Turning Power Upside-Down

Turning Power Upside-Down

July 07, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Kings 5:1-14                       Luke 10:1-11, 16-20              Galatians 6:1-16

 

Have you ever seen a pyramid?  Most of us haven’t seen one in real life, but almost everyone has probably seen pictures of one.

What I’m thinking about is just the general shape of a pyramid.  Do you have that image in your mind?  That shape, the shape of a pyramid, is often used to describe the way that human beings generally run things whether it’s clubs, or unions, corporations, or governments.  There’s a big base that is filled with ordinary people, laborers and worker bees, and above them are the foremen, then managers, then supervisors, then directors, then vice-presidents, presidents, and at the top is the Chief Executive Officer, the CEO.  In governments there are similar structures and at the top is the mayor, or governor, president, or prime minister.  We see this same style of organization in many of our churches, with lay people, pastors, district superintendents, bishops, and in some denominations, archbishops and popes.

But as common as this structure is, we are making a mistake when we assume that this is the way that God runs things.  While I have seen several business gurus preach that it’s important to “flatten” the pyramid and operate with a simpler, less management intensive, hierarchy, God’s system of administration and government has a way of turning the entire pyramid upside-down.  In 2 Kings 5:1-14, we hear the story of the great military commander Naaman, a powerful man who was second only to the king of Aram, but one who contracted a repulsive and incurable disease.

5:1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So, Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored, and you will be cleansed.”

11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So, he turned and went off in a rage.13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

It didn’t matter how powerful Naaman was, if word got out that he had leprosy, he was ruined.  People were afraid of lepers.  Leprosy was ultimately fatal, no one knew how it was contracted, and there was no cure.  Lepers lived their lives by begging and were prohibited from being around healthy people.  Certainly, no one would want to be under his command so his ability to lead would be destroyed.  His power was of no use to him against this enemy.  But hope come to him in the strangest way.  Hope comes not from power, or authority, not from the king, but from a slave girl who knows that the prophet of Israel’s God could cure him.  And so, based on the advice of a slave, this powerful man travels to Israel for a cure and then to the door of Elisha’s house.  But here, Naaman’s ego is offended because Elisha doesn’t even come outside to see him and Naaman is told that he should go to the Jordan River, wash seven times, and be cleansed.  And again, his ego is offended because his home country has plenty of rivers, so why should he wash in Israel’s river? 

But he is rescued a second time, by one of his servants who reminds him that he would have gladly undertaken a great quest, or an impossible task, if Elisha had demanded it, so why not swallow his pride and ego and do something simple? 

He does. 

And he is healed.

In God’s calculation, Naaman’s power and authority are useless, it doesn’t matter that he sits near the pinnacle of the pyramid of power.  Instead, his humility and willingness to listen to his servants, and to hear the command of God, however simple, are the things that bring about his healing.

Similarly, even when God gives power to his followers, we are cautioned in how we use it.  In Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples plus seventy-two others, and sends them out to teach and to minister to the people.  And, when they return, they marvel at the power that God has given them, but Jesus refocuses their understanding in an entirely different way.

10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’

16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Jesus sends out seventy-two of his followers as missionaries to the communities along the route that he would soon visit.  And when they return, they are thrilled to report that the sick were healed, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and even the demons obey their commands.  But Jesus cautions them all to remember humility.  They aren’t great because they have power.  Jesus tells them that he watched as Satan, the most powerful of God’s angels, was cast out of heaven.  The cause for rejoicing, Jesus says, is not that they have power, but that God has rescued them from sin and death.

Humility is one of the hallmarks of living a Christian life throughout scripture.  We saw in in the story of Elisha and Naaman, we saw it in the story of Jesus and the seventy-two, and we see it as a central message of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia (Galatians 6:1-16) where we hear these words:

6:1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  8Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.

Paul’s tone in this passage speaks to us in the twenty-first century as piercingly and compellingly as it did in the first century.  If someone is caught in sin, don’t gloat, and don’t parade them through the streets or through the media to bathe them in shame, but instead restore them… gently.  Instead of watching the people around you so that you can pounce on them the moment that they screw up, keep an eye on yourself so that you won’t be tempted and become the person that screwed up.  Instead of piling guilt and shame on people who make mistakes, or instead of watching the people around you struggle with doubt, struggle with divorce, struggle with poverty, struggle with single parenthood, struggle with being a widow, struggle with losing a parent or for caring for an elderly parent, instead of watching each other struggle, carry each other’s burdens.  Help the people around you who are struggling, share their burden, so that all of us can walk this journey a little easier.  Don’t you dare think that you are all that important, especially when you are not.  Test yourself.  Take a hard look at your actions and see if you are acting the way that Jesus acted, or if you are just acting like a selfish jerk.

