Reversal of Fortune

“Reversal of Fortune”

September 30, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

Esther 7:1-10, 9:20-22                       Mark 9:38-50             James 5:13-20

Have you ever watched a gigantic reversal in a game that you were watching?  The Browns are losing but in the last seconds of the fourth quarter the Cardiac Kids would score two touchdowns and squeak out a win.  There have been games when the Indians drive in several home runs, or one grand slam in the bottom of the ninth.  Or some player on Jeopardy! Is in dead last, but then sweeps two or three entire categories, hits a daily double, bets everything, wins, and then put it all on the line in Final Jeopardy, and wins again, to come from behind and take home the prize money.

Hugh E. Keough once said, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but that is the way to bet.”

But sometimes the betting pool is wrong.  Sometimes, the unexpected happens.  Sometimes the underdog wins.  And that has everything to do with our stories from scripture today.

We begin in the book of Esther at the climax of her story.  Prior to where we begin, Haman, a high-ranking advisor to King Xerxes (pronounced Zerk-sees), convinced the king to sign an edict that would allow everyone in his kingdom to kill any Jew that they found and take their wealth, whatever it may be, for their own.  What Haman didn’t know, was that King Xerxes’ queen, Esther, was a Jew and she wasn’t about to sit idly by while this atrocity played itself out.  And so, she invited both Haman and the king to dinner, but chickened out and couldn’t bring herself to make the big announcement.  But then, she invited them both to a second dinner, and that is where we join the story. (Esther 7:1-10, 9:20-22)

7:1 So the king and Haman went to Queen Esther’s banquet, and as they were drinking wine on the second day, the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.”

Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.”

King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?”

Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”

Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen. The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.

Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining.

The king exclaimed, “Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?”

As soon as the word left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face. Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, “A pole reaching to a height of fifty cubits [75 ft.] stands by Haman’s house. He had it set up for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king.”

The king said, “Impale him on it!” 10 So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.

20 Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, 21 to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar 22 as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.

Haman was descended from a tribe of people that had been almost wiped out by the people of Israel when they fought over, and settled into, the land that God had given them.  His hatred was for Ester’s uncle, Mordecai specifically, but also for all Jews everywhere, and he allowed his hatred to propose something truly evil and make it sound palatable and convincing to the king.  But God had put the right person, in the right place, at just the right moment.  As Mordecai had said, Esther was chosen by God “for just such a time as this.”  And suddenly the tables are turned, and the hunter becomes the hunted.  To make matters worse, Haman throws himself on the feet of Queen Esther to beg for his life just as the king returns to the room and it looks as if he is attacking her.  And before Haman leaves the room, they have already put a blindfold or a hangman’s hood over his face, and he is sentenced to die by being impaled on the same pole with which he had intended to kill Mordecai.

If you read the rest of the story, King Xerxes is unable to retract his earlier edict, but instead issues a second one that allows the Jews, wherever they are, to gather together and use whatever means necessary to defend themselves and, if anyone attacks them, the Jews get to keep the wealth of their attackers.    The moment that Haman had intended to watch his enemies die, became the moment of his own death and he dies on the pole that he had built for his enemy.  In the end, a day that was intended for the destruction of the Jews becomes a great victory instead.  It was a great reversal of fortune.  The unexpected happened, the underdog won.

This type of reversal of fortune is somewhat common in scripture because it is in the unlikely, the improbable, and the outright impossible that we most easily see the hand of God.  But, as we read the stories of the New Testament and the Gospels, we also see moments when the unexpected is not found in the miracles of God, but in the unexpected and expansive grace of God.  In Mark 9:38-50, the disciples come to Jesus because God has players on the field that aren’t on the team that the disciples thought they should be on.

38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.

42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where

“‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’

49 Everyone will be salted with fire.

50 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

First off, Jesus does the unexpected when he tells the disciples that there are others who follow Jesus, and who perform miracles in Jesus’ name, but who are not among the twelve disciples or among those that they know.  How can this be if Jesus told Peter that “on this rock I will build my church”?  How can followers of Jesus not follow Jesus?  But Jesus says that anyone who preaches the gospel is not their enemy.  Moreover, anyone who does good in the name of Jesus will be rewarded by God.

Conversely, Jesus says that God will punish those who do things that cause others, even children, to go astray.  We all know, many of us from painful experience, that it’s better to shut up, and be silent, than to say something stupid.  And Jesus make the same sort of point.  It’s better to lose a hand, or an eye, than to suffer in hell so even though doing the will of God and following the example and the teachings of Jesus may occasionally be inconvenient, or even painful, or costly, being inconvenienced is far better than being condemned to hell.

Jesus says, “everyone will be salted with fire.”  And the best way to understand that is to remember that gifts to God, sacrifices made to God, were burned on the altar.  And so, what Jesus is saying is that our inconveniences in following him, the sacrifices that we make, the trials that we endure, the pain that we suffer, in the name of Jesus are sacrifices that burn on the altar before God which ultimately purify us.

