Suffering, Joy, and a Promise Kept

Suffering, Joy, and a Promise Kept

December 15, 2019*

(Third Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 35:1-10                             Matthew 11:2-11                               James 5:7-10

What feelings come to mind as you think about Christmas?

What emotions get stirred within you?

Most of us immediately begin to think of gamily gatherings around the Christmas tree, and opening presents, and families that get along with one another and are reunited at Christmas time.  For many of us the Christmas carol, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen sounds about right when it says…

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Tidings of comfort and joy sounds like a good summary for our feelings as well as for the message of the Christmas story.  And, quite often, that’s close to the truth for some of us.  Naturally, there are those among us whose childhoods were not idyllic, or who are struggling with unemployment, or homelessness, or divorce, or any number of other things that tend to make our emotions complicated.  But the message of scripture reminds us that Christmas itself, although filled with “good news of great joy,” is also more than just a story of comfort and joy. We begin, once again, with the promises of God given through the prophet Isaiah.  (Isaiah 35:1-10)

35:1 The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
    the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
    the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
    wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
    nor any ravenous beast;
    they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10     and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Isaiah declares that the coming of the messiah will be a time of gladness, rejoicing, and joy and compares it to rain in the desert that brings hidden flowers to bloom which is, once again, a symbol of resurrection with life exploding out of what looked lifelessness.  But while Israel waits for the coming of the messiah, Isaiah urges them to “be strong, do not fear, your God will come.”  Be strong, be patient, because we worship a God who always keeps his promises.  And then, in verse five, Isaiah shares the memorable words that Jesus would use to reassure an imprisoned John the Baptist.  Jesus uses these words of Isaiah to tell John that he is indeed the messiah that God had promised.  We hear that story in Matthew 11:2-11:

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

The Messiah had come, John the Baptist announced his arrival, but John was not experiencing comfort and joy.  Instead, he was rotting in prison.  I’ve visited the site where John is reputed to have been imprisoned, and whether that’s the actual site or if it was remotely similar, it was basically just a cave with bars on the door that would be cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and would probably have pools of water on the floor whenever there was a hard rain.  And in that environment, John begins to worry that Jesus isn’t doing the things that he thought the messiah was supposed to be doing. 

But rather than reassure John that comfort and joy would be coming soon, Jesus simply tells John’s followers to say that Isaiah’s words were being fulfilled.  The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, lepers are healed, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  The messiah had come, but that didn’t guarantee that the suffering of the world was going to end (just yet) or that John, or anyone else, was going to find comfort and joy.

Jesus then speaks to the crowd and declares that John is the greatest prophet, indeed the greatest human being, ever born in Israel or anywhere else.  And yet, John would endure suffering, imprisonment, and death before he received any kind of comfort and joy.  How do we make sense of that?  If the coming of the messiah was the fulfillment of God’s promises, why don’t God’s people find the comfort and joy we thought we were supposed to get?  At least a part of the answer comes from James, the brother of Jesus in James 5:7-10 where we hear this:

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

The coming of the messiah is not the end, but it is the beginning of the end.  James says that it’s like a farmer planting crops.  The seeds have been planted but now we must wait for the harvest.  While we find comfort and joy in knowing that the crops have been planted, we still must wait, patiently, until the harvest.  In the same way, we are comforted in knowing that God has already begun to fulfill his promises.  The messiah has come.  We do find comfort and joy in the story of Christmas.  But, at the same time, just as a farmer must wait for the rain, we must continue to wait patiently for coming of the messiah.  On that day, we will receive unimaginable gifts of comfort and joy, but until then we understand that life will still be full of discomfort, pain, and suffering.

Our calling, today, is to be patient, not to grumble, but to care for one another. 

Be patient.

Stand firm.

Because the Lord is near.

“Fear not then”, said the Angel
“Let nothing you affright
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure Virgin bright
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan’s power and might”
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Now to the Lord sing praises
All you within this place
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

 

 

 

 


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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.

