Free to be Unfriended

Free to be Unfriended

June 21, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 21:8-21           Matthew 10:24-39                 Romans 6:1b-11

 

There is a meme circulating on social media that says, “I was asked if I was willing to lose friends over politics and I said, I’m willing to lose friends over morals.  Big difference.”  At the same time, I have had a number of friends who occasionally comment that they have been unfriended, or have unfriended others, because of their particular views regarding the upcoming election, or the Coronavirus, or over the national struggle with discrimination and hatred, or some other thing.  It is difficult for many of us to disconnect ourselves from people who have been friends in real life, or even who have become friends virtually, and it is just as hard when they feel the need to disconnect from us.  As human beings, we yearn for a connection with others and that makes enduring the separation caused by the pandemic even harder.  Something inside of us yearns for connection and want to be liked.  It is almost as hard for us as adults as it was for us on the playground when one of our playmates turned their backs on us and said, “I don’t want to be friends with you anymore.”

But from the time we were on that grade school playground until now, many of us have learned several truths about friends.  First, not everyone wants to be our friend.  Second, not every friend wants what is best for you.  Third, sometimes we find that our lives are going in such dramatically different directions that we either leave some friends behind, or they leave us.  When that happens, as it has from childhood, we find that the experience can be painful, but still sometimes necessary if our lives are to continue moving in the direction that we have chosen.

But what does any of that have to do with the scripture, with church, or with our life of faith?  Quite a bit.  As we read the stories of God’s people, it doesn’t take long to find many examples of times when they had to leave behind their friend or families so that they could follow God in a new direction.  We begin this morning in Genesis 21:8-21 where we find Abraham unable to overcome the animosity that has grown between the two mothers of his two sons.

The child grew and was weaned, and on the day, Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So, she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

Abraham made a mistake.  Although he was trusting that God would fulfill his promise to give him children and make him the father of nations, because God seemed to be taking too long, Abraham decided to help God out and make a baby with one of his servants.  Then, later, when God fulfills his promise through his elderly wife Sarah, the two birthmothers do not get along.  Abraham is the father of both children, but he cannot control the jealousy, envy, fear, anger, and hatred that are boiling between the two of them.  Abraham wants to protect both of his sons but cannot find a way for both to live in the same household.  But while he is worrying, God promises that he will care for, and protect, Hagar’s son so that he too will become the father of a great nation.  And so, with what I imagine is great reluctance, Abraham sends Hagar and his firstborn son, away from their encampment and out into the desert wilderness.  If we were to consider this without God’s promise of protection, we would be outraged at Abraham’s cruelty.  And even so, it is difficult to imagine the wrenching emotions that were experienced by everyone involved as half of the family was sent away into what had to look like certain suffering and death.

But God had called Abraham to travel a road that they could no longer travel together.

And while it is one thing to watch as this happens to Abraham, it is a lot more personal when we hear Jesus warn us to be prepared to do the same thing in Matthew 10:24-39.

24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!

26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36     a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Much like we heard last week, our goal is to become.  Jesus says that the goal is for his followers to become like him.  And, since the world has hated him, and even called him the devil incarnate, then we should not be surprised if, and when, the same thing happens to us.  We are called to live like Jesus and not to be afraid of the consequences of doing so.  We are warned that by following Jesus we have chosen to follow a different, and sometimes difficult path.  Sometimes we will be hated for being like Jesus, and sometimes the path that we follow will carry us away from, and destroy our relationships with, our friends and closest family members.  But despite the risk, the pain, and the loss, we must have the courage to stand up for what is right and follow the path to which we have been called.  Do not be afraid to be associated with Jesus.  Do not be afraid to be unfriended.

But by becoming like Jesus, there is one more thing that we are called to leave behind and doing so might even be harder than leaving behind our relationships or being unfriended.  In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (Romans 6:1b-11) he describes it this way:

6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Because we have chosen to follow Jesus, because he has poured out his grace, mercy, and forgiveness on us, and because we have taken up the goal of becoming like him, we must also leave behind our sin, and the life of sin that we once led.  Let’s face it, although we all sin differently, we each have sins that are familiar and comfortable.  But the call of Jesus Christ is a call to courage.  We must have the courage to leave our old self behind and become something, and someone, new.  We must stop sinning and become as good, and as righteous, as we possibly can.

For many of us, following Jesus sets us on a course that goes in a radically different direction than the one we were headed in our old lives.  But even when the change is less dramatic, we often find that our path is just enough different that we either leave some friends behind, or they leave us.  When that happens, although we find the experience to be painful, it is still necessary if our lives are to continue moving in the direction that we have chosen.  And it may be that the hardest things that we leave behind are our old lives, and the sins that have become comfortable and familiar.

We have been given a great gift.

We have been given a second chance.

Let us have the courage to leave behind whatever, and whoever, we must, so that we can be like Jesus.

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


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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.

The Anti-Blessings of God

The Anti-Blessings of God

June 14, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 18:1-15                  Matthew 9:35 – 10:23                Romans 5:1-8

 

 How would you feel if you prayed that God would protect you and pour out blessings on you, and what you got was trouble, suffering, and pain?  Would you feel protected and blessed?

What if you prayed, in the middle of your pain, for the suffering to end, and it just kept going, and going?  Would you feel as if God answered your prayers?

And imagine that you spent your entire life praying for God to answer one specific prayer, one that everyone around you seemed to have answered, and after a lifetime of prayer, you gave up simply because the answer to your prayer was no longer even possible.  Would you feel blessed?

