I Have Seen; I Am Sending

I Have Seen; I Am Sending

August 30, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Exodus 3:1-15            Romans 12:9-21                     Matthew 16:21-28

Where do you come from?

Many of you have heard me tell stories about my family.  My grandfather fought for Germany in World War I, my father was in the Navy during World War II, my father-in-law was in the Army, stationed in Germany, during the Korean Conflict, my oldest brother was drafted into the Army during Vietnam, and served in the Army Reserves during the 1980’s and 1990’s.  And, of course, our son Noah enlisted in the Marine Corps and this week our son Jonah was commissioned as an armor officer in the United States Army.  The military isn’t all that we are however, and none of us, as yet, have made it a career, but our service is a part of our history and knowing our story, as a family, helps us to understand who we are.

The same is true for us as members of God’s family.  Knowing where we came from and understanding the service and the mission of our historical family members helps us to better understand our service and our mission in this generation.  We begin this morning, as we often do, in the Old Testament as we rejoin Moses as he tends sheep in Midian, forty years after he murdered a man and fled Egypt. (Exodus 3:1-15)

3:1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, youwill worship God on this mountain.”

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.”

First, since I began by talking about military service, it is important to note that Moses was drafted.  Moses had no reason to return to Egypt, he had no desire to return to Egypt, and in fact, since he was wanted for murder in that place, he had every reason not to return to Egypt.

But God had other plans.

After all the persuasion and arguing, God sends Moses to the enslaved people of Israel in Egypt with a message of physical and spiritual freedom.

And then, in Matthew 16:21-28,

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their lifewill lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Several times we are told that Jesus didn’t really want to go to Jerusalem because he knew that he would suffer and die when he did.  But, like Moses, Jesus knew that going to Jerusalem, and suffering many things, was all a part of God’s plan.  Jesus even rebukes Peter for encouraging a selfishness that would choose safety over obedience to God.  Jesus knew that God was sending him to fulfill the promises of scripture and turning away from that responsibility would be the same as open rebellion against God.

So, what does any of that have to do with us?

The stories of Moses and Jesus both point to our need for obedience to God and to the mission and ministry that God has given to the church, and to us, today.  In Romans 12:9-21, Paul explains, in part, this way:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

If we boil it down, in Exodus, God said to the people of Israel, “I am sending Moses.”  In Matthew, God said to the world, “I am sending Jesus.”  And to everyone, everywhere, following the resurrection and Jesus’ return to heaven, God said, “I am sending my church.”  To us, God says, “I am sending you.”

Moses was sent to bring freedom to the captive people of Israel.

Jesus was sent to bring freedom from sin and death to the world.

And we are being sent to share the Good News, to tell the world the story of freedom, and to continue the work that Jesus began.  To heal the sick, bring freedom to the captives, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, cling to what is good, be devoted to one another in love, live lives of humility, joy, hope, patience, and faithfulness, bless those who persecute you, rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn, and live in peace with everyone.

We are called to be agents of mercy, love, and peace to all people regardless of color, nationality, or politics. 

We are called to love our enemies as well as our friends and neighbors.

This world will never be perfect until Jesus returns to make things right, but until then God has sent his people to make the world a better place through the power of forgiveness and love.

This is how you fit into our family history:

Moses didn’t want to go to Egypt, but he went because God sent him.

Jesus didn’t want to go to Jerusalem, but he went because God sent him.

Now, God is sending you.

God is sending each of us into the world to make the world a better place, a more loving place, a more perfect place than it was before.

God is sending you.

What will be your answer?

 

 


 

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

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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 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.

Peace through… What?

Peace Through… What?

December 09, 2018*

(Second Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

 

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

 

Peace.

In our modern world, we have often heard the phrase, “Peace through strength.”  Nations, from ancient Rome, to Hitler’s Germany, to today’s military-industrial machine, have all claimed to bring about peace through having a powerful military, but it has rarely worked out that way.  Peace through strength only works when that strength is used to threaten the peace of others.  Granted, used rightly, and justly, that same strength can be used to rescue people, and nations, from abuse by other nations or from terrorists.  But God’s story leans in another direction.  God’s story bends the claim of “peace through strength” into a different shape entirely.  In Malachi 3:1-4, God says:

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.

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. 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, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

God says that he will send a messenger to his people and this will be the messenger that Israel has desired, and has prayed for, for thousands of years since the time of King David.  But this promise also comes with a warning.  When God’s messenger, God’s Messiah, appears, he will prepare the way for God by refining and purifying his people.  God’s message is that there is strength through purity and strength through righteousness.

But let’s look a little deeper and understand why this is a warning.