Paul says that it’s okay to be proud of yourself, but don’t compare yourself to others.  It’s okay to be proud of what you have accomplished or what you have overcome, but it’s not okay to say that you are better or worse than someone else because of it.  And if you are lucky enough to have been able to study scripture, and to have good teachers to teach you about the word of God and the message of Jesus Christ, then don’t be afraid to show your appreciation to the people who taught you, and, in my understanding, don’t be afraid to share what you have learned with others.  Those who have been taught today become the teachers of tomorrow.

I’m not sure what all was going on in that church in Galatia, but Paul is really fired up.  He continues by reminding everyone that we harvest the same things that we plant.  If we plant the things of the flesh, then we will harvest destruction, but if we plant the things of the Spirit, we will harvest eternal life.  Don’t get tired of doing good.  Don’t give up.  Whenever you can, do good to all the people around you, especially to those who surround you in your community of faith because, hopefully, those are the same people that are walking with you and sharing your burdens.

Both in the first century and in the twenty-first centuries, the church was, and is, dealing with people who are using the things of the flesh, things like money, power, sex, drugs, pleasure, and influence to impress one another.  Knowing that, Paul points out that there are people who are trying to use those same tools to impress people and persuade them to come around to their way of thinking, and the only reason that they are doing so, is so that they can avoid being persecuted or discriminated against for being Christian.  While these influential people were far from perfect themselves, they wanted to persuade others to follow them so that they could brag about how many they persuaded.  To them, the followers of Jesus Christ were only being used as poker chips to keep score. 

Instead, Paul insists that the only thing that we, as Christians, ought to brag about is the cross of Jesus.  None of the things that the world uses to brag about, and impress people are worth anything today, nor will they be worth anything on the day of judgement.  The only thing that is worth anything, is the work that Jesus is doing in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

At the end of the day, the spiritual world doesn’t look anything at all like a pyramid.  Power and influence aren’t important.  Money, and pleasure aren’t worth bragging about.  They pyramid isn’t just turned upside down by Jesus Christ, it’s completely flattened.  There’s Jesus… and then there’s us.  And we aren’t under him, because at the moment we put our faith in him, we were adopted by God as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

The only thing we have to impress people… is Jesus.

The only thing we have to brag about… is Jesus.

The goal isn’t to become rich, and powerful, to climb to the top of the pyramid, and live a life that is full of pleasure and influence.

The goal is to discover humility.  The goal is to live, and to love,…

            …like 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  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Ministry of Wow

The Ministry of Wow

June 09, 2019*

(Pentecost)

By Pastor John Partridge

John 14:8-17, 25-27               Acts 2:1-21                 Romans 8:14-17

 

Have you ever watched the fireworks on the fourth of July?

Have you ever opened the newspaper and seen the mayor and a bunch of city officials at an important ribbon cutting or groundbreaking?

Have you ever seen the evening news report on a new freeway, tax cuts, or some other big news story about our local, state, or federal government?

Sure, you have.  Occasionally, our government does something that is very public and splashy.  But most of the time, day in, and day out, most of our government’s employees, whether they are employed by the federal, state, or local governments, toil away at computer monitors, check in on endangered children, teach school, clean streets, repair streets, fix leaks, and make sure that many things that we take for granted are so regular and reliable that we can take them for granted.  You rarely see stories in the newspaper or on television about the people who showed up and did their jobs, every day, for thirty or forty years doing ordinary things.

And although God often works the same way, daily caring for our wounds, watching over us, and being so ordinary and predictable that we allow ourselves to take his presence for granted or forget about him entirely, he isn’t always so invisible.  Occasionally, God does something splashy and noticeable.  Sometimes God heals the incurable, moves mountains, or raises the dead.  Sometimes God does things that make us say, “Wow.” 

Pentecost was one of those moments.

Some time before his crucifixion, Jesus spoke with his disciples and explained that after he returned to his father, he would send the Spirit of God to be with them.  That gift… would change everything. (John 14:8-17, 25-27)

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

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.

Jesus told his disciples that the words that he said, and the miracles that he performed, were being done because of the father that lived in him and was doing his work through him.  And then he goes on to say that because he is returning to his father, anyone who believes in him will do the same kinds of works that Jesus was doing, and even greater things.  Because Jesus was returning to his father, and because he was sending God’s Spirit to be with us, and live with us, we would do these things, and God would be glorified.  And, not only would the followers of Jesus Christ do these amazing works, but because of the presence of the Spirit of God living in us, we would also receive the gift of peace.

Fast forward to a few weeks after the crucifixion to the day of Pentecost and we find this story from the book of Acts 2:1-21.

