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.

A Change of Plan

 

A Change of Plan


February 10, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 6:1-8                            Luke 5:1-11                            1 Corinthians 15:1-11

 

Have you ever had your plans change?

It’s the kind of thing that often happens but sometimes it happens more dramatically than others.  In 2005, when Patti and I were serving the Johnsville and Steam Corners churches in Morrow County south of Mansfield, I was in the car taking our kids somewhere when suddenly, I got a phone call that one of our members was in an ambulance on his way to the emergency room.  I wasn’t yet far from home, so I called Patti, turned around, we switched cars in the driveway, Patti took the kids wherever we were going, and I headed straight to the Morrow County hospital emergency room. 

Cars get flat tires, flights get cancelled, professors miss class, the power goes out, one of your kids gets sick just as you’re leaving the house. Life is never completely within our control. Sometimes our plans change. 

And sometimes those changes are big changes.

Sometime around 2001 or 2002, I was working in an engineering job that I liked.  I thought engineering was going to be my life’s work.  But then I got laid off.  Even though the economy was good, and the job market was decent, I was unemployed for two years.  And in the process, I began to consider the possibility that God might be calling me to do something else.  At the time, pastoral ministry was about the farthest thing from my mind.  I grew up in a Methodist preacher’s house, and I always knew that I didn’t want to do what Dad did. 

But God had other plans.  That whole story is a sermon or two all by itself, but my point for today is simply this:

Plans change.

But if we look, that story is not a new one.  Last week we heard how God called the prophet Jeremiah and this week as we read Isaiah 6:1-8, we hear the story of how God changed Isaiah’s plans as well.

6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

You might remember that Jeremiah protested to God that he was too young and didn’t know how to speak, and God wasn’t buying any of his excuses.  In this passage of scripture, we hear Isaiah make a different excuse, saying that he isn’t good enough, or pure enough, that his lips are not clean enough to speak the words of God.  But God’s answer is a lot like his answer to Jeremiah.  One of the angels in the throne room of God grabs a hot coal from the altar, flies over to Isaiah, and touches his lips with it saying that now you have been purified, your guilt is gone, and your sin has been paid for.  There is no longer any reason to prevent you from answering the call of God, your excuses and your obstacles have been removed.

And, despite the reality that Isaiah was totally intimidated by his obvious sinfulness when faced with God’s holiness, he understood that God was calling him to a change in plan and accepted by saying, “Here am I. Send me!”

But dramatic changes of plan don’t end with the Old Testament.  In Luke 5:1-11 we read the story of Jesus meeting, and calling Peter, James, and John to join him as his disciples.

5:1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

When Jesus showed up at the lakeshore (at the Sea of Galilee, Gennesaret = Galilee) to preach, he and the fishermen already knew one another.  Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law, they had been together at the wedding where Jesus turned water into wine, and on a few other occasions, but clearly up to this moment, Peter, James, and John had planned to be fans of Jesus but believed that they would keep their jobs as fisherman and follow Jesus from a distance, or on weekends, or something.  Giving up their jobs, and their livelihoods, was not a part of the plan.

But when they met Jesus, there was a change in plan.

And we see the same thing again in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, as the Apostle Paul tells his story.

15:1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Paul was not originally a follower of Jesus.  Instead, Paul was a Pharisee and a part of a group that was violently opposed to the followers of Jesus.  Paul was a persecutor of Jesus’ followers.  He was the guy that had warrants for the arrest of any Jews who wouldn’t deny Jesus and would drag people back to Jerusalem to face trial for heresy.  Paul intended to keep right on persecuting Christians and never planned to stop.  He certainly never planned to become a Christian, let alone a leader in that movement.

But then, while he was traveling on the road to Damascus, Paul met the risen Jesus.

And suddenly, there was a change of plan.

And you’ve probably noticed by now that from Isaiah, to Peter, James, and John, to Paul, and even to this very moment, there is an obvious pattern.  Whenever a human being has an encounter with God, or with the risen Jesus Christ, there is an almost certain probability that your life will exhibit a change in plans.  Simply because we’re human, we are likely to resist those changes.  We don’t like change.  We’re selfish.  We want what we want.  We want to follow our own path, and our own plans.  But in all the examples that we saw in scripture this morning, we also see that God is able to remove our excuses and clear away all the obstacles that stand in the way of taking us to the place where he wants us to go.  God’s plans are always bigger, and more powerful, and vastly more important, than the ones that we came up with by ourselves.