Malachi says that God’s messenger will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver and will purify the Levites, the priests of God, and refine them like gold and silver.

Why is that a warning?  It is a warning if you understand how silver and gold are purified.

When silver is refined, the silversmith places the silver over the fire, in the middle of the furnace, where the fire is the hottest and waits while the fire burns away all its impurities.  During this process, the silversmith can never take his eyes away from the silver or it might overheat and be destroyed.  But the silversmith knows the precise moment when the silver has been purified, because at that moment, he can clearly see his reflection in it.  God’s warning is that that he intends to purify his priests, and purify his people, by burning away all of their impurities so that they will reflect his image and his glory.

Peace through purification. 

Peace through trials.

Peace through the refiner’s fire.

We await the return of Jesus.  We are expectant.  But we are warned that, for us, his return may not be easy.

John the Baptist reinforces this same image in Luke 3:1-6, where 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— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 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.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’”

John preached that God’s people must busy themselves preparing the way for the arrival of the Messiah by repenting of their sins.  “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low, the crooked roads shall become straight, the rough places smooth”, and only then… “all the people will see God’s salvation.”

Peace through repentance.

And finally, we come to the Apostle Paul as he writes to the church in Philippi and prays for them as we see in Philippians 1:3-11.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 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.

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. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

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.

Right off the bat, Paul begins by saying that God has begun a good work in his church and prays that God will continue the work that he has already started.   And, just in case you missed the importance of this, I want to restate it.  Paul tells the church that what they are doing is good, but that God isn’t finished with them yet, that there is more work to do, that we are a work in-progress, and he is praying that God would continue to move us in that direction until we have accomplished everything that God has intended for us to do.  Second, Paul reminds the church that whether we are together or apart, we share God’s grace and we share God’s work.  And finally, Paul’s prayer is that the love of the church may grow greater and greater, that the people will grow in the knowledge of God and in depth of insight into the mind of God so that  we might be able to discern what is best, so that we might be pure and blameless on the day of Christ’s return, and so that the church will be filled with the fruits of righteousness, so that God would be given praise and glory.

And if we boil that down, we find Paul’s prayers for the people of Jesus Christ are these:

Peace through the perfecting work of God.

Peace through the grace of God.

Peace through love.

Peace through the knowledge of God.

And we hear the united voices of Malachi, John the Baptist, and the Apostle Paul saying,

“Peace through the righteousness of God.”

The second coming of Jesus Christ will not be easy.  We must work diligently to live up to the high calling as a kingdom, and as priests, of Jesus.  We are being refined and purified into something better.  We must daily work to move toward the perfection of Jesus, to struggle daily to be more like Jesus, so that we can love others like Jesus.

It is no accident that Isaiah 9:6 describes the Messiah this way:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

We are a kingdom of priests, be he is…

The Prince of Peace

No matter the strength of a nation, or it’s swords, horses, and armies or navies, peace through strength will always fail… without the Prince of Peace.

There can only be peace…

            …through Jesus.

 

 

 

 


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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.

Reversal of Fortune

“Reversal of Fortune”

September 30, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

49 Everyone will be salted with fire.

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

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

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

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

But what is that thing about salt losing its saltiness?

Remember that Matthew 5:13-16 says,

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

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

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

Those are lessons that were unexpected.

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

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

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

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

This passage if full of the miraculous and the unexpected.

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

This is the ultimate reversal of fortune.

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

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

That is certainly worth a little inconvenience and suffering.

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

Don’t ever be afraid to be salty.

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


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

Purpose. Words. Action.

“Purpose. Words. Action.”

August 26, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43                      John 6:56-69              Ephesians 6:10-20

Have you ever gone on a vacation?

Or, have you ever turned a corner in a part of town that you don’t visit often, and discover that there’s a new building that you’ve never seen before?

Often, for both vacations and construction, as well as almost everything else, things seem to happen suddenly, almost magically.  We even talk about it that way.  We say things like, “We’re going to disappear for the weekend.” Or, “We just took off for a quick holiday.”  But, even something as simple as a weekend getaway doesn’t “just happen.”  We had the idea that we might want to do that, we coordinate schedules, we take time off of work, kennel the dogs, get a cat-sitter, we plan where we’re going, make reservations, pack suitcases, get the car serviced, or at least buy gas, and only after all of that do we “disappear for the weekend.”

Getting from point A to point B takes planning and preparation.

But it also takes purpose.  Before you go on a vacation or build a building, you must have a reason to do so.  It might simply be that you’re tired and need a break, but something made you decide.  You had something in mind as a goal even if your only goal was to relax.  A new building is, from the very beginning, designed with a specific goal in mind and, as a result, a church looks very different than an office building, or a factory, or a doctor’s office.  This idea is so common, that we have an expression for it, “Form follows function.”

