Finding Meaning in Disaster

Finding Meaning in Disaster

August 16, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

Can any good come from the chaos and loss of life caused by the Coronavirus?  Yes.

But, how does a disaster that destroys lives, end up saving lives?

Before we think about today, let’s go back a hundred years or so.  When the HMS Titanic sank on April 15th, 1912, 1500 lives were lost and newspapers around the world carried stories about it under gigantic, bold print headlines that filled most of the space above the fold of the paper.  It was a terrible tragedy and one of the greatest maritime disasters in all of history.  But as bad as it was, that disaster has saved the lives of a great number of people in the hundred years since it happened. 

So, how does a disaster save lives?

In the case of the Titanic, the news was so big, and so bold, that many things changed quickly and many more over a longer period.  First, while radio was only an experiment at the time of the Titanic sinking, and only a few ships were equipped with them.  And, while the USS Californian, which was the closest ship to the Titanic at only 20 miles away, had one of the new wireless transmitters, they only had one radio operator who had gone off-duty and to bed before the Titanic sank. 

Because of the sinking of the Titanic, radio use was regulated so that all ships would have radios and that they would have trained operators around the clock.  Further, the radio act of 1912 required that any ships receiving, or observing, a distress call, immediate attempt to render aid.  The Titanic sinking also led to requirements that life jackets be available for every passenger, that every passenger receive training in what to do and where to go in the event of an emergency, that crews be trained in the use of emergency lifeboats, and that each ship should carry enough lifeboats to carry every passenger and crew.  And those were just the things that happened quickly.  Over the long-term, the designs ships everywhere were changed to make them safer, particularly considering the things that failed to save the Titanic.

And with the story of the Titanic in our minds, rewind history even farther to the story of Joseph in the Old Testament that we find in Genesis 45:1-15.  Although the entire story of Joseph is an incredible tale, and although I am enormously frustrated that our lectionary has skipped from the beginning of the story that we read last week to the very end of the story this week, there is still much to be learned.  To catch us up, after Joseph was sold to Midianite merchants by his brothers, he was taken to Egypt, sold as a slave, falsely accused, imprisoned by that false accusation, and then rose a position second only to the Pharaoh of Egypt when God allowed him to interpret the nightmares that had been sent by God to plague the sleep of the Pharaoh for nights on end.  That dream told of a coming famine that would devastate the land, and Joseph’s interpretation, and his administration, allowed Egypt to store enough food to survive.  And then, during the famine, Joseph own brothers, the same ones who had sold him into slavery, travelled to Egypt to beg for food.  But when they stood in front of the administrator to beg for food, they unknowingly stood in front of their brother Joseph who had been so changed by the passage of time and the culture of Egypt, that none of them recognized him.  And then, after torturing them enough to make them bring his brother Benjamin on a second visit, Joseph reveals himself to them.

45:1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So, there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

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

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

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

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

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

Considering our present situation, I want to point out that despite the betrayal of his brothers and many years of slavery, abuse, and imprisonment, Joseph doesn’t hold a grudge.  His brothers are understandably terrified that, because Joseph is now the second most powerful person in Egypt, that he will take his revenge upon them.  But he doesn’t.  But despite the terrible things that happened to him, Joseph learned from his experiences.  Second, Joseph’s closeness with God was the one thing that made it possible for him to see what the Egyptians could not.  It was Joseph’s relationship with God that allowed him to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and that, in turn, led to Joseph’s appointment as the overseer of all Egypt, their food production, storage, preparations for, and management of the nation to navigate through seven years of prosperity and seven years of famine.

In an entirely different story found in Matthew 15:21-28, we see a similar vision of the world as Jesus meets a Canaanite woman with a terrible problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This story is unusual because while we often think of Jesus, as we saw in the feeding of the five thousand (or fifteen thousand),  as being always being ready and willing to help people, in this story, Jesus tries really hard, three times, to make this woman go away.  At first, Jesus completely ignores her, but the disciples urge him to send her away because she is being a nuisance.  And so, with their encouragement, Jesus tells the woman that he was sent to care for the Jews who had been lost to God and that taking care of foreigners was not his job.  But even that did not dissuade her, and so Jesus tells her, quite clearly, that she is not his priority because it wouldn’t be right to take something away from God’s people and throw it to the dogs. 

But this is where the woman demonstrates that she sees the world differently than most other people.  Rather than thinking of God, and God’s power, as a finite and limited resource, the Canaanite woman sees God as infinite and that the healing for which she asks is of no more value to God than the crumbs that fall from a rich man’s table.  And it is this understanding, and this faith in God, that leads Jesus to heal give the Canaanite woman what she wanted, and he heals her daughter, from a distance, without ever meeting her.

