The Celebration and the Coming Storm

The Celebration and the Coming Storm


April 14, 2019*

Palm Sunday

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Luke 19:28-40

Have you ever heard the legend about the origin of the “V” for Victory sign?  During WW2 the V for victory symbolism was proposed because the word “Victory” begins with the letter V in both English and French and the word “Freedom” begins with the letter ‘V’ in Dutch.  But in Great Britain, the “V” sign (Americans often call it the “Peace” sign) has an entirely different, and offensive meaning and the legend about that dates to the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.  It helps to understand that the Battle of Agincourt was one of the first battles ever fought after the development of the British longbow.  Further, it was customary at the time for the lords and generals of the warring factions to meet, share dinner, and drink too much wine the night before the battle. 

With that in mind, the legend says that while the French and the English leaders were drinking, one of the French generals threatened that after they had won, they would cut off the two bow fingers of all the longbowmen.  As is often the case, the development of a new weapon proved to be decisive.  The hail of arrows from the English decimated the French troops long before they met the main body of the English swordsmen and, in the end, the French were routed and fled the field.  But, the story goes, as the French fled, the British longbowmen happily held up a “V” for victory sign to remind the French that they were still in possession their two fingers.  Ever since, the British use the “V” sign much the way that Americans tend to use their middle finger.

In any case, what I really wanted to point out was the historic practice of meeting for dinner before a major battle.  Can you imagine trying to celebrate knowing that you might not survive the fighting on the next day?  Can you imagine what it was like, as the allied armies prepared for the D-Day invasion, for those soldiers who had the misfortune to celebrate a birthday a day or two before boarding a landing craft for a beach Normandy?  In many ways, this represents what we find in the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  As we begin the story of Holy Week, of Jesus’ arrest, imprisonment, torture, crucifixion, and death on the cross, Palm Sunday must have felt, to Jesus, like having a party before the battle or a celebration before the invasion.

To see why, we begin by reading the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry in Luke 19:28-40.

28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

Before Jesus set foot in the village, he knew that there was a colt tied up there.  Before he met the owner, or any of the neighbors, he knew what answer would satisfy them that it was okay for a total stranger to borrow their animal.  Jesus’ perception of places and people who were nowhere nearby has always been impressive and is an example of Jesus’ divinity and an expression of his omniscience.  Jesus knew what was beyond his field of vision, he knew the hearts of people that he had never met, and he knew what would happen in the future.  But with that in mind, it makes the next part of the story even more staggering when we understand the story from Jesus’ perspective.

As Jesus crosses over the last hill and comes to the Mount of Olives, he is now within sight of the Temple.  On the road on which he is walking, it is now literally all downhill from the Mount of Olives to a bridge that crosses the valley, and then to the temple gate.  But as Jesus begins his descent of this hill, the people begin to shout, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  The Apostle John records that the people

“took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” [which means “Save us”]

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!”

And as the people did these things, some of the Pharisees ask Jesus to rebuke his disciples and make them stop. Jesus says no.

But why?

Because what the disciples and the people around Jesus are doing could potentially disrupt the status quo of the people in power and trigger a major problem with the occupying Roman army.  To understand better, let’s look at that in a little more detail.

The things that the people are saying, “Hosanna” or “Save us,” “Blessed is the king of Israel,” and “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” are things that were said to kings and conquering generals as they entered the city.  Riding on the back of an unridden donkey was the way that kings were known to enter the city when their intentions were peaceful.  Laying down cloaks or other items of clothing along the road was, again, the way that kings or heroes were greeted, much as we greet dignitaries today with a red carpet.  And waving palm branches was as close as the people could come to waving an Israeli flag.  Taken together, within sight of the Antonia Fortress which adjoined the Temple and was the headquarters for the Roman garrison, the people were publicly, and loudly, proclaiming the arrival of a king to the city of Jerusalem. 