The church is no different.  And so, when we read the story about the construction of the temple that Solomon built to honor God, we discover not only the purpose for which the temple was built, but also the purpose that God has for his people and for his church.  (1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43)

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven 23 and said:

“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. 24 You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it—as it is today.

25 “Now Lord, the God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before me faithfully as you have done.’ 26 And now, God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true.

27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. 29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— 42 for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.

I think that it’s worth noting that God promises Solomon that his descendants will continue to sit on the throne and be blessed by God only if they are careful in all that they do and walk faithfully with God as David did.  We must be careful in what we draw from this because none of us are likely to be descendants of King David and this promise is therefore not directly aimed at us, but all the same, as a general guideline, this tells us a lot about how God might choose to disburse his blessings upon his people.  We cannot reasonably expect that God will bless what we do, if we are not careful in what we do and walk faithfully with God.

But even more importantly, I think, is that after Solomon prays that God’s name will “be here” in that place, he prays that God would hear the prayers of the foreigners who have come from far away because they had heard of the greatness of Israel’s God.  Solomon prays that God would answer the prayers of the foreigner so that…, and here I need to interrupt myself.  Whenever we encounter words such as “so that” or “therefore” we need to sit up and pay attention because those words signal a conclusion that summarizes everything that came before.  And so, having built a great temple for the God of Israel, and having prayed that God would be present in it, and that God would answer the prayers of his people as well as the prayers of foreigners from far away, Solomon declared that the reason for all of it, is so that all the people of the earth would know God in the same way that the people of Israel knew God and that they would know that the temple that Solomon had built was a place where God was present.  Solomon wants the world to know that this is not Solomon’s temple, but that it is God’s Temple.

Fast forward three thousand years and that same purpose is easily transferable to us.  The purpose of this church, and of this people, is that all the people around us would know God the way that we know God and that everyone who encounters us would know that this is a place of prayer where they can meet God and experience his presence.

The purpose of the church has not changed.

Having established the purpose of the church, let’s return to the story of Jesus as he explains the idea of sharing his flesh and his blood in John 6:56-69.

56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”  And if you remember, last week we learned that John described Jesus by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  And from that we understand Jesus’ references to flesh and blood to be a connection not only to his bodily sacrifice, but to the words that he said and the things that he taught.  Jesus emphasizes this in the passage that we just read when he said, “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.”  We see this again when Peter says, “You have the words of eternal life.”

Even Jesus’ own disciples knew that this was a difficult teaching.  We must feed on the word of God to sustain our spiritual lives, just as we must eat food for our physical bodies to survive.  Jesus has the words of eternal life.  We must always keep this in mind as we set out to be the church and to save the world.  We cannot save the lost, or rescue the hurting, or be a lighthouse of hope, or even truly feed the hungry or clothe the naked unless we share with them the words and the Good News of Jesus.  What good would it be to save physical lives and, at the same time, make no attempt to rescue them for eternity?

But what else?

We know the purpose of the church, and we know that we need to consume the word of God and we know that we need to be about the business of saving the world by sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, and his words, with them.

But what else?

And again, Paul has something to say about that, this time in his letter to the church in Ephesus. (Ephesians 6:10-20)

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Paul emphasizes that our choice is more than just sharing or not sharing, and even more urgent than just reading the word or not reading it.  Paul explains that this isn’t the same as choosing between a stop at Sunoco or a stop at BP for fuel.  This is not a picnic, or even a friendly competition.  When we choose to follow Jesus Christ, we are thrust into the middle of an all-out war.  There can be no casual observers because once we put on the uniform, we have taken sides.  As followers of Jesus, we are identified as such and become the enemies of his enemies.  For our own self-defense, and for the protection of our families, friends, and fellow believers, we must arm ourselves for the fight that rages around us.  Paul urges us to put on the armor of faith, defend ourselves from the enemy, and fight against him with everything that we have within us.  Stand your ground against evil, stand for truth, be righteous and stand for righteousness, be ready, spread peace, have faith and arm yourself with the Spirit of God.  At the same time, pray for your leaders, pray for your pastor, pray for our missionaries, pray for one another, and pray for all of those whom we might reach with the message of God’s rescue.  All of these have already been identified as the enemies of Satan, all of them will fall under the attack of his armies, and all of them are in need of God’s protection.  Your prayers, for yourself, and for others, is needed, necessary, and helpful in the fight against evil and for the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ.

In short, if we know the purpose of the church, and if we are fed with the words of Jesus Christ, we must also know that stopping there simply isn’t good enough.  There is work to do.  We are at war.  And every single soldier is needed for the battle.