2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Remember that I said sometimes God does splashy things?

This isn’t only a splashy thing, but a whole pile of splashy things.

A sound like a violent wind comes down from heaven, tongues of fire pour into the room where the followers of Jesus have gathered to pray, the fire separates and come to rest on each and every one of them, and then, speaking all the languages of the known world, these men and women go out into the streets and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The people in the streets either heard the sound of the wind or the sound of so many people speaking different languages, but whatever they heard, people came from all over the see what was going on.

Those that came were shocked because the people who were speaking foreign languages were Galileans and, you may recall that Galileans were thought of as uneducated, country hicks.  Remember that even one of the disciples, when he first heard about Jesus, said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  Not only that, but remember that just a few days earlier, these same people were meeting in locked rooms with the windows bolted shut, because they were afraid that the Pharisees would have them arrested because of their association with Jesus.  Not long ago, Peter had been so emotionally destroyed that he went back to his fishing boats and was beating himself up over his public denials of Jesus. 

But no longer.

Suddenly, their fear and doubt are gone.  Suddenly they are speaking languages that they had never learned.  Suddenly, instead of hiding behind locked doors, they were speaking in public and Peter raises his voice and lectures everyone on the meaning of the scriptures.

This moment is entirely unexpected, exceptionally public and splashy, and totally transformational for both the disciples and for us.  In that moment, the disciples were changed.  Their fear was gone, they were filled with an urgency to tell the world about what they had seen and heard, and they went out into the streets to do it.  And, as they went, God, through the power of the Holy Spirit that now lived within them, began to do exactly what Jesus had described.  Suddenly they were doing something miraculous.  Suddenly they were doing the work that Jesus had been doings, and even things that were more surprising and unexpected than some of the things that Jesus had done.

But if all of this was not enough, Paul’s letter to the church in Rome describes yet another amazing gift that the church received at Pentecost. (Romans 8:14-17)

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Paul says that the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost was also the symbol of our adoption by God and because we have been adopted, then we are heirs, co-heirs with Jesus so that we will share in both his suffering and in his ministry to all of the world.

Not only was Pentecost a splashy, headline news moment, the effects were not something that wore off and were forgotten.  Instead, the gifts that God gave to the church at Pentecost, were gifts that were passed on from generation to generation.  God’s spirit entered into the followers of Jesus as tongues of fire at Pentecost, but today still enter into each one of us as we are baptized into the service of Jesus Christ.  Two thousand years later we still receive the gift of adoption, and fearlessness, and still we are empowered by God, through the Spirit that lives within us, to do the work of Jesus Christ in the world around us.  Sometimes that work is ordinary and almost invisible, but all of us, working together, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, are doing amazing things as we answer his call on our lives.

Let us continue, with God’s help, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, speak for the voiceless, stand up for the oppressed, comfort the afflicted, heal the sick, and all of the other things that Jesus did, and calls us to do.

This was the call of the church two thousand years ago and it remains the call of the church today.

And we press on…

…with God’s help…

…through the power of the Spirit that lives within us.

Sometimes we are called to the ordinary, but sometimes, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are witness to the ministry… of Wow.

 

 

 


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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.

A Fire in the Belly

A Fire in the Belly

June 06, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

Romans 8:14-17         Acts 2:1-21                

As you may already know, this coming Sunday is the celebration of Pentecost and so today’s responsive readings, prayers, and even our communion liturgy reflect back (or perhaps it reflects forward) to that celebration.  So, what is it that happened on Pentecost and why does it matter two thousand years later?  Luke’s story in the book of Acts tells us that fire came down from heaven and touched each of the disciples and followers of Jesus that had gathered for prayer.  But fire doesn’t begin to describe what really happened. 

If it had only been fire, that would have been an impressive sight and it would have made for a good story to tell around the campfire on a cool fall evening, or after a drink or two at the local watering hole.  But it wasn’t just fire.  On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had promised would come after he returned to his father, came down from heaven and in that moment, the Spirit of God, which looked like fire, entered into each of those men and women who had gathered together for prayer.  If it had only been fire, it would have been a tale that was told among friends for a generation or two and then died, but what actually happened was not only a great story, but a story that had long-lasting, even eternal, implications and repercussions.

In the Old Testament we often heard stories about how the Holy Spirit came upon Sampson, or Gideon, Saul, or David and, empowered by the Spirit of God, they did great and amazing things that we still read about, and marvel at, two thousand years later.  But these encounters with the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament were a rarity that only happened once in a great while and seemed to be limited to people of great faith.  But no longer.