Contrary to what we might want, and contrary to what some television preachers might tell you, God isn’t a genie that dispenses wealth and happiness in answer to our prayers like some kind of cosmic vending machine.  God is more complicated than that just as our lives are more complicated than simplistic sayings like “earning a living” and “raising a family.”  Life can be hard, but we worship a God who understands our needs better than we do and who dispenses blessings that are far more complex than those things for which we might have asked.  Rather than giving us things that we think we want; God blesses us with gifts that he knows we will need.  Unfortunately, we often find that these “anti-blessings” are gifts for which we would never have prayed and are gifts that we didn’t want.

In Genesis 18:1-15, we hear the story of how Abraham met God, and was given a gift for which he and Sarah, his wife, had prayed for decades.  But now, as Abraham and Sarah had given up on that prayer, after both were long past the age of having children, God begins the fulfillment of an almost forgotten promise.

18:1 The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs [about 36 pounds] of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

God visits Abraham decades after he changed his name from Abram, which means “father of many,” to Abraham, which means “father of nations.”  By the time of this visit, Abram and Sarah are in their eighties or nineties, or as the passage notes, “already very old, and Sarah was well past the age of childbearing.”  And yet, God honors his promises, and when the visitor returns a year later, the impossible has happened and Sarah, the octogenarian, has given birth to a son named Isaac.  This is amazing, and miraculous, but imagine the pain that the two of them endured for generations.  Imagine introducing yourself as “the father of nations” but having no children.  Why did God allow that to happen?  Isn’t the creation of these circumstances extraordinarily cruel?  What could God possibly have had in mind?

We will come back to that, but now, let’s consider the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples, and the warnings that he gave them, and us, at the same time in Matthew 9:35 – 10:23.

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

 10:1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town, and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you; it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because he saw people who, like sheep, were lost, aimless, alone, and suffering from a total lack of unity.  To combat that isolation, Jesus sent the disciples into the world to cast out spirits and heal the sick.  And while that sounds a bit like sending gallant knights on a brave quest, this blessing, and these gifts, come with a warning that would turn your hair white.  Jesus warns the disciples, and us, that the world isn’t going to be appreciative or grateful for the message that we carry.  Instead, Jesus frighteningly compares those that carry the message of the kingdom of God to sheep among wolves.  The disciples are warned that they will be arrested, judged, hated, beaten by their own churches, persecuted, and made homeless when they do what he has sent them to do.  But, at the same time, they will be given gifts from God, be accompanied by God, and be used by the Spirit of God.

These anti-blessings are gifts that none of us want.  Jesus isn’t promising that his followers will have wealth, comfort, happiness, and career advancement.  He is promising misery, suffering, pain, and death.  These are not the things that you would find on a recruiting poster, these are the things that wake you in a cold sweat run screaming into the night.

And so again, just as we did with Abraham, we ask ourselves, “What could God possibly have in mind?”

We find some of the answers in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (Romans 5:1-8).

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

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Paul explains to the church that the things we find through our relationship with Jesus aren’t wealth, prosperity, and comfort.  What we find in Jesus… is peace with God.  Paul says that if we want to learn perseverance, we learn it through suffering.  If we want to build character, we build it through persevering through suffering.  And if we want to find hope, we find it while we are journeying through suffering and building character.  If you ask someone if they would like to learn patience, most will say yes.  But we all know that the only way to learn patience, is to live through difficult circumstances that require it.  The same is true here.  While everyone wants to have hope, and character, the path we follow as we learn them takes us through dark places that are filled with pain and suffering.

So why did God allow Abraham and Sarah to endure, and suffer, for fifty or seventy years while they waited for God to fulfill his promise?  Perhaps it is because God needed a man and woman with a specific set of skills and gifts to be the parents of Isaac.  Perhaps God needed parents with perseverance, character, and an abundance of hope.  God called Abraham and Sarah to be the parents of his new nation, but first he needed them to become the kind of people that Isaac, Israel, and the world, would need.

The same applies to the disciples and to us.  God calls us as we are, but to do the work that he has called us to do, it is often necessary for us to become the people that he needs.  And the journey from where we are to where God need us to be often passes through pain and suffering so that we can learn perseverance, character, and hope.

So yes, God just might be answering your prayer for his blessing when you are on the receiving end of trouble, suffering and pain.

And yes, when your suffering lasts longer than you had hoped, and even long after you prayed for it to end, God may just be answering your prayer in ways that you hadn’t expected.

While none of us wants these kinds of anti-blessings, God might just be allowing them today so that we can become the people that he needs tomorrow.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/8ywdXlDfGjI

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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.

Choosing Discomfort

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

The Path to Peace

May 26, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 14:23-29            Acts 16:9-15               Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5

 

Let’s begin with an easy question that turns out to be more difficult than we expected.

What is peace?

While at first a part of us wants to think that defining peace ought to be easy, the more we think about it, the harder it gets.

When most of us begin thinking about peace, we probably thing about the violence between nations.  In that case, peace is simply the absence of war and violence.  That’s probably the kind of peace that we’re thinking of when we talk about “world peace” or when hippies say things like “peace, man” or “peace out.”  But then there’s the kind of peace that Mom is looking for when she says that she just wants “a little peace and quiet.”  Of course, that means the end of sibling violence, but in this case, she also means a lack of worry and the ability to find a moment of rest.  If we extend those few moments of quiet rest, maybe that’s what we mean when we say that we are “at peace” or when we are searching for “inner peace,” or maybe that’s what the Eagles mean when they sing about that “peaceful, easy feeling.”  And, of course, there is the religious wish that is common to Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, when we express our wishes for Salaam, Shalom, or “peace be unto you.”

