The Return of the Rejects

The Return of the Rejects


March 31, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But no longer.

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

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

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

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

Then Jesus told them this parable:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what does that have to do with us?

Honestly?  Everything.

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

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

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

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

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

We dream of a world without outsiders.

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

 

 

 

 


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

Hatred, Faith, Restoration

“Hatred, Faith, Restoration”

August 20, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 45:1-15                      Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32                                 Matthew 15:21-28

 

 

Have you ever broken anything that was valuable to you but were later able to fix it so that you were able to enjoy it for years to come?

 

I suppose that if there is any advantage to breaking things, it is in the accomplishment and gratitude we feel when they are repaired and restored to us.

 

I have to tell you that I was disappointed.

 

After beginning the story of Joseph and his captivity in Egypt, I was looking forward to working through that story with you over the span of several weeks but, unfortunately, as we follow the lectionary, they have instead chosen to skip to the end of the story.  This is still a great story, but the shift, I think, has been so abrupt, that I need to fill you in on what we missed so that you can more easily make sense of what is happening in today’s story.

 

Last week, we heard the story about how Joseph was sold into slavery because of the jealousy and hatred of his older brothers.  The only brother that we didn’t hear about was his one younger brother, Benjamin, who was almost certainly too young at that time to leave home, and was, therefore, the only innocent sibling.  After Joseph was sold into slavery, a number of horrible as well as truly wonderful things happened to him, but each one demonstrated that God was truly with him and in the end Joseph was able to interpret the dreams of the Pharaoh of Egypt.  These dreams told of a great famine.  First there would be seven years of bountiful harvests, and then there would come seven more years of drought and famine.  Because even Pharaoh recognized that Joseph’s ability to interpret these dreams was supernatural, Joseph was elevated to a position of power second only to the Pharaoh himself so that he could oversee the preparations for the famine that was to come.  It was Joseph who was in charge of building great storehouses for the harvests of Egypt so that there would be food to eat during seven years of famine.  And, when the famine came, it was Joseph who was in charge of making sure that the food was distributed fairly, and that some could be sold to people who were not from Egypt.  In this capacity, Joseph sits on a throne and, meets his own brothers who have come to beg for food to feed their families back home.  But since Joseph now speaks Egyptian, and by all appearances looks to be an Egyptian, including being clean shaven rather than bearded, his brothers have no idea who he is.

 

Joseph actually set them up to appear to be thieves in order to make them return a second time with his brother Benjamin.  This caused them great fear because after losing his son Joseph, their father never allowed Benjamin to go anywhere.  And so, we rejoin the story in Genesis 45:1-15 where Joseph finally breaks down and reveals his true identity.
45:1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”

14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

 

Imagine how his brothers felt.  For decades Joseph’s brothers lived with the guilt and shame of what they had done.  For decades they kept this great secret from their father.  For decades they lie awake at night imagining the horrors of what might have happened to their brother, imagining how he had suffered, and imagining how he had likely died.  And then, on this day, far from home and surrounded by armed Egyptian soldiers, they meet Joseph and discover that he is the second most powerful man in the world and can end their lives, or worse, with just a few words.

 

They were so afraid that they were unable to even speak.

 

And yet, instead of terror, revenge, or murder, what Joseph has in mind is thanksgiving, reunion, restoration, and reconciliation.  Joseph’s faith has brought him to understand that God was in control all along.  Through their hatred, betrayal, and deception, God had brought Joseph to Egypt, and even through his misfortune and suffering, God had brought Joseph to a place where he could save the lives of the people of Egypt, as well as those of his entire family.

 

And then we read this story of faith in Matthew 15:21-28.

 

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

 

There are several things that we need to remember in order to better understand this story.  First, Jesus is not in Israel any longer but in what had been, at various times, Syria and Phoenicia, and is therefore known as Syro-Phoenicia.  You may remember that the region of Galilee is in the far north of Israel, and as you keep going north you come to Tyre and then to Sidon.  If you kept going, the next large city is that of Beirut, so in modern terms, Jesus is now in Lebanon.  Second, Jesus has often made it clear that his mission and ministry during his time on earth was to seek and to save the lost children of Israel.  While he did, occasionally, reach out to Gentiles, the focus of his mission was always to the Jews.  And so, as this woman comes asking Jesus to heal her daughter, the disciples urge him to send her away because she is neither Jewish nor even a citizen of Israel.  Even so, she persists in calling out to Jesus for help and so Jesus points out that you wouldn’t allow your own children to go hungry because you threw their food to the dogs.  [It is important to note here, that in Greek, there is a derogatory word for dogs that was used to insult people, and this is not that word.  This word is a friendlier term that we can understand, not as an insult, but simply as a comparison between children and pets and is not likely to have been intended, or received as an insult.]  But the woman rises to Jesus’ challenge and defends herself by arguing that Jesus’ power is so great, that what she wants is no more than crumbs from the table that the children would never miss.  Her understanding allows Jesus to heal her daughter and also to compliment her for her great faith.