God may not be calling you to be his prophet, or the pastor of a church, but he is calling you to walk with Jesus.   God isn’t interested in collecting fans who follow his activities from a distance, God is calling you to be his disciple. Christianity has never been a spectator sport.  God wants disciples, not fans.  If you are serious about being a follower of Jesus, then you need to accept the fact that God has called you, not only to church on Sunday, but to be a part of his plan to change the world and to rescue the lost. 

And since this is Scout Sunday and we have a room full of scouts today, I can make this next comparison.  “Scout” is a verb.  Scouting isn’t just who we are, it’s what we do.  We don’t just sit around and read books about scouting, scouting is something that we do.  What we do here at church is very much the same.  “Disciple” is a verb.  Being a disciple isn’t just something that we read about, it’s something that we do.

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ isn’t just about believing, it’s about doing.  And if you think that you can just sit back and watch from the sidelines, be prepared for…

… a dramatic change in plans.

 

 


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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.

Yes, I Can!

 

No, you can’t!
Yes, I can!


February 03, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Anything You Can Do – Irving Berlin

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

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

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

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 


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

21 Facts About Liberia

map-liberia21 Facts About Liberia

(taken from the Monrovia newspaper with some added explanation)

  1. Liberia is the 4th poorest country in the world (United Nations ranking)
  2. Liberia is the 8th unhappiest and most miserable Country in the World (UNDP)
  3. Liberia is the 8th hungriest nation (Concern International)
  4. 230,000 Liberian children suffer from chronic malnutrition (UNICEF)
  5. Liberia ranks #1 among the 10 worst countries for business in Africa (Forbes magazine)
  6. Food insecurity effects 650,000 Liberians (World Food Program)
  7. 65 percent of Liberian children do not attend primary school (UNICEF)
  8. 76 percent of Liberians live on US$1.25 per day (United Nations)
  9. Teenage pregnancy accounts for 38 percent of all live births (United Nations)
  10. Youth unemployment is as high as 85 percent (United Nations)
  11. Monrovia is the worst capital city in the world with a City Prosperity Initiative (CPI) ranking of 0.313. (For comparison, Oslo is #1 at 86.76, New York is #23 at 74.43, Manila is #44 at 55.81 and Nairobi is #49 at 47.77 per UN Habitat data)
  12. Only 25 percent of Liberians have access to safe drinking water (WaterAid International)
  13. Over 80 percent of Liberians lack access to a decent toilet (WaterAid International)
  14. Out of a population of 4 million, 3.7 million Liberians lack access to adequate sanitation. (WaterAid International)
  15. Over 500 children die every year from diarrhea in Liberia (WaterAid International)
  16. Liberia has just 298 doctors for 4.6 million people. The doctor-patient ratio is 1:15,436 (Ministry of Health) [For comparison, Switzerland has 3.6 per 1,000, the United States has 2.3 per 1,000, Kenya has 0.14 per 1,000 and Liberia 0.03 per 1,000]
  17. Liberia imports over US$200 million worth of rice even though it has 4.6 million hectare of arable land (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN)
  18. The infant mortality rate in Liberia is 52.2 deaths to every 1,000 live births (CIA World Factbook) [For comparison, the United States is 6.86 per 1,000 and Japan is 2.0 per 1,000]
  19. The maternal mortality rate in Liberia is 725deaths to every 100,000 live births (CIA World Factbook) [For comparison, while Sierra Leone is #1 at 1,360, the United States is #138 at 14, and Greece is #184 at just 3]
  20. Out of 111 countries, Liberia ranks 101on the Global Hunger Index (United Nations)
  21. Out of 188 countries, Liberia ranks 177 on the Human Development Index (United Nations)

Why Our King Matters

Why Our King Matters

(Christ the King Sunday)

November 25, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 2 Samuel 23:1-7                     John 18:33-37                        Revelation 1:4-8

There is a common question that all of us use, but it annoys us when our children ask it of us.  So annoying is this question,that although we often think it in our heads, we will not speak it out loud to anyone but our closest friends.  We would almost never say it to our employers, or supervisors, or to anyone in a position of authority unless we were deliberately being combative or defiant.  Nonetheless, the question is valid.  In fact, it is good practice to ask it of ourselves, and a good corporate board, church committee, or political body should ask this of itself on a regular basis.