But as much and as hard as we might search for, seek out, strive toward, or wish for peace, it may well be that our human efforts will always fall short if we do not include God as a part of, and as a participant in, our search for peace.  In John 14:23-29, Jesus tells the disciples that peace is a gift that he is giving to them, and to us, if only we will truly love him.

23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away, and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

Jesus says that if we will only obey his teaching, God will love us, and both he and Jesus will make their home with us, and a part of what comes with that, is Jesus’ gift of peace.  Moreover, Jesus helps us to define what he means by peace, in this case, by saying that we should not let our hearts be troubled nor should be we afraid.  But peace can be hard.  We are often plagued by doubts about the future, and questions about where we ought to go and what we ought to be doing.  We ask ourselves, “Should I study this or that,” take this job offer or that one, is God in this, or not, is this better or worse than that, or more generally, “Just what does God want from me?”  And in asking those questions, we struggle, and we sometimes lose our sense of peace.  But as we read the stories about how God has called others to do his work, we can learn something about how God might call us.  In Acts 16:9-15 we remember the way that God called Paul to ministry in Philippi.

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia [central Turkey], having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia [western Turkey], they tried to enter Bithynia [northern Turkey], but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas [northeast coast of Turkey]. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia [across the Aegean Sea and north of Greece] standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace [Aegean island], and the next day we went on to Neapolis [eastern Greece]. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony [and a bit inland] and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira [a Greek city in eastern modern Turkey, near Mysia, where Paul had just been] named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

Now, if all of that wasn’t confusing enough, if you were trying to follow along this journey on ancient maps, one of the things that you’d probably notice is that the woman that Paul meets, and in whose house they end up staying, Lydia, comes from the city of Thyatira, which is in the nation of… Lydia.  Anyway, after all of that, what I wanted to point out was that Paul was struggling to find peace with what he was doing, where he was going, and what God wanted him to do.  He kept trying to do different things, and go different directions, and things were not going his way.  He wanted to do ministry in Asia, or as we understand it, in eastern Turkey, but felt that the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to do so.  We don’t know if that was an unsettled feeling, or an inability to sleep, or just physical or political barriers, but clearly something kept Paul and his team from going where they wanted to go.  But one night, Paul has a vision of a man in Macedonia, a nation to the north of Greece, begging them to come there and preach.  And so, that’s where they go, and once there, they meet a wealthy businesswoman, who specializes in the manufacture and distribution of rare purple cloth, she comes to faith in Jesus Christ, is baptized, and all of them are persuaded to stay with her in her estate.

All of that may sound like a rabbit trail, but I include it here to make a point.  Even though Paul’s journeys were long and difficult, even though his direction was not always certain, even though his travels often seemed to include arrest and torture, Paul had the peace of knowing that he was where God wanted him to be and he was doing what God had called him to do.  Certainly, while being arrested and beaten does not sound peaceful, Paul had inner peace, the peace of knowing that he was where he was supposed to be.  But Paul also knew that the peace that we so desperately seem to pursue cannot often be found in this life.  Paul knew that a greater peace awaited him as a reward for his faithfulness.  John writes about that in Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5 where we hear these words:

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Believe it or not, as odd as some of this language sounds, many of its visual images are all about safety and peace.  Because darkness in the ancient world, and to a lesser extent today, was associated with danger, John notes that in the new Jerusalem, it never gets dark.  The light of God and the protection of God, shines on everyone constantly.  Both nations and their kings come to live under the light and under the protection and justice of God and that, finally, after thousands of years of history, sounds like a government that we can trust.  And then John says that the gates of the city are never shut.  For those of us who live in the twenty-first century, far removed from a time when it was necessary, or even possible, to live inside of walled cities, it might be easy to miss the importance of what John is saying.  But, at a time when walls meant safety, remember that the gates were closed at night to keep out robbers, spies, and enemies.  If an enemy army approached, the gates would be shut.  If danger was suspected, the gates were there as a last measure of protection.  But John says that here, the gates are never closed because there is never any danger.  There are no thieves, bandits, spies, there is are no armies, and there is no danger.  There is no impurity, there is no hunger or thirst, and leaves of the trees, as common as they are, provide for the healing of any wounds that we carry in with us.  The curses that God laid upon humanity after the failure and fall of Adam and Eve are all removed.  We will serve God only, and we will see him face to face.

In every way, by every definition, there will be peace.

Let’s put that all together.

Jesus said that his gift to us was a gift of peace.  Some of that we can have now, and the rest is promised to us after the judgement at the end of time.  But, if we follow Jesus, if we listen for his voice, and are obedient to him, then we can find peace in knowing that we are where we need to be and doing what God has called us to do.  And even when our call brings difficulty into our lives, or when the chaos of our world erupts around us, we can trust that when we reach our eternal destination, we will finally, and forever, by every possible definition, be at peace.

There is a roadmap and a path that will lead us to peace.

The great question of humanity is not “How do I achieve peace?” 

The question is, “Am I willing to trust the one who has shown me the path?”

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

God’s Unwanted Gifts

God’s Unwanted Gifts

October 07, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Job 1:1; 2:1-10                       Mark 10:2-16             Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

 

Have you ever gotten gifts that were more exciting to unwrap than to receive?