Let us encourage one another.

Let us pray for one another.

Let us ready ourselves.

We are at war.

We must take action.

Let’s fight to make a difference.

 

 

 

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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 Different Spring To-Do List

crocusI know that many of you will be reading this after Easter even though I am writing it in March. But the arrival of Easter and spring often signify a flurry of activity.  Many of us are already making lists of things that need to be done outside in our flower beds, gardens and lawns as well as a host of things that we put off during cold weather. If we have children, there are even more things being added to our schedules with the arrival of spring sports and other activities. But in the midst of all this busy-ness, I hope that you will also take the time to put a few spiritual things on your to-do lists. Spring and Easter are filled with images that remind us of God and of spiritual things. And so, in the midst of our rush to get things done, I encourage you to take some time out to appreciate the gift that spring really is, to “be still” and listen to the heartbeat of God, and to notice the ways in which we are surrounded by the miraculous.

What follows is far from being an all-inclusive list, but are just a few suggestions to get you started.

  • Sit.  That’s all. Just sit. Once it gets warm enough, find a place on your porch or in the back yard, pull up a lawn chair, and just sit. Leave your phone in the house. Feel the sun on your face. Listen to the wind, the birds, the neighbors, squirrels, or whatever it is that’s going on. Now remember the silence of the winter and give thanks. You’re alive and all around you the world is emerging from death and the grave of winter. Remember the resurrection of Jesus at Easter, and imagine what your new birth will be like.
  • Look for the signs. Flowers, trees, and animals of all kinds have been buried in the earth, or been dormant, in hibernation, or have migrated for thousands of miles. Now they are emerging from the earth, reawakening, and returning from far away. Within the boundaries of your lawn you can find dozens of examples of rebirth and resurrection. Give thanks for all of these little miracles.
  • Smell.  Seriously. Take a moment. Snow doesn’t smell like much, but now your yard and your neighborhood smell different. Pause for a moment. Take a deep breath. Smell the fragrance of spring flowers, the aroma of dirt, earth, and grasses that are warmed by the sun. They are alive and growing. Even the more unpleasant smells are new. Rejoice in all the new-ness around you and give thanks that you can smell, that you have life, and health, and can appreciate these gifts.
  • Touch.  Lean down and look at the spring flowers, the buds on the trees, or even the tender shoots of grass. They are so small, so fragile, and so tender that anything but the slightest touch might damage them. And yet they survived the winter, and they’ve pushed their way through the soil or forced open the tips of a woody branch to emerge into your world. Rejoice that you are there to see it but also consider how God has made something so small, so tender, so fragile, and yet at the same time, so determined, so tough, so persistent, and so resilient. Remember that the same God made you. Toughness, resilience, persistence, tenderness, love, and compassion all live within you. Give thanks for the gifts God has given to you and the ways that he has brought you through your wintery trials.
  • Your turn. Contemplate. Be still. Listen. In what other ways will God reveal himself to you?

 

 

 

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‘Go’ for Launch

‘Go’ for Launch

March 25, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Mark 11:1-11                         Zechariah 9:9-10

 

How many of you have ever watched the launch of a Saturn V rocket from the Apollo program, or a Space Shuttle, an Atlas, a SpaceX Falcon 9 or any other rocket? The entire countdown can take days, and that doesn’t include all of the construction and preparation that happened before the rocket ever made it to the launch pad.  But near the end, just before the final countdown, the Launch Director takes a poll of all the stations that are monitoring the launch.  And as you listen, you can hear him name every single position, and before the launch can proceed, each of them must answer that they are ‘Go’ for launch.  If even one of them fails to answer in the affirmative, then the launch cannot proceed.  Everything must be ready.  Every detail must be exactly as it should be.

 

We understand that.  Once, during the Space Shuttle program, one station operator reported that they were not “Go” for launch and the Launch Director chose to proceed anyway.  That station operator was reporting that the temperatures at the launch pad were below the required operating temperatures of the spacecraft.  And when the launch director followed the instructions of his superiors and ignored the “No Go” from that station operator, he doomed the entire crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

 

Rockets are powerful and dangerous.  Millions, even billions of dollars of investment and years, sometimes decades of work are on the line.  If even one thing goes wrong, everything the teams have worked for could be ruined.  There is no room for error.

 

But that is exactly what we witness as we read the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem in

Mark 11:1-11.  God has been preparing humanity for this moment for thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of years.  Lives, governments, nations, and even empires had been pulled, prodded, guided, lifted up, brought down, created, and destroyed, to bring everything into readiness for what we now call Holy Week.  And in this passage of scripture, we can see Jesus checking off the last boxes of the launch poll.