But what is that thing about salt losing its saltiness?

Remember that Matthew 5:13-16 says,

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Taken together these scriptures tell us that the sacrifices that we make, in order to follow Jesus, the inconveniences that we experience, the suffering that we endure, these are the things that make us different than the people around us.  These are the things that reveal the works of God to the world around us.  These are the things that make us the salt of the earth.  And if we lose our saltiness, if we become just like everybody else, and look, and act, just like everyone else, then we also lose any ability that we had to change our culture, to change our world, for the better.

Those are lessons that were unexpected.

But why is all of this important?  Why do we want to be salted with fire?  Why do we want to be the salt of the earth?  Why do we want to change the world?  And in James 5:13-20, we find the answer.

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

This passage if full of the miraculous and the unexpected.

Saying a prayer to an invisible and unseen God, whose temple doesn’t even have an idol, and that prayer has the power to heal the sick.  Expose yourself to potential pain and ridicule by confessing your sins in public, so that you can be healed.  And, James says, we do all of these things so that one life might be changed.  All of this is worthwhile, a multitude of sins can be erased, if just one person is rescued from death and returns to the ways of God.

This is the ultimate reversal of fortune.

The sinner, condemned to death, repents, returns to God, and is saved.  Life comes from death.  The world is changed for the better…  one life at a time.

And all of that happens because the followers of Jesus Christ are willing to lay their comfort, convenience, pain, and suffering on the altar and give it to God.  When we are willing to live our lives differently than the people and the culture around us, when we are willing to be salty, it is then that we can be seen.  It is then that the world, and the people around us can see God at work in us.  It is then that we are able to change the world, one life at a time, and be a part of God’s greatest reversal of fortune ever.  Rescuing the lost, restoring the condemned, and literally bringing life out of death.

That is certainly worth a little inconvenience and suffering.

Our inconvenience, pain, and suffering, in the name of Jesus, is the salt that will change the world.

Don’t ever be afraid to be salty.

“Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”


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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.

Fear, Respect, and Posers

“Fear, Respect, and Posers”

October 08, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 20:1-20                      Philippians 3:4b-14                           Matthew 21:33-46

 

 

 This morning I want us to begin by using our imagination for a moment.  Imagine if you met someone who referred to themselves as a professional race car driver, but who never drove a car.  Imagine someone who owned a steel company but the factory that they owned never produced a single ton of steel.  Imagine someone who bragged about owning a vineyard but that vineyard never produced a single grape.  In each of these cases, you would quickly begin to doubt their credentials and would suspect that they were posers, faking their way through life trying to make themselves feel important.

 

At the same time, imagine living in a place where the police department was prohibited from making arrests, had no handcuffs, no jail, and had nothing more than balloon animals and water guns to enforce the law.  Instead of stopping criminals, the police spend their time entertaining children at birthday parties.  Obviously, they wouldn’t be much of a police department and no one would take them seriously.

 

With these ideas in mind, we return to the story of the Exodus and the people of Israel.  Today we hear the words of God as he handed down the Ten Commandments to Moses and to the people. (Exodus 20:1-20)


20:1 And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

 

I could present a sermon on each one of those, but for today I wanted to stress the last sentence.  First, Moses tells the people that they should not be afraid, but then immediately says that these commandments were given so that the people would have a “fear of God” that would keep them from sinning.  Doesn’t that sound like two conflicting ideas?  How can we be unafraid, and yet fear God?

 

The simple answer is that although these words translate the same, these two uses of the word fear, and afraid, are used to express two curiously different ideas.  When Moses says “Do not be afraid” that is exactly what he means.  He is telling the people that they needn’t run from God, that they do not need to keep their distance from God, and that simply being in the presence of God is not a life threatening situation in which they must worry, from moment to moment, that God will strike them dead with a thought, a look, or a bolt of lightning.

 

On the other hand, God has given these commandments, and has revealed his presence on earth, so that we might be prevented from continuing in our sin.  As I noted in my earlier example, imagine what would happen if everyone knew that the people charged with law enforcement were prevented from, and totally incapable of, enforcing the law.  In that case, law breakers would have free reign to do whatever they wanted, and even decent people would be sorely tempted to do things they shouldn’t do.  How many people would follow the speed limit if it were announced that the State Highway Patrol and local law enforcement officers would no longer patrol the interstate highways or give out tickets?  In this case, what Moses is saying is that God is real, God is powerful beyond imagination, but that God is a good god who loves you beyond measure.  At the same time, there is a list of things that humans do that offend God and we would be wise to avoid doing them.  When they are functioning correctly and when our relationship with the police department is the way it’s supposed to be, we are not afraid to meet a police officer on the street.  We know that they are there to protect us and to keep us safe.  But we also have a healthy respect for them and for what they do, and their presence reminds us that it is wise for us to obey the law.  This deep, abiding, and healthy respect for the presence of God is what Moses describes as “the fear of God.”  We need not be afraid of him, or fear to be in his presence, but we should be stopped in our tracks by the thought of offending him and breaking his laws.