You know what I mean.  You’ve opened gifts, and been all excited, and the gift turned out to be an ugly sweater.  Our kids would occasionally get gifts from relatives that were things that they really liked… three years before.  A Dora the Explorer backpack would’ve been welcome in elementary school, but it just wasn’t what our junior high daughter had in mind.  Over the years, I’ve seen a number of those kinds of things in all degrees of severity.  Lovely gifts of wine or scotch whiskey… to friends that don’t drink, hair coloring to people who prefer natural color, a white sweater to a platinum blonde that never, ever wears white, a Bible for an atheist, and so on.  But the next level is when your boss tries to do you a favor and gives you a raise and a promotion, but it means that you must sell your house and move.  You interview for a new job, get hired, and move to a new city, only to discover that the company that just hired you has declared bankruptcy and your new job is gone.

Some gifts are not what we wanted and others, that we thought we wanted, turn out to be much less valuable or pleasurable than we thought they would be when we asked for them.  And the stories that we find in scripture often reflect this same idea, and sometimes we find that the gifts that God wants to give us, are the kinds of gifts that make us run screaming from the room.  We begin in the story of Job.  An honest, upright, and faithful man of God, to whom horrible things would happen, for no apparent reason.  (Job 1:1; 2:1-10)

1:1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.

2:1 On another day the angel came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”

“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

For the record, I understand that it was Satan who afflicted Job and not God, but God knew about it, God knew what Satan intended, and not only did God allow it, God seemed to invite it.  And, while a study of the book of Job can, and has, result in volumes of sermons with a great many valuable lessons, the takeaway here is Job’s rhetorical question, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

If we trust God, and if we trust that God cares about us, knows everything about us, and knows everything that happens to us, then do we demonstrate a lack of faith when we wonder if God is aware, or if God cares, when we go through times of trouble?  Job’s question is as relevant to us as it was to his wife, if we accept good from God how can we not accept trouble as a gift from God when it comes?  Trouble, pain, suffering, difficulty, and trials are not gifts that we ask for, and are sometimes gifts that cause us to run screaming from the room, but many times, not always, but many times, these difficult situations are indeed gifts from God that are intended for a higher purpose.

In Mark 10:2-16 we find a story that may give us some insight into how we accept difficulty in our lives.

10:1 Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again, crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

“What did Moses command you?” he replied.

They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

This passage seems a little odd because it starts with a conversation about divorce, but if we take a moment to consider what it meant to the people in the story, it helps us to understand it better.  The pharisees were having an argument over what criteria needed to be met in order to grant a divorce.  Historically, some rabbis made the case that the slightest infraction, like burning your breakfast, was enough, but others argued for a much higher standard.  Jesus rightly points out that all of this came about because Moses had said that it was okay for people to divorce and the rabbis throughout history had argued over how high a standard should be met before giving permission to do so.  But Jesus wades into the dispute like a bull in a china chop and upsets every vested interest, by saying that God is never okay with divorce, that it is always a sin, and that Moses only allowed it because human beings, even faithful, churchgoing humans, are a miserable, stubborn, disobedient, hardhearted bunch and would disobey God no matter what he said.

Ouch.

Instead, Jesus says, we ought to be more like the children that came to meet them.  The kingdom of God, Jesus says, belongs to people who are like children and, what’s more, if we don’t receive the kingdom like a little child, we can’t enter the kingdom at all.

So, what does that mean?  Let’s unpack it a little bit.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time at all with children knows that children are both innocent and trusting.  If you say come, they come.  If you say go, they go.  If tell them to do this, or don’t do that, they do what you tell them to do (certainly not always, but as a rule, they are far more trusting than adults).  For our purposes today, it’s important to note that children accept teaching, rebuke, and correction from their teachers, mentors, and parents better than adults.  In short, they are teachable and correctable and if we adults want to get into the kingdom of God, we need to be like them.

In this passage of scripture, Jesus contradicts the teaching of the pharisees on the subject of divorce, but this isn’t unique.  Time after time, Jesus makes it clear, that we aren’t as good as we thought we were.  The rules are stricter, and God’s standards are higher, than we thought they were.  Over and over again, Jesus makes it clear that we aren’t as perfect as we thought we were or as good as we imagined ourselves to be.

But if God is so demanding, and we are so deeply flawed, shouldn’t we despair and give up even trying to be good?  No.  And in Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12, Paul explains why.

1:1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

2:5 It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honor
    and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

Paul reminds us that Jesus came to earth to provide purification of our sins before God.  Jesus now rules over the angels in heaven because he suffered death for us, to pay the price for our sin and rebellion against God.  Jesus was, and is, the pioneer of our salvation and rescue so that we could be made perfect through suffering.

But if we read Paul’s words carefully, it says, “10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.”  Paul is reminding us that Jesus was the pioneer, the first, and through him God chose to make our salvation perfect through suffering.  But by using the word “pioneer,” in this way, it seems as if Paul is also reminding us that suffering was not unique to Jesus.  Jesus made us perfect, in the eyes of God, through suffering, but we face our own suffering and at times, God intends for our discomfort, our inconvenience, our pain, and our suffering to change us.  Sometimes, pain and suffering cause us to leave our comfort zones and discover new truths, sometimes suffering leads us to new discoveries about ourselves, about others, about our world, and about God’s mercy, grace, and love.  And sometimes, our pain and suffering are the means that God uses to move us toward perfection, toward a better version of ourselves, toward the person that God created us to be, and toward the person that God needs us to become.

