on to us.  In Acts 10:34-43, Luke records Peter’s speech where we hear these words:

 

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

 

Peter reminds the crowd that they all know what Jesus had done, they had all either seen him or heard the stories about him and many of those gathered had done both.  But because they were the witnesses, because they had seen Jesus with their own eyes, because they had heard him preach, and because they had seen his miracles, they were also obligated to do something about it.  Because they were witnesses, Jesus commanded his followers to preach about Jesus to those who hadn’t heard and who hadn’t seen.   

 

Peter also reminds them that the prophets had promised that people would receive forgiveness of sins through the name of the messiah, Jesus.  But telling others about Jesus’ forgiveness of sins is a part of the juggling act and where we struggle to find balance.  Why? Because God appointed Jesus as the judge of the living and the dead, and because Jesus is the righteous judge, and because people receive forgiveness in the name of Jesus, and because the possibility of forgiveness is often the only thing that offers hope, all of these things must be found together.  We cannot tell the story about forgiveness and hope if we are unforgiving.  No one will listen to stories about a loving Jesus if we are unloving nor will anyone believe the promise of justice if we are not a people of gentleness.

 

No doubt you have all seen people of faith who, with the best of intentions, have attempted to tell the stories of Jesus and to be his witnesses while, at the same time, saying mean, angry, and hurtful things.  It is almost impossible to hear a message from anyone who is hurting you or attacking you.  Instead, we are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to learn the art of balance.  We must juggle justice and gentleness, truth and compassion, so that the world around us can hear Jesus’ message of forgiveness and hope.

 

Sometimes that’s going to feel a lot like juggling feathers and bowling balls at the same time, but as hard as it might be, that is the mission to which Jesus has called us.  We are called to be witnesses and to be loving.

 

We must seek truth and compassion.  Forgiveness and hope.  Justice and gentleness. 

 

 

 

 


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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.

Given Grace to Give Grace

Given Grace to Give Grace

December 22, 2019*

(Fourth Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 7:10-16                            Matthew 1:18-25                               Romans 1:1-7

 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to know the future?

Sometimes it might be a good thing.  When we’re going through difficult and challenging times it might be nice to know that things are going to turn out well for us.  When we worry about our children or grandchildren, it might be nice to know that they will eventually find their way, get an education, find a good job, and become responsible, productive, people of faith who love God.  Certainly, if we knew what the stock market was going to do next year, or even next week, we could make a lot of money.

But, on the other hand, would you want to know that your difficult and challenging times were only going to get worse?  Or that your children and grandchildren were not going to find their way?  Would you want to know the future if it was full of bad news?  Probably not.  And that’s exactly why Israel’s kings usually cringed whenever the prophets of God came to visit them.  God’s prophets had a reputation of only showing up when there was bad news and were sometimes thought of as harbingers of doom.  King Obadiah called Elijah the “troubler of Israel.”  God’s prophets knew that it wasn’t popular to know the future if the future wasn’t filled with good news.

And that’s a part of what is going on in the story we’re about to read, as Isaiah shares God’s words with King Ahaz of Judah in Isaiah 7:10-16.

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.

Ahaz remembers that the people of God are not supposed to put God to the test, and that is so ingrained in him that he won’t do it even when God asks him to do it.  God tells Ahaz that he will accomplish whatever it takes to prove to him that the things that Isaiah is saying will truly happen.  But, since Ahaz refuses to ask for such a sign, God names one instead and says that “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” 

Now, if you think about that for a minute, Isaiah’s prophecy sounds a little weird if the only meaning is the one that we remember at Christmastime because a that wouldn’t have answered King Ahaz’s question at all.  But, many of God’s prophecies had not one, but two meanings and two fulfillments.  The first would be one that made sense in the immediate future and the second would make sense in the more distant future.  This is one of those times.  The first meaning was that a young, unmarried woman, quite possibly a woman that both Isaiah and King Ahaz knew, such as the woman who was betrothed to Isaiah, who we would think of as Isaiah’s fiancée, and future wife, would, in a short amount of time, become pregnant and have a baby.  The second meaning, of course, is the one with which we are more familiar and that is one that became understood as something that would happen with the coming of Israel’s messiah.