 

God’s intent is not to destroy us, but to prevent us from violating his law and thus bring harm to ourselves.

 

By the time of Paul, the commandments and the laws of God had been elevated in status by people, like the Pharisees, to become an object of worship.  The laws became so important that they became idols that distracted people away from the will of God instead of pointing toward the will of God.  And, before his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was one of those people.  But afterward, Paul understood the law in an entirely different way.  In Philippians 3:4b-14 he described his new understanding this way:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 

Paul had spent his life learning the rules, following the rules, respecting the rules, teaching the rules and then enforcing the rules.  The rules were his life’s mission.  And then, after his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul says that he considers everything that he ever did to be garbage, filth, because he now understood that following the rules can never make us good enough, but that we can only become pure because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  He now understood that we can never, on our own, be good enough, but we must continually work to get better, to become worthy of the gift that we have been given by Jesus.

 

But how do we know when we are doing the right thing?  If following a bunch of rules isn’t good enough, then how do we know when we are following Jesus the way that Jesus desires for us to follow him?  And for that, at least in part, we can turn to Matthew 21:33-46, where Jesus tells his disciples what we now call the parable of the landowner.

 

33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

 

Once again, this entire parable was told as a criticism of the leadership of Israel and of Israel’s religious leaders.  They were, in opinion of Jesus, leadership posers.  They were standing in front of the people telling them what to do and how to do it, but they weren’t doing any of the right things themselves.  They were the race car drivers who never drove a single race, steel makers who never produced a single pound of steel, and vineyard owners who never produced a single grape.  Jesus said that the measuring stick to measure a race car driver was to watch him, or her race.  We judge steel makers by how they produce steel, and we measure vineyards by how many grapes are grown.  Likewise, Jesus says, the leaders of the church, and the church itself, are measured by the fruit that they produce.  You can talk about rules all you want, you can talk about churchy stuff all you want, but in the end, the important thing is to measure how many lives have been changed because of what you are doing.

 

Although the Ten Commandments are of obvious importance, the question has never been about how well we follow them, but about why we follow them, and about the results that we get from doing so. Our calling is to follow the law, not because that’s the most important thing, but because we want to be obedient in order to express our gratitude for what Jesus has done for us.  We cannot be posers who pretend to do the work of God in order to make ourselves feel better.  We must measure our success by the people who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, the lives that have been changed, and the souls that have been drawn closer to God.

 

This is our vineyard.

 

This is the fruit that we are called to produce.

 

And Jesus warns us that if we fail, he will move us out and bring in someone else who will.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

When Legal is Wrong

“When Legal is Wrong”

August 27, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 1:8 – 2:10                   Romans 12:1-8                                   Matthew 16:13-20

 

 

Have you ever watched your local, state, or federal government, your employer, or some big business, do something that just didn’t seem right?  Of course they assured the public that everything they were doing was perfectly legal, but regardless of its legality, it just smelled bad and people grumbled because what they were doing seemed wrong.

 

Just because something is legal, doesn’t mean that it’s right.  It is fairly common for us to open the newspaper or turn on the news and find a story about a district court, or appellate court, or even the Supreme Court overturning a law because it is unconstitutional.  But sometimes, even laws that are constitutional are still wrong.  In 1793, the federal government passed the Fugitive Slave Act as an enforcement tool of Article 4 Section 2 of the United States Constitution which required the return of runaway slaves.

 

Did you hear that?

 

The US Constitution required that fugitive slaves, even if they were found in free states, be returned to their masters.  The thing is, a great many people in northern states completely ignored this provision as well as the requirements of the Fugitive Slave Act.  Some state and local governments passed laws that prohibited their law enforcement agencies from enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act.  However, by the mid 1800’s this defiance of the law on the part of many in the north caused so many slaves in border states to attempt escape, that the entire institution of slavery was close to collapse and southern slave holding states were angered at their northern neighbors’ failure to uphold the law.

 

And so, the southern states went to Congress and attempted to fix their problem.  In their eyes, the problem was that the northern states were acting in defiance of the United States Constitution and if their compliance could not be enforced, then secession would become a serious possibility.  As such, a new Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850 that would penalize government or law enforcement officials who refused to arrest runaway slaves, even those who were accused, without proof of being runaway slaves.  Further, any person who aided a runaway slave “by providing food or shelter was subject to six months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.”[1]  And, although a $1,000 fine doesn’t sound too bad, if we adjust for inflation, this becomes almost $30,000 in 2017 dollars.  Accused slaves had no right to speak for themselves in court, no proof or documentation was required, and only the word of the accuser was needed to take someone into slavery.  In fact, in this way, a great many free blacks were taken illegally into slavery simply by a slave holder, or fugitive slave hunter, claiming that they belonged to them.