Both Joseph and the Canaanite woman were blessed by God because they saw the world through a lens of faith in the power of God.  It was the Canaanite woman’s vision and faith that allowed her to see God’s power, and see Jesus, in a different way and that vision, and that faith, was rewarded.  It was Joseph’s vision and faith that allowed him to see what the Egyptians and all their wise men could not.  And it was that vision and faith elevated him to one of the most powerful positions in the ancient world, allowed him to guide Egypt, one of the world’s greatest super powers, through a time of great crisis and, at the same time, rescue family, and God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and his father Jacob, and lay the groundwork for the protection of the future nation of Israel until it had grown enough, eight hundred years later, to survive on its own.

Watching her daughter suffer from an incurable demon possession year in, and year out, must have been incredibly difficult for the Canaanite woman.  Obviously, being betrayed by his own brothers, and enduring years of imprisonment and slavery had to be agonizing.  But it was their vision and faith in God, through those difficult circumstances, that allowed them to receive the blessings of God and overcome those circumstances.

And that brings us to our present, twenty-first century crisis during this global Coronavirus pandemic.  As we are enduring these difficult circumstances, these stories from scripture call us to examine ourselves.  We should be asking ourselves, at least these two questions: 1) Do we have the kind of vision and faith in God that Joseph and the Canaanite woman had?  And, 2) What is God what is God showing us in our present circumstances, what is God calling us to see in the world around us, that the world is missing?  How should we see the world, our community, our neighbors, our friends, and the people around us, that we can only see through the lens of faith in the power of God?

Let us pray that we will see the vision that God is revealing before it is too late.

Have a great week everybody.

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here:https://youtu.be/vJmCWUfz4TQ

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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.

Endurance

If any of you have participated in sports, or even something as simple as casual walking, one thing that we all learn is that endurance cannot be purchased at the store.  We can buy good shoes, and sports equipment of all kinds, but the ability to play through an entire game, whether it is a walk in the park, or full contact football, or tennis, golf, soccer, or anything else, can only come from hard work.  If we say that there is a price for endurance, then that price can only be paid in sweat.  I have friends who, after major surgery, could barely walk across the room without stopping for rest.  But they persisted.  First it was a walk across the room, then to the end of the driveway, and then walking down the street one telephone pole at a time, until finally they were walking several miles every evening.  The same growth in endurance is seen in other sports in much the same way.  As strange as it sounds, just as we learn patience by being patient, we learn endurance, we train our bodies to endure, by repeatedly enduring. And, as difficult as it is for us to live through a global pandemic, we are learning to endure, and we learn endurance by enduring.  Granted, compared to the bread lines of the Great Depression, or ration cards and blackout drills of World War Two, the difficulties and hardships that we face may not be as great as those faced by other generations, but like it or not, great or small, these are ours. But as we stay at home, practice social distancing, and are separated from one another and from loved ones by doing so, as many of us suffer from unemployment caused by the shutdown, or by other byproducts of the pandemic, it is worthwhile for us to remember that the writers of scripture were no strangers to suffering and endurance.  In 2 Corinthians 1:3-11, Paul writes: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you, patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. Let me pull a few bullet points from Paul’s words that apply to our current situation:
  • We worship the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort
  • God comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we have received from God.
  • We are distressed for the comfort of others. In this situation, we are fighting against our desire to be together so that we might not, unwittingly, pass this virus to others, family, and friends that we care about, and bring harm to them.
  • Paul says that they were distressed, and experienced trouble, beyond their ability to endure, but at the limits of their endurance, they learned that they could rely upon God rather than relying upon themselves.
It is the calling of the strong to protect the weak, and today we struggle against the pandemic by denying our desires to protect the weak and the vulnerable among us.  But our struggle is not without cost.  The cost of our endurance is being paid in sweat, in tears, and in great frustration. Proverbs 18:14 says, “The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” Please don’t allow your spirit to be crushed.  Pray that God might give you strength and endurance beyond your own.  Pray that we might learn to rely upon God rather than upon ourselves.  Encourage one another wherever, and whenever, possible.  Call, write, email, text, video chat, Zoom, or whatever it takes to stay connected and to encourage those around you who are struggling.  And please, please, don’t feel as if you must stoically struggle alone.  If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Call me, call a friend, let someone know that you are struggling so that we can do whatever we can to help. And finally, because we are still the church, and our mission to do the work of Jesus Christ doesn’t stop for a pandemic, also remember Paul’s words from 2 Thessalonians 3:12-14. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. Hang in there.  Endure as long as you can.  Lean on God when your endurance ends.  Help one another.  Help the people around you. And never tire of doing good.   Blessings, Pastor John    
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It’s More Than Selfish

Note: The video of this commentary can be found at: https://youtu.be/R7cfHs15CNQ


 

It’s More than Selfish

 

For the last few days, we have all been watching people go crazy.  While society hasn’t broken down, it has certainly proven to itself that Agent ‘K’ in the “Men in Black” movie was absolutely correct when he said:

“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.”