And so, in this passage, God promises Ahaz that before Isaiah’s baby is old enough the choose right from wrong, traditionally about 12 or 13 years old, those who were attacking him, the kingdoms of Aram and the northern tribes of Israel, would come to an end.  And, while that sounds like good news, if you read the rest of that passage it quickly becomes clear that this is one of those times where things are going to get worse before they get better.  But, in any case, the second meaning is God’s promise of a messiah who would rescue his people for all time.  And it is that fulfillment that we see in the story of Matthew 1:18-25 where we hear these words:

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Just as God had promised to King Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah, the rescuer of humanity, God’s messiah, is born to a virgin.  But Joseph was terrified.  The woman to whom he had been pledged in marriage was pregnant and it was clear that he wasn’t the father.  At that point, Joseph had three choices and none of them were particularly good.  Since having sex before marriage was prohibited under the law of Moses, and it would seem obvious to most people that this is what Mary had done (since that was the ordinary way in which pregnancy happens), Mary would not only be seen as violating the law, but also as bringing disgrace to her family, bringing disgrace to Joseph’s family, and also breaking the contract that bound the two of them together. 

Joseph’s first option, under the law, was to publicly humiliate Mary and announce what she had done, and possibly even have her stoned to death (although that rarely, if ever, actually happened).  The second choice would be to quietly divorce her on the grounds that she had already broken the contract between their families.  The third choice was probably the worst choice of all, and that was to go ahead with their marriage.  This option would bring disgrace, humiliation, and financial hardship to both of their families, and would make Joseph, his father, and all of his family look stupid for going ahead with a marriage to a woman who had violated her promise even before their wedding. 

But even though all these choices seemed like bad ones, Joseph, being a nice guy, thought that he would choose the one that was the least damaging to everyone.

But God had other ideas.

God tells Joseph, in a dream, not to be afraid, that Mary had really not slept with anyone else, that the child she was carrying was actually the child of God and would become the one who would rescue God’s people from sin.  And when he woke up, Joseph did what God told him to do and in doing so, models for us some of the best characteristics of God, God’s people, and humanity.  In order to do what Joseph does requires extraordinary trust, abundant love, a mountain of faith, a pile of forgiveness, a large measure of grace, and more an ample amount of hope.

But what is it that we should take away from these stories?  How does the story of Christmas guide us as we live our lives in the twenty-first century?  And, even though he lived two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul understood a part of that answer as he wrote to the church in Rome as we see in Romans 1:1-7.

1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people:

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

Paul reminds everyone in the church that the Gospel message, the story of the messiah’s birth, death, and resurrection, was a story that God promised, through the prophets, hundreds of years before it happened.  It was because of God’s love for us that he created a way for us to be rescued from our own selfishness and sinfulness.  Just as Joseph rescued Mary by taking her home to live with him, just as Joseph chose hope, love, and grace, so did God.  Just as Joseph showed mercy and grace to Mary, God showed mercy and grace to us by sending his Son to rescue us.  It is through Jesus Christ that we received these gifts from God and, Paul says, because we have received these gifts from God, through Jesus Christ, we are, in turn, called by God to share this Good News with the rest of the world.

Paul is clear that the message of Jesus Christ was never just a message for the Jews, but has always been a message for the Jews, the Gentiles, and for the entire world.  And while I am sure that Paul didn’t intend for this to be Christmas message, it certainly is one because when Paul says that the Gentiles are being called to belong to Jesus Christ it reminds us of this:

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. (Luke 2:8-10)

Good news.  For all the people.

We have been given grace, so that we might give grace to those around us, to the people we love, to the people we fear, to the people we hate, to the insiders, to the outsiders, to the connected, to the outcasts, to citizens, to foreigners…

…to everyone.

The world would not have heard the message of Jesus if Joseph didn’t have enough faith and trust in God to show mercy and grace to Mary.

And two thousand years of history hasn’t changed that.

One of the clear messages in the story of Christmas is that we are called to share God’s mercy and grace so that everyone around us can hear the message of Jesus.

As we leave this place, let us remember that we are God’s agents of grace.

 

 

 


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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.

No Fear, No Dogma, No Excuses

No Fear, No Dogma, No Excuses

August 25, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Jeremiah 1:4-10                     Hebrews 12:18-29                 Luke 12:49-56

Have you ever asked someone to do something, and you just knew that they were making excuses to avoid saying “no” to your face?  You know what I mean.  How many times can someone need to wash their hair when you ask them out on a date?  Or be out of town every single time you ask them to help with something?  Look, if you don’t want to go on that next mission trip, just tell me that you don’t want to go, and I’ll quit bothering you about it.  But, can you imagine how many excuses God has heard when he asks his people to do stuff?  And, don’t you think that God knows that we’re just making excuses?  Of course, he does.