Be Prepared

Be Prepared

December 01, 2019*

(First Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 2:1-5                Romans 13:11-14                   Matthew 24:36-44

 

Everyone knows that the motto of the Boy Scouts is “Be Prepared.”

As a scout, and as a scout leader, that phrase was often drilled into us not only as a motto, or as a cute saying that you would repeat from time to time, it was instilled in us as a lifestyle.  We were constantly encouraged to think about what was needed, what unexpected thing might happen, and to be prepared, in advance, so that we would be able to cope, adjust, and overcome no matter what happened.  As winter, or other foul weather approached, one of our scout leaders often said, “There is no bad weather in scouting, only scouts that are unprepared for the weather.”  But it went farther than that, our troops constantly emphasized the need, and the importance, of knowing things like knot tying, first aid, and CPR because you never knew when you might need them.  Knowing such things have often proven to make the difference between life and death for someone.  Many former scouts and scouters, decades after their time in scouting, still carry a pocketknife, or a can opener on their key ring, or a Leatherman.  You can almost bet that these are the people who carry jumper cables in their cars and have a first aid kit under the front seat.

But as wise as the advice to “Be Prepared” is to a scout or even to the general public, did you know that this is also the command of God as it relates to our spiritual lives?

As we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent, which is known as the celebration of prophecy, we are reminded that there is a consistent message throughout scripture, that warns God’s people to be ready for the end of time and the day of Judgement.  We begin in Isaiah 2:1-5 where God’s prophet tells of the coming Messiah and a time when he will judge the nations.

2:1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah says that “in the last days” God’s temple would be built (or rebuilt) and all the nations of the earth will come to worship him.  And, in addition to declaring that all nations would come, Isaiah also says that many peoples, not many people, but many peoples would come.  Written in this way, the word “peoples” is understood to be an amplification of what was described as “all nations.”  “Many peoples,” can therefore be understood to not only mean the people representing many nations, but also the people from many races, tribes, ethnicities, and other groups who have been absorbed by larger nation states. 

Isaiah warns the people that there is a day coming when God will judge the nations and the people of the earth, and he concludes by saying, “Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord.”  Which is, I think, the same as saying…

Be Prepared.

But with the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, his followers, who were familiar with the judgement described by Isaiah, wanted to know when that would happen.  But rather than tell them when, Jesus said that no one knows except God. (Matthew 24:36-44)

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Jesus explains that the coming of the last days and the final judgement would be a surprise to everyone just as the destruction of Noah’s flood caught everyone (except Noah) unprepared.  Jesus said that it would be like two people working side by side and one was suddenly taken away without warning. 

Jesus explains the point of his own story by saying that because the judgement will be so unexpected, we should all keep watch just as the soldiers who guard the city stand watch all through the night.  Soldiers never knew when the enemy might come, and their job was to always be prepared for the day that an attack might happen.  Likewise, we must keep watch for the return of Jesus, for the end of days, and for the judgement of all humanity.  In other words…

Be Prepared.

And then, a few dozen years later, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and after the Spirit of God entered into his people at Pentecost, rumors would occasionally circulate that the end times had already begun.  Some people attempted to draw people away from the church to some “new” religion by preaching heresies that Christ had already returned.  And so, in that environment, Paul writes to the church in Rome about the end times, but as is often the case, Paul’s emphasis is to answer the “so what” question.  Paul wants the people of the church to know how our anticipation of God’s judgment should change the way that we live.  (Romans 13:11-14)

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So, let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Paul’s message is that “the hour has already come.”  Meaning, it already time to quit coasting.  There is no time for us to procrastinate.  There is already less time now before the return of Jesus Christ than there was yesterday.  The return of Jesus Christ could happen at any minute.  The time for us to stop living in darkness is now.  The time for us to start living like children of the light and as the followers of Jesus Christ, is now.  The time for us to change the way that we live, is now.  Instead of living lives that are indecent, or are spent in wild parties, or illicit sex, or in arguing, or jealousy, now is the time for us to live the way that Jesus lived and do the things that Jesus taught.  Instead of living lives that revolve around satisfying our selfishness, excesses, passions, and lusts, we are called to live lives of restraint, decency, so that the world can see Jesus in all that we are, and in all that we do.