 

11:1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!” [Hosanna means “save us”]

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

10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

 

Jesus sends two disciples ahead to acquire a donkey with which to ride upon during his entrance into the holy city of Jerusalem and tells them that if anyone asks why they are taking it, to simply tell them that “the Lord needs it” and will return it shortly.  That phrase, “The Lord needs it” can also be translated as “The master has need of it” but in either case we are left with only two options.  Either Jesus had somehow, made arrangements in advance for that donkey to be there and the disciples simply needed to arrive and confirm that they were picking it up for him, or Jesus knew that the donkey was there, and that this answer would satisfy those witnesses, all while he was still miles away from that place.  But whichever possibility you think is true, it enables Jesus to arrive in the city in the same manner that the kings of Israel had done throughout history and also allows him to check off another item on that pre-launch checklist.  We know that many of the things that Jesus did were a fulfillment of the prophecies contained in the Old Testament, and this is no exception.  I think that you will find that this passage from Zechariah 9:9-10 will sound remarkably similar to the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem

 

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!  Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.

 

The people along the road knew who Jesus was.  They had heard of the things that he had done.  They had witnessed his miracles.  They had listened to him preach.  But they were expecting a military and a political leader.  They were looking for a government that would save them instead of a God who loved them.  Today they praised him, but within the week, as they realized that Jesus had no intention of taking over the government, they would turn on him, betray him, and hand him over to the chief priests and the Roman army.

 

As Jesus enters into the city of Jerusalem, and as he, and his disciples, draw closer to the climax of the story next week at Easter, Jesus will continually fulfill the promises of God and the prophecies of the Old Testament.

 

The impossible becomes possible.

 

What was seen in visions and dreams becomes reality.

 

What was foretold as the future becomes the present.

 

God’s promise is kept.

 

Israel’s hope becomes truth.

 

The hope of future generations unfolds like a flower opening in the spring.

 

The launch poll has been completed.  All is in readiness.  All systems are “Go.”

 

There is no room for error.

 

The rescue of all humanity is beginning in 10… 9… 8…7…

 

 

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

 

The Merger of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’

“The Merger of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’”

December 24, 2017

(4th Sunday of Advent)

By John Partridge*

 

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16                           Romans 16:25-27                               Luke 1:26-38

 

 

How many of you watch football?

 

For many people in this area, football is important.  In Massillon, for some people it rises to the level of religion or fanaticism, or both.  So can you imagine what football season is like in a home where a graduate of Washington High School in Massillon is married to an alumnus of McKinley?  We know that these things must happen.  You can buy flags for your yard that are half Ohio State and half Michigan with the words “A house divided” appearing at the bottom.  But somehow, at least apart from football season, these folks have found common ground and a way to live, and love, together.

 

Likewise, this is one of the things that makes the present day European Union all the more amazing.  It wasn’t that long ago that my German grandfather fought in the trenches against the French and, historically, parts of Europe have been at war with one another almost continuously from 500 BC and intermittently at least as far back as 5000 BC.  To have arrived at a place where 27 or 28 of these nations not only get along, but have formed a common government that protects and serves their common interests is nothing short of amazing.

 

But what happens at Christmas is bigger by far.

 

We begin this morning in 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, where King David decides that he should build a temple for the God of Israel but discovers that God has entirely different plans.


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

 

Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”

 

As King David relaxes in his new palace, he realizes how much God has blessed him and decides that God ought to have a house as nice, or nicer, than his own.  The prophet Nathan knows that God loves David and has supported David since he was a boy watching his father’s sheep but God has other plans.  God tells Nathan that David is not to build him a house and in fact, God insists that he never asked for house.  Instead, God intends to make David’s name even more well-known and build a nation where the people of Israel can live forever without being disturbed, and be protected from their enemies.  Rather than demand a house or a temple for himself, God intends to build David a house and a nation by promising that David’s family will rule over Israel forever.

 

But it didn’t take long before it appeared that God had forgotten his promise to David.  Ten of the twelve tribes of Israel that were ruled by David rejected his grandson Rehoboam and the kingdom was divided.  The ten tribes who splinter off become the nation of Israel and the two that remain loyal to David’s family becomes the nation of Judah.  But even that doesn’t last very long.  Twelve or fifteen generations later (about 300 years), both Israel and Judah are conquered by Babylon and carried off into captivity where the ten tribes of Israel are lost to history forever.  The two tribes of Judah, those loyal to the family line of King David, eventually return and reestablish the nation of Israel, but after that time Israel is never truly independent and a Davidic king is never anointed as ruler over Israel.