And in Jeremiah 1:4-10 we hear exactly that kind of a discussion as God calls Jeremiah to be his prophet in Israel and in Judea and to speak God’s words to humanity.

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.”

Some theologians have estimated that Jeremiah could have been as young as twelve when God called him to be his prophet.  Of course, it would seem strange to hear the words of God from the mouth of a twelve-year-old, of course the King would be unwilling, or at least unlikely, to listen to a twelve-year-old tell him what to do.  Jeremiah wasn’t stupid.  He knew that he would have a hard time because of his age, especially as someone who had not trained as a public speaker and who didn’t have any experience speaking in front of anyone, let alone princes and kings.

But God basically just commands Jeremiah to stop making excuses.  God tells him not to say that he is too young, or too inexperienced, or too unskilled, to even too afraid.  Instead, just do what God has called you to do, just go to the places that God has called you to go to, and just stop making excuses.  God knows what he is doing and if God has called you, then God still knows what he is doing and has a plan to do it that involves you… even if you’re too  young, or too old, or too inexperienced, or too unskilled, or too untrained, or too afraid. 

Even if you are afraid, even if you are all those things, just do it anyway and trust that God knows what he is doing.

Jeremiah was afraid that people wouldn’t listen to him or respect him, and he was right.  He was often disrespected and, for the most part, no one listened to him.  But that wasn’t just because he was young.  The people who have carried God’s messages have often, if not always, had that problem.  Prophets, teachers, preachers, and evangelists of all kinds have had similar experiences. 

Even Jesus.

In Luke 13:10-17 we hear yet another story of when the leaders of the church criticized Jesus for doing the things that God had called him to do simply because they had made “the rules” more important that God.

10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So, come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Jesus is criticized for doing work on the Sabbath because he healed someone who had been crippled and suffering for eighteen years.  Holy cow!  Can you imagine the relief that she felt?  Can you imagine the joy?  And can you imagine what was going through her mind as her own church leaders criticized Jesus for doing the thing that brought her that joy?  Can you imagine what she felt as she realized that if Jesus had only followed the rules, he probably would have left town before he could heal her?  And even if not, she would have suffered for at least another day. 

But Jesus has a different answer. 

Jesus’ answer is that it was the teachers and the leaders who were wrong about God.  Yes, God has rules.  Yes, we are expected to obey them.  But those rules should never become so important that they become unchangeable dogma that overwhelms the heart of God.  Yes, we are called to keep a Sabbath and take a day of rest and spend time with God.  Yes, we should avoid work if we’re going to try to get some rest.  But (and this is vitally important) healing is not work.  Freedom is not work.  Mercy, decency, kindness, compassion, and love are not work.  These are the things that reflect the heart of God, and all these things are far more important than some religious doctrine, dogma, or some arbitrary set of rules that were written by human beings.  Just this week I heard stories about churches who criticized people because they were divorced, or remarried, or had tattoos, or showed too much skin, or had a big bosom, or because they accidently took a new medication incorrectly.  As a church, before we ever get too involved in enforcing “the rules,” we would do well to look deeper to see exactly who wrote them and how they compare to the heart of God.

So, with the coming of Jesus, with his death and resurrection, how do we see the world, and the church differently?  How do we respond to the call of God and how is it different than it was when God called Jeremiah?  The Apostle Paul provides at least a partial answer to that question in Hebrews 12:18-29.

18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Through the stories that we heard about the ministry of Moses and Joshua, and in the centuries since Moses, and especially with the coming of Jesus, we have learned more about the heart of God.  Paul reminds us that we no longer fear God in the way that you would fear a tyrant as people often did in the time of Moses.  Instead, the city of God is known to be a place of peace and joy.  It is the church and the home of Jesus Christ and all the people who have put their trust in him.  When we come to God, we come to the place where the righteous will be made perfect and where Jesus is the mediator and for all of us through the new covenant in which Jesus has paid for our forgiveness and repaired our relationship with God.