The Pharisees are afraid that at the height of the Passover celebration, these actions might cause the Roman army to do something violent.  But what they probably fear most is the potential political response.  You see, when the Romans took over Israel, they set up a power sharing agreement with the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Sanhedrin.  Rome allowed Israel’s leaders to run the country and to perform their rituals in the Temple, but to ensure that these leaders were under the ultimate control of the Roman government, all the priestly vestments, robes, or uniforms were held under guard in the Fortress Antonia.  If the Romans suspected that Israel’s leaders, or her people, were raising up a new king or acting in rebellion against the Roman government (and all of these things could be interpreted that way) then the Romans would close the doors to the fortress and there could be no daily sacrifice and with tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people in the city for the celebration of Passover, there would be no Passover.

If the Pharisees and the other leaders of Israel couldn’t control the people, then the Roman army could hold the entire Passover celebration for ransom until Israel found leaders that could.  The Pharisees were afraid that the status quo could be upset, and they could lose their jobs, their status, and even their lives.  This is why the Pharisees tell Jesus to make his disciples and other supporters stop but Jesus knows that what they are doing is in fulfillment of prophecy and says that if the people stop, the stones themselves will cry out so that God’s prophecy will be fulfilled.  And Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is also why they immediately return to the city and begin to plot the murder of Jesus.  He is a danger to the structures of power.  He is a danger to the jobs, position, respectability, and authority of the movers and shakers of Israel.

Jesus must go.

But if we learned anything at all from the simple story about sending two disciples to find a donkey, it is that Jesus knew what the Pharisees were going to do next.  Even before he came to Jerusalem Jesus knew that he would die there.

And so, for Jesus, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem was very much like the officers’ dinner before the Battle of Agincourt or those unfortunate soldiers who celebrated birthdays before the invasion of Normandy knowing full well that they might not survive the day.

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, what we celebrate as Palm Sunday, is a staggering study in contrast because we see Jesus being celebrated as a king and as the messiah, but even as they celebrate, Jesus knows that he will die within hours.

Jesus knew that he would die.

He knew that honoring God would cost him his life.

And he chose to honor God anyway.

And yet, how often do we fail to honor God because doing so might be…

… inconvenient?

 

 

 


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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.

Choices and Hypocrites

“Choices and Hypocrites”

September 02, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Song of Solomon 2:8-13                    Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23                  James 1:17-27

Have you ever loved someone?

This question is particularly addressed to those of you who are married or who might soon be married.

Do you remember what it was like to love your significant other before you became “old married people?”

Do you remember how intense your feelings were?  How powerful your passion for one another was?

It is exactly this passion and intensity that we find in the Song of Solomon.  This poem is all about
Solomon’s love for his bride and her for him.  It’s all about the passion and intensity of love and marriage between a man and a woman, but for thousands of years, in both Jewish and Christian theology, it has also been an allegory about the relationship between God and his people Israel, and between Jesus and his church.

Let’s begin in Song of Solomon 2:8-13, where we hear these words:

Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattice.
10 My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
11 See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
12 Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”

When used and understood as an allegory, we can see how intensely and passionately God loves his people and his church.  Unlike the repeated theme in The Game of Thrones, winter is not coming.  In Solomon’s story, and in God’s story, winter is over.  Spring has come.  The flowers appear.  Spring is a representation of new life, of reproduction, and a reminder that a healthy love produces fruit.  When we understand our relationship with Jesus Christ in that way, a love that is full of passion and intensity, then we begin to understand that our relationship can, and should, be more that what most of us are experiencing.  Just as the Song of Solomon reminds us that our relationship with our spouse could be stronger if it were renewed and refreshed by remembering the feelings of passion, intensity, and love that we once had, it also reminds us that our relationship with God could likely stand some refreshing as well.

In the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Mark (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23), Jesus confronts a group of church leaders who had forgotten their love for God and who had allowed that relationship to become all about routine, tradition, and rules.