What question is so important?

It’s simple.

The question is… “So, what?”

As a church, or as a corporation, a school, or a government, or even as a public speaker, whenever we make a decision, or write a speech, we need to answer the question, “So what?”  Is any of this important?  Is any of this relevant?  What do we expect to happen afterward because we’ve made this decision?  What do we expect, or even hope, that people will do because of what we are deciding to do?  The answer to the “so what” question will almost always guide us to making better decisions and to refining the details of the decisions that we make. Our church just organized the preparation and delivery of over 1,000 Thanksgiving dinners.  But, so what?  Why did we do it?  What did we expect to happen because we did it?  If we hoped that the recipients of those dinners would behave in some way, or take some particular action because we prepared those meals, did we make that clear?  Did we explain why we did it?  Did we clearly express an offer of some kind?  If we hoped that they might come to church, did we invite them? (Yes, we did).

Answering the “so what” question helps us avoid doing work for the sake of doing work and just appearing to be busy.  Answering that question both before, and after, a planned event or decision, helps to remind us to “connect the dots” and to develop consistent strategies to accomplish our goals.

And all of that brings us to today, as we celebrate “Christ the King” Sunday.   But so,what?  Why do we set this day aside in the church calendar?  What difference does it make that Jesus is the King?  It makes a lot of difference.  And, as we read through our scriptures, we discover why. We begin in 2 Samuel 23:1-7 where we hear the last words of King David.

23:1 These are the last words of David:

“The inspired utterance of David son of Jesse,
    the utterance of the man exalted by the Most High,
the man anointed by the God of Jacob,
    the hero of Israel’s songs:

“The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me;
    his word was on my tongue.
The God of Israel spoke,
    the Rock of Israel said to me:
‘When one rules over people in righteousness,
    when he rules in the fear of God,
he is like the light of morning at sunrise
    on a cloudless morning,
like the brightness after rain
    that brings grass from the earth.’

“If my house were not right with God,
    surely he would not have made with me an everlasting covenant,
    arranged and secured in every part;
surely he would not bring to fruition my salvation
    and grant me my every desire.
But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns,
    which are not gathered with the hand.
Whoever touches thorns
    uses a tool of iron or the shaft of a spear;
    they are burned up where they lie.”

Because he was the king, and because God had carefully and specifically chosen him from among his people, it was with David that God had made an enduring, eternal, and everlasting promise.  God’s promise to David was that a member of his family, one of David’s direct descendants,would, forever, rule over Israel.   Righteousness was to be set upon the throne of God, and evil was to be cast aside and burned in the fire.  For that reason, we know that whomever will be the king, must be from the lineage of David, and from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we know that Jesus was indeed a descendant from that line.  And in John 18:33-37, Jesus himself answers the question of kingship as he is questioned by Pilate.

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king.In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

It seems obvious, but if you want to know if Jesus really is a king, maybe the best thing to do is simply to ask him. Pilate does exactly that and Jesus says that yes, he is a king, but that his kingdom is not an earthly one.  Jesus says that the very reason that he was born, the reason that he came into our world, was to testify about,to tell the world, the truth.  And more than that, Jesus says, everyone who is on the side of truth, let me repeat that, everyone who is on the side of truth, will listen to him.

After all of that this is what we have: 1) God promised David that one of his descendants would sit on the throne and rule over Israel forever.  2) Jesus has the lineage, the pedigree, the family tree, or the genealogy to be that person and to carry that title.  3) When asked by Pilate, Jesus claims that kingship, and declares that his mission, the entire reason for his presence on earth, is to tell the truth.

But after all of that, we are still left with the question: So, What?

What difference does it make that Jesus is the King? 

And in Revelation 1:4-8, John answers that exact question in several different ways.

1:4 John,

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness,the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
    and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
    and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

 John tells us that Jesus is the faithful witness, the one who was sent to testify tothe truth.  He says that Jesus is the first person to rise from the dead, and that Jesus is the ruler of all the kings of the earth.  That’s a big deal.  Throughout time there have been mayors, burgermeisters, governors, presidents, princes, barons, counts, dukes, khans, prime ministers, caesars, emperors, and kings.  But Jesus rises above all of them, and rules overall of them because not only is Jesus a king, Jesus is the king, the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords. 