And in that place of peace and forgiveness, we should take care not to say “No” to God.  How can we turn away from a God who has already done so much for us?  We are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken and so we should be filled with reverence and awe and be thankful for all that we have been given.  We should stop focusing on the minutia, the details, the doctrine, the dogma, and the rules that God never wrote in the first place and instead focus on his heart.  Like Jeremiah, we must stop making excuses and get on with the work of answering God’s call and telling the world about the healing, freedom, mercy, decency, compassion, and love of God.  We are called to do the work of the kingdom of God. We are called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

Each of us is called to do something for the kingdom of God.  We may not all be called to be prophets, pastors, or evangelist, but all of us are called…

…to have the heart of God.

 

 

 


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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.

Choosing Discomfort

We were cold. But would be hot almost within the hour. The fog was still liftng from the mountan valleys as we walked to breakfast just after dawn. There was a chill in the air and several of us had spent a fitful night tryig to keep warm in our tents. But as we walked to breakfast, we were also aware that soon, almost within the hour, the sun wouold rise above the mountains and temperatures would rise enough to make us sweat. And so, as each of us dressed that morning, we had made choices. We were all faced with the same facts, but each of us had made different choices. One had long sleeves and long pants, another long sleeves and shorts, another long pants and short sleeves, and still another both short pants and sleeves. Would we be comfortablly warm now, and cold later?  Or cold now, and comfortable later? Each of us knew that our choice was transient. Discomfort was inevitable. We were choosing the form of our discomfort. And it was so ordinary that no one gave it a second thought. But in other situations we seem shocked by it… and we shouldn`t be. We wonder why migrants would choose to come across our border when they know that the journey is arduous, that the “coyotes” that guide them vicious, rape ordinary, and often detention when caught. The thing is, many are aware of the dangers before they begin but, when faced with daily violence, death and mayhem at home, they’ve chosen the most comfortable discomfort. The discomfort they face at home seems endless and unsolvable, but the discomfort on the road to citizenship, or even residence, in a foreign country seems like a light of hope at the end of a dark tunnel. We wonder why young people who grew up in the church, and who believe that life begins in the womb, still sometimes choose to end that life through abortion. But often these young people, married and unmarried, are faced with impossible choices, none of which are good. While we may not agree with their choices, we should understand that they are choosing their discomfort. When every possible choice seems to be a path of pain, they must choose which path of pain seems ever so lightly less painful. We wonder why people who have few posessions and little money make choices that seem wasteful and foolish.  But they are doing the same thing.  They are choosing their discomfort.  It can easily be understood that although none of their choices are good, they choose a path that offers a little joy, however transient. We wonder why our friends choose to vote for candidates that do not represent their values, or who are known to act in ways that are contrary to the interests of the voters.  But the same principle applies.  It is often the case that voters are fully aware of the candidate’s failings, faults, and voting patterns.  But, believing that the other candidates are just as flawed, or who violate their conscience in other ways, the voters are compelled to choose their discomfort. Which path of pain seems the most bearable? Which uncomfortable choice offers a chance at hope? I didn`t laugh at my friends on the way to breakfast because I understood that each of us, in our own way, was choosing the uncomfortable path that we though offered the least discomfort. If we can understand that, then shouldn’t we extend the same grace to others who are making harder, more painful choices between their available paths of discomfort? Isn’t that what Jesus taught us? Each of us must make choices that guide us through paths of discomfort. We should have the grace to allow others to do the same. Friends… …always choose grace.    
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Love is an Action

Love is an Action

July 14, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

Luke 10:25-37                        Colossians 1:1-14

 

How many of you can say that there is, or that has been, at least one person in your life that has loved you?

I’m hoping that everyone here can say yes.  Almost all of us have at least a close circle of family and friends whom we could say, with some certainty, probably love us. 

But… how do you know?

When we think about the people who have loved us, and when we think about the people that we love in return, how do we really know that they love us, and how do they really know that we love them?

It certainly isn’t the words that come out of our mouths.  Almost all of us can give examples of people in our lives who told us that they loved us, or that they were our friends, and who later demonstrated that their words were less than truthful.  But rewind just a few words and I think we have our first clue.  Those people “demonstrated” their love, or their lack of love, for us.  Their love for us wasn’t revealed in what they said about us, or to us, but it was demonstrated in the things that they did.

One of the books that I use in premarital counseling and often recommend to others, is Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages.” In it, Chapman describes the five ways that human beings express and feel love.  Most people, Chapman says, only “hear” or feel one or two of these love languages, so it’s important to know which love language your significant other, or your children, can hear, feel, and experience so that they can receive the love that you want to show them.  In any case, the five love languages that appear in that book are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.  But let me read that list again and see if you notice something, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. 