7:1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law criticized Jesus because his followers didn’t wash their hands before they ate as tradition demanded.  Jesus replies with scripture and quotes the prophet Isaiah while at the same time calling these church leaders a bunch of hypocrites.  Isaiah called out the same kind of people in his generation for talking all about their love for God but having hearts that were nothing like the kind of hearts that God wanted.  Instead, Isaiah says, they are totally focused on human rules and Jesus says that the church leaders of his generation had done the same thing.  They had forgotten the important things that God wanted and focused instead on rules that men wanted.

Nothing has changed.

How often do we see churches that are fixated on rules that you can’t find anywhere in the Bible?  Or rules that are twisted to be more important than they ever were when the Bible was written?  There are churches that say you can’t be a Christian if you are a Republican and others that say you can’t belong if you are a Democrat, some that prohibit their members from wearing certain kinds of clothing, or drinking alcohol, or smoking, or attending other churches, or listening to other pastors, and on and on it goes.  If you listen carefully to many televangelists, you’ll find much the same things and this is exactly what you will find with many of the groups that we refer to as cults.  But this sort of thing also creeps into our local churches, and into our personal lives.  And Jesus cautions us to be careful that we keep our focus on our hearts.  We need to have hearts like God and hearts that love the things that God loves.

We are hypocrites if we talk all about God and have hearts that are full of sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and foolish projects.

James spells this out clearly. (James 1:17-27)

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James reminds us all that God does not change.  God sent Jesus, the word of truth, so that we could be born to eternal life.  As the followers of Jesus, we should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry because anger does not draw us toward the things of God but pushes us away from the things of God instead.  Moreover, James has an important word of caution for us as we follow Jesus and try not to become hypocrites like the Pharisees.

James says that we cannot simply come to church and listen to the scriptures being preached, proclaimed, and taught.  Coming to church isn’t enough.  Listening to, or even reading scripture, isn’t enough.  The pharisees heard scripture every day.  They studied it.  They taught it.  They proclaimed it.  The even enforced it.  But that wasn’t enough because the word of God never made it to their hearts.  They insisted that people follow tradition.  They called out people who didn’t follow the rules.  But they didn’t do the things that God wanted.  James says that while listening to the word of God is important, we must also do the things that God has called us to do.

Calling ourselves Christians, and going to church, and reading and listening to scripture doesn’t do us any good at all if we don’t do the things that scripture teaches and act the way that Christians are called to act.  James says that those who fail to do what God commands are like someone who looks in a mirror and immediately forgets what he looks like.  We would describe such a person as a fool, or worse.  But to be blessed, a person must look into God’s word and not forget and do the things that it says.  James says that hypocrites who don’t do what they have been taught, have a religion that is worthless.

So, what does all this mean?

It’s simple.  And it’s difficult at the same time.  The Song of Solomon is a clue, and it reminds us that all of scripture is a love letter from God to his church, and that God’s great desire is for us to love him with the same passion and desire that he has for us.  The closest and best understanding of what that love looks like is the love that a bride and her bridegroom have for one another.

But too often, the people, the church, and even its leaders forget the love that they once had for God and they begin to love their own desires and their own rules more than they love God.  Both Isaiah and Jesus describe such people as those who honor God with their lips but whose hearts are far from him.  They worship God in vain.  They have made poor choices. Their religion is worthless.  They are… hypocrites.

The only defense that we have is to stay in love.  To remember the passion that we once had, and work to return to the lover that loves us back with passion and intensity.  Because if our love is real, then that love will be lived out through our actions.

We are God’s chosen.

We are God’s people.

We are God’s beloved.

We must do the things that that God has taught us to do.

Not because of fear.

Not because of rules.

Not because of traditions.

Not because of obligation.

Not because of duty.

But because of love.

 

_________

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Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

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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.

A Place to Belong

“A Place to Belong”

July 22, 2018*

by Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 7:1-14a              Mark 6:30-34, 53-56               Ephesians 2:11-22

 

What does it mean to belong?