Trouble, pain, suffering, difficulty, and trials are not gifts that we ask for, or gifts that we ever wanted.  But rather than fight God tooth and nail, rather than demanding that God immediately rescue us, consider that we might want to be like little children before God and consider that God has indeed given these to us as a gift.  Consider that God may intend for us to learn something from our pain.  Remember that God loves us enough to sacrifice his own son, loves us enough to personally suffer the agony of persecution, flogging, crucifixion, and death.  If we trust God, and if we trust that God cares about us, then we should consider that no matter what joy or sorrow, pleasure or pain, comfort or suffering, that God allows into our lives, each of them is a gift that is intended to shape us into something better.

 

 


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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 Not?

fearEarlier today, my friend John Thro posted a question that, in light of this election, is worth taking the time for all of us to consider.  He said…

“I have gay relatives, relatives with gender identity issues, relatives with mental health issues. 

I have friends and coworkers who are immigrants, friends and coworkers who are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheist.

How should they feel this morning?”

First off, I want to point out that throughout this election cycle I have not supported either candidate.  Professionally, I try very hard (with varying degrees of success) to keep my political opinions (though strongly held) to myself.  What I have to say, and what we do, on Sunday morning, and inside the walls of the church are far more important than whatever political differences that we might have.  Personally, I found both major candidates to be so deeply flawed that I could not, in good conscience, support either of them.  What button I pushed inside the election booth is not something I care to post publicly.

With that in mind, here is my perception. Despite the efforts of the opposing campaign to smear him, Mr. Trump’s history is not as bad as some would lead you to believe. Many of the things brought up were things that he had said, 20 or 30 years ago. People change. In general, as we age, we mellow.   For every accusation of hatred, there were employees, friends, associates, and others who countered with a story demonstrating the opposite.  Even so, I do not discount that some of the things said by Trump were troubling, some should not have been said, and these are things that we must watch for, and guard against.

What I fall back on is that we still live in a nation of laws, a nation in which the violent crime rate has been dropping for the last twenty years, and a nation that is full of good people. No laws will be enacted that violate anyone’s Constitutional rights, violence against minorities or others will be not tolerated under our laws any differently than it has been, and the law will be upheld. In the end, as it has almost always been, to the man or woman on the street, there will be little or no perceived difference.

You are as safe today as you were yesterday.

The Gallup research organization says that 58 percent of all Americans claim to be third generation Americans, the grandchildren of immigrants.  I am one.  Our conversation about immigration is not only important, for more than half of us, it is deeply personal.  For that reason alone, as well as others, there will be no gigantic shifts in immigration policy.  We will not ban immigration.  We will not hate immigrants.  How can we when half of us claim that as our heritage?  What we will (or at least should) have, is a discussion about what legal immigration ought to look like, what reasonable limits we should put in place, and how we can do it better.

Similarly, we are already such a culturally, religiously, and racially, diverse culture that I do not expect any huge, or dangerous, changes in public policy.  And, despite those who would seek to attack our neighbors with gender identity issues, or those whose gender identity is different than the mainstream, I really don’t see any significant changes happening.  As a nation, we are a good, kind, compassionate, generous, and yes, tolerant people… even if it doesn’t always seem that way.

I said many of these things to John in my reply to his post, but I also added something else.  We must remember that President Obama, even though he was well liked and widely supported by the Democrat members of the United States House and Senate, occasionally proposed legislation that went too far.  In those cases, even his friends and supporters could not agree with him, and that legislation did not pass.  What President Trump will face, although there will be a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate, is a Congress in which many establishment representatives neither like him nor support him.  I believe that they will be more than willing to oppose him on issues that they believe cross the line and go too far.

In the end, I also have faith.

I have faith that the ultimate power is not the man or woman who sits in the Oval Office.  God is in control.  And our God is a god who is passionately concerned about the poor, the outcast, the voiceless, immigrants, minorities, and every kind of oppressed people.  What is left to us is not to be afraid, but to choose what we will do.  We must not wait for the President, or the Congress, or the government at any level to do what we should do.  I have always, regardless of political party, committed to pray for the President of the United States and all of our leaders at every level and I will continue to do that.

I encourage you to do the same.

But we must also busy ourselves doing what is right, good, and just, particularly if we are people of faith. We must commit ourselves to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the outcasts, being a voice for the voiceless, showing mercy and compassion for immigrants and the oppressed, and seeking justice for everyone.

I believe that our nation is full of good, decent, hardworking, compassionate, faithful, and generous people.

I believe that we will do these things.

We will be vigilant.

There is no reason to fear.

 

 

___________________
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The Fire Before the Finish

“The Fire Before the Finish”
December 06, 2015
(Second Sunday of Advent)
By John Partridge

Scripture:  Malachi 3:1-4    Philippians 1:3-11     Luke 3:1-6

This morning we are going to begin by filling in the missing words from some well known, and some lesser known, sayings.
1) When we suspect that something is wrong we have said, “Where there’s smoke there’s ______.”

2) The leader of the 21 gun salute said, “Ready, Aim, ________.”

3) The coach was disappointed by how his team was performing. He said that he needed to “Light a ______ under them.

4) The famous baseball player, Ty Cobb, once said, “I never could stand losing. Second place didn’t interest me. I had a ______ in my belly.”

5) Bernard Williams said, “Talent is a flame. Genius is a ______.”

6) Mae West said, “A man can be short and dumpy and getting bald but if he has ____, women will like him.”

7) Finally, President Richard Nixon once said, “The finest steel has to go through the hottest _____.