The story of Pentecost has power for us in the twenty first century because it was a transformational moment in history.  Pentecost was the moment when God no longer empowered the occasional hero. It was the moment when the work of the Holy Spirit stopped being a once-in-a-while agent of change.  Instead, as those tongues of fire entered into the followers of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit began working 24/7 empowering every single man, woman, and child that was baptized into the fellowship of believers and followers of Jesus.

It is because of the story of Pentecost that we have a divine confidence about the work that we are doing.  It wasn’t the human strength of Sampson that allowed him to kill a lion with his bare hands or pull down the temple on the heads of the Philistine idol worshipers.  It wasn’t just an active imagination that allowed King Saul to sit with God’s prophets and speak prophecy.  These were not the acts of moral humans but the acts of a powerful God working through fragile and finite followers.  As mortals, and as humans, we are well acquainted with our limitations and frailties, but as the followers of Jesus Christ, we must also remember that we are not alone.  We do not work alone.  We do not do our work through our own strength… alone.  We, each one of us, do the work of Jesus Christ, and the work of the Kingdom of God, empowered and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit that lives within us.  It is this same spirit that gives us a fire in the belly to do the work of Jesus even when people say that we are too young, or too old, or too sick, or too tired, or in mourning, or anything else.

Every year we repeat, and reread, and retell, the story of Pentecost, yes, even two thousand years later, not just because it’s a great story to tell around the campfire, but because it is utterly critical to our spiritual formation, and transformational to our behavior as the followers of Jesus Christ.

We must never forget that we are not alone.

We do not do the work of Jesus Christ alone.

The fire that we have in our bellies is the fire of the Spirit of God who lives within us and it is that same spirit that gives us the strength to be modern day heroes of the faith as we do the work of Jesus Christ.

Our mission is nothing less than to change the world. 

One life at a time.

Not through our own strength, but through the strength of the God that lives within us.

 

Scripture Readings

First Reading: Romans 8:14-17

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

 

Second Reading: Acts 2:1-21

2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Copeland Oaks in Sebring, Ohio 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.

The Power of a Pure Heart

“The Power of a Pure Heart”

July 29, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

2 Samuel 11:1-15                   John 6:1-15                Ephesians 3:14-21

 

How many “church words” do you know?

You know what I mean.  If you’ve been around churches or church people for any length of time, you begin to pick up a new vocabulary of “church words” that mean special things to “church people.”  “Church words” leave unchurched people a little baffle when they hear us using them.  And sometimes even church people can be a little confused.  We hear these words, we know that the pastor uses them, and sometimes we might even use them ourselves, but if we’re honest, sometimes we aren’t completely sure what they mean.

I mention all of this because when we aren’t sure about the meanings of some of these words, we are also likely to misunderstand, or fail to understand, why those words are important.  This morning we’re going to talk about some of these common church words.  Specifically, we are going to talk about the words ‘spirit,’ ‘filled by the spirit,’ ‘heart,’ and ‘having Jesus in your heart.’  We hear these words all the time and we know that they’re supposed to be important, but at the end of the day sometimes we’re left wondering, “What difference does it make?”  But it *does* make a difference.  And I hope, after we work our way through today’s scriptures, that most of us will have a better understanding of these ‘church words’ and why they’re important.

We begin, once again, with the story of King David.  But today we join the story in 2 Samuel 11:1-15, where we find David making what is almost certainly the greatest mistake of his entire life.

11:1 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.

10 David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”

11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”

12 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”

This is a difficult story for us because David is supposed to be a hero.  As we noted last week, David is referred to as “a man after God’s own heart.”  But the man in this story seems to be almost a completely different sort of fellow.  In this story, during the spring when kings went off to war, David dialed it in, he sent Joab to war while he stayed home in his cedar paneled palace.  When a naked woman took a bath across the street, David watched instead of looking away and then invited her over when he should have minded his own business. Then he slept with another man’s wife, tried to cover it up, and then, when he discovered that her husband, Uriah, was unfailingly loyal to his king, his country, and to his fellow soldiers, David rewarded his loyalty by betraying him and plotting his murder at the hands of the enemy.

That sure doesn’t sound like a hero to me.  David’s behavior is nothing short of awful, even horrific.  But this story does tell us something about the hearts of human beings, even the hearts of people who are good.  We are reminded that even good people make mistakes.  Good people still fall, we still sin, we still behave in ways that are brutally selfish and that ignore the commands of God even when we absolutely know better.  When we read this story, we can’t help but be disappointed in David… and we should be.  I’m certain that God was disappointed as well (not surprised, but disappointed nonetheless).  And perhaps this allows us a taste, a sample, of how God must feel when we fail.