Last week we talked a lot about belonging, and that resurfaces again today, but what does that mean?  How do we know when we belong somewhere?  What is it about a place that tells us that we have found a place to belong?  What is it about our families, or places of business, or our communities, or our churches, that help us to know, or to feel, that we belong?  And even more than that, who is it that can belong there?  Can anyone belong?  Or can only certain kinds of people belong there?

These are tough questions, so let’s take them in smaller bites and walk through it just a step at a time.  We begin this morning once again in the story of David.  This time as David realizes that his house is a lot nicer than the tent in which God “lives” after his arrival in Jerusalem.  (2 Samuel 7:1-14a)

7:1 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son.

There are several points that are worth noting from this passage this morning.  First, as much as David has loved God and been passionate about following and worshipping him, and as joyful as it made him to welcome God into Jerusalem, it only now occurs to David that God’s house isn’t nearly as nice as his own.  And so, David begins planning a new home for God so that God can belong.  To David’s way of thinking, having a home is a part of belonging, but God sets David straight.  For God, having a nice house among his people has never been a priority nor has it ever been a part of belonging.  God says, I have never once lived in a nice house, but I have always been a part of my people.  They have always belonged to me, and I have always belonged to them.

We also notice that God sometimes says no, even to the people that he loves the most.  Remember, this is David, one of the Bible’s greatest heroes and the one who was described as “a man after God’s own heart.”  But God tells David, “No.”  David wants to build a temple for God and God says, “No, not yet. No, not you.”  But if we continue to read, we discover that God says “No” because God wants something that is even better than what David wants.  God intends to give David something better than what David had planned, and God also intends to give a great blessing to David’s son, and to David’s descendants.

From this we can understand two things about belonging.  First, belonging isn’t about a specific place, or about money, or about power.  Instead, belonging is about our relationships with one another.  Second, if we follow the example of God, we know we belong when we discover a place where the people want what is best for us, and we become a place of belonging when we desire what is best for others.

But what does that look like?  What does it look like to be a people who want what is best for others?

And to answer that question, we can have no better example than to look at the life of Jesus.  In Mark 6:30-34, 53-56, we read these words:

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

John Wesley once said:

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

And that’s exactly what we see here.  Jesus was doing ministry.  He was doing all the good he could, for all the people he could, as often as he could.  They were so busy, they didn’t even have a chance to eat.  And even though Jesus was trying to take care of himself, and his disciples were trying to care for him, by taking him to a quiet place to take a break and get some rest, people guessed where he was going and got there ahead of him.  And so, even when he really needed a break to get some rest, and to pray, and to be refreshed, he still had compassion and taught them anyway.  Everywhere Jesus went, people recognized him, and they brought the sick to him.  And even the people who could only reach out and touch the fringe on his robe, were healed.

These are remarkable stories.  But once again, the Apostle Paul teaches us what these stories mean to the church, to us, in the twenty-first century.  In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul says (Ephesians 2:11-22):

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Paul reminds us that all the healing, and all the crowds, and all the ministry of Jesus was a part of God’s invasion of the earth and our culture.  The arrival of Jesus was a demonstration of how God intended for the church to radically upend the culture of the world.  Jesus came to tear down the walls the separated people so that there would no longer be insiders and outsiders, citizens and foreigners, members and strangers.  Each one of us was once a stranger, or a foreigner, or an outsider, and every one of us was invited in by Jesus so that we could belong.  We were invited in to belong to Jesus’ family, belong to Jesus’ church, and belong to Jesus’ mission.  Jesus tore down the barriers that divided people between Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, black and white, the ‘in’ crowd and the outsiders, the ‘A-list’ and the ‘B-list,’ and any other division between us.

Jesus invited all of us to a place where we could belong.

And Jesus intended for the church to be that place.

Paul said that in Jesus Christ we are being built together so that we can become a place where God lives.

This is a big deal.