 

As we remember these things, what we note is that although his mission is to the Jews, Jesus still cares for people who are not.  We also note that faith in the power of God and of Jesus is not limited to the disciples or to the Jews and it is this faith that opened the door to the healing of the woman’s daughter.  With this understanding, we can see that instead of being reluctant to heal an outsider or a foreigner, Jesus welcomes the opportunity to reveal God’s grace and mercy to everyone who is willing and able to have faith in him.

 

In Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Paul explains it this way as he speaks about the “lost-ness” of the Jews:

 

11:1 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.

 

29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

 

Paul reminds us that at one time, all of us were lost, all of us were disobedient to God and, when we came to faith in Jesus Christ, all of us received mercy and were rescued from our disobedience from its consequences.  Without our disobedience, Paul argues, we would never have needed the mercy of God and the rescue of Jesus Christ.  It is Jesus who brings rescue, restoration, and reconciliation.  It is through Jesus that we receive God’s mercy, are rescued from sin and death, and are restored to the family of God.

 

It was Joseph’s faith that allowed him to have perspective on the suffering of his life.  Rather than being angry and vengeful toward his brothers, Joseph understood that their betrayal, and his many years of slavery and suffering, was used by God to rescue all of them.  Joseph’s faith allowed him to forgive his brothers and bring about the rescue of the future nation of Israel, the reunion of his family, and the restoration and reconciliation between him and those who had betrayed him.  Without their betrayal, which was redeemed and used by God, their entire family might easily have starved, or been enslaved and absorbed into the nation of Egypt.

 

Although the Syro-Phoenician woman who pestered Jesus until he heard her cry was neither a Jew nor an Israelite, her faith allowed her to receive God’s mercy and allowed her daughter to be healed by Jesus.

 

And Paul explains that although the Jews failure to believe in Jesus has separated them from God, they have not been rejected by God.  They have instead been called by God to accept Jesus, to come to faith in him just as the Syro-Phoenician woman did, so that they can receive God’s mercy, forgiveness, rescue, reconciliation, and restoration.

 

And so, we should remember two things: First, that although we all suffer, we may not immediately understand our suffering, but it is entirely possible that, like Joseph, God is using our suffering to take us to a place where we can be a blessing to others, or even to change the world.  Second, as we go out into the world and as we meet people who do not know Jesus, what we offer them is the opportunity to open the door of faith so that the understanding of God, along with his mercy, forgiveness, rescue, reconciliation, and restoration, can flow freely into their lives.

 

Faith is the key that opens our lives to healing, hope, and reconciliation.

 

 

 

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

 

The Use of Power

“The Use of Power”

May 08, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: John 17:20-26                                Acts 16:16-34                         Revelation 22:12-21

 

How many of you are planning to do something today that has something to do with Mother’s Day?  By that I mean, are you taking your Mom out to eat, gathering together as a family to be with your mom or, you are the mom and your family is doing something for you?  More than likely, most of us are.

But why do we do that?

Just asking that question, “Why?” is bound to get a reaction of surprise, shock, and “Well, duh, because she’s my mom!”  And, again, for most of us, we want to honor our mothers because of what they have done for us.  They nurtured us, fed us, cared for us, bandaged our boo boo’s, took us to the doctor’s office, sat through all of our band concerts even when we were just learning and half the band was playing the wrong notes, gratefully and joyously received our third grade art project as a gift on Mothers’ Day, and then she told us how wonderful and talented we were.

But not every mother was like that.

All we have to do is to open the newspaper or turn on the evening news and we hear stories about mothers who abandoned or abused their children.  Just this month we’ve been following the story about a mother (and grandmother) who is now being prosecuted for the murder of her son because she bought him heroin as a 16th birthday present.