 

But still, many people, even at the risk of losing their homes, their businesses, and all that they owned, refused to comply with the law.  It was not only the Underground Railroad, but many people who harbored, protected, and transported fugitive slaves, as well as free blacks, in defiance of the law because they knew that the law was unjust and wrong.

 

We have similar discussions today about a number of subjects, but this is the core of the story that we hear in Exodus 1:8 – 2:10.  We rejoin the story of the people of Israel several generations after Joseph has died, and now, no one remembers, or cares, who he was or what he did for Egypt.

 

Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”

11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly.14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”


2:1 
Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.

Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

“Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother.Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”

 

The Egyptians are worried that there are now so many of them, the Israelites might rise up and attack.  And so, the solution that the Pharaoh decided upon was to kill every Israelite male child at the moment of his birth.  But since there wasn’t a soldier in the household of every pregnant woman, they instead commanded the midwives to do their dirty work for them.

 

And here is the heart of the story for today.  The midwives are faced with this moral and ethical dilemma: Do you obey the law, murder an innocent newborn, or disobey the law, and risk imprisonment, beating, and death?  The midwives knew that the law was unjust and wrong, and they knew that obeying the law would be immoral, unethical, and evil.  Despite the risk of significant physical and emotional harm to themselves, they lied, and disobeyed the law in order to honor God.

 

Moses’ mother was forced to make the same moral judgement because although the midwives could lie and refuse to murder newborn baby boys, eventually those baby boys would be discovered by, or be reported to, soldiers who had no moral or ethical problems with obeying the commands of the Pharaoh of Egypt.  Moses’ mother hid him for three months, but at that point it became too difficult to keep his existence a secret.  Babies make noises, and they create smells, and other evidence that people will eventually notice.  And so, Moses’ mother made a deliberate choice to disobey the law and trust God rather than take the risk of him being discovered and murdered by an Egyptian soldier.  Instead of keeping him at home, she built Moses a basket made of papyrus reeds  that was waterproof enough to act like a boat (interestingly, in ancient times, it was common for boats to be built with bundles of papyrus reeds tied together and we also find that the original language for “basket” might also be translated as “ark”).  For her, risking that Moses might be carried out to sea, or drown, or eaten by wild animals, was better than the almost certain death that he faced if she kept him at home.

 

But all of that brings us to Romans 12:1-8, where the Apostle Paul describes what living the life of a follower of God looks like.


12:1 
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

 

Paul says that we should live as if we were daily sacrificing ourselves to God.  Paul understood that most of us will, thankfully, never be called upon to die for the sake of God, so instead of giving our lives in one dramatic moment, we called instead to give and to live each moment that we have as a gift to God.  Instead of living our lives in the way that others in our culture do, instead of living in order to gratify our desires, we are called to be transformed by studying and learning about God, and becoming the kind of people that God wants us to be.

 

In the end, the message for today leaves us with two difficult lessons.  First, although it might be unlikely, it is possible, that we might one day be faced with the choice of obeying the law and thereby doing something that we feel is morally and ethically wrong, or disobeying that law and facing whatever consequences might befall us because of that choice.  The midwives fully understood that they might be imprisoned or killed because of the choice that they made and our disobedience will likewise force us to risk whatever punishment there is for breaking that particular law.  We don’t have the time to discuss the specifics of the various people in our modern times that have done so, but the seriousness of this matter adds compellingly to Paul’s encouragement for us to be in regular study because when it happens to you, you had better be very sure of what it is that God wants.

 

The second lesson is even harder than the first.  Whether or not we are not asked to disobey the law in some dramatic fashion, every morning we are called to sacrifice that day to God.  We are called to live that day in a way that honors God.  The old saying, “What would Jesus do?” is just a start.  Every day we should live as Jesus would ask us to live.  At the end of every day we should ask ourselves if we have represented God, as ambassadors of his kingdom, in ways that would please God.

 

This is what it means when we say that we are called to be a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.

 

This is what it means for us to worship God daily.

 

Are you prepared to do the will of God… every day?

 

 

 

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[1] Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugitive_Slave_Act_of_1850
U 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.

 

Jealousy, Hate, Betrayal, and Faith

“Jealousy, Hate, Betrayal, and Faith”

August 13, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 37:1-28                      Romans 10:5-15                                 Matthew 14:22-33

 

 

Have you ever been angry?

 

Of course you have.

 

But have you ever been so angry that your passions boiled over, smothered your good sense, and caused you to behave in ways that you shouldn’t have behaved and probably later regretted?

 

Most of us, at one time or another, have done things, or at least said things, in the heat of the moment that we knew we shouldn’t do or say and that we later regretted and for which we probably had to apologize.  Some of the things that we have done may well have permanently damaged relationships in such a way that no amount of apologizing will ever make it right or repair what we once had.  Our anger, our passions, our emotions, are all God given, but if we allow them to control us they can take us places that we never wanted to go.  This contrast between emotion and good sense is a major part of the story of Jacob, his sons, and especially, his son Joseph. (Genesis 37:1-28)


37:1 Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.