 

It is interesting to note that during the Babylonian exile, the Israelite people continued to make an effort to keep track of who was descended from King David and one of these people, the Exilarch, was the leader of the Jewish people.  The theory was that one day Israel would again become an independent nation and the Exilarch would then be anointed as the King of Israel.  This position of Exilarch was maintained as a descendent of King David for hundreds of years but was finally lost to history around 1154 AD.

 

In any case, by the time that Jesus was born, the people were still hoping that God would keep his promise and raise up a descendent of King David to be their messiah, their rescuer and redeemer.  As we’ve mentioned before, most people thought that the messiah would be a military king that would raise an army, overthrow the Romans, and make Israel into an independent nation once again.

 

And after all of that, we arrive at the story contained in Luke 1:26-38.

 

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

 

God tells Mary that her son, as a descendent from the kingly line of David, would become the king of Israel, rule over the children of Jacob forever, and his kingdom would never end.  God was about to keep the promise that he had made to King David almost a thousand years earlier.  And, although that is a really big deal, it get’s even bigger when we realize something else that the Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 16:25-27 where he says:

 

25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

 

Paul says that we are here only because of the message of the gospel and we have been given the ability to share the Good News of that gospel message to others.  Now, we finally understand the full meaning of the Old Testament prophecies that told us about the messiah that was to come and the King that would rule and reign forever.  But Paul also says that this understanding has come to us so that the Gentiles might come to faith in Jesus Christ and thus become obedient to him.

 

And this is why Christmas is such a big deal.

 

The coming of Jesus not only represents the fulfillment of God’s promise to King David as the descendent that would rule over the people of Israel forever, but also the king that would welcome the Gentiles into that same kingdom.  Since God made a covenant with Abraham and created his Chosen People, humanity had been divided into two groups, “us” and “them.”  You were either a part of God’s covenant and a member of God’s chosen people, or you weren’t.  You were either a Jew or you weren’t and if you weren’t you were therefore a Gentile.  But the coming of Jesus changes all of that.  Jesus came not only to fulfill God’s promise to David, but also to rescue the Gentiles and thus invite the entire world into God’s kingdom.

 

Christmas is a big deal because this is the greatest merger in all of human history.  With the birth of Jesus, there is no longer any “us” or “them.”  There are no longer “insiders” and “outsiders.”

 

All of humanity has been invited into God’s family… forever.

 

We… have been invited in… and have been adopted as sons and daughters of God.

 

And that is worth celebrating.

 

Merry Christmas everyone.

 

 

 

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

 

How Will You Be Remembered?

“How Will You Be Remembered?”

October 29, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Deuteronomy 34:1-12         1 Thessalonians 2:1-8                  Matthew 22:34-46

 

 

The story is told that while Calvin Coolidge was sometimes referred to by his opponents as the “Do nothing” president, he was still popular with many Americans.  When a reporter once asked how both of these things could be true, he responded by saying simply, “America wanted nothing done… so I done it.”  Calvin Coolidge was okay with being known as the “do nothing” president because, in his view, that is what he was elected to do.

 

But here’s a different thought.  How many of you have ever been to a funeral or visited a cemetery?

 

In both cases, we encounter the names of the deceased but when we do, that information is almost always associated with two additional pieces of information, the date of that person’s birth, and the date of their death.  Quite often there is also a dash or some other typographical marking that stands between these two dates.  As we walk through a cemetery, we generally find that we don’t know any, or at least few, of the people who have been buried there.  All that we know of them are those bits of information on their tombstone.

 

But what about that dash?

 

For those of us who are strangers, it conveys no additional information.  We don’t know what they did, who they were, what they were like, or who their friends were.  But to their friends and to their relatives, and perhaps to a few genealogists of historians, that dash means something else entirely.  For the people who knew them, or to those who studied them, that dash is a remembrance, it gives us a snippet of time in which we remember.  We remember who they were, how they lived, what they meant to us, and how they made us feel.

 

Poet Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

 

And as we bring in new members this week and as we prepare to celebrate All Saints Day next week that brings us to a question that all of us need to consider: How will you be remembered?  What is it that you want people to remember about you when the time comes to carve that dash in your tombstone?  This is important because choosing how we want to be remembered will have an enormous impact on how we choose to live our lives, it will have a significant effect on decisions that we make every single day, and it will change how we treat the people around us.

 

We begin this morning in Deuteronomy 34:1-12 where we meet Moses at the very end of his life and as we witness his death and burial, and as we watch Joshua assume leadership over the nation of Israel.