You see, last week’s message reminded us that we were adopted into God’s kingdom and had been given a place to belong.  But this week’s scriptures remind us that not only were we invited to belong, our mission, as the church of Jesus Christ, is to create a place where others can belong.

But how do we do that?  How do we make our church, our homes, our community, our very lives, a place of belonging?  Let’s review what we already heard today.

First, the story of King David reminds us that we need to start by inviting God to be at the center of our lives and at the center of all that we do.

Second, we need to remember that belonging isn’t about a specific place, or money, or power but it is about relationships with one another.  We become a place of belonging when we build relationships with the people outside the church.

Third, a place of belonging is a place where the people want what is best for us and where we desire what is best for others.  We become a place of belonging when we reach out and help others, lift them up, and help them to become a better version of themselves.

Jesus and John Wesley both taught that while we need to care for ourselves, we need to do all we can, for all the people we can, in all the ways that we can, as often, and as long, as we can.

But Jesus’ life also teaches us that we can’t make distinctions that divide people.  Paul said Jesus came to tear down the walls that divide us and invite the outcasts, and the outsiders, the strangers, and the foreigners, to come in, be a part, and belong.

Our job, our mission, is to become the kind of people, and the kind of church, invites and attracts the community in which we live and the people around us to come in, to belong, and to be adopted, like we were, into God’s family.

My prayer, and I hope yours is too, is that we would all be passionate about becoming the place of belonging that Jesus has called us to be.

 

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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.

Belonging: A Tale of Two Kings

“Belonging: A Tale of Two Kings”

July 15, 2018*

By John Partridge

 

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19                        Ephesians 1:3-14                   Mark 6:14-29

 

Sometime between 1990 and 1991, just as the U.S. and coalition forces were building up to what would eventually be called Desert Shield, I found myself with a day off in Paris during a business trip.  Wanting to see as much of the city as possible, I bought a map at the first bookstore I found and walked from one end of the city to the other.  I saw the Eiffel Tower and the outside of the Louvre, the palace, and many other places.  But just as I was nearing the cathedral of Notre Dame, I encountered a street full of protesters carrying signs and banners speaking out against American aggression.  I wondered, if I were approached, if I should pretend to be Canadian.  In any case, I took the next right and made my away toward my destination on another street.  Although I was never in any danger, that protest was a reminder that I was far from home.  Later that afternoon, as I walked back to my hotel (in the pouring rain) I went past the US Embassy.  In that place, far from home, even without going in, I felt a renewed sense of safety.  This was a piece of home.  This was a place, where I belonged.

 

About eighteen months ago, while we were visiting Liberia, I had a similar feeling as we passed embassy row.  I never felt as if we were in any danger whatsoever in Liberia, but there, where we could see the stars and stripes flying over the embassy compound, I knew that even though I had never set foot inside, this was a place where I belonged.

 

We all have places where we belong.  We belong to families and to groups of friends, in homes, in schools, in businesses, and hopefully here in this church.  But there is another, far more important, place of belonging that we should know and should never forget.

 

We begin this morning with a story from the life of King David.  The Ark of the Covenant had been stolen by the Philistines and had been kept by them for many years, but wherever they kept it, it brought plague and pestilence.  Eventually the Philistines determined to get rid of it, and although the story is a long one, eventually David determines to bring the ark to the tabernacle in Jerusalem.  This is where we join the story in 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19.

6:1 David again brought together all the able young men of Israel—thirty thousand. He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.

12 So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.

David’s wife, Michal, watched David entering the city and she did not like what she saw.  David was dancing before God with everything that he had.  I suspect that this was not a gentle ballet, but far more energetic like hip-hop, or boogie-woogie, or maybe slam dancing.  There was dancing, and music, and shouting and David gave gifts to everyone in the entire crowd.  And Michal was unhappy with her husband, the king, because his behavior was too passionate and too improper.  David had left his ego behind.  He was so full of joy before God that he poured out his love in ways that she thought made him look foolish and did not conform with how she thought royalty should look or act.  But David knew that the ark of the Lord was a symbol of God’s presence among his people.  For David, they were literally welcoming God into their city and inviting him to live among his people and share life with them.  There could be no better reason to throw an ecstatic, knock-down, drag-out, celebration, and David gave it everything that he had.