This is the account of Jacob’s family line.

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

 

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.

Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

10 When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

 

12 Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 13and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied.

14 So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.

When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

16 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

17 “They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— 24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

 

Joseph was born to Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachael, who, for most of their marriage had been unable to have children while Jacob’s other wives, and their servants, had many children.  Rachael was obviously Jacob’s favorite, and so for this reason, and because she wasn’t having children, the others mocked her and made her life miserable.  And so when she finally got pregnant and had a son named Joseph, he became the favorite of Jacob’s eleven sons.  And his favoritism caused problems.

 

Because Jacob favored Joseph so much, and because he was the youngest child, his brothers were jealous of him and grew to hate him.  But when Joseph had a dream in which he saw his brothers and his entire family bow down to him, and when he shared that dream with his family, his father was annoyed with him, but his brothers just hated him even more.  And when they were far from home, and were given the chance to do away with Joseph forever, Joseph’s brothers allowed their emotions and their passions to overtake their good sense and they betrayed him, and betrayed their father, and they sold him into slavery and told their father that he was dead.

 

The power of this story is not just in the story of Joseph and how God walks with him; the power of this story also lies in the striking contrast that is drawn between Joseph and his brothers.  Although Joseph may well have been spoiled and deliberately rubbed his favored status in the face of his brothers, he is portrayed as the innocent, honest son, who is only being obedient to his father.  In this story, there is little that Joseph can do to change the course of events.  The emotions and the passions of his brothers overtake him, he is captured, stripped, thrown into an empty cistern and sold into slavery.  There is nothing that Joseph could do, his life has spun completely out of his control, and all that he had left… was faith.

 

This first part of Joseph’s story is remarkable because it sets up this enormous contrast between the powerful and the powerless.  Joseph, although the favorite, becomes completely powerless to change his own story and is at the mercy of his brothers, the slave traders, and later his Egyptian slave owners.  But what none of them can take away from Joseph… is his faith in God.  No matter what happens, Joseph remembers that God loves him, cares for him, and is ultimately in control of his life, as well as the lives of his family, his brothers, his powerful owners, and even in control over the life of the Pharaoh of Egypt.

 

In Romans 10:5-15, Paul also teaches by using contrasts.


Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

 

Paul says that living under the law is a life of always trying to do things in order to live by it and therefore, be declared righteous.  But being righteous by faith doesn’t require all the doing on our part because Jesus has already done all that needed to be done.  There is no need for us to climb up into heaven to find Jesus, or to descend into the depths of the sea, the depths of the earth, or into the depths of hell in order find Jesus because Jesus is always as near as the next spoken word, the next beat of your heart, or the next thought in your mind.  All that we need to do, is believe that Jesus is Lord and accept him in your heart, and we are given the righteousness of Jesus, and rescue from our sin, as a gift.

 

For that reason, one of the biggest contrasts of the ancient world was utterly erased.  Jews had always pointed at the Gentiles, the non-Jews, as a contrast to themselves.  The Gentiles lived differently, they did not keep the law, they were not circumcised, they did not live under the promise of God, and were not a part of God’s covenant with Israel.  For the Jews, there was no one else that they could describe as being more different.  But Paul says that there is now no difference between Jew and Gentile because all of us worship the same God and God chooses to bless everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, who puts his faith in Jesus Christ and calls on his name in the hope of salvation and rescue.

 

Where we come from doesn’t matter.  What we look like doesn’t matter.  How we worship doesn’t matter.  What we eat doesn’t matter.  Our culture doesn’t matter.  The only thing that matters… is our faith in Jesus Christ.

 

And with that in mind, we come to Matthew 14:22-33, where we remember the story about Jesus walking on the water.

 

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.  Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

 

First, we should remember from last weeks’ message, that Jesus was tired, and grieving the loss of his cousin and friend John the Baptist but because the crowd had followed him, he never had the chance to be alone.  This time, Jesus sends the boat ahead so that if the crowds follow, they’ll follow the boat and then he goes off, by himself, to be alone and pray.  When he is finished, his friends on the boat were a considerable distance ahead, as you might expect, but had not yet arrived at their destination as they might have, because they were forced to row the boat against the wind rather that sail.  For those of you who know sailing, this was long before the invention of the jib sail, which made sailing against the wind possible.

 

What I want to point out is this: Peter walks on water.  That is totally astounding.  Peter walks on water.  But when all is said and done, Jesus summarizes the story by asking Peter why he had so little faith.  The disciples’ obvious conclusion is that Jesus is God, but we are left with a single nagging question: What are we capable of doing, if we only had enough faith?

 

What are we capable of doing, if we only had enough faith?

