Are You Fireproof?

Are You Fireproof?

January 13, 2019*

Baptism of Jesus

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 43:1-7              Luke 3:15-17, 21-22              Acts 8:14-17

 

For those of you old enough to remember, from 1981 to 1986, actor Lee Majors starred as a stuntman in a successful television show called, “The Fall Guy.”  A number to times, that show featured stuntmen doing fire stunts.  And if you have ever watched action movies, like James Bond, or something with Arnold Schwarzenegger, you have probably also seen the same sort of thing.  Fire has a way of capturing our imagination like few other things can.  And so, our question for today, “Are you fireproof?” probably also stirs our curiosity.  But that title isn’t just marketing, it’s a real question that’s asked by today’s look into scripture.

At the same time, while you may not know it, this is another special Sunday.  It is lesser known than Christmas or Easter, and even lesser known than Epiphany, but this is the week that we traditionally set aside to read and remember the baptism of Jesus.  There are several reasons for this, but primarily our need for a regular remembrance is because, like many other things, we are forgetful and need to remind ourselves why this event is important, and what it means to us.

We begin, once again, in the book of Isaiah where we hear more about the messiah that is to come (Isaiah 43:1-7.)

43:1 But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east
    and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Isaiah describes a messiah who would redeem and bring back the children of Israel that had been carried away into slavery, or forced from the land by famine, pestilence, warfare, or poverty.  But he also talks of how God will be with them, and protect them, they will pass through the water in safety, they will walk through the fire and not be burned, and the flames will not set them ablaze.  God is saying, at least allegorically, that they will be fireproof.

Clearly, in the near term, God is promising that there was hope.  This was a promise that the people who had been (or soon would be) carried into captivity, or their children, would eventually return to Israel.  God was promising that despite the chaos and warfare that surrounded them, that he would watch over them and protect them, and bring them home.

But in the longer term, Israel understood that this scripture also applied to the messiah that was to come.  This was a promise that one day there would be an even bigger return of God’s people to the nation of Israel and that throughout the centuries, and even millennia, God would continue to watch over his people, protect them, and love them.

That expectation for the coming messiah endured.  It was passed on from generation to generation and to each generation it brought the hope that God cared, that God was watching over them, that God had a plan for them, and that there would, eventually, be a rescuer.  Filled with this hope, the people continued to keep watch and we see that expectation as we read Luke 3:15-17, 21-22.

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

21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

The people saw John, they saw that he was dressed the way that some of the Old Testament prophets had dressed, he lived in the wilderness as some of them had, and he preached with an intensity and a passion that hadn’t been seen in Israel for generations.  And when they saw these things, combined with their continued expectation and hope for a rescuer, redeemer, and messiah, they wondered if John was the one.  But John answers and explains that he is not the messiah but had been sent to announce the arrival of the messiah.

While baptism had become symbolic of purification and reminded the people of their passing from slavery in Egypt to freedom through the waters at the Red Sea and crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land of Israel, John proclaims that his baptism was only to prepare the people for the arrival of the God’s messiah.  The coming messiah would not only baptize with water but would also baptize with fire.  And John warned that the messiah would come not only to harvest God’s people, but to burn up the useless chaff with fire.

But the coming of the messiah meant more than the rescue of the Israelites two-thousand years ago.  In Acts 8:14-17, we hear the story of how baptism spreads beyond the borders of Israel into Samaria.

14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Remember that Samaria was not Israel but was almost a country within a country and sat between Jerusalem and Galilee.  But the Samaritans were not, strictly speaking, Jewish.  They had intermarried with outsiders and foreigners during Israel’s seventy years in captivity and were despised by the Jews as “half-breeds.”  But we also remember that Jesus stopped in Samaria as he passed through, met a woman at a well, and stayed to preach and to teach his message to the entire village.  And so here, in the book of Acts, the disciples hear that the people of Samaria had accepted the word of God and had already been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus but had not yet received the Holy Spirit.  Peter and John, despite the hostility that they had once had for the Samaritans, went to Samaria, laid hands on those who had believed in Jesus Christ, and the people received the Holy Spirit.

Like the story of Epiphany, this story reminds us that the message of Jesus Christ, as well as the baptism of both water and of the Spirit, wasn’t something old fashioned that only happened two thousand years ago, and it wasn’t something that was exclusively reserved for the Jews or the people of Israel, the baptism of Jesus Christ and the baptism of the Holy Spirit is open to all who believe, and that means that it was open to the hated Samaritan half-breeds in the first century as well as to gentiles of the twenty-first century like us.