If it isn’t obvious by now, the answer to all of these was “fire.”

But on almost all of these, fire is the thing that happens at the beginning. Fire is the creator of smoke, the fire is what makes the gun go “boom,” fire is what motivates athletes, geniuses, and dumpy bald men. But President Nixon was in the right ballpark for today’s scripture because in Malachi 3:1-4, God warns his people that when the Messiah comes, things are going to get hot.

3:1 “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

In a prophecy that describes the coming of the Messiah, we see that Jesus is the messenger that we desire, and Jesus is the rescuer and redeemer that we have been looking forward to seeing, but when he comes, not everyone will be happy about it. Malachi tells us that his coming will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will be the one who drives out the impurities but the process of refining silver or gold is to place them in a fire until they melt and keep them there until the impurities float to the top. For the people of God, the fire didn’t happen at the beginning of the story, it comes at the end. It is after we have been refined that God will find our offerings to be acceptable because it is then that righteous men and women will bring them.

And so, as we celebrate Advent, we remember that life isn’t always going to be easy. God isn’t always going to let things go our way. Sometimes, when we feel like we are in the fire, we are. And we are there because God intends to drive off some of our impurities.

Not surprisingly, we hear echoes of this in the Christmas story as well. Reading from Luke 3:1-6, we hear these words:

3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
5 Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’”

I want to point out that God found John in the wilderness. God didn’t wait for John to be doing something important. God didn’t wait until John came to the Temple in Jerusalem to call him. God called John from where he was, at the moment that he was needed. And when God called, only then did John leave where he was and go into the countryside to preach.

From time to time, each of us may feel that we are in the wilderness. We may feel that we aren’t doing anything important or we might feel that we are far from home, or away from the hustle and bustle, or away from the places where important people gather. But Luke’s message is that when God is ready, he will find us no matter where we are.

The second point that we should take from this passage is that John’s entire mission was to prepare for the coming of the Messiah by proclaiming a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John was the one who was “preparing the way” for the arrival of Jesus.

Today, we are in John’s place.

Today, we have been given John’s mission.

As we celebrate Advent, we are reminded that today, we are called to prepare the way for the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus.

To do that, there is something that we must do. We must do as John preached; we must repent of our sins (and remember that ‘repent’ means to turn around, to change directions, and go another way) and we must prepare our hearts for the arrival of the Prince of Peace.

In Philippians 1:3-11, Paul reveals even more of this fundamental principle and why our season of preparation is important.

3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Paul reminds the followers of Jesus that God has begun doing something amazing in their lives. God himself has begun doing something good in each of us and we, like Paul, are confident that if God has begun something, he will surely continue doing it until that thing is finished.

And so, let us remember these things:

Remember that life isn’t always easy, but it may well be that, in the hardest times, when we feel like we are in the furnace surrounded by fire, God is refining us so that we may be, in the end, purer and more beautiful than ever before.

Remember that Advent is the season of preparation. Let us repent of our sins and prepare our hearts for the coming of the Prince of Peace.
Remember that we have inherited the mission of John the Baptist and are called, from wherever we are, to proclaim the coming of the redeemer and rescuer of humanity.

And as we do these things, remember that God is working in each of us so that we might love more, know more, see more, understand more, so that we can make better choices and become more righteous. Paul’s desire, and ours, is to become pure and blameless on the Day of Judgment but, moreover, that we will become so much like Jesus, that we will live our lives like Jesus and pour out God’s love into the world around us.

The End of “The End”

“The End of ‘The End’”
November 01, 2015
(All Saints Day)
By John Partridge

Scripture: Isaiah 25:6-9                 Revelation 21:1-6a                        John 11:32-44

How many of you ever went to the movies when great actors and actresses like John Wayne, Vincent Price, Greta Garbo, and Katherine Hepburn were playing in the big screen? What about the Saturday morning cartoons with Woody Woodpecker and Bugs Bunny?

It doesn’t seem to happen as much lately, but for many years those of us who watched movies in the theater, or cartoons on Saturday morning knew when the show was over because, at the very end, there was a sign that came up on the screen that said, “The End.” It was common for the cowboy hero to ride off into the sunset at the end of the movie as the words “The End” scrolled onto the screen. It was so common, and such a part of the movie environment, that comedies often had a little fun with the words “The End” and the credits that followed.

And as odd as it may sound, that is a lot like how the story of our lives seems to go. With the exception of those folks whose lives end in terrible tragedies where death comes swiftly, many of our endings are very similar. As we near the end of our story, family and friends come to see us, to say their goodbyes, to share a few last memories, perhaps to make a final apology, and to say “I love you” one last time. This is the big scene in the story of our life and for those who are left behind, it is as if, after our passing, the book closes on our story, the last reel of our movie has played, and the words, “The End” play on the screen.

That’s life, right?

Or, as it has often been said in the movies, “It is the way of things.”

But it was not always so.

The story of Adam and Eve tell us that in the beginning, when the world was perfect and without sin, death was not a part of our creation. Death, suffering, and all of the discomfort, mourning and pain that they cause us, were not a part of God’s original creation but entered into the world because of the rebellion of human beings.

And so, for now, “It is the way of things.”

But the good news is that it will not always be so.

The prophet Isaiah knew that God would not allow death, suffering, pain, misery, discomfort, and mourning to continue forever for the people that he loved. Isaiah wrote these words (Isaiah 25:6-9):

6 On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
7 On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
8 he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

9 In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

If you have been here at Trinity in recent months, you will remember that we have seen this imagery of a shroud several times. The covering of the face, or the head, was a symbol of death. And so when Isaiah says that God “will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples,” he is proclaiming that God intends, at the appointed time, to destroy death itself.