Every parent is given an enormous responsibility, to raise a child, to care for them, to nurture them, and to teach them to be a mature and responsible adult.  Today, on Mothers’ Day, we honor those mothers, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, who used what they had been given to do the best that they could in raising us.  But not every mother handles that responsibility well.  All of us have friends who dislike Mothers’ Day and who struggle every year when the rest of us celebrate.  And their struggles grow out of how their mother’s misused their parental responsibility.  Parents who misuse their authority can cause lifelong damage to their children.

And while that isn’t a pleasant thought when we are trying to celebrate those mothers who did a great job, it does tell us something about how other people, in other positions of responsibility (particularly in an election year) use the power and responsibility that have been given to them.  Let’s begin this morning with an example from scripture.  We begin in Acts 16:16-34, as Paul and Silas are arrested for preaching the gospel in Philippi.

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken.  At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

In the first paragraph we read how Paul, through the power of Jesus Christ, commands a demon to come out of a female slave.  But immediately, this display of power frightens the leaders of the city and they demonstrate their own power by having Paul and Silas arrested, stripped, beaten and thrown in jail.  But Paul and Silas are not intimidated by political power.  As they sit, chained, in the depths of the prison, they sing about God.  And as they do, an earthquake threatens to tear the prison apart.  All the doors are opened and chains on the prisoners are loosened.

The jailer, seeing that the doors of the prison have been opened, draws his word and prepares to take his own life because, he understands Roman justice.  In the Roman world, the penalty for allowing a prisoner to escape is death.  And, for anyone who has ever heard the story of Easter, it isn’t difficult to imagine that the penalty for allowing a prison full of captives to escape would be unpleasant in the extreme.  And so, the jailer is prepared to kill himself rather than face the torture that the Roman army would exact upon him.  But as he does, Paul hears him unsheathe his sword and calls out that no one has escaped and that everyone is where they should be.

In this we see that God, once again, demonstrates his power over both humanity and nature, but also that the proper application of that power is not to crush his enemies underfoot, but to show them mercy.  The jailer recognizes mercy when he sees it, asks what he can do to be saved by such a god, and that very night, he and his entire household are baptized and become followers of Jesus Christ.

And in an era filled with broken families, broken government, ugly elections, and even broken churches, the message of Jesus recorded by the Apostle John resonates more than ever.  Jesus prays that God would use his indescribable power to do what some people would otherwise describe as completely and utterly impossible. (John 17:20-26)

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Jesus prays for two things, first, that God’s glory would be revealed by calling the lost to believe and second, that all of God’s people would stop fighting amongst themselves and come to a place of unity with one another and with God.  In a world where everyone seems to be constantly offended by everything, and where everyone seems to be fighting against everyone else, it is often helpful to remember that Jesus himself is praying that we could all get along and do the real work of saving the world.

And finally, in the Revelation of the Apostle John, we are warned about what is to come. (Revelation 22:12-21)

12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you [“you” is plural] this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

Jesus says that on the day of his return, he will bring rewards to everyone who has believed according to what they have done for him.  But more than that, Jesus, the creator of all that is and the judge of all humanity, stands alongside his bride, the church, and uses all of his incredible power… to invite everyone to accept the free gift of eternal life.

And so the answer to the question of why we honor our mothers comes down to this, we honor our mothers because not every mother could do what they did.  Just as many politicians have abused their power and we honor those who used their power responsibly, not every mother has been able to handle the responsibility of raising mature responsible adults.  And so we honor those that did.  We honor the women on our lives that lived the way that Jesus showed us, and who used their authority to show us forgiveness, rescue, unity, grace and mercy.

All of us are called to do the same with the power and authority that we have been given.  Whether we have little, or whether we have much, the church has been called to use our authority to move toward unity, to invite others into God’s kingdom, to tell the world about the good news of Jesus Christ, and to show everyone around us mercy and grace.

 

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

Are you Connected?

Not long ago, my wife, Patti, and I visited Caesarea Maritima in Israel, an ancient ruin of a city built by Herod the Great around 12 B.C.E.  Before Herod took control of it, Caesarea was nothing more than a small fishing village, but he built it into a center of trade, politics, and power.  Caesarea became the administrative capitol for Pontius Pilate and the home of the tenth Roman legion.  In that place, Herod managed to build one of the largest man-made sea ports ever built in a place that had no natural harbor.