Paul wants the church to understand that people who are genuinely convinced that Jesus Christ might appear at any time, should live so that in the moment of Jesus’ return, he might find us busy doing Kingdom work.

In other words…

Be Prepared.

The call of the ancient prophets, and of Jesus, and of Paul is emphatic and consistent.  The end of time, and the Day of Judgement is coming.  That moment is nearer now than it was at the time of Jesus, or Paul, or at the day we chose to follow Jesus.  Jesus could return at any moment.  And so, as we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent and we hear the voices of the prophets, of Jesus, of Paul, and all of scripture, we must also hear the question that is implied by every one of those voices.

Are you prepared?

 

 

 

 


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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.

Roadmap to the Future

Roadmap to the Future

October 27, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Joel 2:23-32                2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18          Luke 18:9-14

 

Have you ever gone on a long car trip as a passenger and, somewhere along the way, fell asleep for a while?  It isn’t bad when you’re going somewhere that you have been before or taking route that is familiar to you.  But if you are going to an unfamiliar place or traveling a road that you haven’t been on before, then the sensation that you have when you wake up can be a little disconcerting.  Upon awakening, you find your self wondering, and even asking, “Where am I?” and “How did we get here?”

But as we go about our daily lives, we sometimes have that same disconcerting feeling and we wonder, spiritually, where we are and how we got here.  And so, although I have preached similar sermons before, and likely will again, our scriptures for today offer us a link from the past to the present, and offer advice and guidance, a roadmap if you will, as we travel toward the future.  Our past, found in the Old Testament and heard through the voices of the prophets, reminds us of where we have been, the promises of God, and the wisdom of the ages.  The Gospels remind us of how those prophecies were fulfilled, and other books of the New Testament, such as Paul’s pastoral letters, offer us advice and guidance on how we might live our lives in a strange and confusing world, in a way that honors God.  These are the three sources that we will visit today as we learn the past, live for today, and plan for the future.  We begin by remembering the words of the prophet Joel as he addresses the nation of Israel in the aftermath of a natural disaster, a famine, that was caused by swarms of locusts that destroyed all of their crops and left both humans and animals hungry, starving, and searching for food.  (Joel 2:23-32)

23 Be glad, people of Zion,
    rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains
    because he is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers,
    both autumn and spring rains, as before.
24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain;
    the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

25 “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,
    and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

28 “And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
30 I will show wonders in the heavens
    and on the earth,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
31 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
32 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
    there will be deliverance,
    as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
    whom the Lord calls.

Joel begins with a reminder to all of us that the rain, and our food, come to us through the blessing and the faithfulness of God.  In Joel’s understanding, the locusts were God’s army and were sent to punish Israel for their unfaithfulness but also as a reminder that God is in control and constantly nearby.  Joel teaches that after a time of repentance, that God would restore Israel’s fortunes, along with her food.  As I read through the first part of this passage, there were two things that struck me.  First, because it is God that sends the rains and causes the crops to grow, our calling is to be thankful when these things are in abundance.  And second, because the restoration of Israel was a promise that had not yet been fulfilled, I also see a call for God’s people to have hope as we endure times of hardship.

The second half of this passage should have sounded familiar to most of us, because, beginning with “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” these are the exact words that we hear quoted by the Apostle Peter as he speaks to the crowd on the day of Pentecost.  Peter announces that the promise of the prophet Joel is being fulfilled on that day, even still today and, as we understand it, will be completed the end of time.  Joel and Peter declare that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” and this becomes the work, not only of Jesus Christ, but also of his church on earth until his return.