 

The contrasts that we see between Joseph and his brothers are given to us in a deliberate way so that we understand the difference between the brother that has faith, and the ones whose faith is not mentioned.  Joseph’s life is totally out of control until all that he has left is faith.  But his brothers, whose faith is not considered, are selfish, jealous, angry, hurtful, and hateful.

 

Joseph’s faith is not just something that makes him stronger; it is the one thing that makes his life different.

 

Paul’s lesson is that faith is the thing that pushes aside our differences and draws us all closer together.

 

And Jesus’ message is that, with faith, we are capable as individuals, and as a community, of doing far more, through our faith in Jesus Christ, than we ever imagined was possible. But we are called, not only to have faith, but to share it with others.

 

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news

 

 

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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.

 

A Resurrected Heart

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA“A Resurrected Heart”

(Easter, So What? – Part 3)

May 07, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Acts 2:14a, 36-41                               Luke 24:13-35                        1 Peter 1:17-23

 

Have you ever seen the Loch Ness monster?

What about Bigfoot, a Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, or a chupacabra?

I’m going to guess not.  But even if you saw proof tonight, their existence probably wouldn’t change your life.  Their existence, or non-existence, is only of academic interest to us.

When we learn things that are interesting, but not life changing, we are intellectually stimulated; we take note of the information, think about it, file it away, and go on with our lives.

But how we react to news that has the potential to change our lives is different.

If we heard on the news that there was another terrorist attack in France, it would be of academic interest.  But if we had family or friends that lived there, we evaluate the information in a completely different way, and if a member of our family, or one of our friends was present at the time of the attack, or was the victim of the attack, our thinking would take place on an entirely different level that is far from academic.

This is exactly the difference that we witness this morning, as we read the story about the walk to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35.

13 Now that same day, two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.  And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

As we read this story we can recognize a four-step process to the thinking of the disciples.  The story begins with them already at the first step.  In that step the disciples simply know the facts about the events that they had experienced.  They knew what had happened in Jerusalem and so did everyone else.  So widespread was this knowledge that they were surprised when they met someone who didn’t seem to know what had happened.  But as they walk, Jesus walks them through the scriptures and brings them to the next level which is an academic understanding of what had happened.  Instead of merely knowing what had happened, they now understood the context of what had happened, they understood how the events of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion fit into the prophecies of Israel and the Messiah for whom Israel had been waiting.

But as Jesus broke bread, they arrived at step three.  Their eyes were opened, they recognized Jesus, and suddenly a connection was made between their minds and their hearts.  Suddenly, what had happened was no longer simply an academic exercise, but a deeply personal experience that made a difference in their lives.  The fourth step came immediately afterward.  Now that they knew academically, and understood in their hearts what had really happened, they also knew what had to be done about it.

What they knew was no longer something that was merely of academic interest.  What they knew was no longer held back by the dangers of traveling a road that was awash with bandits at night.  What they knew was so important, so transformative, and so life changing, that they had to immediately take action and go out into the night, regardless of the danger, to tell the other disciples, and everyone that knew Jesus, what they had seen and heard.

In Acts 2:14a, 36-41, we see the crowd moving through the same steps, but in this case, with the help of Peter’s explanation, they do so much more quickly.

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.

 


36 
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

 

The people begin by knowing facts of the story.  But as Peter speaks and explains to them that Jesus was indeed the long awaited Messiah of Israel, the people were “cut to the heart.”  They immediately understand academically, and they connect deeply and personally with what has happened.  What remains, and what they do not understand, is what action that they must take because of it.  And so Peter explains that because they understand, the action they must take is that every one of them must repent of their sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus.

 

But beyond that, as we sit here today, we wonder what happens next.  Many of us have already been baptized and we might wonder why Easter is still supposed to be such a big deal.  The answer to that, at least in part, is also answered by Peter in his letter to the church in Asia Minor. (1 Peter 1:17-23)

 

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart  23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 

 

Peter spells it out for the church this way: Because we belong to a God who is truly and completely impartial, we should live our lives as if our legal status is as tentative as a foreign citizen travelling in the United States with only a passport, or perhaps even without one.  We must live in “reverent fear” by appreciating what we have, but understanding that we must conform our lives to the law and, at the same time, appreciate that we might, at any moment, be called upon to return home and take nothing with us.  We know that our rescue from sin and death has been purchased at the highest possible price with nothing less than the blood of the Son of God.  It is through him, and because of him, that we believe in God and put our faith and trust in him.  We purify ourselves daily by obeying the truths that we have been taught by Jesus and through the scriptures and we obey them so that we can learn to love sincerely, so that we can learn to love one another deeply, and to love from the heart.  Peter reminds us that believing in God, and in his son Jesus, is a heart condition that requires daily attention just as much as those who have medical conditions must pay diligent, daily, attention to their diets and to taking their medication.  In our case, we must work daily to study and obey the word of God, to love one another, and to tell the world what we have learned so that they might also be rescued from death.