And at that time, God himself will wipe away all of the tears that have been caused by death and the resulting suffering of the living that are left behind.

Isaiah knew that this was true even if he didn’t know how or when it would happen because he heard the words from God’s lips and also because he understood the nature of God.

But in John 11:32-44, we learn even more and the story becomes fuller, richer, and even more wonderful.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

When Jesus arrives, Mary cries out that if Jesus had only gotten there in time, Lazarus would not have died. Mary had great faith and trust in Jesus but it seems from her words that she believed that Jesus had great power to heal, but now that death had come, healing, no matter how great, would be of no use. Others in the crowd have the same opinion saying, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Surely if Jesus was such a great healer, could he not have healed whatever sickness that had afflicted Lazarus? And we know that the answer to that is “yes.” But Jesus wanted to reveal something about himself that they did not yet understand, something bigger, and much more important.

Jesus asks for the tomb to be opened and ignores the reminders that Lazarus’ body has surely started to rot in the Mediterranean heat and surely, after four days, has begun to smell really, really bad.

Lazarus’ book had already closed. His movie had already ended. “The End” had flashed on the movie screen of his life days before.

But they do as Jesus commands.

The tomb is opened. Jesus calls to Lazarus as if he was only in the next room.

And Lazarus, still wearing his grave clothes and his death shroud, walks out of his own grave.

Mary, and her sister Martha, and all their family and friends, and the entire world discovers that Jesus not only has the power to heal, but that he has power and authority over death itself.

For Jesus, death is not the end.

And knowing this, the words of God that were brought to us through Isaiah become even more real. God has said that, at the appointed time, he would destroy, or undo, death itself. At the appointed time, God will bring an end to “The End.”

And now, even though we still do not know exactly when, we do know a little more about how, and we certainly know who, Jesus.

The last piece of our knowledge falls into place through the revelation of the Apostle John who saw this in his great vision from God (Revelation 21:1-6a):

21:1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.

At the end of time, the end of the age, and the end of all things, God, the creator of all that is, proclaims that he is not just the beginning, but also the end. Death is no longer the end. Jesus is the end. Death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more. And God himself will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Jesus, who has shown us that he has power over life and death, will bring an end to death forever. Those followers of Jesus Christ who have been lost to death will be restored to us and we will take up residence in God’s new creation.

No more will we fear death, because death itself will be dead.

That may very well be the greatest day in the history of days.

It will be the end of “The End.”

And the beginning of forever.

The Call of Pain

The Call of Pain
(or, A 2×4 to the Head)
Ohio Northern University Chapel Service
September 24, 2015

Ohio Northern – The Call of Pain

This week, as you continue hearing a series of messages that build your understanding of “The Call” of God, Chaplain MacDonald had invited me to share, but my experience compels me to warn you that…

The call of God is not always a welcome one.

Remember that Moses tried to talk his way out of God’s call. Gideon kept asking for signs to make really, really sure that God wanted him. Esther had to be persuaded that there was absolutely no one else that could to the job, and even though Jeremiah answered God’s call, he was horrifically abused because those in power didn’t like the message that he delivered.

The call of God is not always a welcome one because the call of God often involves pain.

Even Daniel, who we often lift up as a great hero of the faith because of his night in the lion’s den, his confrontations of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, his interpretation of dreams, and his many great prophecies, even Daniel experienced pain. Remember that Daniel was called only after he had watched his city destroyed, many of his friends and family killed, and the treasures of God’s holy temple carried away by the enemy.

3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. (Daniel 1:3-4, NIV)

Daniel answered the call of God, but he lived his entire life as a prisoner of a foreign invader.

Good morning. My name is John Partridge and more than few years ago, I sat where you are now, a student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. From Ohio Northern I moved to Akron, Ohio and worked in Cleveland with the American Gas Association Laboratories as quality engineer and also in research and development. After ten years I moved on to Lectrotherm in North Canton where we manufactured, and remanufactured induction furnaces, control systems and other equipment for the molten metals industry. But sometime around 2002 I got called into my boss’ office. I knew something was wrong because the head of human resources was there with my boss, and that is never a good thing. Without warning, and without a single negative review or job appraisal, I was asked to clean out my office and be gone by the end of the day.

I thought that I was good at that job and, more than that, I liked that job.

Years later, I found out that I was just the first of many who would be let go (and the company eventually went bankrupt), but losing my job was devastating. By this time I was married, owned a home, and had three children so being unemployed was a big deal financially. But losing your job is a big deal emotionally as well. I had gone to school for six years to become an engineer, and I had been employed as an engineer for thirteen years. I was not quite forty years old and for more than half of my life, being an engineer was my identity. Being an engineer was who I was.

So if I was unemployed… who was I?

As college students, most of you were in kindergarten when all this happened and so you probably don’t remember how good the economy was at that time. Business was booming, the stock market had been expanding for twenty years, it was the largest period of economic expansion in the history of the United States, and it was a great time to look for a new job.

Except I couldn’t find one.

Despite the fact that I had a good degree from a good school, despite the fact that the economy was as good as it has ever been, despite the fact that I had marketable skills, solid work experience, and continuing education, I couldn’t even get in the door for an interview.

And so I prayed. I prayed a lot. I yelled at God. I was frustrated, confused and depressed. I studied the Bible. I talked to my pastor. I read books that my pastor recommended.