Of the five, only one, Words of Affirmation, are spoken words at all, and even then, Words of Affirmation are not careless words that someone would throw about easily.  Words of Affirmation are thoughtful, well-chosen words that require some understanding and knowledge of the person to whom they are offered.  “You did a great job on that project.”  “I have been consistently impressed with your enthusiasm.”  “I appreciate how you go out of your way to make new people feel welcome.”  “We are all so very proud of the work that you do and the difference that you make in our community.”  And those are just a few examples of just one of the five Love Languages.

When we think about love in that way, it becomes increasingly obvious that love isn’t something that we say at all.  Instead, love is something that we… do.

One of the best biblical examples of this is found in Luke 10:25-37, and Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii [two days wages[1]] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

The entire Law can be boiled down into two simple statements, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”  But while the legal expert that came to Jesus was fine with the first one, he was having trouble understanding the second.  Just who is my neighbor, and how do I love them?  And, although the legal expert might not have liked the answer that he got, Jesus’ parable answers both questions.

Even better, Jesus’ parable leads the legal expert to answer his own question.  After hearing the story, Jesus asks him to choose, from all of the characters in the story, between the two men who were traditionally supposed to be the good guys, the priest and the Levite, and the one man who represented the enemy of the Jews, which one was a neighbor to the man who was beaten, robbed, and left for dead?  Obviously, the hero of the story is the man that the entire audience really wanted to hate but the legal expert is left with no other choice.  Who was the man’s neighbor?  The one who had mercy.

And Jesus leaves the man, and us, with a singular instruction: “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus’ instruction on how to love our neighbor isn’t an instruction of something to say, preach, write, film, or to advertise, but simply one that we are to… do.

We can’t just say that we love our neighbors, or the poor, or the outcasts, or the hungry, or addicts, or anyone else, we must show them that we love them.  We are commanded to love our neighbors, but in order to truly love them, we must “Go and do likewise.”

As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae, he compliments them because of the things that he has heard about them.  From the news that travelers have shared with him, Paul knows that the gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t just something that the Colossians are talking about, it’s something that they are doing. (Colossians 1:1-14)

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,  10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Paul says “…we have heard of your faith in Jesus Christ and the love that you have for all God’s people…”  And then goes on to say that “the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world – just as it has been doing among you…”  The Colossian church is bearing fruit and growing because they are showing the love of Jesus Christ to the people around them and the love that they have is so obvious to the people around them that when Epaphras travels from Colossae to see Paul, he shares news of the things that the church has been doing.  If the gospel was only something that the church talked about, Epaphras wouldn’t have taken the time to walk hundreds of miles and share that news with Paul.  And because the church is bearing fruit and growing, we know that the neighbors and the community that surround the church must also see the work that the church is doing.  Epaphras told Paul that the people in the church at Colossae are a people who have demonstrated, through their actions, the love of God to the world. 

Love is all about actions.

Words and talk are invisible, but actions can be seen by the world.

The Priest was supposed to be a man of God, but he crossed over to the other side.

The Levite was supposed to be an expert with great knowledge of the scriptures, but he didn’t help either.

The Samaritan was supposed to be a hated enemy of the Jews, but he stopped, bandaged the wounds of a beaten, broken and bloody stranger, took him to a place of rest, and paid for his care.

It was obvious to everyone which of these three men loved his neighbor because after all the talking and preaching was over, only one showed up and acted like it.

Paul was proud of the people of the Colossian church because they were living out the gospel of Jesus Christ by acting in love toward the people around them and the people could see it.  And because the people in the community of Colossae saw, and felt, the love of the church, the church began to bear fruit and grow.

We don’t feel loved until the people who love us show us how much they love us.

We can’t just say that we love our neighbors, or the poor, or the outcasts, or the hungry, or addicts, or the homeless, or migrants, or anyone else, we must show them that we love them. 

The people who live in Alliance, Ohio and in the other communities around our church, in our workplaces, our schools, in our neighborhoods, in mission stations all over the country, around the world, and wherever we are, won’t feel loved until we show them how much we love them.

Jesus demonstrated his love for us.  Over and over again, he showed us how much he loved us.

And Jesus’ words to that legal expert still resonate with us today:

“Go and do likewise.”

 

 


Footnotes:
[1] The median income in the United States in 2018 was $61,891.  That’s $29.76 per hour, so two days wage for the average American would be about $476.
 