But in comparison, let’s look at what I’d like to call, the Nightmare on Herod Street.  This happens immediately after the passage that we read last week in Mark 6:14-29, in which Jesus had been teaching, and performing miracles, and then sent his disciples out, and they also were teaching, and healing, and casting out demons.

14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

For precisely the opposite reasons that David angered his wife, Herod gets in a real mess and it costs John his life.  While David’s joy and passion for God allowed him to leave his ego behind, Herod is so focused on physical pleasure, desire, and lust, that he drools over his niece and offers her, in front of a roomful of people he wanted to impress, “anything she wanted.”  Even though her answer was unexpected, and even though it was something that Herod didn’t want to do, Herod had painted himself into a corner.  He allowed his passions for flesh and power to control him, and now his ego and his embarrassment compel him to follow through so that he can save face.

The difference between these two kings, the difference between these two men, can be seen fundamentally as the difference between the two kingdoms to which they belong.  While David belongs to the kingdom of God, Herod’s loyalties are exclusively and unrepentantly dedicated to the kingdom of the flesh.  While David loves God, Herod loves only himself.  While David is passionate about pleasing God, Herod’s passions are all about money, and sex, and power.  While David’s worship of God allows him to leave his ego behind as he expresses his joy at the arrival of God in Jerusalem, while David is willing to look foolish before men so that he can bring honor to God, Herod is willing to take an innocent life, the life of a man that he knew to be righteous and holy, because his ego demanded it.

So, what does this have to do with us?

Everything.

Three thousand years after David and two thousand years after Herod, we are still divided by our loyalties to these same two kingdoms.  We are constantly pulled back and forth between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of flesh and we struggle to know where we belong. But in his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul reminds us that we need not be confused. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

There are several repeated ideas in this passage.  You are blessed by God.  You are not an accident.  God knew you before the creation of time.  God chose you.  God predestined you, which we understand to mean that God knew, before the creation of time, that you would accept his invitation. God has not only invited you to be a part of his kingdom, he has adopted you, and not just adopted, but “adopted to sonship.”  That means that we are adopted and given full and complete legal rights as if we were genetically, and biologically, born into his family.  Even though we were born two thousand years after Jesus, Paul tells us that we were included in the kingdom of Jesus Christ as soon as we heard the message of truth and the gospel of salvation.  When you believed, God marked you, indelibly and permanently, as his own.  The Spirit of God is a down payment, a deposit, earnest money, guaranteeing our inheritance until we finally arrive in the kingdom to which we belong.

You see, although we have never set foot inside the walls of the fortress of God, it is, absolutely the place where we belong. It is our home.  It is the place where we will meet our extended family and everyone else who has been adopted as brothers and sister of Jesus Christ.  This is the place that God has prepared for us.

But we are constantly pulled between these two kingdoms.  Just like Herod, we feel the pull of the kingdom of flesh, calling us to a life of ego, self, lust, violence and death.  But, like David, we also hear the invitation of God.

The way of Herod leads to death.

But the way of David leads to life eternal.

To which kingdom will you belong?

 

 

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

God Hates Church

“God Hates Church”

August 07, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 12:32-40                Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16         Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

 

 

Do you remember playing pretend and actually using your imagination?

Today we’re going to begin by playing a game with your imagination.

This is going to be a little weird.

Imagine… that every Sunday there are church services in your local bank.  These are not services to worship God, but services to worship money.  Each week people gather to sing songs about deposit slips and ATM’s and occasionally a really old song about real human tellers that smiled.  People stand up occasionally to share stories about how their debit or credit cards changed their lives and the bank president preacher delivers a message about the importance of maintaining a healthy balance.