But before we dwell too much on sin, and selfishness, and disappointment, lets read an entirely different story about Jesus for comparison.  The focus on this story, naturally, is Jesus and the miracle that he performs with the feeding of the five thousand.  But as I read the story, today I want you to listen for the part of Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother because, although his part is small, his contribution changes the entire story from one of hopelessness, to one of victory, triumph, and faith. (John 6:1-15)

6:1Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

How many of you were able to recognize the part that Andrew plays in the story?

It went by quickly, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you missed it.

But when Jesus asks where they can buy bread for a crowd of ten of fifteen thousand people, Philip’s answer is hopeless.  Philip’s thinking runs basically in this direction, ‘We’re too far away from any town or from any bakery.  There’s no way that the bakery would have enough food to feed this many people.  And even if food could be found, there’s no way that we would have a fraction of the money that we would need to buy it.’

But Andrew is entirely different.  Andrew has no idea how so many people can be fed.  But rather than focusing on what they don’t have, Andrew focuses on the two things that they do have, the sack lunch that a loving mother packed for her son… and Jesus.

Andrew remembers that even when they didn’t have all the things they thought that they needed, what little they had, plus Jesus, had always been enough.  Andrew remembered that Jesus had sent them all out to preach with no money, no food, no change of clothes, but only what they wore on their backs and staff.  And with that they preached, and taught, and healed, and cast out demons, and the whole nation noticed.

Andrew reminds us all that even when it seems like we don’t have nearly enough, if we have faith, Jesus can use what we have, to accomplish far more than we ever imagined possible.

Little becomes much, when Jesus is in it.

So, as we think about the comparison of these two stories, and these two men, David and Andrew, let us also consider the words of the Apostle Paul from Ephesians 3:14-21 for some perspective.

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Paul prays that God, from his storehouse of glorious riches, might strengthen the church with power through the Holy Spirit so that Jesus Christ might dwell in our hearts through faith. Paul prays that we might be rooted and grounded in love, and be given power, so that together with all of God’s people, we might begin to understand how much Jesus loves…  not just how much Jesus loves us, but how much Jesus loves everyone.  Paul also says that when we begin to understand how much Jesus loves, then we will know a love that is greater than knowledge, and only then will we be filled to overflowing, Paul says “filled to the measure of all the fullness, of God.”

These two stories give us a little insight into some of those ‘church words’ I mentioned earlier.  Although David was a man after God’s own heart, during the story of his encounter with Bathsheba, he was not acting in a godly way and we can see that he was not filled with the Spirit of God nor was he following the direction of the Spirit.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Andrew, on the other hand, was listening and the Spirit within him prompted him to bring Jesus a sack lunch, even though he had no idea why, or how it could possibly be useful in feeding fifteen thousand people.

If you are ever tempted to ask, “What difference does it make?” to have Jesus in your heart, or to invite the Spirit of God to be at work within you, just remember these two men.  By listening to God’s Spirit, Andrew’s faith allowed Jesus to do the impossible, but by ignoring that same spirit, David suffered one of his greatest failures.

When we put our faith in Jesus and invite his Spirit to be at work in us, we are empowered by God to do great, even miraculous, things even when we don’t have much to offer by ourselves.  Remember that if one sack lunch can feed fifteen thousand people, God can do miracles with what you have to offer him too.  Because little is much, when we offer it to God through faith.

 

 

 

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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.

Because… God.

“Because… God.”

July 08, 2018*

By John Partridge

 

 

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10              2 Corinthians 12:2-10                       Mark 6:1-13

 

What is it that makes a human being weak or strong?

 

Weak people tend to be forgotten by history so let’s think about people in history that we would describe as strong.  Abraham Lincoln was often attacked from both sides as he guided our wounded nation through the Civil War.  Winston Churchill held the British Empire together during the darkest days of the blitz.  George Patton demanded nothing less than excellence from every person under his command and they rose to his expectations and did things that many believed to be impossible.  Often, the parents that watch over a sick child demonstrate an incredible strength.  Athletes can demonstrate incredible strength of will.

 

We say that these people are different because they have character, or strength of will, or unusual determination, or stubbornness applied in the right direction.

 

But what about the people who have done great things for the kingdom of God?

 

What is it that makes the heroes of scripture notable?  Why was David a great king and Saul a bad one?  Why was Paul great after he meet Jesus on the Damascus road but evil and misguided before that?  And why was Jesus reliably wonderful everywhere, but nearly unable to do anything at all when he visited Nazareth?