 


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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.

I Love You, But…

I Love You, But…

June 30, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14                Luke 9:51-62              Galatians 5:1, 13-25

 

Have you ever watched those Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel?  Or even old westerns, or some of the romanticized war movies?  In a great many of those movies, there is a scene where the two romantic leads go their separate ways, and there is always a conversation that runs along the lines of, “I love you honey, but this thing is bigger than two of us.”  It’s a phrase that’s been around for so long, and used in so many books and movies, that no one can even guess where it was used first.  It’s a cliché in movies, but it has obvious, and tragic, uses in “real life” too. 

Whether it has been said out loud or not, how many times have relationships ended because one person was more in love with their independence than they were with the other person?  Or their commitment to another person, or an addiction, or any number of things was greater than their commitment to the other romantic lead.  In these cases, the phrase “I love you, but…” can just as easily be replaced with, I don’t love you enough to be what you need, or what you want.  Or maybe it’s too harsh to boil that down to just, “I don’t love you enough.”

Those kinds of break-up stories aren’t limited to romantic relationships.  We leave jobs for many of the same reasons and tell our employers that our families, or our checkbooks, or our feeling of self-fulfillment is more important to us than they are.  And unfortunately, our relationships with God are often much the same.  Too often, we tell God, through our actions, if not our words, that other things are more important to us than God is.

But before we talk about abandonment, let’s begin this morning with a story that illustrates true commitment and dedication.  We begin this morning with one of the greatest stories of transition and succession in all of history.  As the great prophet Elijah, advanced in age and near death, comes to the end of his career, he is followed and assisted in everything that he does by his protégé, Elisha.  And, as God calls Elijah home, we hear this story in 2 Kings 2:1-14.

2:1 When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”

But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, they went down to Bethel.

The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, they went to Jericho.

The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, the two of them walked on.

Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”

11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.

13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.

Elisha declares that he will never leave his mentor Elijah even though they both knew that this was the day that God would take Elijah from the earth.  And, as they travel, they discover that all the other prophets of Israel know that as well.  Each time they pass by one of the places where God’s prophets gather, the prophets in that place already know what’s going on.  And when the time finally comes, and God sends a chariot of fire to carry Elijah away, it was necessary for the horses of the chariot to separate them because Elisha stayed true to his word and refused to leave his mentor’s side.  And even then, he tears his garment in a sign of mourning that they have been separated. 

Elisha was true to his word no matter what.

But the reverse is true for everyone who makes those same kinds of promises to Jesus in Luke 9:51-62.

51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

The Samaritans don’t want Jesus because they knew he was traveling to the temple in Jerusalem and not to their temple.  Their position was, “We love you, but only if you worship like us.”  The disciples wanted to destroy the Samaritans and it was as if they were saying, “We love you, but we were hoping you would destroy anyone who isn’t like us.”  The next man offers to follow Jesus, but Jesus knows that he won’t.  Jesus knows that what he’s really saying is, “I love you, but not if you’re homeless.”  The next two are willing, but essentially answer Jesus by saying, “I love you, but only when it’s convenient.”  But none of these answers rise to the level of Jesus’ expectation.  Jesus says that when you set out to plow a field, you focus on what is ahead and not on what is behind.  The focus of the farmer must be on farming and if it isn’t then he should probably be doing something else.

What God wants is the kind of dedication that Elisha had for Elijah, a single-minded determination that was focused exclusively on his love for his mentor.  For Elisha, “I will not leave you” meant exactly that and nothing else.  Only God himself could separate them.  And that’s what Jesus wants for us as his followers as well.  When we are called to be the followers of Jesus, we are called to love him with our whole heart, but that’s often harder than we expect it to be when put into practice.  In real life, we are easily distracted by the things that make us feel good.  In Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Paul explains it this way:

5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

In Paul’s mind, because we have been set free from sin, then we ought to do everything we can to live lives separate from sin so that we do not become burdened and tied to the same sin from which we were once set free.  As Americans, we often talk about enjoying freedom, and many times that discussion involves talking about how we are free to do the things that scripture teaches us not to do.  But Paul’s idea is quite different.  Real freedom, he says, is not found in indulging ourselves and doing things that feel good, instead, real freedom is found in service to others, humility, love, and obedience to God.  The Spirit of God and the desires of our fleshly bodies often run contrary to one another.  Our freedom means that we should not do whatever we want to do because Jesus died so that we could be set free from sin, not set free for sin. 