 

The story of Easter is far more than a fairy tale, and Jesus is much more than a mythical creature like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot.  Scripture and history tell us clearly that Jesus is real and we believe that the story is true.  But knowing the story is much more than an academic exercise. When we come to faith, we connect with the story at a deeper level and we understand with our hearts as well as with our minds.  This heart connection makes us realize that the story of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, death and resurrection is so important, so transformative, and so life changing, that we must take action.  We must do something with what we have learned.  Believing in Jesus is a heart condition that requires daily attention.

 

The Easter story isn’t a “one and done” kind of a story…

 

…It’s a transformative moment in history that changes us, shapes us, directs us, and calls us to take action every single day of our lives.

 

 

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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.

 

Responsibility, Immaturity, Blame

“Responsibility, Immaturity, Blame”

February 12, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

 Deuteronomy 30:15-20                  Matthew 5:21-37                     1 Corinthians 3:1-9

 How many of you have ever had to make a choice?

It seems obvious that all of us have.  We make dozens, even hundreds, of choices every day.  We have to choose whether we want paper or plastic, cash or credit, Colgate or Crest, name brand or generic, roll-on or stick, toast or bagels, and on and on, and on, all day , every day.  But sometimes we are faced with bigger choices that have more importance and more impact on our daily lives and on our future.  Our own children at the age when they have to choose whether or not they are going to college, and what discipline they want to major in, where to go to school, how much they should study, whether they should be in a serious relationship or not, and so on.  After that they’ll have to decide weather they want to be married or not, to whom they want to be married, and whether, or when, they want to have children (let’s be clear, I’m not in a rush for that to happen).  As we go through life, some of our choices are clearer than others.  Some choices are simple, do I want ‘A’ or ‘B,’ apples or oranges, white or black, but others are a lot like being on “Let’s Make a Deal.”  Do I choose door number one, door number two, or door number three?  Sometimes we just do the best that we can and hope and pray for the best.

But imagine if we had a clear choice about one of the biggest, most important, decisions of our lives?

What if we had to choose between door number one and door number two, but both doors were already wide open and we could see everything inside of them?  It seems obvious that this kind of choice would be easy, but in Deuteronomy 30:15-20 we find that sometimes we make mistakes in even the most obvious of choices.  Moses declared to the people:


15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

We must choose responsibly.

The decision ought to be easy.

The choice is black or white, and literally life or death.  Choose to love God, to be obedient to him, and to keep his commands, and you will live and be blessed.  Or, turn away from God, be disobedient, and drift toward idolatry, and you will face death and destruction.  The choice ought to be easy, God equals life, but many people are so trapped by their addiction to selfishness, that they cannot break away and give their lives, devotion, and obedience to God.

But it isn’t just our obedience that is a part of our spiritual relationship with God.  In Matthew 5:21-37 Jesus is very clear that our relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters, and even our relationships with other human beings generally, is an important part of God’s judgement about us as well.

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ [An Aramaic term of contempt] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Being angry at each other, can bring about God’s judgement and even muttering that some other Christian is a “jerk” under your breath can land you in front of a judge.  Before God will accept your offerings and prayers, he wants you to be reconciled with one another because just like disobedience, your personal differences push you away from God.  This may be especially difficult in an era of political polarization.  But, regardless of our politics, we are called to be reconciled with one another.  Jesus then provides several examples that explain why keeping the commandments and obeying the law is even more difficult than we imagined.  Divorce is more harmful than we’d like to pretend it is.  Adultery is more than cheating on your spouse, it can happen as easily as your head turns to look at a pretty young thing on the beach.  Even breaking a promise can open the door to judgement so we are encouraged to always tell the truth and always follow through and do what we have said that we will do.  We are called to be so reliable, that people have faith that will do what we have said that we will, or won’t do.  There is no need to swear an oath if you are known to be a person of your word.

If we read this carefully, I think that there is another underlying message as well.  All of these things that Jesus said include the expectation that each of us are responsible for the things that we do.  We are cautioned not to do those things that might cause others to fall into sin, but in every case, the focus is on being responsible for what we have done, and not allowing us to blame someone else for our failures.

And finally, in 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 Paul encourages the church to grow and mature in their faith and the things that he holds up as examples of immaturity are some of the same ones that we just heard Jesus condemn.

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Stop arguing with each other.  Stop trying to divide the body of Christ by claiming divisions that don’t really exist.  We aren’t different because we follow John Wesley, or Martin Luther, or Menno Simons, or John the Baptist, we are the same because we are all followers of Jesus Christ.  All of us are working together, or at least we should be, to work in the garden of God’s kingdom.

In all these things, from Deuteronomy, to Matthew, to Paul, to Jesus, we are encouraged to grow up.  To become mature followers of Jesus, we must become people who accept responsibility for our own actions, people who work to purify ourselves and are obedient to God, in our faith, in our personal relationships, and in every way so that we can work together and share our responsibility in growing the Kingdom of God.