Our baptism symbolically welcomes us into God’s family and represents our death to sin and resurrection with Christ into a new life in him.  We become fireproof in the same sense that Isaiah taught, that now, through Christ, we have hope and we know that God watches over us, cares for us, and loves us.  But we also know that through the influence, guidance, and help of the Holy Spirit received at our baptism, we are drawn, daily, closer to Jesus Christ so that we will be fruitful and not become useless chaff that is burned in the fire.  We are also comforted as we remember the story of Jesus’ baptism when we notice God’s words of blessing, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  We are comforted when we realize that at the moment of his baptism, Jesus had not yet begun his ministry.  He had not yet called all his disciples, and he had not yet done much of anything at all to earn God’s favor or his love.  And yet, this was the moment that God chose to publicly state his love for Jesus.  We are comforted because this reminds us once again, that there is no need for us to try to earn God’s love.  God loves us, and has always loved us, long before we were able to anything to please him.

Doesn’t it feel good to be fireproof?

But, if you haven’t yet been baptized, and you would like to have this confidence and this hope, please come and see me.

Because the people of God should be… fireproof.

 

 

 


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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.

“He’s Here! Now What?”

“He’s Here!  Now What?”

December 17, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11                1 Thessalonians 5:16-24                   John 1:6-8, 19-28

 

 

 

Have you ever waited for the arrival of someone that you didn’t know?  Perhaps you went to the airport to pick someone up as a favor for a friend, or perhaps you went on a blind date or to dinner and had to wait for a friend of a friend.  In either case, although you knew that they were coming, you had no idea what to expect once they arrived.

 

In the 1982 movie “Poltergeist,” after several curious, but harmless episodes in which chairs moved by themselves and the Freeling’s daughter, Carol-Ann, could hear voices coming from the static on the television set, suddenly one morning young Carol-Ann Freeling announces to the family in a sing-song voice,… “They’re here.”  And when asked just who it was that “was here” she answered, “The TV people.”  As we heard this, moviegoers immediately knew that something big was about to happen, but we had no idea what it might be.

 

This is very much the kind of message that we hear this week in scripture as we celebrate the third week of Advent, and light the Shepherd’s candle.  For eight hundred years Israel had anticipated the arrival of God’s promised messiah, but no one really knew what to expect despite all the prophecies that had been given to them such as those contained in Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11.


61:1 
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.

 


“For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.

 

Speaking in a voice that has been assumed to be that of the messiah, we hear him say, “the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me” and “I the Lord, love justice.”  The messiah is described in this passage as blessed, clothed with garments of salvation and a robe of righteousness, a bridegroom, a priest, and a source of righteousness and praise from all nations.  So many things were said about the messiah that people, even the leaders of Israel and the teachers of Law had all kinds of different ideas.  Particularly in a time when Israel was under the domination of a foreign army, many thought that the messiah would be a military ruler who would raise an army and cast out the Romans.  In the years that the people of Israel were in captivity in Babylon, people thought that the messiah would be the one who would lead them to freedom and back to Israel as Moses had.

 

And so, when the angels announced the arrival of the messiah to the shepherds on a hillside outside of Bethlehem, no one really knew what to expect.  And thirty-three years later, as Jesus is about to begin his ministry, still, no one knew what to expect. As John the Baptist announces the arrival of the messiah, we hear conversations like this (John 1:6-8, 19-28):

 

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

 

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

 

John is described to us as a witness that was sent to testify to God’s people about the light so that all might believe.  And as he witnessed to the people, they asked John if he was Elijah returned to life.  The people saw John, saw his appearance, saw that he was dressed like the scriptures had described Elijah, and they recognized that he was a prophet that had been sent by god.  But John answers that he is not Elijah, but has indeed been sent by God to announce the arrival of the messiah, that he is the one that Isaiah described as “a voice of one calling in the wilderness.”  John says that “among you stands one you do not know” who is so great, that John, despite being a prophet sent by God, was not worthy of untying the messiah’s sandals.

 

John’s message to the people was much the same as the message of the Shepherds on the day of Jesus’ birth and also like the message from five year old Carol-Ann Freeling in the “Poltergeist” movie.

 

He’s here.

 

John wanted to be certain that the people understood that the messiah was not coming “someday” but that he had already arrived and lived among them just as he rules and reigns and lives among us today.

 

After hearing John’s answer, the question that the people had was much the same as the question that we should be asking ourselves as well.

 

If the messiah lives among us… now what?

 

Knowing what we know, what should we do about it?

 

And in Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24), he answers that very question saying

 

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

 

Rejoice always.  Pray continually. Allow God’s Spirit to move within you instead of quenching it with your own preconceived ideas about what you think that God should be doing. Hold on to what is good; reject every kind of evil so that your body, your soul, and your spirit might be kept blameless for the day of judgement.

 

The message of Christmas, especially on the day we light the shepherd’s candle, is that the messiah has arrived and lives among us. There is no need to wonder what we should do next.

 

Through him, God calls us to be faithful.
There is no need to wonder what we should do next.

 

The messiah is here.