But, just to be sure that we are getting his point, Paul lists some of the common things of the flesh that cause human beings to go astray, “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”  When we pursue these things, we wander from the path of salvation and risk losing our inheritance altogether.  Instead, we are to seek to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit.  When we are truly following the example of Jesus Christ, our neighbors and friends will see things like “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control” in our lives.

When we say “I love you” to God, it shouldn’t include exceptions that make it sound like “I love you, but…”  God wants us to love him without reservation, with all our heart, all our mind, and with all our soul.

If we want to follow Jesus, and become like Jesus, then we have to give one hundred percent.

If we want to bear spiritual fruit, “I love you, but…”

…is not going to get us where we want to go.

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

Wisdom, Truth… Hope

Wisdom, Truth… Hope

June 16, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31                        John 16:12-15                        Romans 5:1-5

 

It seems that our world is increasingly without hope. 

We regularly meet people in our schools, in our workplaces, and in our communities that are struggling.  And certainly, the people in our churches are not immune.

Hope seems to be in increasingly short supply.

We see it on the news almost every day.  People are wondering why the world seems so filled with disaster, hate, mayhem, hunger, fear, and hopelessness.  Even at our church’s Annual Conference this week, as we worked to elect a slate of delegates to next year’s General Conference, amid our denomination’s divisive debate over homosexuality, there were many discussions about the future.  We discussed what the future might look like, and even whether our denomination, or any denomination, has a future at all.

But despite some discussions of what might appear to be dark or grim possibilities, our discussions were also often filled with hope.

Hope.

Hope is something that seems to be in short supply in the world but remains abundant in the church. 

Why is that?

Let’s begin at the beginning.

In Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Solomon speaks about the creation and the beginning of time in this way:

Does not wisdom call out?
    Does not understanding raise her voice?
At the highest point along the way,
    where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
    at the entrance, she cries aloud:
“To you, O people, I call out;
    I raise my voice to all mankind.

22 “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
    before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago,
    at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
    when there were no springs overflowing with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place,
    before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the world or its fields
    or any of the dust of the earth.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
    when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above
    and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary
    so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30     Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
    rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
    and delighting in mankind.

Solomon speaks of wisdom as the first creation of God. Wisdom was there before the mountains and the oceans.  Wisdom has been, and is, the constant companion of God in all that he does.  And it is wisdom that stands at the gates of the city and cries out to all of humanity… if we will only listen.

But wisdom isn’t the only voice that is trying to speak into our lives.  In John 16:12-15, Jesus speaks with his disciples and prepares them for a time when he will soon depart with these words:

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

Jesus says that after he returns to heaven, he will send the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.  The Spirit of God will carry the words of Jesus to us and guide us into the future.

But because we know the story of Jesus, we also know that listening to the Spirit and doing the will of God doesn’t shelter us from suffering.  Just as Jesus suffered because of his faith, we may also endure times of suffering because of our faith.  But our high calling is to always hear the voice of wisdom, to stand up for the truth, and to follow God wherever he leads us.  In Romans 5:1-5, Paul shares this wisdom:

5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

This short passage is often quoted because, as short as it is, it is also filled with great power.  We know that life isn’t perfect.  We know that life is filled with suffering.  But we are encouraged as we remember that suffering produces perseverance.  Perseverance produces character, and character produces… hope.  But don’t forget that last part either.  Hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our lives, through the Holy Spirit that has been sent to us by Jesus Christ.   Not only are we being built up, day by day, through our faith in Jesus Christ, and through our daily suffering, but we are also, through the Spirit that lives within us, being filled with the love of God.  Daily, we should be growing in love and compassion for our families, for our friends, for our community, the world, and for everyone around us.

Our life of faith is a group project, a work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Since before the beginning of time, the wisdom of God has cried out to all of creation and to all of humanity if only we would take the time to listen.

And every day, the Spirit of God pours the love of God into our lives and speaks the words of Jesus into our hearts and minds in order to guide us to the truth.

And, as we persist in our faith, and endure the sufferings of this life, we grow daily in character and are filled…

…with hope.

In a world that is increasingly without hope, where we see a rise in opioids, despair, and suicide, we, the people of God, must be bold in proclaiming the truth so that the people around us can discover the great gift that we have received through the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We must share with the world the gift…

            …of hope.

 

 

 

 


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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.