I think that Joel emphasizes thankfulness in times of abundance because our temptation to cry out to God when things are bad, but forget him when we are living in abundance, is real, ancient, and common.  In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector who were in the temple to offer prayers to God.  But while the average listener would have expected the Pharisee to be the hero (because they were  perceived as being godly), and the tax collector as the villain (because they were seen as traitors), we are instead surprised to find that the man who appears to be blessed by God is actually distant from him, and the man who appears to be distant, is much closer than we might have imagined.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

And so, the message for anyone who would follow Jesus is clear, if we have real faith, and if we desire the real blessings of God, then we have to walk the walk.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, we must see our place in the world with humility and see the people around us the way that God sees them.  Just because we are living in abundance doesn’t mean that we should take any credit for the blessings that we have been given.  Likewise, just because others may not seem to have the things that our culture values, position, power, fame, glory, popularity, money, and so on, doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love them or that they are not, in fact, much closer to God, and his blessings, than we are.

But what about the future?  If we struggle to see people the way that God sees them, then what difference will it make?  What purpose will it give our lives?  And for at least one glimpse into the future, we can look to the end of Paul’s life as he is imprisoned in Rome and facing eventual execution, and there he writes his second letter to his young protégé Timothy. (2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18) 

Paul says,For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. 17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed, and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Paul writes that he can almost feel his life flowing out of him as he rots in prison and waits for his execution.  But even as he approaches the end of his life, he knows that he did well with the life that he had, he fought a good fight, and pressed hard all the way to the finish line.  Paul knows that the rewards of God are waiting for him and will be awarded to him, and to everyone who looks forward to the second coming of Jesus, on the day of Judgement.

But even at the end of Paul’s life, even as he sat in prison, even as he was abandoned by his friends and  faced trials, God continued to give him strength so that he could accomplish his mission and continue the mission that we all share as followers of Jesus and members of his church.  Paul’s mission, and ours, is to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ so that everyone, including the outsiders, the tax collectors, the sinners, and everyone else that we are tempted to dismiss and discount, might have the opportunity to hear it.

Paul’s message to Timothy is largely biographical but is also instructional.  We are called to dedicate our lives, even at the end, even when we are faced with insurmountable trials, we are called to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the people around us.  For Paul, that meant, as he sat in prison and appeared in court, he was sharing the story of Jesus with inmates, guards, administrators, lawyers, and anyone else that he encountered, possibly even Caesar himself.

The witness of Joel, Jesus, and Paul remind us that following Jesus is not something that we do once during a church revival, or at the altar of the church, and assume that we’re done with it.  It isn’t a box that we can check and say that we’ve finished.  Following Jesus is a totally transformational lifestyle, a roadmap for life, that keeps us involved in the world around us and on mission, all the way to the end of our time here on earth. 

Joel calls us to live well in thankfulness and humility whether we are living in hardship or in abundance.  Jesus calls us to walk the walk every day, to remember that it is God who has blessed us, and to see the people around us the way that God sees them.  And Paul call us to rely on God for strength so that we can stay on mission, even in times of great hardship, even at the end of our lives, and finish well.

May we all, no matter where we find ourselves on life’s journey, be transformed into the lifestyle of Jesus, and follow his roadmap for our lives.

 

 

 

 


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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.

Costly Love

Costly Love

December 23, 2018*

Fourth Sunday of Advent

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Micah 5:2-5a              Luke 1:39-45              Hebrews 10:5-10

Love.

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent and today is set aside to remember love.  But if there’s one thing that anyone knows about love, its that love isn’t always roses and unicorns, sweetness and light.  Sometimes love is painful and not at all like a sappy Hallmark Christmas movie.