34:1 
Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said.He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

 

On the surface this is a story about the death of Moses and Joshua’s succession to the leadership of Israel, but a significant part of this passage is about Moses’ dash and describes for us what the people of Israel remembered about Moses after his death.  They remembered that Moses was a “servant of the Lord.”  We are told that he remained intellectually and physically vital in his old age because “his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.”  Moses was a man “whom the Lord knew face to face,” who did “signs and wonders” as an agent of God in Egypt, and who was responsible for the freedom of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt.  Moses was remembered for being the only person, ever, to display the kind of power that he did, or perform the awesome deeds that he did, or have the kind of relationship with God that he did, and he did it all in front of an entire nation.

 

In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 we see something similar.  In this case it isn’t about death, but as Paul reminds the church about his visit with them, he doesn’t talk about fundraising, or politics, or disagreements that they had, he focuses on the dash, on the things that he wants them to remember about him, about his ministry, and about themselves.
2:1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results.We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

 

Paul says that he and his companions had been treated outrageously and their ministry faced strong opposition.  But even so, their motives were pure, they didn’t use flattery to manipulate people, they weren’t greedy, their ministry wasn’t about ego or power, but instead they were innocent like children.  They cared for the church, they loved the people, and they shared not only the gospel of Jesus Christ, but they shared their lives together.

 

Paul wants the people to remember the importance of the gospel message, but he also wants them to remember that the message was delivered with compassion, tenderness, integrity, love, and lives shared with one another.  The facts were important, the gospel message was important, but so was the dash; the way that they remembered the delivery of that message and how they felt were also vitally important.

 

And finally, in Matthew 22:34-46, we encounter a story where the religious leaders of Jesus’ time once again sought to embarrass, discredit, and humiliate him.  But once again, their attempt doesn’t quite turn out the way that they expected.

 

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

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.”

 

41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”’

45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

 

In the time of Jesus, the Sadducees and the Pharisees were dueling political parties and each held power in a different way.  The Sadducees believed only in the oldest books of scripture and had power sharing agreements with the Roman government.  The Pharisees believed in the whole of scripture, as well as the importance of the writings of learned Rabbis and scholars.  These two groups often opposed one another both publically and privately. In our story, the Sadducees try to make Jesus look foolish, and when they fail the Pharisees, being competitive, decide that they should take a swing at it.  If they succeed where their opposition had failed, they would look good to the people and shame their opponents at the same time.

 

But when they try, they fail as miserably as the Sadducees had.  Without hesitation, Jesus handles their hardest question without getting tangled in any of the potential political or religious arguments that might have been attached to it.  Jesus demonstrates clear and precise thinking, cuts to the heart of the question and provides a direct, solid, theologically correct, and definitive answer.  But, having answered their question, Jesus has a question of his own, regarding the identity of the Messiah.  Everyone knew that the father was always superior to his sons, and a king was always superior to his heirs, and so when Jesus asked how the Messiah could be both the son and heir of the great King David, and, at the same time worshipped and called Lord by that same King David… the Pharisees are stumped.  They have no idea. In all their theological training, and all of their scholarly study, none of them had understood that the messiah would be both the son of man and the son of God.  They totally missed the idea that the messiah was to be not only a human savior, but also divine, God in human flesh.

 

And so this also adds to the dash of Jesus.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees no longer dare to ask Jesus questions or to try to trick him into looking foolish because every time they try, Jesus answers their most difficult questions and instead embarrassed them in front of the people they were trying to impress.  Jesus, even among his opponents, becomes known as quick witted, intelligent, theologically learned, politically astute, wily, and both street smart and book smart.  To his friends and followers, Jesus is remembered as someone who makes them feel safe, protected, and loved, but to his opponents he is feared and respected for his intellect and his ability to make them look, and feel, foolish.

 

Calvin Coolidge was known as the “do nothing president” but also as a skillful and honest public servant.  Moses is remembered as the rescuer of Israel, the most powerful prophet ever, and the man who had the closest relationship with God.  Paul wanted the church to remember that he was honest, that he loved them, cared for them, and taught them the truth of the gospel message.  Jesus, even among his enemies is remembered as smart, thoughtful, theologically intelligent, and a force to be reckoned with.

 

For those of us who know and love Jesus, there is little doubt about the importance of the dash between his birth and his death.

 

But what about you?

 

The choices that you make today, the choices that you make this week, and the way that you treat the people around you, shapes your dash.

 

The message that you carry with you, either a message of hope or a message of despair, is up to you.

 

You can carry with you the compassion, mercy and love of Jesus Christ and the good news of his life, death, resurrection, and rescue of the entire world, or you can allow the people around you to stumble under the guilt, fear, and other burdens that they carry.

 

What choices will you make?  How will you live your life?  How will the people around you feel when you are with them?

 

How will you be remembered?

 

 

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

 

Are You All In?

“Are You All In?”