 

Let’s take these examples in historical order and begin with David.  We begin this morning with 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 where we hear a simple summary of his coronation and his life:

5:1 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”

When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. 10 And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

First, David was a shepherd. Then he was anointed by God’s prophet as the king of Israel, but it took many years before God’s anointing could be recognized.  In the meantime, he was a musician to the king, a warrior, a soldier, a military leader, and then he was on the run from the king, even when he was keeping the borders of Israel safe with his own militia.  Finally, David was made king over the tribes of Judah, and even later, united the twelve tribes when he was also anointed as king over the tribes of Israel.  During all that time, he remained faithful to God and grew in power.  But our scripture is clear in saying that David “became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

David didn’t become powerful because he was handsome, or virtuous, or a great warrior, or personable, or likeable, or charismatic, or determined, or stubborn, although I am certain that he was all those things.  Scripture tells us that David became powerful and did the things that he did because God was with him.

Last week we were reminded that it is God who does the doing, and we see that same theme in these scriptures today.  David wasn’t great because of chance, and David wasn’t great because of David.  David was great because… God was with him.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” But sometimes we feel paralyzed by the situations in which we find ourselves.  Other times, we allow our fear to be an excuse for our inaction.  In “The English Wife”, author Lauren Willig, says, “I don’t believe anything’s really inevitable until it happens. We just call it inevitable to make ourselves feel better about it, to excuse ourselves for not having done anything.” And Mehmet Murat ildan distills that idea further by saying, “Inaction is the worst action of human beings.”

But when we read the story of Mark 6:1-13, sorting out who is doing what, and who is doing nothing is not at all what we expect.

6:1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Although Jesus had been going throughout Israel healing the sick and performing great miracles, when he arrives in his hometown of Nazareth, he really doesn’t do much of anything.  But the reason that Jesus doesn’t do much is that the people have no faith.  They have fallen for the great lit.  They have fallen for the lie that “people like me can’t.”  That lie is just as common today as it was then.  They were thinking this way: “Since we know Jesus’ parents, and his siblings, since we watched him grow up, since we watched him learn his trade, since we grew up with him, since he is like us, and we know that people like me can’t, people like me can’t be great, then we know that he can’t be the Messiah.”  So deeply have they bought into this lie, that they were offended at him and Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith.

But that didn’t stop Jesus.  It didn’t even slow him down.  He continued to preach from village to village and then he also sends out his disciples, two by two, and they go from village to village teaching, and preaching, and healing, and casting out demons.  When Jesus is faced with the lie that “people like me can’t” he turns the lie on it’s head and sends out even more ordinary people, even more “people like me,” to do the extraordinary work that he was doing.

Why?

Not because these guys were well bred, or because they had a great education from an ivy league school, and not because they had mad skills.  They didn’t have any of those things.

So, why could they do what they did?

It’s simple.

Because God… was with them.

The Apostle Paul was an amazing preacher. And Paul did come from the right kind of family, and he did have all the right connections, and he did go to all the right schools.  But when God decided to use him, God left some imperfection in him that haunted him for his entire life.

Reading from 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, we hear these words:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul was that blue-blood, ivy league, know the right people, kind of guy.  But when God called him, he made sure that Paul would always remember that it wasn’t any of those things, and it wasn’t Paul, that made Paul great.  Even though a lot of ink has been spilled by theologians arguing about it, we don’t know what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was.  But what we do know, is that it was enough.  Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, for him, a constant reminder that he had been sent by God, was being empowered by God, and all his success had to be attributed to God.  Whatever Paul accomplished through his own strength was pointless, but everything that he accomplished because of his weakness pointed to God.

God relishes our weaknesses because it is in our weakness that his strength becomes obvious and the world can see Jesus most clearly.  That’s why Paul said, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  God seems to delight in using fishermen, and carpenters, and farmers.  He uses demon possessed people, and prostitutes, tax collectors, enemy collaborators, foreigners, lepers, and yes, God has even been known to use dead people from time to time.

Don’t ever believe the lie that people like us can’t.  Or that God can’t use people like us.

David was a shepherd.  Jesus was a Carpenter.  Paul had a thorn in the flesh.  And all of them remembered that the things they did weren’t because of them but because… God was with them.

The truth is, God delights in using people like us.  People like me.  People like you.

All we need to do, is to have faith.

Remember, people don’t do great things because they’re great.  People do great things for God’s kingdom because…

…God is with them.

We are called by God.  This church is called by God.  And every one of us needs to remember that we can do great things for the kingdom of God because…

…God is with us.

 

 

 

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

Dangerous Foolishness

“Dangerous Foolishness”

March 04, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 20:1-17                                  John 2:13-22              1 Corinthians 1:18-25

 

 

Have you ever gotten some advice from your parents as you went out the door for an evening with your friends?

 

Of course, most of us have.  And for most of us, our parents said things like, “Be careful,” “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” “Stay with your friends and don’t go off alone,” and other advice that often boils down to simply saying, “Don’t do anything stupid.”