It’s more complicated than we sometimes think, and it’s harder than we’d like to pretend it is, but in the end there are only two choices.

God is blessing.

God is life.

Without God is death.

Without obedience is death.

What will you choose?

 

 

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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.

 

As IF

“As IF”

February 05, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 58:1-12                              Matthew 5:13-20                      1 Corinthians 2:1-12

 Are you familiar with sarcasm?

By definition, sarcasm is a form of humor or wit that relies upon the use of irony or satire.  The Merriam Webster online dictionary uses this sentence from the weekly column “It Beats Working” in the Charleston Post and Courier as an example: “The best part of being single,” Bryce Donovan jokes, “is being able to choose any woman I want to shoot me down.”   In the 1970’s we often heard sarcasm expressed using the phrase “Yeah, right” and during the 1980’s we would end a sentence with the word “not” to express a form of sarcasm, as in “I am the smartest kid in school… not.”  And then in 1995, the movie “Clueless” with Alicia Silverstone popularized the expression “As if” to do much the same thing.  The Urban Dictionary uses this example: “If a guy tells me he knows I’m in love with him (but I think he’s a total loser), then I say to him “AS IF!””

Curiously, as modern as these sentiments are, we find a very similar message this morning in today’s scripture passage from Isaiah 58:1-12 where we hear God use words that sound very much like sarcasm…

58:1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

As we listen to these words, we realize that this is God’s criticism of his own followers.  God says that people come to the temple every day and genuinely seem to desire the ways of God.  They ask for justice, and they seem eager for God to be close to them.  They fast, and they humble themselves before God, but they wonder why God doesn’t notice them.

But God did notice.

God noticed all those things, but he also noticed that on the same day that these people fasted before God, they also abused their employees.  When they are done acting penitent before God they yell and scream and get into fistfights with one another.  And God says that he simply doesn’t work this way.  You can’t behave that way and expect God to bless you for being faithful.  Instead, God says that the kind of faithfulness that God chooses to bless is the kind that fights against injustice, that frees people from slavery and abuse, that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, and welcomes the stranger.  When we do that, is when we will experience healing and feel God’s protection.  God’s blessing doesn’t come when our faith is only words.  Blessing comes when we act to bring about God’s kingdom on earth and when we do the things that God has commanded us to do.  We will be blessed, and the church rebuilt and restored to its former glory, when we fight against oppression, stop pointing fingers at one another and stop talking smack about each other.  We will be blessed when we spend our time, our strength, and our energy caring for the hungry, marginalized, outcasts, vagrants, refugees, the oppressed, and the abused.

And just in case we go off on some mistaken assumption that this is limited to some sort of an Old Testament thing, we find almost exactly the same idea in Matthew 5:13-20 where we hear Jesus say…

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

What Jesus is saying, is that each one of us has been put on earth in order to accomplish some purpose.  Salt is supposed to be salty.  When it is, it does what it’s supposed to do, but when salt loses its saltiness, it becomes nothing better than just a bunch of rocks.  Salt that isn’t salty might be good for gravel in your driveway, but not for much else.  Likewise, and I realize that this sounds redundant, lights are made to shed light.  No one lights a lamp and then hides it.  If they did, then why bother lighting the lamp, or turning on the light, in the first place?  Lights are only useful when they do what they were intended to do, to drive back the darkness and to provide illumination.

Jesus gives these two incredibly obvious illustrations to make his larger point about the people who were listening to him, and that includes each one of us.  Jesus says that you are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.  You have been created and put on earth for a purpose intended by God.  God intends for you, for us, to obey his commands, to do the things that Jesus taught, and to teach others so that God’s kingdom can grow and continue on into the future.  Jesus says when his people fail to do these things it’s like salt losing its saltiness, or a light being hidden under a bowl.  It’s ridiculous, it’s silly, and it transforms something valuable, into something useless.

And finally, in 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, Paul explains our work, mission, and purpose this way…

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—

10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.

Just as we mentioned a few weeks ago, Paul again reminds us that the power of the message of Jesus Christ isn’t anything that depends on us.  It isn’t our strength, or our eloquence in using big words or flowery phrases, it isn’t our courage, or much of anything else that we can take credit for.  Paul says that he came in weakness and fear and trembling but was successful, not because of anything that he did, but because of the power of God.  We can never know the thoughts, fears, motivations, or much of anything else about the people we meet and the people we talk to, but God does and it is God’s Spirit that is at work whenever we have those spiritual conversations about the person and message of Jesus.

Jesus says that you are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.  You have been created and put on earth for a purpose intended by God.  God intends for you, for us, to obey his commands, to do the things that Jesus taught, and to teach others so that God’s kingdom can grow and continue on into the future.

What we cannot do is to be un-salty salt, or hidden lights, or people who appear to act as if they want God, but who never do the things that God has asks us to do.

We have been created by God and deliberately placed on earth for a purpose.

Let’s get busy.

 We have work to do.

 

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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.