I warned you that this was going to be weird.

But over time, the stockholders of the bank begin to notice that while the worship services at the bank are just as passionate as they once were, there are a lot of people who aren’t customers of the bank and are known to be deadbeats who don’t have any money.  They love to sing the songs about money, but they don’t actually want to earn any, or save any, of their own.  For them, it’s the passion of the worship experience, and the fellowship of the community that’s important and not the money.

This is weird, first of all because it is difficult for us to imagine that people would worship at the bank (despite the fact that we know a lot of people who already worship their money).  But there is a second layer of weird because the people who are worshipping at the bank reach a point where they don’t even care about the money.  And we wonder why they would even go to the bank if they didn’t have any money and weren’t a regular bank customer.

But move that story back to the church instead of the bank, and substitute God for money, and this is essentially the story that we have in Isaiah (Isaiah 1:1, 10-20)…

The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.

18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Right off the bat, God refers to the leaders of Israel as if they were from Sodom and her people as if they were from Gomorrah, but then God says that he doesn’t care about their sacrifices, or their prayers, or their offerings, incense, holy days, celebrations, feasts, or festivals.  In today’s language, God says, I don’t care about your worship, I hate your church, I despise Christmas and I reject Easter.  You come to worship, but I refuse to listen because you only care about your worship.  Your actions are evil and your hearts are corrupt.

God says that if his people want to be clean again, their hearts must return to God and when they do, their actions will begin to look like the actions of godly people… do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed, and care for the fatherless and the widow.  God makes sure that they know it is not too late to change, but if they do not, they will be destroyed by violence.

The reality that Isaiah tries to communicate to God’s people is that church was supposed to be an expression of their love for God but has become instead simply a travelling show, a performance for its own sake, a custom or a habit with no love.  And God says that for him it was never about the show.  It was always about love.  In today’s language, what God says is that if you can’t live like believers, if you can’t love, then God doesn’t care about church, or Christmas, or Easter, or any of it.

We find this same sentiment expressed by the Apostle Paul in Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, where he says,

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

I like to remind everyone around me that in most contexts, when the word “faith” is used in scripture, it can more easily be understood by replacing it with the word “trust.” What Paul is saying then, is that we trust God, we have confidence and assurance that God will do what God has said that he will do because we have tested him and found him to be worthy of our trust.  And as such, we, like those who have come before us, live by faith and look forward to something better, a world that is better, because we trust that God has prepared such a place for us.  Paul’s description, much like that of Isaiah, reminds us that worshiping God is more about the condition of our heart than about putting on a good show on Sunday morning.

And then in Luke 12:32-40, we hear Jesus emphasize the importance of our heart condition.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

That really is a powerful message.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

If your treasure is money, your heart will love money.  If your treasure is in pleasure, then that’s where your heart lives.  And if your treasure is in looking good, or even in worship and on making Sunday morning worship services look great, or in overflowing offering plates, then that is where your heart will be also.

But that isn’t what God wants.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do what we do on Sunday morning with as much excellence as we can muster, but what it means is that if our only goal is to put on appearances, then none of it matters and God doesn’t care about any of it.

Jesus says that he will come at an hour when no one will expect him and we must be ready, our hearts must be ready, because on that day there will be no ‘do overs’ or second chances.  Our hearts, on that day, today, and every day, must be focused on God and God alone.

Church is supposed to be an expression of our love for God.  No matter what we do, love has to come first or church will instead become nothing more than a performance for its own sake, a custom or a habit with no love.  God doesn’t want church to be full of people who don’t have an account with him or even care who he is or what he wants.  No matter how passionate, God doesn’t want a church without love.

Without love, God hates church.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Love… must… come… first.