It is because Jesus is the king that he was able to free us from sin and death,and as king Jesus has transformed us into a kingdom, a people, together, who follow, and who do the will of God.  But not only has he brought us into his family and into his kingdom, Jesus has made each and every one of us to be priests who serve God.  Everyone who loves the truth, everyone who is on the side of truth, must listen to him. And, because Jesus is the King of Truth, and because Jesus was sent to testify to the truth, then we know that as his priests, we also must also testify to the truth.

It is the “So What” that tells us who we are and gives us purpose and meaning.

In this season of Thanksgiving, we are thankful for who Jesus in.  Because Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, because he was sent by God to testify to the truth, and because he has raised us up and appointed us as a kingdom and as priests, we know what we must do.  We are not called to be merely worshipers of God.  We are called to be a kingdom of priests for a risen Jesus. We are called to be go out into the world, into its highways and byways and dark alleyways, to and testify to the truth and tell the world about Jesus.

Because of the “So what” we discover that we are not spectators, but instead we are witnesses who have been called to testify to the truth.

Jesus is the King.  Jesus is our king.  And our king has appointed us as priests, so that we will testify to the truth and save the world.

Let’s get out there and get busy saving the world.


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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 r 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.

Karma, Deception, and Grace

“Karma, Deception, and Grace”

August 05, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a                    John 6:24-36              Ephesians 4:1-16

Have you ever heard of Karma?  Most of us have.  It’s a popular idea even if the word is often misused.  In Hinduism and Buddhism, by definition, karma is “the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.”  What that means is, karma is the thing that will punish an evildoer, by guiding them to an unpleasant reincarnation as a poor person, or as a slug, or some other unpleasant experience in proportion to the evil that they did in a previous life.  In popular usage, karma is (wrongly) thought of as “what goes around comes around” or why bad things will, eventually, happen to bad people.

But within Christianity, we don’t believe in karma.  Instead, we believe in a sovereign, all-knowing, all-seeing, God who promises justice and judgement.  In Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a, we rejoin King David’s story as David’s crimes are revealed and his punishment levied.

26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.

12:1 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”

13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Last week we noted that God was undoubtedly disappointed by David’s failure, but we realize, as we read this week’s passage, that “disappointed” doesn’t go far enough.  Our scripture tells us that “the thing David had done displeased the Lord.”  Even David, when presented the facts of his own case simply disguised as a story about a prized lamb by the prophet Nathan, condemns himself and demands that no pity should be taken on such a person.  But in the next moment, David’s sin is revealed as Nathan proclaims, “You are the man.”  Murder by proxy is still murder.  Nathan doesn’t quibble about who “pulled the trigger” or whose hands killed Uriah, Nathan simply says, “You killed him,” and “You took his wife.”  Before announcing David’s sentence.  God declares, “the sword will never depart from your house” or, that violence will always be a part of David’s life, and that members of his own family will one day betray him, and sleep with his wives.  David’s punishment is truly, “what goes around comes around” but it isn’t karma, it’s justice handed out by an all-knowing God.

David, like many people throughout history, including many people in our present-day world, was deceived by money, sex, and power, and began to believe that he was above the law.  He was the king, he was rich and powerful, so he could get away with it.  But in the end, David remembers the truth, that nothing is done that God does not see, that no one is above the laws of God, and that, in the end, no one escapes justice.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that David’s story is a condemnation of rich people.  In John 6:24-35, we hear a familiar story about Jesus in which ordinary people, and a great many of them, suffer from the same kind of deception that David did.

24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

An entire crowd of people climbed into boats and went in search of Jesus, but Jesus knew that every one of them had been deceived.  All these people, rich and poor alike, had followed him, not because of Jesus’ miracles, and not because of his teaching, but because they thought that he would keep feeding them.  They weren’t following Jesus the savior of mankind, or even Jesus the great teacher, they were following a meal ticket.  They didn’t follow Jesus because he confronted them with their sinfulness, or because he could help them to get closer to God, or because he would help them to become better people, they followed Jesus because of what they thought that they could get out of him.  In this case, food.