And, when people are scared, they are the most panicky, dangerous animals in the planet.  It seems obvious to everyone, whether you are a Christian or not, that there is something horribly wrong with what is going on around us.  But for those of us who have spent some time in church, or in reading scripture, we have a pretty simple name for it. 

Sin.

In Matthew 22:36-40 some Pharisees asked Jesus which commandment he thought was the most important.  To which, Jesus replied that there were only two important ones.

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The second, of the two great commandments, is for us to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves, and this is, fundamentally, a condemnation of selfishness.  It’s okay for us to take care of ourselves, and it’s okay for us to be concerned for our own welfare, but it’s not okay for us to be so selfish that we no longer care about the needs of our neighbors, and indeed take so much for ourselves, that there our neighbors cannot meet their most basic needs.

There’s no way that any one family, let alone any one person, really needed to go out and buy a hundred rolls of toilet paper or several gallons of hand sanitizer.  I’ve seen a large bottle of hand sanitizer, out in a public place at church, last through three or four entire flu seasons for our entire congregation.  I’m sure that there is no good reason that anyone really needed to buy an entire case of them for themselves.

If you’ve been shopping this week, or if you’ve seen the photographs of your friends who have, you probably noticed that the shelves are empty of almost anything remotely edible.  Sure, we’re going to need food to eat, but you know what?  Since those stores normally provide the food that most of us need week in, and week out, year in, and year out, it seems obvious that people are not only stocking up, but that, in their fear and panic, they have almost certainly bought more than they can possibly use and my bet is that, while some of our neighbors are going hungry, much of that food is going to spoil and go to waste.

And that bothers me.

Folks, I’m not going to mince words here.  This kind of behavior is not only selfish, and not only tragic.

It’s sin.

 

 

 


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What We’re Doing about COVID-19

Many of you don’t follow me, or my church on Facebook and, although you probably don’t worship with us either, I thought I’d pass along a message I sent out that describes what we’re doing as a local church about the Corona virus/COVID-19.  There are, so far, only four official cases in Ohio, but statistically, that means that there are, at least, hundreds of people infected.  And, since many of our members belong to vulnerable populations, we need to take steps to keep everyone safe.  In any case, I thought that by posting our list here, some of you who attend churches, synagogues, or other houses of worship, Rotary Clubs, etc. might find something useful. 

Stay safe everyone.


Christ United Methodist Church *will* be having church on Sunday. But, while we refuse to give in to panic, we do want to be prudent and act with caution. Toward that end, we are making a few minor changes to keep everyone safe.

We hope that everyone will wash their hands before they come, and after they get home, but hand sanitizer is available in the lounge. Please use it.

We will not be shaking hands, but feel free to bump elbow, bow, curtsy, wave, or share the Vulcan sign for “live long and prosper.”

We have removed all of the registration pads from the pews so we won’t be passing them hand-to-hand.

Similarly, during Sunday’s offering, we won’t be passing the offering plate. Instead, our ushers will bring the plate to you (as much as possible). In the weeks ahead, we may just have the collection plates at the door at the end of the service.

We ordinarily spread out across the sanctuary, but we ask that everyone consider doing this even more than usual. We have plenty of room, so we ask that worshipers keep some space in between one another.

And finally, although this is always good advice, we feel it is important to emphasize this, if you feel ill, or have sniffles, or a cough, or are sneezing, please stay home. Many of our members belong to vulnerable populations and we must all do our best to keep everyone safe and healthy.

If you belong to a vulnerable population, or if someone in your home is vulnerable, and you feel that you need to stay home, we completely understand. My wife, Patti, is immune suppressed and we are taking particular care to keep her safe.

These are difficult times. No one needs to panic, but we do need to be prudent. Please do what you need to do to stay safe and healthy and care for one another as best we can. We *will* get through this.

 


Also note that since I’ve posted this, I’ve seen recommendations  against fist bumps, elbow bumps, or any kind of physical contact at all.

Further, although we have already put video of our services online on YouTube (see the link below), we are taking a good look at how we can do it better, livestream, etc.  Hopefully, we will begin implementing some of those options in the next few weeks even if we don’t have to cancel church in the months ahead.

Again, stay safe out there everyone, and take care of one another.  Check on your neighbors and your friends who are elderly, on chemo, are immune suppressed, or who belong to other vulnerable groups.

 

Blessings,
Pastor John

 

 

 


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