But in order to turn a small fishing village into a bustling, powerhouse of a city, Caesarea needed water. .. a lot of it.  And so, Herod built an aqueduct that would carry water to the city from the mountains more than 7 kilometers (about 4 miles) away.  In some places the aqueduct ran underground, in others above it, and in places where they needed to maintain its height, it ran in an elevated channel that was supported by enormous stone arches.  As we visited Caesarea, we could still see it on the beach outside of town.

Herod’s aqueduct was used for over a thousand years, and although it was repaired and rebuilt several times, what is seen to day is nothing more than a dry and empty ruin.  Even as a ruin, it is still imposing and impressive.  But as impressive as it is, Herod’s aqueduct is useless.

As I looked at this massive structure, I was reminded of a story that I read a number of years ago which asked whether our lives were intended to be pools or channels.  The answer is given to us by none other that Jesus in John chapter 15 where he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  What Jesus tells us, is that our function as followers is to be a channel that carries his strength from the source to the fruit.  We aren’t the roots and we aren’t the grapes.  We are the branches.

And so it is with the aqueduct.  Our calling is not to receive God’s message, his Spirit, and his power and store it for later.  We aren’t meant to be dams, lakes or reservoirs.  Instead, our job is to be like streams, rivers or the aqueduct.  We are meant to be channels through which God’s grace, mercy, love and strength can flow into the lives of others.

But too many of us look just like the aqueduct in Caesarea… dry, useless, and empty.  We remember better days when we were once filled to overflowing, but somewhere along the line we became disconnected from the source.

Rivers are powerful because they are connected to the source of their strength in the mountains.  Herod’s aqueduct was useful because it carried water from mountain springs to a thirsty city.  But disconnected from the source, rivers and aqueducts are nothing more than dry relics of a better day.  The only way that they can do what they were intended to do is for them to remain connected to the source. 

The same is true of us.

Whether we think of ourselves as branches or aqueducts, our role is the same.  Our mission is to carry the message and power of Jesus Christ to a world that is desperately thirsty.

But the only way we can is for us to keep drinking from the spring.  When we think that we’ve had enough, learned enough, studied enough, or done enough and we stop drinking from the source, we become disconnected, dry, and useless.

Every city needs water.

The world still needs the mercy, forgiveness, compassion, strength, and love of Jesus.

But the only way the world can get what it needs…

                                                              …is for us to stay connected to the source.


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One Small Act Can Change the World