But in particular, because this is church, and because we’re celebrating Advent and the birth of Jesus, the love that we’re talking about is God’s love, and the love of Jesus.  And for that, we begin this morning with the prophet Micah who lived and proclaimed the words of God between 750 and 686 B.C.  And in his writings, Micah tells of a king, a rescuer, whom God would eventually send to reunite the Israelites. (Micah 5:2-5a)

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

And he will be our peace.

Seven hundred years before the Christmas story unfolds, Micah says that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem and hints that he will be a descendant from the line of King David.  But more curiously, Micah declares that the origins of this coming king are from ancient times.  He is, he will be, a ruler who has been known throughout antiquity, perhaps reminding God’s people that he is the rescuer that the prophets had been writing about from the very beginning.

And it is this rescuer, redeemer, messiah, and king that Micah describes as someone who will stand up for his people and protect his flock through the strength of God.  He is the one who will bring security, greatness, honor and glory to his people.  And it is this king who will finally bring the one thing for which everyone had been praying for thousands of years.  Peace. 

“And he will be our peace.”

Fast forward seven hundred years and in Luke 1:39-45 we read these words:

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

From the moment that Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, she knows, as does her unborn son John the Baptist, that Mary’s son will not only be a blessing to God’s people but will also be their king.  Elizabeth knows that it is through Mary, and through her son, that God has chosen to fulfill his promises to his people.

But so, what?

Of course, keeping promises is a good thing, but what difference does it make to us two thousand years later?

And we can find the answer to that in the letter written to the people known as the Hebrews.  Scholars have argued whether the author of this letter is Barnabus or possibly Apollos who travelled with Paul, but in either case, this is what he says about the coming of Jesus in Hebrews 10:5-10.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
    but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you were not pleased.
Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
    I have come to do your will, my God.

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

First off, we are reminded that Jesus was quoting the words of King David and Psalm 40 when he spoke about God’s displeasure with the sacrifices of his followers.  Although those sacrifices satisfied the requirements and the specifications of the Law of Moses, they weren’t what God wanted because, although the people were performing the ritual, they were not doing the will of God.  It is as if the people were performing an act of the mind, but not allowing God to reach their hearts.  Beyond that, the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus came to set aside the entire sacrificial system so that he could establish the will of God as the new standard of obedience.   The result, the “so what,” was that where God’s people were once periodically and repeatedly purified, temporarily, through the sacrifice of animals and other offerings on the altar of the Temple, we have now been purified and made holy through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ once, forever.

So, you see, the difference that this makes two thousand years later, the “so what,” of the Christmas story, is the greatest gift that God has ever given to humanity and the most expensive gift ever conceived.  The coming of Jesus, and his sacrifice, death, and resurrection are the gift that brings perfection, purification, and holiness to us imperfect, impure, unholy, and altogether messy human beings. 

The coming of Jesus, son of David, the Prince of Peace, and Lord of lords, is the fulfillment of every prophecy written about the messiah for two thousand years.  The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is a gift that was and is unimaginably expensive, horrifically painful, and inconceivably wondrous, and it represents the epitome, peak and pinnacle, the very embodiment…

…of costly love.

 

 

 

 

 


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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.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

A Righteous Branch

Christmas-treeA Righteous Branch

December 02, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

 

 

 

Jeremiah 33:14-16                 Luke 21:25-36                        1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

 

Hope.

As we begin the season of Advent today the word we remember, and the word that we will repeatedly encounter, is… hope.

But that the same time, we remember that the first Sunday of Advent is traditionally celebrated as the one in which we remember the contributions of the prophets of old.  These two themes are inextricably intertwined because it is in the prophecies of old, and in the faithfulness of God, that leads us to have hope for the future.

That may seem to be a little vague, but let’s begin with the prophecy and the promise of God found in Jeremiah 33:14-16 where we hear these words:

14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘In those days and at that time
    I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
    he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

We remember from last week, that God’s promise, his sacred covenant, with King David, was that one of his descendants would rule over the people of Israel in righteousness forever.  And now we hear Jeremiah say that God intends to keep that promise, that God is raising up a righteous branch from David’s family tree, a man that would do what is just and right, so that Judah and Jerusalem will live in safety.  Jeremiah also tells us that God has named that man, that righteous branch, the Lord, Our Righteous Savior.