This hasn’t changed.  There are a lot of people who come to church and are known to be good upstanding members of the community and longstanding church members who have been coming to church for entirely the wrong reasons.  They come to church because their parents did, or because that simply “what good people do,” or because it’s “good for business.”  But, just like the crowds that followed Jesus, all these people have been deceived.  They are following Jesus for what they can get out of him.

And Jesus sets them all straight saying: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life.”  Jesus tells the people not to be deceived by food… or by anything that spoils.  Don’t be deceived by money, sex, or power, but neither should we be deceived by more common things like clothes, or cars, nice apartments, houses, prominent businesses, job titles, professional associations, or anything else that disappears like smoke after you die.  Instead, be concerned about things that last for eternity long after your life on earth is over.

Believe in the one that God has sent and make it your business to invite others to know him.  Only your life, and the lives of others, will endure into eternity, and only Jesus can give us the bread of life.

But if we are to keep our focus on God and not be deceived by “stuff,” then how should we live our lives?  And, once again, in his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul shares what a life lived for God might look like. (Ephesians 4:1-16)

4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it [Psalm 68:18] says:

“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Paul reminds the church that we have been called to follow Jesus, adopted into God’s family, and work alongside Jesus, on his mission, and are empowered by the Holy Spirit, and we ought to live our lives in such a way as to be worthy of that high calling.  We should be completely humble, patient, and loving and make every effort to remain in the unity of the Spirit through the peace that binds us together.  Jesus has poured out grace upon each one of us but in doing so he also gave us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

But why?

Why do we need those people?  Do we need them so that we can delegate the work of the church to them?

Clearly, Paul says, no.  Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are not employees.

Instead, Paul says that all these were called by God and sent by Jesus to equip the church for the works of service that he has called them to do.  And we are to do these works of service to build up the body of Christ until such a time that we all become mature.  And Paul says that we will be mature when we no longer act like children, no longer get tossed back and forth by our culture, no longer deceived by money, sex, power, and the craftiness of deceitful schemes.  The body of Christ, Paul says, is held together by every supporting ligament, it grows, it builds itself up in love, and every single part of the body of Christ does the work that God has called us to do.

Every single part, every single person, every single believer, has work to do.

Every one of us must be out on the field.

There are no spectators.

Maturity doesn’t come because we belong to the church and it doesn’t come simply because we stuck around for a few decades.

The way that we learn not to be deceived like David, or like the crowd that followed Jesus, the way what we become mature, is to listen and to learn from scripture.  To listen and learn from the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers that God has called so that all of us are equipped to do the work that God has called us to do.

And we must persist, we must keep on doing that work until we, eventually, become mature.

 

_________

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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.

Because… God.

“Because… God.”

July 08, 2018*

By John Partridge

 

 

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10              2 Corinthians 12:2-10                       Mark 6:1-13

 

What is it that makes a human being weak or strong?

 

Weak people tend to be forgotten by history so let’s think about people in history that we would describe as strong.  Abraham Lincoln was often attacked from both sides as he guided our wounded nation through the Civil War.  Winston Churchill held the British Empire together during the darkest days of the blitz.  George Patton demanded nothing less than excellence from every person under his command and they rose to his expectations and did things that many believed to be impossible.  Often, the parents that watch over a sick child demonstrate an incredible strength.  Athletes can demonstrate incredible strength of will.

 

We say that these people are different because they have character, or strength of will, or unusual determination, or stubbornness applied in the right direction.

 

But what about the people who have done great things for the kingdom of God?

 

What is it that makes the heroes of scripture notable?  Why was David a great king and Saul a bad one?  Why was Paul great after he meet Jesus on the Damascus road but evil and misguided before that?  And why was Jesus reliably wonderful everywhere, but nearly unable to do anything at all when he visited Nazareth?