 

God calls us to be faithful.
That’s what’s next.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Worth Waiting For

waiting“Worth Waiting For”

December 11, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Isaiah 35:1-10                    James 5:7-10                          Matthew 11:2-11

I know a lot of you go out to eat after church on Sunday.  And many of you will go home to a big traditional, home cooked, Sunday dinner.

So, before I make you all too hungry, imagine with me for a minute.

Imagine that you come home today, or home after work on a weekday.  Imagine that it’s later than usual or it’s a day that you forgot your lunch.  By the time you get home, you are seriously hungry, and your stomach is making all sorts of rude noises.  And as you come into the kitchen you are given two choices:

Hot dogs now… or grilled steak, baked potatoes and all the trimmings in an hour or so.

What do you do?

But what about after dinner?  After dinner you are given another choice.  Do you want a half a candy bar that you had leftover from your snack last night… or your favorite chocolate cake, or pie, later this evening?  Nothing has been made yet so you will have to wait for several hours while someone makes it.  But then you can have it while it is still warm from the oven.

When we adopted our daughter, Lina, the process was agonizingly slow.  Appointments had to be made, fingerprints taken; there were background checks, and documents… so many documents.  There were literally dozens of forms and other documents that were required and each one had to be notarized by a local notary, then taken to Columbus so that the notary’s credentials on each document could be authenticated, and then, again, each one had to be apostilled, in which, the state authentication was, itself, authenticated.  So, with each document now having several pages of authentication stapled to it, the whole pile, weighing more than three pounds, was shipped to some governmental agency in China.  And then we waited.  For several more months.

Of course during all this time, everyone kept asking us how things were going, if we were excited, if we had heard anything.  And then, even after we were matched, we had to wait for an official invitation from the Chinese government, so that we could get travel visas, and then the scheduling, the ticketing, and the trip.  In the end, the whole process took almost exactly a year.  Not bad.  Some folks wait two, three, or even four years.  And the process that we endured two years later to bring home our sons, Noah and Jonah, was similar, although easier in some ways and harder in others.

But was it worth it?

Are you kidding me?  Our children are one of the greatest joys of our lives.

Whether it’s a great home-cooked meal, or a fantastic dessert, waiting through a pregnancy, or wading through the adoption process, or any number of other of life’s wonders, sometimes the end result is simply worth waiting for.

And this is the theme that we find winding its way through all of our scriptures today.  Sometimes, despite our frustration in waiting, the end result is something worth waiting for.

In Isaiah 35:1-10, we hear these words:

35:1 The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10     and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

The desert will be glad, the wilderness will burst into bloom, the feeble will be strengthened, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk, because God will come to rescue the redeemed.  And on that day they will enter the city with singing, and joy, and gladness, and all of their sorrow and tears will be no more.

Isaiah, of course, looks forward to the coming of the messiah and tells the people that although they are frustrated, their waiting will, in the end, all be worthwhile.

And then in Matthew 11:2-11, we hear the story of when even John the Baptist, the prophet of God that was called to prepare the way for the arrival of the messiah, grows frustrated by the waiting.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

John sits in jail, knowing that he may not live much longer, and he has to know.  And so he sends some of his own followers to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah, the one that they were expecting.  And Jesus practically quotes Isaiah.  He tells John’s disciples that they should go and tell him about the things that they have seen with their own eyes, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead live, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  How could it be anyone else?  Has anyone else, in all of human history, done anything that even came close to satisfying the requirements laid out by Isaiah?  It must be Jesus.

Jesus is indeed the one on whom Israel has been waiting for hundreds upon hundreds of years.

But then, after the stories of the New Testament, we became the ones who are waiting.  Having heard the stories of Jesus, and believing that he is the Messiah, redeemer, and rescuer of all humanity, now we live our lives and wait for his return, the judgement, the end of this world, and the beginning of a new world in eternity and perfection.  But in waiting we grow tired.  We wait but we are impatient.  But our impatience isn’t new either.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus’ brother James wrote these words to encourage believers, and not much has changed since then (James 5:7-10).

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 

 

Seeds don’t grow into crops overnight.  The harvest takes time.  The rains will come in due time.  But while we wait, we must be patient.  We must wait knowing that God remains near to us and we must not allow our frustration in waiting to boil over into the lives of others.  We must wait, but we must also remain faithful.

The message of James is very much the same as the message of Isaiah and of Jesus.

Yes, we are celebrating another Christmas.

Yes, some of us have celebrated a lot of Christmases.

Yes, those who believe in Jesus Christ have been waiting for more than two thousand years.

But the message that we receive from Isaiah, and from Jesus, and from James, is the same as it always has been.

The thing for which we wait will be better than a bountiful harvest, or an abundant rain, or streams in the desert.  The thing for which we wait outshines anything we have ever had; better than a home cooked meal, or a steak dinner, or pecan pie, or even the arrival of children or grandchildren.

Just as it was before, and always has been, the coming of Jesus Christ is simply something that is…

…worth waiting for.

 

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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.