Who else could this be but Jesus?  And as we begin our preparations for Advent and Christmas, it seems especially obvious that this must be Jesus.  But when we realize that this is Jesus, then we also remember that God has been faithful and has done what he had promised to David, to Jeremiah, and to the people of Israel.  You see, it is in remembering the faithfulness of God that we discover hope.

It is in remembering the faithfulness of God that we discover hope.

 But how?  How does remembering the past help us to have hope?  And the answer to that is found in reading the words of Jesus found in the New Testament, but today we specifically look at Jesus’ words to the disciples found in Luke 21:25-36 where we hear this:

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Jesus, the Son of Man, promises his disciples that that there will be signs that will precede his return to the earth and people who are alert and watching for those signs will know, just as we see the signs and know that spring is coming, we will know that his return is near.  But Jesus doesn’t just declare that he will return, he proclaims that when he comes, he will return, not as a suffering servant that obediently submits to torture and crucifixion, but with power and great glory as a conquering king.

But what does he mean when Jesus says, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.”?  Part of our problem in understanding comes about because we started reading in the middle of the story.  In the beginning of the conversation, the disciples were marveling over how beautiful the temple and the surrounding buildings were, and Jesus said that soon all of them would be torn down with not a single stone left upon another.  And so, as we read this part of that conversation, Jesus is explaining that the destruction of the temple was so close at hand, that most of them would live to see it.  But we can also understand that the coming of the kingdom of God begins with the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is because, as you will remember from last week, we have been called to be a kingdom and priests. 

The kingdom of God is not just something that will come on the day of judgement at Jesus’ return, the kingdom of God is something that we do every day.  With the resurrection of Jesus, the kingdom of heaven has been planted on earth, and it is up to us, every day, to live like Jesus, to become more like Jesus, and to make the world around us more like heaven than it was the day before.  It is up to us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to speak for the voiceless, and intervene for downtrodden and the abused and to, as much as possible, make our community, and our world, a better place.

But what would that look like?

In 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Paul has both kind words, and a prayer for the church in Thessalonica.

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Paul compliments the people of the church by saying that he and the others who have ministered there are filled with joy in the presence of God because of them.  They are so proud of what the church is doing for the kingdom of God, and they would be blessed by God simply by knowing that they had played a part of leading the church in that direction.  But Paul’s prayer for the church is that they might be able to return and teach them even more.  And Paul also prays that God would make their love for one another, and for everyone around them, increase and overflow.  That God would strengthen their hearts so that the people of the church would be blameless and holy in the presence of God.

Paul was proud of the work that the church was doing but his prayer was that the people would so filled with love, that the love of Jesus would overflow into the life of the church, but also into the lives of their community and everyone around them.  Paul’s greatest prayer was that the church would become so much like Jesus, that they would be blameless when they stood in the presence of God.  Just as Jesus was raised up as a righteous branch from the tree of David, we too are called to be a righteous branch growing up in the midst of the chaos of our world.

So, you see, God made a covenant with King David that one of his descendants would rule over the people of Israel in righteousness forever and, as he always does, God kept his promise.  And just as God made a promise to David, Jesus has made a promise to each of us.  Jesus has promised that he will return, not in suffering, but in triumph.  But while we wait, we are called to do the work that Jesus began, to be Jesus to the world around us, to be so filled with his love that our love overflows into the lives of one another and into the lives of the people in the community, and the world, around us. 

It is a message of promises kept.  It is a message of prophecy fulfilled, and prophecy yet to come.  It is a message that even today fills the people of God, that fills us, with purpose.

It is… a message of hope.