 

Let’s take these examples in historical order and begin with David.  We begin this morning with 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 where we hear a simple summary of his coronation and his life:

5:1 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”

When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. 10 And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

First, David was a shepherd. Then he was anointed by God’s prophet as the king of Israel, but it took many years before God’s anointing could be recognized.  In the meantime, he was a musician to the king, a warrior, a soldier, a military leader, and then he was on the run from the king, even when he was keeping the borders of Israel safe with his own militia.  Finally, David was made king over the tribes of Judah, and even later, united the twelve tribes when he was also anointed as king over the tribes of Israel.  During all that time, he remained faithful to God and grew in power.  But our scripture is clear in saying that David “became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

David didn’t become powerful because he was handsome, or virtuous, or a great warrior, or personable, or likeable, or charismatic, or determined, or stubborn, although I am certain that he was all those things.  Scripture tells us that David became powerful and did the things that he did because God was with him.

Last week we were reminded that it is God who does the doing, and we see that same theme in these scriptures today.  David wasn’t great because of chance, and David wasn’t great because of David.  David was great because… God was with him.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” But sometimes we feel paralyzed by the situations in which we find ourselves.  Other times, we allow our fear to be an excuse for our inaction.  In “The English Wife”, author Lauren Willig, says, “I don’t believe anything’s really inevitable until it happens. We just call it inevitable to make ourselves feel better about it, to excuse ourselves for not having done anything.” And Mehmet Murat ildan distills that idea further by saying, “Inaction is the worst action of human beings.”

But when we read the story of Mark 6:1-13, sorting out who is doing what, and who is doing nothing is not at all what we expect.

6:1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Although Jesus had been going throughout Israel healing the sick and performing great miracles, when he arrives in his hometown of Nazareth, he really doesn’t do much of anything.  But the reason that Jesus doesn’t do much is that the people have no faith.  They have fallen for the great lit.  They have fallen for the lie that “people like me can’t.”  That lie is just as common today as it was then.  They were thinking this way: “Since we know Jesus’ parents, and his siblings, since we watched him grow up, since we watched him learn his trade, since we grew up with him, since he is like us, and we know that people like me can’t, people like me can’t be great, then we know that he can’t be the Messiah.”  So deeply have they bought into this lie, that they were offended at him and Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith.

But that didn’t stop Jesus.  It didn’t even slow him down.  He continued to preach from village to village and then he also sends out his disciples, two by two, and they go from village to village teaching, and preaching, and healing, and casting out demons.  When Jesus is faced with the lie that “people like me can’t” he turns the lie on it’s head and sends out even more ordinary people, even more “people like me,” to do the extraordinary work that he was doing.

Why?

Not because these guys were well bred, or because they had a great education from an ivy league school, and not because they had mad skills.  They didn’t have any of those things.

So, why could they do what they did?

It’s simple.

Because God… was with them.

The Apostle Paul was an amazing preacher. And Paul did come from the right kind of family, and he did have all the right connections, and he did go to all the right schools.  But when God decided to use him, God left some imperfection in him that haunted him for his entire life.

Reading from 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, we hear these words:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul was that blue-blood, ivy league, know the right people, kind of guy.  But when God called him, he made sure that Paul would always remember that it wasn’t any of those things, and it wasn’t Paul, that made Paul great.  Even though a lot of ink has been spilled by theologians arguing about it, we don’t know what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was.  But what we do know, is that it was enough.  Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, for him, a constant reminder that he had been sent by God, was being empowered by God, and all his success had to be attributed to God.  Whatever Paul accomplished through his own strength was pointless, but everything that he accomplished because of his weakness pointed to God.

God relishes our weaknesses because it is in our weakness that his strength becomes obvious and the world can see Jesus most clearly.  That’s why Paul said, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  God seems to delight in using fishermen, and carpenters, and farmers.  He uses demon possessed people, and prostitutes, tax collectors, enemy collaborators, foreigners, lepers, and yes, God has even been known to use dead people from time to time.

Don’t ever believe the lie that people like us can’t.  Or that God can’t use people like us.

David was a shepherd.  Jesus was a Carpenter.  Paul had a thorn in the flesh.  And all of them remembered that the things they did weren’t because of them but because… God was with them.

The truth is, God delights in using people like us.  People like me.  People like you.

All we need to do, is to have faith.

Remember, people don’t do great things because they’re great.  People do great things for God’s kingdom because…

…God is with them.

We are called by God.  This church is called by God.  And every one of us needs to remember that we can do great things for the kingdom of God because…

…God is with us.

 

 

 

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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 Pastor@CUMCAlliance.org.   These messages can also be found online at hhttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.