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Heart of God’s Lover

“The Heart of God’s Lover”
August 30, 2015
By John Partridge

Scripture: Song of Solomon 2:8-13          1 John 3:2-4          Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Have you ever been to a wedding? Certainly, almost all of us have and of all the things that we always remember at every wedding is how beautiful the bride was. It doesn’t really matter what kind of a wedding it is either. It could be a traditional wedding, a country and western wedding, a formal wedding, an informal wedding, they are all the same in that the bride does her very best to look beautiful. I once performed a wedding in which our church secretary got a phone call from the court house, in the morning, from a couple who was there getting their wedding license. They wondered if the pastor could marry them that afternoon so that they could be done and home before the kids got home from school. It seems that they had been living together for eight or ten years and the groom was finally in a mood to get married, and so the poor woman knew she didn’t want to waste her chance. They dashed off to the courthouse, got a wedding license, came down to the church with another couple as witnesses, and got married in my office. And even then, the bride took the time to stop at home and make sure that her hair and make-up got a little extra attention.

At any wedding, it is the love that the bride and groom have for one another that makes them want to look their best for the one that they love.

It is that principle that I want you to keep in mind.

Throughout scripture, God’s redeemer and rescuer, the Messiah, is described as the bridegroom. The prophet Isaiah said that (Isaiah 62:5) “As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

In Matthew 9:15, Jesus describes himself as the bridegroom saying, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.”

And in John’s Revelation the bride is revealed to be all of those whose names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life, that is, the followers of Jesus Christ, his church.

It is these sorts of lessons that bring the Old Testament into sharper focus. We always knew that the Old Testament was full of interesting stories but aside from revealing things about the basic morality of the Israelites, a bit of history, and a lot of weird stuff about the old system of worship and sacrifice, we often had a hard time understanding it. But, with the arrival of Jesus and the fulfillment of prophecy, we can go back and revisit some of those books that we thought were old and dusty, and see them in an entirely new light. We can see them differently, because we can now see them through the lens of Jesus.

For example, let’s look at the Song of Solomon. We always knew that this was a great book about love and sex, but if we think about Jesus as the bridegroom, our understanding of the story changes completely. (Song of Solomon 2:8-13)

8 Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattice.
10 My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
11 See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
12 Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”

It’s easy to picture a bridegroom peeking through the lattice at his beloved, singing with joy, but when we re-imagine that scene where it is God that is peeking at us, where God is filled with anticipation of being with us, because of his passionate love for us, then the whole thing takes on a completely different, and amazingly wonderful, flavor.

If God loves us in this deep and passionate way, then we are more than simply loved by God, we are the beloved of God or, in other words, we are God’s lover.

But if God is in love with us in this amazing way, then how are we, as the Bride of Christ, to prepare ourselves for our wedding? What does it look like for us to, spiritually, do our hair and make-up and beautify ourselves for our bridegroom?

If we look, we can find the answer directly from the lips of Jesus. In Mark chapter 7 the Pharisees take issue with the behavior of Jesus’ followers because they are not following “the rules” of the law and so are living lives that are unclean. Because of this, these church leaders attach Jesus. (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23)

7:1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’

8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
The issue for Jesus, you see, is, and always has been, an issue of purity.
In 1 John 3:2-4, John puts it this way:

2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

The way that we beautify ourselves for our bridegroom is to purify ourselves and Jesus wanted to be sure that we understood that purity isn’t about washing our hands before we eat, or rinsing cups or kettles, or blindly following old traditions.

Purity is all about the heart.

Purity is all about what’s on the inside.

As we prepare ourselves for our beloved, and for our wedding day, our goal isn’t to get rich, or to elect the right political party, or be famous, or to do so many other things that our culture thinks are important. Instead, as James (James 1:27) taught us,

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

God loves us deeply and passionately and our goal is to prepare ourselves for the day that he will call us to live with him in his pure and perfect home. To do that, we must deal with a serious heart condition. We must purify our hearts, filling them with the word of God and other things of purity, and we must do the things that God has called us to do.

Because the heart of God’s lover…

…is our own.