And I began to wonder if God had a new purpose for my life.

I had left my job at A.G.A. because I wanted to see the results of my work instead of writing reports year after year. I loved my job at Lectrotherm because we built things. Every now and then you could go out to the shop and see a tractor-trailer loaded with things that we had built as it was leaving for a customer. But after September 11, 2001, I had begun to wonder if that was enough. The machines that we were building were replacing the machines that another engineer had designed, and others had built, twenty or thirty years before. And so I wondered what purpose there was for what I was doing. If everything that I was doing would be ripped up and replaced in thirty years, in a hundred years, what difference would my life make? While I was working, these sorts of things just got pushed to the back of my mind.

But during my two years of unemployment these questions came to the surface like never before.

Eventually, I went to my pastor and asked what “this seminary thing” was all about and if it was even possible for an engineer to meet the prerequisites for getting in.

She laughed.

My pastor… laughed at me.

She said that she had known for over a year that God was calling me to ministry, but that she was afraid that if she had said anything out loud to me she might mess up whatever God was doing in my life.

What God was doing, was hitting me upside the head with a two-by-four.

My father had been a pastor. And so I had grown up in a pastor’s house. And I had sworn, for forty years, that I would never be a pastor.

But God had other ideas.

It is often said that God speaks with a “still small voice.” That idea comes from this story from the life of the prophet Elijah:

…and a great and strong wind rent the mountains… but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire
a still small voice. (1 Kings 19:11-13, NIV)

    Because of that story, people often believe that God speaks to us in a soft, quiet, librarian voice and I suppose that is true… sometimes.

But some of us are stubborn enough, and thick-headed enough, and just deaf enough, that we will never hear that still small voice. And in those cases, God is not afraid to get our attention with a two-by-four to the head.

This is, theologically speaking, the call of pain.

My call of pain led me to seminary and then to ordained, pastoral ministry.

Pain has a way of getting our attention. Pain has a way of focusing our attention in ways that no other form of motivation ever will. Pain can call us to ministry, but it can also call us away from unhealthy lifestyles, away from jobs, away from all sorts of sinful things, and away from the people, places, and things God chooses to call us away from. I want to be clear, pain isn’t always from God. Sometimes we experience pain simply because we have made bad choices, or just because we live in a fallen world and sometimes life just stinks. But whenever you experience pain, it is worth your time to consider whether or not God has allowed your pain for some purpose. Whenever you find your life is bringing you pain, it is worth your time to consider that God may have something to say to you.

God may speak to you in a quiet moment with a still small voice, but if you are anything like me, and you find ways to ignore him long enough, he will find a way to get your attention.

And in that case, no matter how thick-headed and stubborn you might be, you might want to spend some time listening to what God is trying to tell you.

Because, trust me on this, the sooner you listen…

…the less it hurts.

Baltimore – A Rush to Judgement?


I wish everyone would shut up for a minute.

But probably not for the reason you think.

    I waited a long time to write anything about the riots in Ferguson, Missouri because I wanted to try to understand the issues.   
    But this time, after watching and listening to media outlets talk about what is happening in Baltimore I don’t want to wait.  I am posting now, not because I think I understand what is happening, but because I am convinced that almost no one does.
Every media outlet, every reporter, every politician, and a great many bystanders have taken sides.
    Just like the Ferguson case, and the Travon Martin case, and so many others, everyone seems to be absolutely certain that they know exactly what is happening and why.
Everyone is rushing to judgement.
    They judge the police.  They judge Freddie Gray.  They judge the mayor.  They judge the President.  They judge the protestors, the rioters (those are vastly different groups), they judge the victims of the violence, and people are even judging the parents of the people in the streets. 
    Christians are often accused of being judgmental, but this is ridiculous.  Everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike seems to think that they know so much about what is happening hundreds of miles away in Baltimore that they can stand in judgement of people they’ve never met and who they know almost nothing about.
I wish everyone would all shut up and listen for a change.
As I watch and listen to the reporting from Baltimore, all I seem to find is more questions.
What exactly happened in police custody that led to the death of Freddie Gray?
Did Mr. Gray really have surgery on his spine only weeks before his arrest?
Did that matter?
Did the mayor tell the police to allow the mayhem to continue when it might have been stopped much earlier?
I could ask questions all day but it seems clear that, so far, there aren’t very many answers.
    And without answers, all the self-proclaimed experts (left, right and center) should slow down their rush to judgement until they actually have some facts.  Right now there are too many things that we just don’t know.   
Instead of rushing to judgement, why don’t we listen instead?
We all want justice.
    But we should be careful to find the facts so that there can be justice for everyone.  There needs to be justice for the police, the demonstrators, the rioters, the politicians, and especially for the victims.
Investigating, finding, and sorting through the facts are all things that will take time.
While we wait, instead of judging everyone, why don’t we do something helpful?
    Why don’t we try to find ways to help those who lost homes, jobs, and businesses?  Can our politicians and academics find ways to reduce poverty and joblessness instead of just pointing fingers at each other?  Why not volunteer with some charity or aid group to clean up and rebuild Baltimore?  We should all take the time to listen and understand people with whom we disagree.
    Instead of pretending that we know exactly what is going on and who is to blame, our time would be better spent trying to fix the problem and help Baltimore heal.  And while we’re doing that, we should talk less and listen more.
Instead of judging, try donating.
And if you are so inclined, I’m sure that everyone involved could use your prayers.

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