    Every day we make thousands of choices.  We go to the grocery store. We choose to stop at a traffic light.  Some decisions are so small that we don’t give them a second thought, but even the smallest of choices can make a world of difference.
    Captain Edward Smith chose to ignore warnings about ice in the path of the Titanic.  That one decision changed everything.
    In 1955, a seamstress at a local department store was riding the bus to work.  As the bus filled, she refused to give up her seat to another customer.  It seems like such a small thing, but with that one small choice, Rosa Parks changed the course of civil rights and American history.
    In 1989 a column of tanks descended on Tiananmen Square to crush the ongoing student.  As they did, one man stepped in front of the lead tank.  By doing so, he compelled the driver of the tank to choose.  Because of one man, the entire column of tanks came to a halt. Photographs of that moment appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world.  With one act of defiance, one man captures the imagination of the world.
    Last week (April 9, 2014), a student armed with knives entered the high school in Murrysville, Pennsylvania and attacked other students and a security guard.  Amid the mayhem, Nate Scimio, a student and one of the wounded, reached out and pulled the nearest fire alarm.  His quick thinking is saved lives and helped to evacuate the school.
    Even the most simple and mundane choices have the power to make a gigantic difference.  This is exactly what we find in the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Two of Jesus’ friends are asked to do something so remarkably simple that we are stunned to discover how important their contribution becomes. 
Jesus tells his friends to go into town, find a donkey that he knows is there, untie it, and bring it back. 
How much easier could that be?
    What Jesus did was like asking someone to pick up a prescription.  We’ve already phoned ahead, we already know that it’s ready, all they have to do is show up, get it, and bring it back. 
And yet, as simple as it is, the task that these followers perform is significant.
    As simple as it was, the disciples did as they were asked.  As simple as it was, this act makes it possible for Jesus to arrive the way that the Kings of Israel had arrived.  One small choice transforms an ordinary arrival into an historic event. 
I want you to imagine what that might look like in your life.
Because God is the architect of our lives, he already has the big things all planned out. 
    God doesn’t ask us to build a multi-national pharmaceutical conglomerate, but simply to pick up a prescription.    Go, get it, and come back.
    A story, originally told by Loren Eiseley, tells of a man walking along a beach the night after an enormous storm.  The beach was littered with starfish which had been washed ashore and as he walked, the man came across a child who was picking up starfish, one at a time, and throwing them back into the sea.  After watching the child for some time the man said, “Why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. There are thousands of them.  You can’t begin to make a difference!”
    But after thinking about it for a moment, the child continued to throw starfish back into the ocean.  Each time saying, “I made a difference to thatone… I made a difference to that one…”
    Before God asks you to do something big, I can guarantee that God will ask you to do something small.  Be ready.  Do not hesitate because the thing that God asks is small. 
In the hands of God, one small act can change the world.
    Volunteer an hour of your time to visit someone who is lonely.  Buy an extra can of food for someone that is hungry.   
Smile.  A kind word or a friendly face can change the course of an entire day.   
Donate blood.  
Cry with a friend, or offer a shoulder to cry on.   
Share Jesus with a neighbor.   
Take a casserole to a neighbor who has health problems.   
    Offer to watch the children of a young family that can’t afford a baby sitter.  This may sound small, but others did this for us when our children were small and trust me, this was a generous and amazing gift.   
    Invite a single friend to dinner.  Did you know that for singles away from home, as well as for widows and widowers, family holidays like Christmas and Easter are the hardest to get through?  What’s one more chair at the table?   
    Buy a box of diapers or a can of formula for a single parent.  Do you know how expensive that stuff can be?  
Offer to wash an elderly neighbor’s car or shovel their walk in the winter.
You can make a difference but you have to do something.
One.
Small.
Thing.
It doesn’t have to be a big thing to make a big difference.
But in the hands of God, one small act can change the world.

A Doorkeeper for God

   One of the verses that I often remember is Psalm 84:10.  I don’t always remember where to find it, but n this age of computers, if I can remember the words, the reference is never far away.  Here the singers in the temple, the Sons of Korah, and remember that even those with humble jobs rejoice in the service that they give to God saying…

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

    Today on Facebook, my friend Jim Jenson posted this poem about the same sort of thing as a remembrance of one of our seminary professors, Dr. Luke Keefer (photo, right).  This poem was one that meant a lot to Dr. Keefer, and, I think, may become one of mine as well.  I would like to note that I do not have any official permission to reprint this here, but you can also find it many places on the Internet.  

    Sam Shoemaker (photo, left) was the founder of Faith at Work at Calvary Episcopal Church in New York City, in 1926. He was also one of the spiritual leaders who helped draft the original 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and was a spiritual teacher to Bill W., AA’s co-founder. (from istandbythedoor.com)

I Stand at the Door

By Sam Shoemaker (from the Oxford Group)

I stand by the door.
I neither go to far in, nor stay to far out.
The door is the most important door in the world –
It is the door through which men walk when they find God.
There is no use my going way inside and staying there,
When so many are still outside and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where the door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind men,
With outstretched, groping hands,
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it.
So I stand by the door.

The most tremendous thing in the world
Is for men to find that door – the door to God.
The most important thing that any man can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands
And put it on the latch – the latch that only clicks
And opens to the man’s own touch.

Men die outside the door, as starving beggars die
On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter.
Die for want of what is within their grasp.
They live on the other side of it – live because they have not found it.

Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it,
And open it, and walk in, and find Him.
So I stand by the door.

Go in great saints; go all the way in –
Go way down into the cavernous cellars,
And way up into the spacious attics.
It is a vast, roomy house, this house where God is.
Go into the deepest of hidden casements,
Of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood.
Some must inhabit those inner rooms
And know the depths and heights of God,
And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is.
Sometimes I take a deeper look in.
Sometimes venture in a little farther,
But my place seems closer to the opening.
So I stand by the door.