 

 

 


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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.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

An Advent Invitation

advent-candles

We are, once again, entering the Advent Season.  Advent literally means the arrival of someone, or something, of great importance, but for us it is more than just marking the calendar to make note of his arrival.  We all know that our celebration of Jesus’ birth is on December 25th, but still, we deliberately set aside four weeks, and four Sundays, prior to that for special recognition and celebration?

But why?

We set aside time, because we are creatures of habit.  We get in ruts, we get stuck in our routines and habits, and we tend to live every week in the same pattern as the last.  If we allow ourselves to do that at Christmas, then Jesus’ birthday will get overrun with the busyness of the ordinary and ordinary is the one thing that it should never become.

Instead, we set aside Advent as a season of preparation just as we set aside Lent as a season to prepare for Easter.  For four weeks, we remember and reflect on the many aspects of the Christmas story.  We remember the shepherds and the angels, Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, Anna and Simeon, and finally, the arrival of Jesus.  Each of the characters of the Christmas story have something to tell us and we can be shaped by God as we learn from them.

I hope that you will join us on this journey of preparation.  Oh sure, you can just pop in on Christmas Eve and feel as if you’ve worshipped, but then you’ll have missed the greater message.  You could save a lot of time if you only watched the last ten minutes of Star Wars or Casablanca or Gone with the Wind.  But while only watching the climax of the story may inform you how the story ends, it doesn’t carry you along on the journey, it doesn’t inspire, it doesn’t stir your emotions or let you feel the passion of the story.

To say that you have experienced these films and been changed or shaped by them, you need to watch the whole thing, often more than once.  We watch them, and we imagine ourselves as a part of the story.  We take the time to put ourselves in the place of the characters and imagine what it would be like to live through the story as they did.  Good movies, and good books, do all those things to us and this is the story that surpasses them all.  This is the greatest story ever told.

And so, I invite you to join us on an Advent journey as we prepare our hearts for the arrival of the King of kings.  I hope that, if you can, you will commit yourselves to worshipping with us, not just on Christmas Eve, but every week during this sacred season of preparation.  Allow yourself to be drawn into the story, to experience its drama, its emotions, and its passion.  I promise that if you do, you will experience a Christmas Eve, and a Christmas, that will be more deeply meaningful, more passionate, more life-changing, than you will ever find possible by simply skipping to the end of the story.

Won’t you join us on this amazing journey?

Blessings,

Pastor John

God Speaks. Who Hears?

“God Speaks.  Who Hears?”

February 11, 2018

(Transfiguration Sunday)

By John Partridge*

 

2 Kings 2:1-12                        2 Corinthians 4:3-6                Mark 9:2-9

How many of you have your cell phones with you this morning?

How many of you spoke to someone on the phone, or texted, or emailed, or used your phone to communicate with another human being in the last 24 hours?

How many of you listened to the radio or watched television, or used the internet, or read a newspaper or even a book?

That’s probably almost everyone.

Today, communication is easy and fast.  We think nothing of exchanging messages with people halfway around the world when even a few decades ago, that was still a big deal.  As recently as World War Two, the Pentagon would be reading and interpreting information that was days or even weeks old but today can often watch events on the other side of the planet live from cameras on a spy satellite in orbit and from cameras mounted on soldiers’ helmets.  Communication today is so quick, so easy, and so commonplace, that we rarely give it a second thought.

Unless we start talking about God… and then everyone panics.

Atheists think the idea of talking to God is silly, unbelievers doubt that God talks to humans and even believers often think that our prayers are only a one-way thing.  We pray, God hears, and that’s the end of it.  Many Christian think that God might have occasionally spoken to a tiny number of select individuals, but when the prophets of the Old Testament died off, that was that.  But as we read through today’s scriptures, we might be surprised to find that that isn’t the case at all.  We begin in 2 Kings 2:1-12 where we hear the story of Elijah being carried into heaven…

2:1 When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”

But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho.

The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.

Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”

11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.