 

All of those things are good advice because our parents loved us and cared about our well-being.  But what if God gave us advice?  What would God say to us?  But of course, we know that God has done exactly that.  God gave his people plenty of advice and has been trying to teach us how to live, and how to live alongside one another, for thousands of years.  Among the earliest instances of God’s teaching is also among the most famous and well-known, the Ten Commandments, which we find in Exodus 20:1-17.

 

20:1 And God spoke all these words:

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

“You shall have no other gods before me.

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

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

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

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

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

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

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

 

The commandments that we remember best are the big ones: do not murder, do not steal, and do not worship other gods.  But among all of these there are also some gems that are more commonly forgotten.: make your parents a priority, take one day a week to rest and think about something bigger than yourself, don’t lie in ways that hurt others, don’t behave in ways that hurt your spouse, and be content with what you have.  The coming of Jesus didn’t take away any of these commandment.  In fact, Jesus dedicated his life, not only to living in obedience to them, but to teaching how human beings, even church leaders, sometimes tried to cheat God by manipulating the meaning of his commandments.    We see that in John 2:13-22 where we find Jesus kicking butt and taking names because the leaders of the Temple forgot that God cared about outsiders.

 

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

 

By the time Jesus drove people from the Temple courts, he had already gathered his disciples, had already been preaching for a while, and people knew who he was, even in Jerusalem.  But Jesus took issue with all the buying and selling that was going on, but not because it was unnecessary.  You see, the animals that were being bought and sold were animals that people needed to take to the priests to offer sacrifices.  If you lived in town you probably didn’t own your own sheep or goats, or even your own doves and so, when you needed, or wanted, to offer a sacrifice, you had to buy an acceptable animal.  Likewise, the moneychangers were necessary because people came to Jerusalem from other nations and needed what we would call a currency exchange to change into local currency.  But there was still another reason because Greek and Roman currency often had the images of emperors or kings or other people on them, the Jewish faith prohibited such images from the temple courts and so the moneychangers offered an exchange of that currency into an acceptable Temple currency.  Even worse, all of these systems were rife with corruption that lined the pockets of the chief priests and their friends.

 

But, even knowing that these things were necessary, there was one thing that probably set Jesus off.  The Temple itself was laid out in concentric squares.  The innermost section was for the priests alone, the next outer section was for Jewish men to pray, the next for Jewish women and children to pray, and the outermost section was designated, by God, as a place for outsiders, unbelievers, and non-Jews to come to God’s house and pray.  It is likely that this was the place where all of the animals were being sold and where the moneychangers had set up shop, and in doing so, they had taken up all of the space that God intended to be a welcome place of prayer for the outsiders.   And so, Jesus singlehandedly drives out the entire crowd, and the response that he gets from the Temple leadership was, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”  Rather than refer back to their own scripture, which they most certainly knew, rather than admit that Jesus was the one who was obeying scripture, they instead ask Jesus to give them a sign to prove that God sent him.

 

Instead of being shaped by scripture and by the will of God, the leaders of Jesus’ church had allowed their values to be perverted by culture, greed, and power.  And with that in mind, as we read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, we can better understand how the people in the world around us might think that we, and our faith in Jesus Christ, are weird.

 

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

 

Paul understood how the priests and the temple leaders had their values twisted and he understood that Christianity, from the outside, looked weird.  Just like the Temple leaders, the Jews wanted to see signs that proved that Jesus’ message was real and the Greeks wanted an answer that used logic and philosophy as proof.  To each of them, the message of Jesus Christ is foolishness and idiocy.  While those of us on the inside have come to understand that this is the truth and the message of God to his people, to those on the outside we are often seen as fools and what we preach as dangerous.  Scripture reminds us that this sort of foolishness can be dangerous.  Paul and many of the disciples were executed, murdered, or exiled because of the message they preached.  Jesus was hung on a cross for teaching the foolishness of scripture by people who had devoted their lives to studying it.

 

Jesus, the priests, the teachers of the law, and the other leaders of the Temple all knew the Ten Commandments and the teachings of scripture, and yet, some of them allowed themselves to be shaped by their culture, by their greed, and by their lust for power than by the scriptures.  We all run that same risk.  We all run the risk of being deceived by our own selfishness, or by the culture of cynicism that surrounds us.

 

This foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and this weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

 

To everyone on the outside, what we do, and what we believe, is a dangerous foolishness.

 

But to us, it is the way, the truth, and the life.

 

For no one can come to God except through his son, Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Do the Impossible

“Do the Impossible”

June 18, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

Have you ever been asked to do the impossible?

 

On this Father’s Day, I suppose it’s fair to ask all of you fathers, just how intimidated you were that first time someone put a tiny baby in your arms and you realized that you were responsible for their life.  Did that seem to be a nearly impossible task at times?