There is another reason why I stand there.
Some people get part way in and become afraid
Lest God and the zeal of His house devour them;
For God is so very great and asks all of us.
And these people feel a cosmic claustrophobia
And want to get out. ‘Let me out!’ they cry.
And the people way inside only terrify them more.
Somebody must be by the door to tell them that they are spoiled
For the old life, they have seen too much:
One taste of God and nothing but God will do any more.
Somebody must be watching for the frightened
Who seek to sneak out just where they came in,
To tell them how much better it is inside.
The people too far in do not see how near these are
To leaving – preoccupied with the wonder of it all.
Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door
But would like to run away. So for them too,
I stand by the door.

I admire the people who go way in.
But I wish they would not forget how it was
Before they got in. Then they would be able to help
The people who have not yet even found the door.
Or the people who want to run away again from God.
You can go in too deeply and stay in too long
And forget the people outside the door.
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear Him and know He is there,
But not so far from men as not to hear them,
And remember they are there too.

Where? Outside the door –
Thousands of them. Millions of them.
But – more important for me –
One of them, two of them, ten of them.
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch.
So I shall stand by the door and wait
For those who seek it.

‘I had rather be a door-keeper’
So I stand by the door.

Trayvon, George, and the Church

    I wrote Sunday’s message, “The Test”, long before the verdict in the Zimmerman trial was announced and yet, the parallels between these events and scripture reading were worth noting.

    In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) a religious lawyer seeks to use Jesus to assure himself that he is good enough to go gain eternal life.  The lawyer and Jesus agree that the two fundamental criteria are 1) to love God and 2) to love your neighbor, but that isn’t good enough and so he asks Jesus “Who is my neighbor?”  In the time of Jesus, rabbis had differing opinion over who qualified to be a “neighbor” and these opinions ranged from friends and family, up to including anyone who was Jewish.  This man was hoping, even expecting, that Jesus’ opinion would be similar so that he could declare himself “good enough.” But Jesus goes an entirely different direction.  Jesus tells this story of a man who was brutally robbed, beaten and left for dead in the wilderness only to be rescued by a Samaritan.  
For many of us, this may also require some explanation.
    Long before the birth of Jesus, the Jews and the Samaritans hated one another with a deep and abiding hate.  Regardless of whose version of history you believe, hostilities between the Samaritans and the Jews dated back to the Old Testament, perhaps a thousand years or more.  Over the centuries, each side had attacked the other and had desecrated or burned the others’ temple.   A great many had been killed on both sides.  The only reason that the two groups were not fighting one another in the time of Jesus was that the Roman army was there to make sure that they didn’t. 
    In this environment of hatred, Jesus tells a story in which the Samaritan enemy was the hero and tells the man that even his enemy is his neighbor.  Jesus’ command is to “Go and do likewise.”  As followers of Jesus the  command to “Go and do likewise”  instructs us to show mercy to people we’ve never met, to share what we have with people who can’t do anything in return, to help people who aren’t like us, people who don’t like us, and even to people whom we consider to be our enemies.  It was a tough pill for that lawyer to swallow and it isn’t any easier for us today.  The parable of the Good Samaritan has always been, and will always be, difficult to put into practice.
    If we measure the events surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin by this standard we find that everyone failed.  Both George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin failed when they chose to be suspicious and hostile and to engage in a brutal brawl on the ground rather than try to explain, discuss or walk away.  Both men assumed the other was his enemy.  The news media when they looked first for sensational headlines before reporting the facts.  Others failed because they were looking for an enemy and assumed that this violence was somehow different, that this murder was somehow more notable than the other thousands of young people who have been victims of violence since Trayvon Martin died. 
    Finally, the church failed.  We have known the story of the Good Samaritan since we were children.  We know that Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us.  And yet, even now, in the midst of this tragedy, the followers of Jesus Christ, both black and white, look to place blame and to see an enemy in others, rather than demonstrate mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.  For the church, this case cannot be about who is right or who is wrong.  A wedge has been driven between two groups who already saw the other as the enemy.  Instead of arguing over who was in the right, we must find ways to avoid this sort of violence that kills young men and women every day in Sanford, Florida, New York, Washington D.C., and all across our nation.  We must find ways to teach the things that Jesus commanded us to teach.  We must show mercy to people we’ve never met, share what we have with people who can’t do anything in return, help people who aren’t like us, people who don’t like us, and even people that we consider to be our enemies.  We are called to be agents of healing instead of division.  We must love our enemies, do good to those who persecute us, and yes, we must love our neighbors.
Each one of us can make the world a better place if only we would, “Go and do likewise.”