I’ve read this story plenty of times before, but as I read through this for today’s message, there were a couple things that struck me.  First and foremost among these were the repeated references to groups of people that are referred to as “the company of the prophets.”  Like many of you, I have read about Isaiah, Elijah, Elisha, and other prophets who have books of the Bible named after them, but other than those few, I often thought that there weren’t many others.  In this passage, I allowed myself to think that this was sort of allegorical, or just a way of telling the story, or perhaps that these men were employed by the prophets or by the church in some way.  But as we read a little closer, we are forced to think differently.

There are at least two large groups of these men, there are the company of prophets in Bethel, and another at Jericho and fifty of these men watch from the far side of the river as Elijah and Elisha cross the Jordan.  From the text, it would even seem as if fifty is only a portion of those referred to as “the company of prophets at Jericho.”  And so, from this passage we see that there were a large number of those who were referred to as prophets of God.  What’s more, these men are not simply employees of the church because, in each case, well before Elijah and Elisha arrive, they already know why they are travelling together and that God has told them that this would be Elijah’s last day on earth.  All of these men, or at least many of them, know the future because they have heard it from God himself, and even though none of them had had written books of the bible, there were hundreds of them.

Next, we hear the story of Jesus on the mount of transfiguration in Mark 9:2-9 and, although we’ve heard this story plenty of times before, as we think about this idea of hearing from God, we might just see something we haven’t noticed before.

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Jesus is transfigured into something that is much different than his normal, earthly appearance and is likely more similar to how Jesus would appear in heaven.  And alongside of Jesus there appears two other men whom, we are told, are Elijah and Moses.  But before any introductions can be made, Peter already knows who they are.  Since these men lived and died hundreds and even thousands of years before Peter was ever born, there is no possible way that he could have known them.  Without photography, or video, or even pencil sketches, there is no way that Peter had seen so much as an artistic drawing of what they had looked like.  And yet, it would seem that at the instant they appear, Jesus’ three disciples know who these men are and they know that the voice that they have heard is that of God himself.

How did they know?

How did they know if Jesus didn’t tell them?

Maybe Jesus did tell them and it didn’t get written down in the story that was handed down to us.

Or is it possible that Peter, James, and John, at that moment, were given a revelation from God?

Before you decide, let’s take a look at one more passage of scripture this morning and read what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

Paul says that the message of God is hidden by the god of this age, or rather, the ruler of the earth and its culture, whom we know is the enemy of our God and that is, Satan.  Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the evidence that is right in front of them and so they cannot see the truth of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.  But if that is true, and it must be, then doesn’t that mean that believers in Jesus Christ are themselves hearing and seeing messages from God?  Paul says that God has “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

At the very least, this means that when we read, and when we hear, the Gospel message, we are in fact hearing from God.  And whenever we share the message of the Gospel with others we are, in fact, sharing the words of God with them.  But I suspect that there is more to it than that because Paul says that “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ.”  And, while that seems simple enough, we also know that the people that Paul knew weren’t reading billboards or watching CNN.  The people that Paul describes didn’t own bibles and unbelievers wouldn’t have been standing in the synagogue or in weekly gatherings in a Christian church or home.  The only light of the gospel that unbelievers would have seen would have been the evidence of creation in the world around them, direct communication by God in some other form, or the actions of Christian believers that they knew or who lived among them.

In the time of the Old Testament, God’s prophets numbered in the hundreds and perhaps even in the thousands.  God continued to speak to his people in the time of Jesus, and continues to do so today.  Our neighbors and friends probably won’t hear God speak from a cloud, but his light shines in your hearts so that they can see God’s glory.

As we celebrate and remember this Transfiguration Sunday, let us also remember that God still speaks to us today.  God gives us the light of the knowledge of his glory displayed in the face of Christ.  God is speaking today to our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers, and our families, not on CNN and not on the internet, but through you.

Let your light shine.

 

_________

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_______________

 

 

* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of 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 or any of our other projects may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print 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.