 

One of the challenges facing our president and the Congress of the United States is to find a way to control spending, increase income, or in some other way, or combination of ways, to balance the budget and reduce not only our annual deficit, but to begin to repay the tens of trillions of dollars of our debt before our nation defaults on its obligations.  While some politicians might argue about the necessity of repaying our debts, most politicians, from both major parties, would likely argue that doing what I just described, as an impossible task.  Some mathematicians have already argued that it may soon be mathematically impossible to get out of the hole that we are digging for ourselves.

 

While this is obviously worrisome, many of us understand what it means to be told that something is impossible. Most of us, at one time or another have been asked to do things that were close to, if not totally impossible.  We were frustrated when our bosses asked us to do too much with too little or asked us to convince a client of something we knew they wouldn’t like.  But many of us also know of couples who have been told that they could not have children, and then did.  We know of people who were told that loved ones would not survive, and then did.  But no matter how it happened, we are all well acquainted with what it means to face an impossible task and this is the theme that we find woven throughout today’s message.  We begin with the story of Abraham and Sarah found in Genesis 18:1-15.


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

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

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

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

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

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

“There, in the tent,” he said.

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

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

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

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

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

 

Sarah is not afraid of the difficult.  When three visitors come to their encampment, Abraham sends her to get three seahs of flour and bake bread and, chances are, that when we read this we are unimpressed.  But we should be.  If we take the time to read the marginal notes in our bibles, we discover that three seahs of flour amounts to about 36 pounds and so would make at least a similar amount of bread and perhaps even considerably more after accounting for all the other ingredients.  Imagine not only making thirty six, but perhaps even fifty, loaves of bread, but mixing and kneading them, by hand, and then baking them over an open fire.  While we know that Sarah had servants and almost certainly didn’t do this alone, this was a huge job and probably took the better part of the day to accomplish.  Sarah was not intimidated by hard work or by a difficult task.  But when she hears the Angel of God say that she will bear a child, when she is already well past the age when women have children, Sarah recognizes the impossible when she hears it.  By some accounts Sarah was already almost one hundred years old, the very idea of her getting pregnant and having a baby at that age was so completely preposterous that when she heard it, she laughed at the idea.  And even though she had not laughed out loud, and even though she had kept her thoughts to herself, God knew her thoughts.

 

And God’s question for Sarah was simple.

 

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

 

Clearly, this is a rhetorical question.  Whenever anyone asks a question such as “Is anything impossible for God?” obviously we are intended to understand that the answer is “No.”

 

The God of creation, the God who spoke the universe into existence, is a god who does the impossible.

 

But what does that have to do with us?

 

What difference does it make, in my life, or in the life of the church, that we worship a god that does the impossible?

 

And in order to answer that question, let us first turn to the words of Romans 5:1-8, Paul says this:


5:1 
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

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

 

For our purposes today there are two things that I want to point out.  First, we have peace with God, through our faith in Jesus Christ, and second, that the Spirit of God has been given to us, and through him God’s love has been poured into our hearts.  I also want to take a moment to consider what Paul says in verse six as he says, “When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”  Think about that.  What does he mean by saying “when we were still powerless?”  From the context of what Paul has written we can understand that we, the ungodly, were powerless at the time when Jesus gave his life to atone for our sin.  But by saying so, Paul is also communicating that we are no longer powerless, and if we are no longer powerless, then we might wonder what power we now have that we did not have before.  And the answer is one that Paul has already given to us when he said, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

 

We are no longer powerless, because the Spirit of God has been given to us and the love of God has been poured out into our hearts.

 

We are not powerless because God lives within us.

 

And with that in mind we come to Matthew 9:35 – 10:8, where we find Jesus sending his disciples out to continue the work that he had been doing.


9:35 
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”


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

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

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

 

Jesus gives his disciples the authority to drive out impure spirits, to heal disease, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, to rescue the lost sheep of Israel, and to proclaim the coming of the messiah.

 

All of these things are difficult.

 

Some would say that many of these things are impossible.

 

But the followers of Jesus Christ have been given the power of the Spirit of God that lives within us and we have been given the authority of Jesus Christ to do the work that he has given us to do.

 

Not only do we worship the God of the impossible, not only is our God the god who does the impossible, but that same God has equipped us and called us to do the impossible through the power of the Spirit of God that lives within us, and through the authority of Jesus Christ that has been given to us.

 

Jesus said, “proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

 

Go.

 

Go, and be good fathers to your children and to the children that you know that don’t have a father of their own.

 

Go and heal the sick, raise the dead, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widows and the orphans, preach the Good News

 

Go, and do the Jesus thing in the Jesus way.

 

Go.

 

Do the impossible.

 

 

 

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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.