June 25, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

Do you have a favorite NASCAR driver, football, baseball, or soccer player, or any other favorite sports figure? How committed are you to watching your favorite team?

 

Teams want you to support them financially, to buy tickets, and jerseys, and memorabilia, and they want you to cheer for them.  The Cleveland Indians have favored the phrase, “Go big, or go home.”  A few seasons back, their players were seen wearing shirts that predicted 100 wins.  But during the Cleveland Cavaliers’ run for the national championship last year, the question that fans were asked was…

 

…“Are you all in?”

 

LeBron James and the rest of the Cavaliers wanted to know if your support for the team was wholehearted and hot-blooded, and not just lukewarm.  And that’s a good way of thinking about the theme of today’s message and the thread that winds its way through our scripture lessons.  We begin today in Genesis 21:8-21, where we find a jealous Sarah who is so enraged by the presence of her husband’s mistress and their semi-illegitimate child, as well as the fighting and sibling rivalry between their children, that she simply wants them gone from her life.

 

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.

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah, here’s a quick summary: Despite God’s promise that their ancestors would become a great nation as numberless as the stars in the sky, Sarah was childless.  And so, at some point, Abraham decided to help God out, and took Hagar, one of his slaves, as a mistress in order to father a child.  This was an accepted practice at that time in order to preserve wealth and the family line.  But then, as we discussed last week, long after Sarah was past the age of childbearing, God gave her a son of her own, Isaac.  But now, as if looking at her husband’s mistress every day, as well as the child that they had together, wasn’t enough, Hagar’s son was mocking Isaac.  And all of Sarah’s frustration, and rage, fear, and hope for the future exploded.  She wanted them gone.  And so Abraham packs Hagar a lunch and sends her out into the desert.

 

The core of this story is two-fold.  First of all… people stink.

 

As good, and as godly as we are told that Abraham and Sara must be, they both stink.  What they did is understandable, but still pretty horrible.  Even though we look up to Abraham and revere him as the founder of our faith, sending his own son, along with his mother, out into the desert to die is an inexcusably horrible thing to do.  But the second part of this story is that as bad as human beings stink, God doesn’t.  God cares.  Despite the fact that the blessing of God is on Isaac and it is through Isaac that God intends to bless the world, God still cares about Hagar and Ishmael.  God finds them in the desert, saves their lives, gives them water to drink, leads them out of the wilderness, blesses them both, and promises that Ishmael will also be the father of a great nation.

 

And again, if you are unfamiliar with this story, Isaac becomes the patriarch of the nation of Israel and the people known as the Jews; while Ishmael becomes the patriarch of the people we now refer to as the Arab nations.  Curiously, all of these peoples are referred to collectively, as the Semitic people.

 

So to summarize, people stink, God cares.

 

But God’s plan is to change that.  God’s intent is to transform humanity into something better.  And the coming of Jesus Christ is a huge part of that plan.  Jesus came to earth to rescue humanity from its wickedness and sin so that we could become something better.  In Romans 6:1-11, Paul puts it this way…

 

6:1What 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. 9For 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.

 

At the very beginning of this passage, Paul wants to eliminate the notion that Jesus’ sacrifice and the infinite grace of God might be used as an excuse to continue in our sin.  In no way, shape, or form should we excuse our error and try to justify it by claiming that we are already forgiven for it.  Instead, we must realize that our sinfulness was the cause of the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, and it is our sinful nature, our “old self,” that was crucified with him.  For that reason, Paul explains, that our “old self” is already dead and, as a result, we should do everything in our power to stop sinning, to break the bonds that sin and death have over us, and act like people who have been set free from sin.

 

Jesus didn’t die to give us an excuse to keep doing the same wrong stuff we’ve been doing all along, Jesus died so that our lives could be transformed into something better.

 

In Matthew 10:24-39, we hear Jesus echo that same sentiment.

 

24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25It 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. 30And 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.

 

Do not be afraid.

 

God cares.

 

You are worth more than many sparrows; you are of incredible value to God.

 

The followers of Jesus Christ will turn against their families and against their parents, not because they are violent or because Jesus encourages them to be violent, but because Jesus intends to completely transform their lives into something new, different, and far better than we have ever been before.  When we choose to follow Jesus, we want what he wants, we follow where he leads, we go where he goes, and we do what he calls us to do.  And in doing these things, we will leave behind the people that won’t go with us.  Families, friends, and others will turn against us because we have chosen to follow Jesus and because we are becoming something new and different than the people we once were.  As we lose our old lives, we are transformed and we discover a new life that is lived through Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus calls for us to devote ourselves to him wholeheartedly and to walk away from a lukewarm faith.  In the end, Jesus asks us a familiar question…

 

…Are you all in?

 

 

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